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For ten years now the Kingdom of Tortall has allowed girls to train as pages and squires, but not one has stepped forward to do so. Then Keladry, ten year old daughter of Baron Piers and Lady Ilane of Mindelan, announces her desire to become a page. Despite the steadfast opposition of Lord Wyldon of Cavall, Training Master of Pages and Squires, King Jonathan rules that she be allowed to begin training. The only concessions won by Wyldon are that the first year of her training be considered a probationary period  and that the nation's first great woman warrior, Alanna the Lioness, not be allowed to intercede on the girl's behalf, since none of the boys will have a similar patron. In the ensuing year, Kel battles intransigent sexism and her own debilitating vertigo as she tries to impress the unyielding but scrupulously fair Wyldon. Unaware that Alanna is forbidden to approach her, Kel is mystified by the distance she maintains, but becomes good friends with several male classmates and is even befriended by a flock of sparrows. In a final test, she and her fellow trainees will have to help fight the spidren, giant spiders who are among the magical beasts besetting the land; but her vertigo is a result of an episode when she fought a spidren the year before.

This first book in a series, within a broader series, is quite enjoyable. Borrowing equally from books like Ender's Game (see Orrin's review) and The Deed of Paksenarrion, The Hobbit and Harry Potter (see Orrin's review), Pierce crafts an effective tale of children being trained for warrior life in a fantasy setting. The obvious subtext of female suitability for combat is less compelling. It is only plausible because of Kel's youth. The trainees are portrayed at a moment in life before they are truly sexualized and when many girls can probably whip most boys butts. Thus, the reasons for Wyldon's reluctance to train girls--their physical limitations and effect on unit cohesiveness--are not really implicated and his concerns seem somewhat petty, particularly in light of Kel's obvious competence.  At any rate, young folk pining away for the next Harry Potter would definitely enjoy this series and young girls seem likely to love it.


Grade: (B)