In the Hand of the Goddess: Song of the Lioness Book II by Tamora Pierce
At the end of the first book in the series, Prince Jonathan chose Alanna to be his squire, even though he just found out she’s a girl. This volume features her growing relationship with him and a thief named George, a war, Alanna’s ordeal of knighthood, and the uncovering of a treacherous plot by the villain Duke Roger.
Alanna says that she never wants to fall in love or get married; while she eventually caves on the first count, she’s holding strong on the second as of the end of this book. And at the end, she leaves the prince behind to seek adventures on her own. Her independence and strong-willed nature make her a feminist heroine to inspire girls to break gender barriers.
It’s a very short book, and though my copy came from the “young adult” section of the library, a nine-year-old could easily read it. Probably the subject matter is what keeps it from the children’s section. It features the protagonist sleeping with her friend the prince with the protection of a charm to prevent pregnancy, and that seems remarkably progressive in a book aimed at young people. I was surprised to see that this book was published the year I was born, 1984. Surely books like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series could not be written today without precursors like this.
One of the things that made the book short was a lack of depth and development in the relationships. There are several important scenes that are skipped entirely, or glossed over, not given the weight they deserve. (This is partly because the novel covers several years, but it’s barely 200 pages, so it could stand some more length.) Jonathan in particular is a cipher. He and Alanna love each other, and have great adventures together, but the real meat of their relationship is left behind closed doors. (Surely a big reason for that is to hide the sex.) Apparently he’s going to have to marry for the good of the kingdom, but we never find out how he feels about that. The focus of the plot was on the adventures and on the conflict with Duke Roger, but I would have been more interested to learn about the relationships. I hesitate to log this criticism because of course it’s a good thing that Alanna’s relationship does not define her; too much focus on the relationship might have made this a book about a girl who falls in love with a prince rather than one about a girl who becomes a knight and has adventures. We already have plenty of the first; the second is refreshing.