The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Song of the Lioness, Book III by Tamora Pierce
Don’t you love that title? In this third volume of the Alanna books, our heroine travels to the desert where she encounters a tribe. After dealing with some pretty over-the-top stereotypical sexism, she establishes herself as the shaman of the tribe, training some children to take over for her as soon as they are ready.
Prince Jonathan comes to visit her; he wants to make a political alliance with the tribe as well as see Alanna. He proposes, and is stunned when she says she wants time to think. Basically, he acts like a jerk and takes her for granted, until she dumps him in a big argument. Again, I felt that this relationship had not been adequately fleshed out. Jonathan’s bratty behavior mostly seemed to come out of the blue, and Alanna’s doubts are entirely reasonable, but they’re things she should have thought of a long time ago. What, you’re just now realizing that whoever the prince marries will be queen someday and will have to start popping out babies ASAP? Come on. I think most of the tension of this relationship was gone when Jonathan realized she was a girl and still wanted her to be his squire, when they fell in love in spite of her androgyny and their different stations and ambitions. After that, really what can happen? What else but this?
So the love triangle swings to George, the prince of the thieves. His relationship with Alanna seems more functional than the one she had with Jonathan; he treats her like an equal, and there is no hero-worship on her side.
At the end, there was a hint that evil Duke Roger might come back for an encore. The love triangle doesn’t seem completely resolved, as Jonathan’s new relationship with a pretty- pretty-princess type seems like it’s more about hurting Alanna by choosing her opposite than about any real feeling for the girl herself. I think the first two books of the series were stronger; this one got bogged down in relationship drama, and that doesn’t seem to be the core of Alanna’s story. I mean, let’s look at this cover and compare it to the previous two.
.First we have girl with her sword. Sassy hip pose. She’s kind of glowing. Next we have girl with sword, horse and cat. Still glowing, still sassy with her hip. She looks like she knows how to use that sword.
Now we have girl and two boys, with her sword kind of cut off at the bottom. It’s like the girl goes from being the whole story to being 1/3 of the story. She’s not glowing anymore; that’s the desert sky behind her. And her jewelry is the main thing catching your eye. This third cover screams love triangle, and the others scream adventure and a strong female character. Now, it’s true that these are new covers to a series that’s pretty old, and that the older covers for this third volume don’t include George or Jonathan and are much more adventurous, with more dynamic images. Alanna’s doing stuff instead of just standing there with her sassy hip. But the choice to emphasize the romance in the new cover was deliberate with this new printing. Marketers are trying to class Alanna in with other YA romances through playing up the love triangle and playing down the adventure. But I don’t think that’s a good idea here. That’s emphasizing the book’s weakness and drawing attention away from its strength. Alanna is best when she’s a knight having adventures. Her love life takes second place, narratively speaking, and that’s as it should be because the big question of the books isn’t who she will marry, but whether she will fulfill her ambition to be a knight.