Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce
I’ve finally come to the end of the Song of the Lioness books. Here are links to my reviews of the first, second, and third volumes. The adventure that concerns Alanna in this last installment is a quest for the Dominion stone, a jewel that gives a ruler great power and authority, a conflict between George and someone else who wants to be King of the Thieves, and the drama and chaos surrounding Jonathan’s coronation.
One way to break up a love triangle is to add another person to it and make it a square. This book does that in two ways. First, a new female character is introduced, Thayet, a princess who seems a perfect match for Jonathan. And second, Alanna meets Liam Ironarm, the Shang Dragon, a martial arts master, and they dive into a relationship as he teaches her hand-to-hand combat. However, he has a strong prejudice against magic that they can’t seem to overcome. I mostly found this relationship annoying because Alanna started taking stupid risks so that Liam had to rescue her.
Bringing a bad guy back from the dead in a sequel just seems like a narrative weakness to me. It says that you can’t come up with a good enough new villain to take his place. And/or that you didn’t plan the entire series well enough to save the big baddie for a later volume. The resurrected conflict with Duke Roger seemed incredibly stupid. I could barely believe that anyone was supporting the obviously evil sorceror who was proved to have attempted to kill the queen. It made no sense. The undead villain and the distress ball episodes make this the weakest book in the series in my opinion.
This book’s big question seems to echo a debate we’re still having in newsmagazines and on blogs: Can a woman have it all? Can Alanna be a knight and a wife? Can she have adventures and babies too? It’s a YA book, so of course the answer is yes. Alanna doesn’t have to choose between love and glory. It seemed almost too perfect, too easy. We modern women know that “having it all” involves choices far more difficult than the ones Alanna makes here, not to mention a decidedly unromantic continual balancing act that can be more exhausting than it is rewarding. Books like this might contribute to unrealistic expectations in young women. I know it’s a fantasy, so it’s not supposed to have any relationship with reality, but I also know that as a young reader I would have taken this book as an encouragement never to settle for anything less than fulfilling 100% of my dreams 100% of the time. My life is pretty good, but the few disappointments I’ve had came from having ridiculous expectations like that.