Tamora Pierce (1954-)
Tamora Pierce's fantasy novels for young readers are noted for their strong female protagonists and their imaginative, well-drawn plots. In her "Song of the Lioness" quartet, Pierce features the character Alanna, a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to train as a knight, and then uses her physical strength and her capabilities as a healer to serve Prince Jonathan and engage in numerous medieval adventures. "I enjoy writing for teenagers," Pierce once commented, "because I feel I help to make life easier for kids who are like I was."
Born in Pennsylvania, Pierce and her family moved often in the 1960s and 1970s, traveling between San Francisco and Fayette County in Pennsylvania. Pierce has noted that her father got her started writing when she was six, inspired by his storytelling skills. By the time she was in college at the University of Pennsylvania, Pierce was writing short stories, and on the advice of one her professors, she began writing a novel, a sword and sorcery tale. Once out of college, Pierce supported herself with jobs to pay the rent and continued writing her fantasy stories.
Alanna is introduced to readers in Alanna: The First Adventure, published in 1983. The first novel in the "Song of the Lioness" quartet, Alanna focuses on the title character's determination to avoid the traditional fate of young noble women her age—life in a secluded convent. Instead, she cuts her hair, binds her breasts, and, as "Alan," changes identities with her brother and begins training to become a knight in the service of her country's king. During her grueling education, she learns hand-to-hand combat from George Cooper, the King of Thieves, and she becomes close friends with Prince Jonathan, who does not know that his favorite knight-in-training is, in fact, a young woman. Only during a battle in the forbidding Black City does the prince discover Alanna's true gender; on the pair's return to the palace, he makes her his squire regardless.
In Pierce's second novel, the highly praised In the Hand of the Goddess, Alanna, now a squire, struggles to master the skills she will need to survive her test for knighthood in the Chamber of the Ordeal. She goes to war against a neighboring country and clashes repeatedly with Duke Roger, an urbane and devious mage who is determined to usurp the throne from his cousin, Prince Jonathan. She is successful in her efforts to protect Jonathan despite the duke's attempts to get rid of her. Once she is knighted, she decides to leave royal service and journey out into the world in search of further adventures. In a School Library Journal review, Isabel Soffer praised Pierce's first two books about Alanna as "sprightly, filled with adventure and marvelously satisfying."
In The Woman Who Rides like a Man, the third installment of "Song of the Lioness," Alanna is on her own. With her servant Coram Smythesson and Faithful, her cat, she encounters a tribe of desert warriors called the Bazhir. Proving her worth in physical combat, she is accepted by the Bazhir and ultimately becomes their shaman, or wizard. Alanna broadens the outlook of these desert people, raising a few women of the tribe to an equal level with the men before moving on to other adventures. And in the final volume of the quartet, Lioness Rampant, the stubborn heroine has become legendary for her skills in battle and for her magical powers; now she goes on a quest for the King of Tortall. Ascending to the Roof of the World after encountering numerous trials and challenges, she attempts to claim the Dominion Jewel, a precious stone said to give its bearer the power to do good. In addition to adventure, she also encounters love in the person of Liam, a warrior known far and wide as the Shang Dragon; however, his dislike of her magical powers makes their relationship a fragile one. Liam is not her only suitor, and Lioness Rampant resolves previous questions about Alanna's relationships with her friends Prince Jonathan and George Cooper. Calling Pierce "a great story-teller" in a review of The Woman Who Rides like a Man, a Junior Bookshelf contributor praised the series' inventive characters in particular, noting that the multi-talented heroine's "sword, her companion, and her cat will always be ready to rise to any emergency."
Pierce followed her popular "Song of the Lioness" novels with a second series, "The Immortals," which began in 1992 with the novel Wild Magic. Although Alanna makes an appearance in the series, the new protagonist is thirteen-year-old Daine, an orphaned teen who has an unexplained empathy with wild creatures and a second sense that allows her to foresee danger. In fact, she is in danger of reverting to a wild creature herself until the wizard Numair teaches her to control and channel her "wild magic." Daine then uses her powers to stop evil humans from coercing the newly arrived Immortals—dragons, griffins, spidrens, and Stormwings—into helping them accomplish destructive purposes. Called "a dynamic story sure to engross fantasy fans" by Sally Estes in Booklist, Wild Magic was praised by Anne A. Flowers, who maintained in her Horn Book review that readers will "find in Daine a strong heroine whose humble beginning makes her well-deserved rewards even more gratifying."
Wolf-Speaker continues the adventures of Daine as the fourteen year old and her mentor, the mage Numair, join a pack of wolves that are at odds with humans. Men working for an evil wizard named Tristan have discovered opals in the wolves' hunting lands in Dunlath Valley. The scramble for the precious gems result in mine pollution and a destroyed ecosystem. Hunted by Stormwings controlled by Tristan, Daine and her companions must use all their powers, including shape changing, to stop the impending ecological catastrophe. "Daine is a super new heroine who makes this actionpacked fantasy a joy to read," Mary L. Adams wrote in Voice of Youth Advocates, while Bonnie Kunzel noted in her School Library Journal article that Wolf-Speaker "is a compulsively readable novel that YAs won't be able to put down until the final battle is over and good triumphs. Pierce's faithful readers as well as any action-adventure or animal fantasy fans will be delighted with this new series." Daine's adventures continue in other "Immortals" novels, which include The Emperor Mage, published in 1995, and 1996's The Realms of the Gods, the concluding novel of the series in which Pierce's young female protagonist convinces dragons and other Immortal creatures to fight on her side against the powers of evil.
Magic once again plays an important role in Pierce's fantasy series "Circle of Magic." Unlike Pierce's two previous series, which take place in the country of Tortall, the "Circle of Magic" books are set in the land of Emelan. In Sandry's Book, "a rich and satisfying read," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic, Sandry, Daja, Briar, and Trisana—four young people from various walks of life—meet and become friends while living in Winding Circle Temple. Each of the four protagonists has a different form of inherent magic: Sandry's magic has to do with weaving, Briar's has to do with plants, Daja's magic involves fire, and Tris's magic deals with weather. The four overcome the negative aspects of their lives as they struggle to learn to control their newfound abilities. When they are caught together in an earthquake, Sandry has to use her magic to protect them. The action continues the summer after the earthquake in Tris's Book, in which Tris and the other mages try to protect Winding Circle Temple from a pirate attack after its defenses are weakened. Booklist's Chris Sherman felt that the second book in the series was "just as dramatic and engaging as Sandry's Book," a "cut above many fantasies for this age group." The third book in the series, Daja's Book, features the "danger and prejudice," according to Booklist's Sherman, that Daja must face as the sole survivor of her family's shipwreck. She is marked as trangshi, or a bringer of bad luck. "Pierce's magic and the customs and rituals of her world continue to fascinate," Sherman further remarked. In Briar's Book, the young mage-in-training and his teacher must combine magic to battle a deadly plague threatening Summersea. "An entirely satisfying, carefully crafted fantasy," concluded Sherman in another Booklist review.
Pierce returns to Tortall in the "Protector of the Small" quartet, inaugurated in 1999 with First Test. The series begins with the tale of Keladry of Mindelan, a ten-year-old girl who desperately wants to emulate the feat of her hero, Alanna the Lioness, and thereby win her knight's shield. As the first girl allowed to become a page, Kel faces a different set of challenges than Alanna did when trying to win the approval of her peers—they knowingly have to accept her as a girl trying to become a knight. Not only must she tackle the opinions of others her age, but she soon learns that Lord Wyldon of Cavall has added a beginning year onto the training program that only girls must take. Though outraged at the unfair treatment of girls by the system—and the unfair hazing of young pages—Kel manages to keep her temper in check and show her determination to become a knight. Susan Dove Lempke, writing in Booklist, called First Test a "splendidly rousing feast." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised, "old and new readers alike will be won over by Kel."
After surviving her first year, Kel continues her training in Page. Her three years as a page are no less challenging than her start; Kel takes on a maid to protect her from nobles who have been molesting her, and also finds some friends among the other knights-in-training. When one of them is kidnapped, Kel and the others must go to the rescue. Lempke, writing in Booklist, felt "Pierce's legions of fans will love" Page and "anxiously await the next in the . . . series." Heather Dieffenbach, in a School Library Journal review of Page, wrote "Readers will appreciate this true example of grrrl power." In Squire, Kel is chosen to squire not Alanna the Lioness, as she had hoped, but Raoul, Knight Commander of the elite King's Own. Raoul proves to be a good match for her temperament, and Kel's challenges in Squire deal more with unruly centaurs and magical creatures than finding acceptance. Patricia A. Dollisch, reviewing Squire in School Library Journal, noted that "Kel's fans will delight in seeing the parallels in their own lives, and Alanna and Daine's fans will enjoy seeing their favorites, if only in cameo roles." Also reviewing Squire, Anne St. John commented in Horn Book, "Kel's determination to succeed, her compulsion to stand up for those weaker than herself, and her exploration of what it means to be both a knight and a woman make her a compelling character."
Kel's story concludes in Lady Knight. While facing her final test to become a knight, Kel is granted a vision of an evil magic being used by an enemy nation. She knows that she is to face the evil wizard behind it, known as the Nothing Man, but instead of being allowed to take up her quest, her first station as a knight is to run a refugee camp. The Nothing Man's machines are being used against the knights fighting the war, and Kel is torn between her post and aiding her friends. However, when the Nothing Man's followers kidnap refugees from her camp, she takes her quest head on. Called "appropriately larger in scope" than its predecessors, Lady Knight offers a "gripping climax," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. Noting that Kel possesses but does not heavily depend upon her magical skills, Lempke of Booklist commented that Kel "taps her courage, cleverness, and moral outrage to fight evil." Sharon Rawlins, in a review for School Library Journal, claimed, "This is an essential book for anyone who enjoyed the others in the series," while Paula Rohrlick of Kliatt wrote, "It's satisfying to see Kel growing into her new role as knight and succeeding in her destiny as Protector of the Small."
With Magic Steps, the first volume in the "Circle Opens" series, Pierce takes readers back to Emelan and the four young mages of "Circle of Magic." This quartet of novels picks up four years after the events of "Circle of Magic," and has a new twist: the mages of Winding Circle discover and train others who possess unrealized magical talents. Magic Steps features Sandry and how this witch of weaving takes on a student of her own in a "fast-paced, engrossing read, sure to satisfy fantasy fans," according to Booklist's Shelle Rosenfeld. Street Magic continues the adventures with young Briar leaving Winding Circle with his teacher Rosethorn to spread magical plant lore to people in distant areas. On his venture, he meets young Evvy, a street urchin, who is unknowingly the possessor of strong magical abilities which Briar helps to cultivate. Eva Mitnick, reviewing the book in School Library Journal, found it to be a "solid addition to this enthralling series."
The third book in the series, Cold Fire, features Daja, who encounters twins with powers that need nurturing and a mysterious arsonist whose identity she must discover. Considered darker by some critics, Cold Fire was dubbed "An absolute must for fans of the series" and a "thoughtful stand-alone fantasy" by a critic for Kirkus Reviews. Shatterglass, the final volume in the quartet, features Tris as she travels to Tharios, a land dominated by a rigid caste system. She encounters Keth, a glassblower with the magical ability to harness lightning when creating his works. Though she is years younger, Tris helps to teach Keth how to control his talents as both of them become involved in trying to stop a serial killer. "In lively prose laced with wry humor, Pierce creates realistic, dimensional characters," wrote Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist. Beth L. Meister praised Shatterglass in her review for School Library Journal as "a successful combination of fantasy and mystery." A critic for Kirkus Reviews claimed Pierce's "fans will undoubtedly clamor for future updates on her likeable young mages and their fascinating world."
The heroine of Pierce's Trickster's Choice, the first in a duo set in Tortall, has large shoes to fill. As the daughter of the most famous knight in the country—Alanna the Lioness—Alianne (called Aly) struggles to become her own person. More like her father, the one-time King of Thieves, than her warrior mother, Aly's dream is to become a spy, but her parents forbid it. After a fight with her mother, Aly goes sailing to cool off and is captured by pirates and sold into slavery. The family of Duke Balitang, who now owns her, is in bad standing with the royalty of the Copper Isles, and they are all sent into exile. In a bargain with the god Kyprioth, the Trickster of the title, Aly agrees to protect Duke Balitang's two daughters in exchange for the Trickster's aid in returning her home and convincing her parents to allow her to be a spy. Aly learns that her charges are of greater import than just the daughters of a banished noble; one of the girls is the "One Who Is Promised," a true heir to the throne of the Copper Isles. Through Aly's skills in diplomacy and her own spy craft, she must find a way to bring the girls to safety and enable the One Who Is Promised to take on her true destiny. "The new Tortall page-turner will delight existing fans and create many more," promised a writer for Kirkus Reviews. Though noticing the slower pace of the novel, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly suggested that the pace "will be just right to her legion of devotees."
In a review of Lady Knight, a writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer said of the Tortall novels, "Even if you are late to this world, you'll quickly become immersed in it." Commenting on Pierce's heroines, Elizabeth Devereaux of the New York Times wrote, "The lure of the Tortall heroines is not in their infinite variety nor is it in their verisimilitude. Rather, they faithfully reiterate an ideal—of feminine power that relies on brains, not beauty; of feminine attractiveness that relies on competence, not helplessness; and of feminine alliances that grow stronger, not weaker, in the face of conflicts." Pierce herself has commented that she is devoted to bringing female heroines (also called "sheroes") to life.
"When I was growing up," she told Cecelia Goodnow of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I was looking for female warriors. So I was writing what I wanted to read, which was girls kicking butt in medieval times." She also told Goodnow that while there are many girl heroines not conforming to stereotypical girl roles, "I think I'm just about the only one who has girls going through military training. Girls as knights—that's a very powerful image."
"I owe my career as a writer and my approach to writing to people like my writing mentor, David Bradley, who taught me that writing is not an arcane and mystical process, administered by the initiate and fraught with obstacles, but an enjoyable pastime that gives other people as much pleasure as it does me," Pierce once commented. "I enjoy telling stories, and, although some of my topics are grim, people get caught up in them."
A woman with wide-ranging interests, Pierce continues to focus her research in specific areas, many of which eventually become incorporated into her fantasy novels for teens. "I am interested in medieval customs, life, and chivalry," she once said. "I study Japanese, Central Asian, and Arabic history and culture; wildlife and nature; crime; the American Civil War; and the conflicts between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Occasionally I rescue hurt or homeless animals in a local park . . ., visit schools as often as I can, and read, read, read."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 26, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 8, Beacham Publishing (Osprey, FL), 1994.
Encyclopedia of Fantasy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Speaking for Ourselves II: More Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults, National Council of Teachers of English (Urbana, IL), 1993.
Booklist, October 15, 1992, Sally Estes, review of Wild Magic, p. 419; March 15, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Wolf-Speaker, p. 1344; June 1, 1995, Sally Estes, review of The Emperor Mage, p. 1757; October 15, 1996, Sally Estes, review of The Realms of the Gods, p. 414; August, 1998, Chris Sherman, review of Tris's Book, p. 1991; December 1, 1998, Chris Sherman, review of Daja's Book, p. 662; February 15, 1999, Chris Sherman, review of Briar's Book, p. 1060; May 15, 1999, Sally Estes, "Top Ten Fantasy Novels for Youth," p. 1691; June 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of First Test, p. 1832; March 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Magic Steps, p. 1236; August, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Page, p. 2141; April 15, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Street Magic, p. 1557; September 1, 2001, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Squire, p. 97; September 1, 2002, Chris Sherman, review of Cold Fire, p. 2002; October 1, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Lady Knight, p. 313; March 1, 2003, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Shatterglass, p. 1193.
Book Report, March-April, 1993, Holly Wadsworth, review of Wild Magic, p. 43; September-October, 1994, Kathryn Whetstone, review of Wolf-Speaker, p. 43; November-December, 1995, Ruth Dishnow Cox, review of The Emperor Mage, p. 43; November-December, 1997, Carol Sinofsky, review of Sandry's Book, p. 41.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1984, p. 53; April, 1986, p. 156; November, 1997, pp. 97-98.
Childhood Education, fall, 2002, Elsa L. Geskus, review of Cold Fire, p. 52.
Cincinnati Enquirer, October 15, 2002, review of Lady Knight, p. C3.
Horn Book, October, 1983, Ethel R. Twichell, review of Alanna: The First Adventure, pp. 577-578; September-October, 1984, review of In the Hand of the Goddess, pp. 598-599; May-June, 1986, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, pp. 333-334; March-April, 1989, p. 234; January-February, 1993, Ann A. Flowers, review of Wild Magic, p. 93; September-October, 1994, Ann A. Flowers, review of Wolf-Speaker, p. 613; July-August, 1995, p. 485; May, 2000, Anne St. John, review of Magic Steps, p. 319; March, 2001, Anne St. John, review of Street Magic, p. 211; July, 2001, Anne St. John, review of Squire, p. 460; May-June, 2003, Anita L. Burkam, review of Shatterglass, p. 353; January-February, 2004, Anita L. Burkham, review of Trickster's Choice, p. 90.
Junior Bookshelf, October, 1989, review of The Woman Who Rides like a Man, p. 243.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1988, pp. 1154-1155; October 15, 1992, p. 1314; July 15, 1997, review of Sandry's Book; May 1, 2002, review of Cold Fire, p. 665; July 15, 2002, review of Lady Knight, p. 1041; March 15, 2003, review of Shatterglass, p. 475; September 1, 2003, review of Trickster's Choice, p. 1129.
Kliatt, March, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Cold Fire, p. 11; November, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Lady Knight, p. 14; November, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Trickster's Choice, p. 8.
New York Times, November 16, 2003, Elizabeth Devereaux, "Woman Warrior," review of Trickster's Choice, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, May 24, 1999, review of First Test, p. 80; February 21, 2000, review of Magic Steps, p. 88; September 15, 2003, review of Trickster's Choice, p. 66.
Roanoke Times, April 3, 1997, Cassandra Spratling, "Young Readers Are Giving Prince Charming the Brush Off," p. 1.
School Library Journal, December, 1984, Isabel Soffer, review of In the Hand of the Goddess, p. 94; July, 1995, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of The Emperor Mage, p. 80; August, 1995, Bonnie Kunzel, "The Call of the Wild: YAs Running with the Wolves," pp. 37-38; November, 1996, p. 124; April, 1998, Beth Wright, review of Tris's Book, p. 136; December, 1998, Carrie Schadle, review of Daja's Book, pp. 129-130; March, 1999, Eva Mitnick, review of Briar's Book, pp. 213-214; July, 1999, Kathleen Isaacs, review of First Test, p. 99; August, 2000, Heather Dieffenbach, review of Page, p. 188; July, 2001, Eva Mitnick, review of Street Magic, p. 112; August, 2001, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of Squire, p. 186; August, 2002, Lisa Prolman, review of Cold Fire, p. 196; December, 2002, Sharon Rawlins, review of Lady Knight, p. 146; July, 2003, Beth L. Meister, review of Shatterglass, p. 134; December, 2003, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Trickster's Choice, p. 158.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 4, 2003, Cecelia Goodnow, "Pierce's Skill at Spinning Yarns Has Paid Off," p. E1.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1985, p. 56; December, 1988, p. 248; August, 1994, Mary L. Adams, review of Wolf-Speaker, p. 159.
Tamora Pierce Web Site, http://www.tamora-pierce.com/ (January 21, 2004).*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalTamora Pierce (1954-) Biography - Career, Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Member, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress