Ryan's Reviews > First Test

First Test by Tamora Pierce
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's review
Jul 02, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2012

The realm of Tortall has been the setting for many of Tamora Pierce's book series. First Test is the beginning of the third quartet set in Tortall, but it was the first book set in that world that I read. Despite referencing events and characters from the eight books that came before it, the Protector of the Small quartet does not alienate newcomers by relying on such references.

This book focuses on a brand new character, Lady Keladry of Mindelan, who wants to become a knight. Women used to be forbidden from becoming knights, until a girl earned her knighthood by disguising herself as a boy. That girl spoke with gods, had a talent for magic, and befriended the heir to the throne before she even finished her training.

Keladry, called "Kel" by her friends, is not that girl. Instead of a protagonist trying to escape being sent to a convent or a school for mages, she is someone who wants nothing more than to protect the realm. The series is called Protector of the Small because that's what Kel is. She goes out of her way to protect those whom others would dismiss out of hand, as evidenced in the very first chapter when she attempts to save a bag of kittens, first from some bullies who intended to drown them, and then from a spider-like monster intending to eat them.

Compared to Tamora Pierce's previous protagonists in her Tortall books, Kel is extraordinarily down-to-earth. She is pragmatic and has no patience for romantic notions or drama. And she needs that level head, because she meets with heavy challenges from the very beginning of the story, when it's determined that she, unlike the male knights-in-training, will undergo a probationary period for a year before becoming a proper page. Her first test is to prove herself to the pages' training master, a conservative Lord who believes women aren't fit for knighthood and means to drum her out of their ranks as quick as he can.

Unlike Pierce's past novels, the gods stay out of this book. The extraordinary characters from past novels don't get involved. Kel is very much on her own, relying on her own wits to forge friendships with other pages, endure the many bullies who love to pick on her, and face trials that escalate from mere bullying to a bandit attack in the Royal Forest.

By this point, the author has built up an impressive cast of characters, most of whom have cameos despite not being heavily involved in this series. They are managed with a masterful hand, never becoming so numerous that it becomes difficult to keep track.

In short, the only reason this book doesn't have five stars is because I can't give six to the rest of the books in the series.

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