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In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. Up against the traditional hazing of pages and a grueling schedule, Kel faces only one real roadblock: Lord Wyldon, the training master of pages and squires. He is absolutely against girls becoming knights. So while he is forced to train her, Wyldon puts her on probation for one year. It is a trial period that no male page has ever had to endure and one that separates the good natured Kel even more from her fellow trainees during the tough first year. But Kel Is not a girl to underestimate, as everyone is about to find out...

218 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 7, 1999

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About the author

Tamora Pierce

107 books83.1k followers
Hey, folks! I just discovered that apparently I have given some very popular books single-star ratings--except I haven't. How do I know I haven't? Because I haven't read those books at all. So before you go getting all hacked off at me for trashing your favorites, know that I've written GoodReads to find out what's going on.

I return to my regularly scheduled profile:
Though I would love to join groups, I'm going to turn them all down. I just don't have the time to take part, so please don't be offended if I don't join your group or accept an invitation. I'm not snooty--I'm just up to my eyeballs in work and appearances!

Also, don't be alarmed by the number of books I've read. When I get bored, I go through the different lists and rediscover books I've read in the past. It's a very evil way to use up time when I should be doing other things. Obviously, I've read a lot of books in 54 years!

I was born in South Connellsville, PA. My mother wanted to name me "Tamara" but the nurse who filled out my birth certificate misspelled it as "Tamora". When I was 8 my family moved to California, where we lived for 6 years on both sides of the San Francisco peninsula.

I started writing stories in 6th grade. My interest in fantasy and science fiction began when I was introduced to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J. R. R. Tolkien and so I started to write the kind of books that I was reading. After my parents divorced, my mother took my sisters and me back to Pennsylvania in 1969. There I went to Albert Gallatin Senior High for 2 years and Uniontown Area Senior High School for my senior year.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I wrote the book that became The Song of the Lioness fantasy quartet. I sold some articles and 2 short stories and wrote reviews for a martial arts movie magazine. At last the first book of the quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure was published by Atheneum Books in 1983.

Tim Liebe, who became my Spouse-Creature, and I lived in New York City with assorted cats and two parakeets from 1982 - 2006. In 2006 we moved to Syracuse, New York, where we live now with assorted cats, a number of squirrels, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and woodchucks visiting our very small yard. As of 2011, I have 27 novels in print, one short story collection, one comic book arc ("White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion") co-written with Tim, and a short story anthology co-editing credit. There's more to come, including a companion book to the Tortall `verse. So stay tuned!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,675 reviews
Profile Image for Allison.
210 reviews30 followers
July 18, 2008
Recently I decided to reread all of Tamora Pierce's books, because, well, it's been too long since I read them. For her Lioness Quartet, Circle of Magic books, and The Immortals series, I was refreshing my memory, but with the Protector of the Small series, it was almost like reading them for the first time. I read this series only once, when I was a preteen, and I had honestly forgotten just how much I love Kel.

At first glance, the story of Keladry of Mindalen seems like a rewrite of Tamora Pierce's first series, The Lioness Quartet, which features a spunky girl named Alanna who dresses as a boy in order to train as a knight. When I read the books years ago, I loved them, and saw Alanna as a hero, but now, as a college freshman, I see her character a little differently. In my opinion, Alanna chooses to be a knight as an alternative to learning to be a lady. Although she is a tomboy, she does not choose Knighthood because she loves to fight and longs to protect her country- she does it in an attempt to escape. From the start she is helped by the heir to the throne, her manservant (a trained knight in his own right), and the goddess herself. Although she has honor, Alanna is spiteful with a terrible temper, and is able to use her magical gift to help her through the worst of times.

In contrast, we have Keladry of Mindalen, who is allowed to apply as a page without concealing her gender. But by being honest about her sex, Keladry makes herself vulnerable to all sorts of sexism and abuse. Because she is a girl, Kel is forced to undergo a one year "probationary period" (which is not required of boy pages) so that she may prove herself. During this first year, Kel is constantly bullied and experiences hazing and abuse the likes of which Alanna never saw. However, Kel quickly proves, against all odds, that she is as good, if not better, than the boys.

Unlike Alanna, Kel knows that she wants to fight. She doesn't want glory, thanks or praise, but rather, seeks her shield so that she may protect those who cannot protect themselves. Kel has no real help from her idol, Alanna, no manservant to help her through, and no magical gift to fall back on. Instead, she uses her strength and determination to prove herself to even the most skeptical trainers.

After reading this book I realized, with a start, that I absolutely adore Kel. Although some reviews may disagree, I believe that Tamora Pierce has improved upon her Lioness Quartet with the Protector of the Small Series.

Hooray for Kel!
Profile Image for Rachel E. Carter.
Author 9 books3,475 followers
January 27, 2023
No review I could ever write would do this book (or series) justice.


This series to me is the pinnacle of Tamora Pierce's career. She had many wonderful books but the emotional and physical turmoil her protagonist Kel goes through to earn her knighthood is nothing that I have ever experienced in another YA book. Kel perseveres against every trial imaginable, and while at times she can seem a bit too mature (she's only 10 in this one!), she is unique and refreshing in a world of cliche. She is what every female warrior should be. And what's more? For once an author cast a tomboy who wasn't secretly some beautiful girl -she was normal, plain, a "Lump."


"You won't ask it, but I'll do it anyway, she thought stubbornly. You'll see. I'm as good as any boy. I'm better."

And how about that awesome battle scene:

"Kel promptly forgot her staff lessons. Holding the spear as she would her glaive, she cut with it in a sidelong arc. The weapon's slim razor point sliced through the spidren's chest and arm, releasing a dark spray of blood. Kel reversed the spear and cut back, dragging the blade down. It bit into the spidren at the neck and stuck there as crossbow bolts riddled the immortal."

I'm sorry, how is that not epic? And can I remind you she is only 10 YEARS OLD in this book!

Now, let's talk about Neal.


Her best friend Neal stands out as my favorite side character/best friend in any book I have ever read, and as my Goodreads BFF Monica (who is doing the buddy read with me) pointed out, every single line he says is quotable. He is like Buffy & Kenji & Veronica Mars & an over-dramatizing girlfriend combined, in guy best friend form. Sarcasm & drama to perfection. And he has her back at every turn.

There is no romance between them in this first book But this was still me every time he showed up:


Oh, and Joren? This is what needs to happen. Now. You are worse than bloody Malfoy & Joffrey combined. You prat.


Last, but not least, Lord Wyldon. Training master from hell.


"You will climb this tree every day. If we cannot cure you of fear, you must learn to work despite it, understand?"

If you love YA fantasy read this book now. Tamora Pierce set the standard for strong female warriors in YA. You cannot go wrong. The trials and tribulations Kel faces coupled with the excellent array of characters sets up for an amazing series debut. And since this is a reread I can assure the next books only get better.

Side note: this first book is 100% romance free but it is still impossible to put down -and as someone who lives off romance that is a hard feat to accomplish.
Profile Image for Dichotomy Girl.
1,988 reviews130 followers
September 13, 2022
3rd Read: 12/16/2016
Edit: Raised this up to 5 Stars, because after discussing it with Rachel E. Carter, I've decided that yes, Kel is the awesomest. :)

I had forgotten how good this series is. It's hard to decide which is my favorite, this one or Alanna.

Original Read: 11/11/2012
Profile Image for Kat.
91 reviews13 followers
September 26, 2014
I started this series with the thought that it was going to be a do over of Pierce's previous, successful Alanna the Lioness Quartet, which followed a girl (named Alanna, of course) who dressed like a boy and took her twin brother's place in page training while he took her place in magic school (not dressed as a girl). The four books of that quartet follow her progress from page, to squire, to knight and king's champion--with her sex being discovered along the way. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only does Pierce give Keladry her own unique strong personality and story, but also that in some ways I enjoyed Keladry's story more than Alanna's.

Keladry's struggle to be the first openly female page in Tortall strikes me as being braver than Alanna's secret struggles. Being openly female Keladry has to deal with all the aggression and contempt of the males who don't want to her to succeed, as well as a blatant double standard (even though the law since Alanna's time says that girls can train as pages, Keladry is put on probation for her first term).

On top of that, where Alanna has the help of her magical powers and the Mother Goddess of her universe, Keladry works through her problems on her own.

Definitely a girl empowering story!
Profile Image for Fafa's Book Corner.
511 reviews298 followers
May 9, 2018
Mini review:

Trigger warning: Animal abuse

Minor spoilers ahead!


Tamora Pierce is an author I have heard off. On a whim I decided to try on of her books. Unfortunately this book didn't work for me.

In the beginning (the first chapter) Kel stops these boys from drowning kittens. While attempting to rescue the kittens a monster comes. And starts to eat them. I couldn't make myself read anymore. I felt sick to my stomach.

I do still recommend it. As Kel's a very strong character and I have a feeling others will enjoy this more.
Profile Image for Kogiopsis.
759 reviews1,463 followers
July 18, 2011
I am going to save my reminiscing about this series for the third book. Or at least I'm going to try. Some might creep in unnoticed.

First off:
Spidrens were, actually, the first Immortals I ever read about, because I went straight from the Lioness Quartet to this series. So in the first chapter or so, when Kel finds a spidren biting the heads off kittens, I was deeply disturbed. I still am. What I love about that scene is Kel's reaction. She wades across a river, gathers a handful of stones, and goes after the monster with only rocks for ammunition. Seriously, this girl is the most badass ten year-old EVER. She's awesome. And she's got a great attitude, to boot: chock full of determination and not about to let traditionalists keep her from becoming a knight. Her motivation to seek knighthood, too, is wonderful; she has a powerful, idealistic belief in chivalry and cannot ignore injustice. This is the kind of pure good straight-up heroine that it's always great to come back to, because you never doubt her; she works for her goals and keeps them always in mind. You know the quip about how a woman has to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as a man? That's the situation Kel is in, and she handles it admirably, right down to making sure everyone remembers that YES, tradition has been broken and there is a girl in their midst by wearing dresses to dinner every night. She is so mature, so confident at such a young age - it's awesome. Rarely does she doubt herself, and she's never ashamed of her gender despite the disadvantage it places her at and the cruelty some of the other pages subject her to because of it.

Of course, Kel doesn't do this alone. She gains an excellent group of friends over the course of her year on probation, and that's what helps this series be more than just an Alanna Redux. As Raoul says in Squire, there are several kinds of knights; Alanna is the lone hero type, and Kel is the leader type. It makes sense, then, that while Alanna's story was really focused on her and her adventures, Kel's has a wider supporting cast and they're given plenty of development. (This is, of course, building towards the moment when she needs all of them in Lady Knight.) From quirky Nealan of Queenscove, who's the oldest of the pages and Kel's sponsor, to Kel's year-mate Merric of Hollyrose, they're all great characters and people I would want to be friends with, especially in Kel's position. And they care about her, as evidenced when Neal calls her out for roaming the halls looking for wrongs to set right. It's wonderful to see a tight-knit, realistic group like this portrayed in YA. Kel is no Bella Swan-esque moping loner, and it makes her a far richer character.

I'm not really sure where this review is going, or for that matter where it's been. (It's a bit messy up there, I think.) A lot of what I want to say about this series I'm saving for the later books, so for now: If you're new to Tortall, you can start here easily; if you're familiar with the world, this entry in its history is not to be missed. Kel is a heroine to root for and look up to, and if I had my way young girls everywhere would be reading about her adventures instead of about sparklepires and the like.
Profile Image for Linda ~ they got the mustard out! ~.
1,552 reviews100 followers
July 29, 2020
3.5 stars

This isn't exactly like Alanna: The First Adventure, but that's mostly because 1) Kel doesn't have to hide the fact she's a girl and 2) Kel's quite a different character from Alanna. But it's still more or less the same general plot and same types of obstacles and challenges. Kel's singled out as the first female page, gets bullied and befriends all the good guys and pisses off all the bad guys, and has animal friends to boot (birds this time). At least Winthrop got some nuance.

I really liked Kel though, and Neil was a hoot, so I'll continue on and see if this can find its own story.
Profile Image for Emily .
714 reviews73 followers
May 31, 2016
I liked this book - listened to it as an audio book. It was a quick, fast read. I was mostly interested, but the story was entirely predictable. My biggest problem was that Kel is a 10 year old girl, but at no time did she actually act like it. She was way too mature for her age - both in how she acted, her physical abilities and even how she spoke. It was in no way believable that she was a child. My other gripe is:

I did really like the Kel's horse, and the message about standing up for other people who are being bullied.

I can mostly let the ending slide, since it is a kids book, and the kids need some kind of heroic ending. I'm not sure if I'll finish with the series. Again - it's not a bad book- I think I would have loved it if I read it when I was 10. I would recommend this one to my 10 year old niece.

PS - this cover is terrible. It makes it look like it's about a fire mage or something.
Profile Image for Lucy K.R..
Author 2 books1 follower
July 25, 2013
This book changed my childhood. I had read stories about lady knights before--about women dressing as men, fighting the odds, and changing the world. But this story is different. Kel doesn't dress in drag, she doesn't hide herself, she doesn't try to change the world. She just wants to be a knight, and will do whatever it takes to achieve her goal. She is my number one female character in a YA novel, and that has not changed in a long long time.

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. To people who want to feel better about humanity, people who want female characters who are realistic and soulful, or just people who love knighthood, battles, and magic.

Profile Image for AziaMinor.
416 reviews50 followers
May 21, 2022
Overall Rating : A

I found myself in a bit of a slump so I decided to go back to my favorite comfort series. There's just something about Kel and her journey that brings me joy and peace. It's just so refreshing to see a girl be so herself and best every single obstacle her way.
Profile Image for Cass.
289 reviews105 followers
August 10, 2017
I recommend this book to two (not mutually exclusive) groups of people: kids who love Harry Potter and are looking for something to read next, and girls looking for a heroine who is not just a badass, but an Interesting Person to boot.

Review of entire series:
I read this series so many times in my teenage years, I nearly wore out the library copy. I was never over-impressed with Pierce's writing, but Keladry's quiet strength got under my skin and fascinated me. So many literary heroines are more after the Alanna the Lioness mold: hot-tempered, outgoing, feisty. So as a quiet bookish girl, a heroine who was soft-spoken and even-tempered, and who was also an iron-willed warrior, was delightfully refreshing.

Other stories may have done more to spark my imagination, but Keladry gave me something even my beloved Tolkien couldn't: an example of female strength, not just in fighting monsters or finding "true love," but in more difficult obstacles like prejudice and unfair disadvantages. She taught me that a girl doesn't have to be a fiery redhead with a temper to be brave, or disguise herself as a boy to prove herself as good as one. Quiet determination and a clear head can be even more effective.

I know there are better examples of great women in literature, but this is the one who was there for me, so I'm grateful to her.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,137 reviews110 followers
March 20, 2016
Alanna clenched her fists. What was going on? Was Jonathan inclined to give way to the man who'd saved his children?
And with that, possibly the stupidest line Pierce has ever written, Kel's story begins. I'm big on details lately, and the introduction is shaky on them. Here are more places the writing is less than precise:
The training master absently rubbed the arm in its linen sling. At last he bowed in his chair. "May we compromise, sire?"
Maybe that first line is here to show Wyldon's hesitation before answering Jonathan with the probation proposal. The problem is that his gesture calls to mind the reason for the sling ("hey, remember when my arm was raked by a hurrok while I was saving your kids?") which makes the gesture - not quite absent.

And then Alanna stalks out, while:
The men stared at the door. Each of them was trying to remember if Alanna the Lioness had ever spoken to Jonathan in that tone before.
1. Why would Wyldon care?
2. Seriously, this is Alanna. I understand this line is for impact, but it's blunted quite a lot when it's centered on a character who gets mad at people for breakfast.

And now, finally, we meet Kel. Here's the thing: I gave this book three stars a few years ago, and I'm going to stick to that, if only so I can illustrate how the series gets progressively better. (Expect four stars for Page, and (gasp) five stars for Squire.) But there are also some reasons three stars are warranted. First Test very much sets the stage. There are a lot of ideas initially laid out without being fully developed, along with the imprecise writing. That starts right away, with Kel's dream.
"The short sword is the sword of law. Without it, we are only animals. The long sword is the sword of duty. It is a terrible sword, the killing sword." Her words struck a chord in Kel that left the little girl breathless. She liked the idea that duty was a killing sword.
This is an idea Pierce reaches for, but I don't think she ever gets there. Though it would be fascinating if she did, a sort of justification of the violence of this world.

Anyway, Kel decides to go even though she'll have to be on probation. I'm tempted to say "Obviously, or there would be no story," but there's a certain worth to stories that baldly lay out sexism and then show how baseless it is. It drives home a point, yes, it's message-oriented, yes; but it also drives Kel as a character because it gives her something to fight, which means it's an important motivation - and we're not so far off from having women in the real world face exactly the same situation, which means it stands as a reminder historically of what things used to be like, in the not-so-distant past.

In general, Kel fighting for equal opportunity (much more so than Alanna, who had to hide her identity) means this fantasy world doesn't feel set so long ago. It modernizes this medieval setting. It's an interesting approach.

So she marches in and no one will sponsor her. Until Joren steps up, which leads to more sloppy writing. Why would Wyldon refuse Joren as Kel's sponsor? Joren is Wyldon's prize page! And he's okay with Neal? I've read this part three times and it still makes no sense to me. It's too contrived.

More importantly, though: NEAL. Neal is so great. Here's where Pierce's best skill, dialogue, really shines:
Wyldon's eyebrows snapped together. "You have been told to mind your manners, Page Nealan. I will have an apology for your insolence."

Nealan bowed deeply. "An apology for general insolence, your lordship, or some particular offense?"

"One week scrubbing pots," ordered Lord Wyldon. "Be silent."

Nealan threw out an arm like a player making a dramatic statement. "How can I be silent and yet apologize?"
HUMOR: THE SPICE OF LIFE. Neal is funny from the first moment he's introduced, and not only is that entertaining, but it comes to form a cornerstone of his character, and it's consistent, and it's great. (Later on, Duke Baird is said to wear constant mourning for the two sons he lost. If Pierce could've said why, and how, and how that affected Neal, instead of that remaining a throwaway detail...)

Alright, onward: Neal takes Kel to the touristy parts of the palace, including the portrait gallery, where Kel gets to see a painting of Jon and Thayet, and Neal gets to introduce the current political situation and position Wyldon as the cranky conservative, angry at Thayet's Kmiri notions (teaching women to fight, teaching everyone to read). How does the guy work for Jon, who not only agrees with Thayet, but also covered for one of the most respected knights in the land while she worked earn her shield and prove that women can fight?

The setup in this novel creaks sometimes.

(Tangent for a moment: Jon wanting women to train - he sent out heralds ten years before! - clashing with the conservative training master he can't afford to lose, is such a good way of showing the constraints of kingship for a country that's not an absolute dictatorship. That's something this series gets very right: even the best of intentions don't always translate practically.)

Kel comes in pretty upset at Jon, because she doesn't know about any of this political jockeying, and she's still awed by his speech after dinner the first day:
"Each one of you is a gem, all the more precious because we lost so many. Combined, you are the treasure of the kingdom. Treat yourselves as such... Build your stores of learning. Do it not for yourselves or your teachers or your monarchs. Do it for the kingdom. Do it for us all." He looked over them one last time, nodded briskly, then strode out of the hall. He was gone before any of them remembered to bow.
Whewwww. Always loved that part. Jon relies on charisma, sure. But he also shows up and makes them realize they're seen and valued. Kel - grudgingly - recognizes why people are so loyal to him, even calm, pragmatic people like her father. (Incidentally, I'd love to hear more about that.) (Later, Wyldon apparently doesn't know why they have a treaty with the Yamanis - Wyldon, YOU LIVE IN THE PALACE. Why are you allowed to be stupid whenever it's convenient for the plot?)

So Kel gets in, gets a sponsor, and goes to her first day of classes, where she almost throws the instructor by mistake. The instructor, by the way, recognizes the throw immediately as one of Nariko's. Hurray for not living in a vacuum! Especially since they're Shang, and they're supposed to, you know, travel. Sometimes the "Tortall is the bestest" stuff, which is really heavy-handed in the Daine series, feels too piled on. There's a better balance here.

Kel's story is strongest when it isn't told in isolation, when relevant details from Tortall's past series are brought in to give greater scope to the work. Kel saying she fell down rather than that she got into a fight, for example - "I don't believe falling down is an offense for which I can be expelled." Seriously, lol. And it's so clever to extend the lie like that. It's a perfect excuse.

It's a little stupid that only Kel recognizes how violent and stupid the bullying is, by the way. It undermines everyone else's brains. "Tradition!" everyone says. Sure, Neal's Mr. Tradition. That's why he's a first-year page at fifteen. Come on. Neal's my favorite, though, so I don't like when his brains are discounted. He tells Kel, when Kel mentions Daine and Numair, "He's too old for her, you know." YOU TELL 'EM, NEAL.

He also tells Kel about Numair turning the Scanran into a tree "just two years ago, at Fief Dunlath" - can someone explain the timeline of the Tortall books to me?? And while you're explaining: why are the servants allowed to break up the pages' fights? Usually they don't mix in at all. And there's a lot of brouhaha about nobles' rights.

"How dare they say the Lioness cheated!" growled Kel. "Great Goddess, she fights ogres and spidrens and armies all the time -"

"You really look up to her, don't you?" Neal asked.

"She's a hero. She's proved it over and over."

"And will go on doing so until the day she dies," he said evenly. "You can smack some people in the face with a haddock and they'll still call it a mouse if a mouse is what they want to see."
That's - that's timeless, you know? I've thought about that line for over a decade now, ever since I first read this book.

I like when Neal demonstrates he's been to a university, too, and that he's older than Kel. Though maybe it's a little strange he's friends with a ten-year-old? Maybe I'm obsessing over age differences, but it's because Pierce has conditioned me to do so. That's what happens when you pair a sixteen-year-old and her teacher. TOUGH.

One more thing Pierce does here: she shows the sexism Kel faces, when she openly goes where no woman has gone before - and she shows the sexism Alanna faces as an adult knight, even after she's proven her heroism, because people latch onto any little thing they can to discount Alanna entirely. Different causes, same effect. I like that.

I like that Kel has a lot to learn, and that she's shown learning. Tilting, and swordwork - she humiliates herself sometimes, especially in front of Lord Raoul, which is a great moment.

I don't like that Kel gets to be Daine-without-Wild-magic, though. Like, you can just be nice to the animals now, and they'll lead you to monsters? Without being able to reach you through magic? That's having your cake and eating it, too. I'm not a fan.

Overall, though? This, warts and all, sets up a series I've enjoyed for a long time. And I can't wait to read further.
Profile Image for Dorothea.
227 reviews63 followers
June 5, 2013
(re-read on May 26, 2013, the occasion of this review)

May I say first that whoever thought this cover (trendily cropped photograph of a conventionally beautiful young woman with her lips parted and wearing some sort of floating veil) was an improvement over this cover (painting of a ten-year-old child with an androgynous haircut, looking out optimistically at the world through her black eye, holding a kitten and surrounded by little birds) should be smacked with their own portfolio?

Thank you.

All right, despite the two-star rating I'm still awfully fond of Kel. Previously I've read all four books in a blur. I hope that if I read the rest again, I'll enjoy the series overall as much as I have before -- but I wasn't awfully impressed by First Test by itself.

Maybe it was just too simplistic for me? Which is a silly problem to have with a short book about a ten-year-old.

Kel has to deal with really nasty bullying, sexism from her peers and authority figures, separation from her family, uncertainty about her future, an exhausting daily schedule that would give me a nervous breakdown, and actual peril to her life. She survives all of these triumphantly, thanks to her stubborn determination, unusual skills learned earlier in her childhood, and the right friends.

When I put it that way, First Test sounds like a really good book, and yeah, that's why we all read Tamora Pierce to begin with, right?

Kel has a much easier time dealing with all of these things than I can imagine myself having. She's also, overall, better at everything than her peers. This makes sense in a lot of ways. Kel wants this life and is well suited for it (unlike imaginary-me-in-Tortall), and the first [x] person to successfully make it through a difficult program that was previously limited to [y] usually does have to be extra amazing at everything.

But Kel's extra-amazing advantages distract a lot from what I'd like this book to be. Kel is learning to be a page and I wanted to read about her learning. First Test seems really to be about how Kel is already more than worthy to be a page and how some of the gatekeepers just don't see how special she is.

My favorite parts are when we do see Kel learning and applying what she's learned, like when she gets better at . But there are a lot of times when she overcomes an obstacle with the unique attributes she began with -- when she , or when .

There's another criticism I feel less ambivalent in making -- Pierce could have done a much better job with characters of color.

Did she have to make the the Yamanis instantly recognizable as East Asian stand-ins by means of so many stereotypes? Why did she decide to give Kel so many advantages from growing up in Yamani society, yet make her a white Tortallan instead of actually a Yamani girl? It's not that children of other nationalities can't train as pages in Tortall, because there's another page who's a Bazhir boy. And that was another missed opportunity. Doesn't that kid also feel isolated because of his differences from the other pages? Wouldn't that make him a good friend for Kel? Instead, Pierce decided at some point that her Bazhir characters would share in this world's American stereotype of Middle Eastern men being extra specially sexist. So this character is one of the bullies, and in First Test at least, he has no depth to his character and no redeeming qualities at all.
Profile Image for Bridget Mckinney.
251 reviews43 followers
April 29, 2013

Before starting to read the Protector of the Small quartet, I read that Kel was just another Alanna and that the books are basically Song of the Lioness all over again. I was actually okay with that going into this series, since I love Alanna and think that there are far worse things Kel could have been than just like her. I'm happy to report, however, that although there are similarities between Alanna and Kel, their experiences are extremely different and Kel's story expands upon and continues a lot of the themes that were present in Song of the Lioness.

I wrote about this a little bit already, but I have to reiterate it here because it makes me so happy. Kel has a lot more support than Alanna did, from her family as well as from people she meets when she goes into page training, but at the same time Kel faces a lot more active and targeted sexist bullying than Alanna did. Alanna disguised herself as a boy, which meant she had to live in constant fear of discovery, but Kel faces danger because she isn't hiding.

Something that I find interesting about the contrast between these two different situations is the ways in which their coping mechanisms and strategies overlap and diverge. Both Alanna and Kel find women who are friendly to them, although Kel and Alanna are denied each others company so far, which makes me rage. Both girls deal with bullies as pages; however, Alanna's bully was personal while the bullying Kel faces is sexist and institutional. Both girls make friends among the other pages, finding older boys willing to help mentor them.

Something I especially loved was that, while Alanna hid her gender successfully for years, Kel makes a point of wearing dresses when she can as a way to never let the boys and men she is surrounded by forget that she is a girl. I love this little bit of recognition that gender is a performance and that the choices we make about how to perform are intensely personal AND political. In some ways, Kel is even more of a trailblazer than Alanna, simply because she is trying to become a knight openly. Alanna may have opened the door a crack for Kel, but Kel is the first girl to try and go through that door as a girl.

In a lot of ways, I think that First Test is a lot more successful as a feminist work than Alanna: The First Adventure was, although I think both books should be required reading for girls (and boys, ideally). I think that Kel's experiences are closer to the real life ways in which girls experience sexism, and that's a valuable thing for young people to read about.

Profile Image for Kay.
1,413 reviews13 followers
July 26, 2017
I've read this book (this series) over a dozen times over the last decade and a half. Kel has been my rock (stone), and Tamora Pierce has been my strength. The Protector of the Small series has taught me feminism and fairness and strength and how to overcome it all.
Tortall is one of my happy places, and I'm so happy to return and find it unchanged after all these years.

Tamora Pierce is a FANTASTIC writer, a great world-builder, and a master of character development.
Profile Image for Alex Black.
621 reviews46 followers
July 15, 2019
I remember never being quite as fond of the Protector of the Small series as I was the other Tortall books, particularly the two first ones, but as an adult, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. The premise of the series is that 14 years after Alanna, girls are allowed to become knights, but it's still a very sexist, patriarchal society, so no girl has. I really enjoyed that because it didn't just have Alanna fixing everything by being a heroic woman. She definitely changed the world a great deal, but didn't solve all of its problems.

And Kel is a very different protagonist than Alanna. Alanna is a hero, a mythical figure almost with the gods on her side and powerful magic, coming from a long line of nobility. Kel is just an ordinary kid who wants to be knight like her older brothers, just like a hundred other kids in the country. She doesn't have magic, she doesn't have the gods on her side. She doesn't have lofty aspirations as a knight. She just wants to do her duty to her country. And it makes such an interesting contrast to Alanna, who has a strong presence in this book.

One of my favorite things about this book is how heavily it deals with femininity. Kel has very little desire in typically feminine pursuits because they don't interest her, but when the other boys bully her and threaten her and tell her to go home, she doesn't try to blend in. She actively wears dresses whenever possible to make herself girly as a reminder that she's different and she's not ashamed of being a girl. I loved that element. I've read very little that's more badass than a female character sticking it to a patriarchal society by actively being more feminine.

This book also deals more heavily with politics than the previous series in the Tortall universe, which I think is one reason I enjoyed it less as child, but I love it more for that now. The conservatives are fighting against many changes in the country, including female knights and fighters. Kel has little interest in politics, just wanting to be an ordinary knight, but she can't avoid it simply because she's a girl. It's an interesting element to the story, and really well done in this book.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this series. I think it's definitely better to read it after Alanna because so much of the world building and the government and history comes from that series, but it has fewer problematic issues as it was written fifteen years later. I think this may become my favorite series in this universe, just based off the first book.

(Tagged as YA for the series)
July 16, 2019
This review was written ages ago when I was in library school but I'm leaving it because I'm lazy. This millionth re-read was just as good as all the rest and I actually listened to it on audio this time so that made it just a little more fresh and new. I will be reading all of Pierce's books FOREVERRRRRRR. Also I laughed bc for some reason I like indented two of those paragraphs but I'm leaving it just because why not.
Keladry of Mindelan and her family have just come back to Tortall from a six year diplomatic delegation stint in the Yamani Islands. One day after an attack from a group of spidrens (monster spiders) she decides it is time to begin her training as a lady knight. The only problem with that, is that there has not been a woman who has knowingly gone through training in at least a hundred years. The only reason she is able to do so now is because of the legendary Alanna, a woman who pretended to be a boy all throughout her training, alongside the current King. Although she is accepted, Kel is placed on probation on her first year, something that is never done with the boys and is completely unfair. Stubborn as she is though, she works harder than all of the boys and along with her best friend Neal and a few intelligent sparrows, she proves to training master Wyldon that she is worthy and deserving of becoming a page.

First Test is the first of Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small quartet and a great deal different than her previous eight books set in Tortall. Unlike Alanna, the first female knight in over a century, Kel goes into training as a girl. This means that essentially the entire kingdom is against her being there and will do anything in their power to make her leave including hazing, threats, rumors, etc. Luckily, Kel has spent a good portion of her time in the Yamani Islands (similar to Japan) and has gathered techniques to keep her calm and level headed under the most extreme and trying situations. I love that Pierce made Kel that way because even the reader still knew how upset or frustrated she was, she never let that be a weakness. Kel was able to prove time and time again that she worked as hard, if not probably a lot harder to become and stay better than all of the boys that were her year mates in page training.

Pierce’s writing style is so engaging and she has just done such an amazing job building this world of Tortall that I have grown to become so familiar with. I was glad that the four books were separated into the different years of Kel being on probation, a page, a squire, and then onto a lady knight. This allowed me as a reader to grow with Kel and be just as excited as she is when she earns respect and praise by hard work and determination. Pierce is my favorite author and is one of the most amazing writers of fantasy that I have ever read. Her characters, Kel especially, are exceptional and it’s so hard not to root for her because she’s such an awesome female [ass] kicker.
Profile Image for Michelle.
611 reviews68 followers
January 8, 2021
I read this eons ago (aka high school) and I really loved this book then. It was my first Tamora Pierce but I thought it was a fun quick Fantasy read and turned me on to Pierce's work.

Jump 15ish years later (ugh fml) and I'm happy to say I still really liked this! I'm surprised how well it held up, especially after reading and re-reading the Alanna and Immortals quartet and liking them fine, but not loving them. This has that kind of quaint quality that older Fantasy has, but still feels very contemporary at the same time.

The audiobook production isn't superlative, but it's good! I would recommend.

I'm really looking forward to my re-read of the rest of this series.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,363 reviews373 followers
July 31, 2021
Still love it, even though the older I get the more I can see the toxic nature of the stoic warrior mindset Kel admires and mimics (it is only criticized by Sir Miles).

However, it's so good, and reminds me of why I wanted to join the military and do the right thing for those weaker than me. Kel is a good role model, and I'm so happy I had this book when I was a tween.
Profile Image for Tanvi.
212 reviews20 followers
June 1, 2020
This really is setup for the next book, but even here there’s early hints of what will later become definitive facets of Kel’s character.

A lot of this book is Kel meeting people, weapons training and overcoming (and fighting) hazing. It’s a good book - I don’t know, I don’t have much more to say about it than that.
Profile Image for Sarah Ames-Foley.
495 reviews68 followers
February 20, 2019
#1: First Test ★★★★
#2: Page ★★★★
#3: Squire ★★★★★

This review can also be found on my blog.

I read this quite some time ago, but only owned the first book and never continued with the series. For Christmas, I received books 2-4 and decided to re-read this so that I could jump into the rest. I had forgotten most of the plot, although all of it felt familiar to me. While I couldn’t have predicted anything that happened, once it happened I thought to myself “oh yeah, I remember that.” Luckily, I enjoyed it just as much as Tammy’s other books and am very excited to finally finish the series!

One of the things I love about Tammy’s writing is that she’s able to create such distinct characters. While most of her books focus on “strong” women, they’re not all the same. Where the Lioness is hot-tempered and loud, Daine is timid yet stubborn, Aly is quiet and calculating, and Kel is even and impenetrable. Each of her characters have different strengths and weaknesses, and I think that makes it possible for girls to find representation they are able to relate to.

This book follows Kel in her initial (probationary) year as a page, the first female page to enter the program since girls were allowed to join. There are plenty of obstacles along the way: a lot of the boys think that a girl doesn’t belong there alongside them. Kel’s advantage is that she and her family had lived with the Yamanis as an ambassador for most of her early life. The Yamani culture is much different from the one Kel has transitioned back into and one of the biggest things she has learned is to “be as stone” and hide all of her emotions behind a smooth mask.

Overall, I found the pacing to be great and the story fun to follow. I worked through the book fairly quickly and am looking forward to what comes next, although I plan to wait until Fantastic February in the Devour Your TBR group to continue reading since this series is obviously perfect to put on my TBR for it. I recommend this to all Tamora Pierce fans, as well as anyone looking for some YA fantasy with a strong female character.
Profile Image for Jackie B. - Death by Tsundoku.
753 reviews49 followers
September 8, 2016
Ten years after Alanna becomes King's Champion, a female of Tortall finally wants to become a page-- and eventually a knight of the realm. What sounds at first as a repeat of the Song of the Lioness quartet is quickly revealed to be much more. While our protagonist, Kelandry of Mindalen, is following the same path as Alanna, the road the walks is completely different. Tamora Pierce takes what could have been a copycat novel and turns a parallel story into something refreshing and new.

From the start, we can see many parallels between Kel and Alanna's story. Both want to prove themselves, both are training to become knights, both have a quartet of books that follow progress from page to squire to knight, heck, both even have a member of the royal family on their side. Yet their stories are very different. Alanna hid her sex, was blessed by the Goddess, and has magical powers. Kel merely want to protect her country and has little more going for her.

Infuriatingly, because of her sex, Kel is forced to undergo a "probationary period", which makes her more of a pariah with her fellow pages than she was going to be just by being a girl. In fact, Alanna was hoping to protect and train Kel as the first openly female page-- but she is forbidden. From the start, we know Kel will be subject to incredible sexism and abuse. Her journey, in many ways, is much harder than the one Alanna traveled. Kel must rely on her own strength, self-confidence, and determination to prove herself on this journey.

In many ways, First Test is a much stronger feminist statement thanAlanna: The First Adventure. It was written over a decade later, after all. I look forward to seeing how Alanna's sacrifices paved the way for the next generation of female warriors. After all, in reality gaining the right to vote didn't establish equality. I know Kel has a long way to go. I'll be with her all the way.
Profile Image for Andrew.
813 reviews133 followers
October 20, 2019
Can't decided between 3.5 stars or 4. I did like it, but this is very much a "starter" book.


Review Taken from The Pewter Wolf

Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl who dares to take advantage of the new law of Tortall, allowing females to train for Knighthood. After growing up on the Yamani Islands, she knows women can be fearless warriors and she wants to be one. But Lord Wyldon, the training master, is dead against the idea of girls becoming knights and forces the king to say that Kel must do a year’s trial - something no boy has ever done. Kel is determined to prove herself, just to be seen as equal…

This is the first book in the series so I am quite intrigued to see how the rest of the series moves forward. But the rest of the series isn’t on my library audiobook app, so I won’t know for quite some time what happens next.

I did like this audiobook. I want to make that clear. It was a nice start to the fantasy series and I rooted for Kel. I think this is the set-up book as it’s letting us know the characters and put us in the right places and, hopefully, as the series moves forward, it gets bigger in scope and story-arc.

I did have times listening to this audiobook where I did struggle. But I can’t figure out if I didn’t click with the narrator or if I felt uncomfortable with the level of sexism that Kel faces. And I think this is important as sexism, sadly, still does exist and it’s important that we see characters stand up and fight back against it. Plus, what shocked me was Kel and her classmates are ten or eleven years old, but the level of sexism issued at Kel disturbed me.

I did like this book, and it made a nice change from the heavy “straight white male” fantasy that exists in the adult fantasy genre, but this is a starter book and, as the series goes on, I want more something a tad meatier.

Or maybe I shouldn't mix my Tamora Pierce reading up - I have several ebooks on my kindle and eye several other audiobooks on my library audiobook app! Oh, whatever I decide to read next by her is going to really confuse my brain, isn't it?
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,413 reviews536 followers
March 26, 2021
After King Jonathan took the throne, he decreed that women could train as knights as well. But more than a decade has passed since Alanna was unveiled as a female knight, and still no other female member of a noble house has come forth to be trained. No one--until Keladry. The daughter of ambassadors, Kel spent her childhood in lands where women were trained warriors, and intends to become one herself. Jonathon's hide-bound nobles aren't pleased with this change of tradition, and to placate them, Jonathan agrees that Kel will be merely a probationary page, subject to being tossed out at her first failure.

Kel, however, is too damn awesome for that crap. She's the kind of person who, when she discovers her lance has been unfairly weighted with lead, keeps training with the weighted lance in order to become stronger. No matter what they throw at her, she rises to the challenge.

This book was so much fun to read! Energizing and inspiring and thrilling--altogether my favorite kind of wish-fullfillment fantasy.
Profile Image for Kirsty (Amethyst Bookwyrm).
629 reviews72 followers
July 4, 2014
This and my other reviews can be found at http://amethystbookwyrm.blogspot.co.uk/

First Test is about Keladry of Mindelan, the first girl who wishes to become a knight since Lady Alanna. She has been accepted for knight training, however, unlike the boys she will study and train beside, she has been given a First Test, one year to prove to the conservative training master that she is able to withstand the rigors of page training.

The storyline of this book progresses in a very good yet predictable way. There are boys who try to force Keladry to leave through bullying her, and there are her staunch and stalwart friends. She also befriends the animals, which have become smart since Daine came to live at the palace in the Immortals series.

I like this book because it gives you the opportunity to see characters we have grown to love, from previous series, as they are when they have grown up.

I would recommend First Test to anyone who likes the rest of Tamora Pierce’s books, or well written fantasy books.
Profile Image for Carrie.
Author 16 books66 followers
March 15, 2019
I would've devoured this at age 10 or so. Now, I'm less interested in stories where women have to prove themselves to men. That's right. I'm embracing my inner Carol Danvers. That said, I loved Kel and Neil and their friendship, and this was a fast, fun listen. I would've given it four stars, except I'm not into stories where the big bad is a monstrous/non-human species. Just personal preference.

Definitely a book/series I'll give my niece and nephew when they're old enough.
Profile Image for Connor.
367 reviews18 followers
June 18, 2017
Every time I reread this book, I find myself loving it even more. From Kel and Neal's unlikely friendship to her stalwart, solid sense of loyalty and justice, I could probably reread this series every month and not grow tired of it.

Plus, nothing sends me to tears quicker than Kel peeling into a hallway shouting to her friends that she can stay for the rest of their training.

edit from Nov. 2016: I have apparently reached the "read Kel's books twice a year" stage. I... needed the encouragement after the election, and Kel (and Tammy) came through. What a beautiful picture of resilience and determination--as well as of friendship and hope and hard work.

update from June 2017: Keladry and Neal remain the best and yes, I still cried after reading the ending. For the twentieth or whatever time this is.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
253 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2018
I am very excited because my big reread has finally gotten to the Kel books, and Kel is my *FAVORITE* Tamora Pierce heroine. She doesn't have magic powers, so she gets everything done on her own. She's stubborn, she works incredibly hard, and she always stands up to a bully. I also have always loved Neal and his dramatics, even though this time around I couldn't help wondering, what kind of 15-year-old is perfectly happy to spend so much time with 10 to 13-year-olds? Doesn't he ever want to talk about teenager things? How old are the others in their group? But this isn't Neal's book, so I'll just let it go and assume he has a life and friends his own age that Kel just doesn't know or think about.
Profile Image for Love of Hopeless Causes.
721 reviews44 followers
March 14, 2017
Five characters mentioned in the first sentence. Clearly this is not intended for people ignorant of the earlier series. My first attempt at this author, because it was the first number one in a series to became available. Ever seen "Minority Report" where he does the hands out thing to interact with the computer? After the third restart, I had to sit still and do that, just to track the sentence. Of Course, Tamora is on Overdrive like black on wild rice, so maybe she writes these in her sleep. You would think such a prolific writer might warrant a Beta reader, or an editor, but apparently not.
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