“On a March afternoon a knight and a man-at-arms reached the gate of the Marenite city of Berat.“
My childhood love of the first book in the Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna, failed to continue with either adulthood or the series, and alas we don’t finish any better. Or any worse, so there is that.
Alanna, always getting everything she wanted relatively easily throughout the series (or perhaps the trials involved are just very undersold), now has just about everything. The realm’s first female knight, famous and lauded through several realms for her triumphs in battle. But is life now dull for the fantasy Mary Sue?
With that in mind, she sets off on an impossible quest, to recover the semi-mythical Dominion Jewel. It’s quite a decent mini-quest, although of course everything just falls perfectly into place for our heroine. And then, more than half the book to go, we jump about to other challenges, with only a minimal point to much of this.
I think that’s part of my problem with the series. Unlike modern, more ‘grown up’ fantasy (this still reads so much as a kids book with too much sex), there’s no depth. There’s a scene, a bit of plot, and then a dash over territory and/or time to something else. At certain points that can be refreshingly simple – childlike, but absolutely not in content – but mostly it just threw me out of the story. As the read dates below show, once you’ve finished one plot thread, the temptation to put it down is strong. And fine: I came back to this what, almost 2 years later, and just picked up where I left off, barely noticing.
There is a resuming plot from earlier books, but again, the lack of depth started to feel like a hindrance. The big villain’s motivations are superficially understandable, but it feels like we’re missing half a story at least.
And yeah, the romance. It’s uncomfortable. Everyone is throwing themselves at Alanna, and yet there’s less of a sense of feminism that you might think. And again, she’s just too perfect for words. If she’s out of her 20s in this book, with every life goal achieved, then I’d be surprised. As a child, I found her rather wonderfully empowered; as an adult she’s borderline irritating. I want to love the adventures, but I don’t think the story really let me lose myself in the telling at all.
So alas, one childhood memory that wasn’t served by a revisit/continuation. I think I’m really glad I didn’t read these books as a kid, though, even though I would have loved them a whole lot more, I suspect.
Kindle: 202 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 1988
Series: Song of the Lioness book 4
Read from 7th April 2020 – 19th June 2022
My rating: 5/10