Friday, October 29, 2010

First Test by Tamora Pierce

Title: First Test
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: May 23, 2000
Pages: 206 pages (paperback)

In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan (known as Kel) 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...


It has been ten years since the decree was made that women could train to become knights in the realm of Tortall and one girl is finally taking advantage of that: Keladry of Mindelan, a ten-year-old girl with three other knights in her family. The chauvinistic Lord Wyldon, who is a fantastic teacher despite his attitude towards Kel's wish to train for knighthood, forces Kel to undergo a one year probationary period to determine whether or not she can keep up with the boys and go on with the rest of her training or go home.

I've heard many good things about Tamora Pierce both through the Internet and through friends that have read her books, but I haven't thought to pick up any of her books until now. I saw First Test in a used bookstore (that I've gotten a lot of my recently-reviewed books from) and curious, I bought it to see what the fuss was about. I see just what everyone was praising and I'm glad I got this book.

I love stories with feminist themes, in which a girl in a male-dominated world is able to become an equal to the men that have been "better than her" for most of her life. First Test and many of Tamora Pierce's other books (according to those good friends of mine and the Internet) has exactly the wonderful feminist themes I was hearing about and hoping for. Kel was a heroine I could relate to and Lord Wyldon was also an interesting character due to his bias towards women becoming knights and how he overcomes that.

I had no idea that this was the third quartet that takes place in Pierce's Tortall realm. I just saw this book, recognized the name, and picked it up. I came into this book with no information whatsoever on the mechanics of the world, but I wasn't confused even once about how it worked. This is certainly a testament to Pierce's talent. If someone can start where I did and not need to read the previous two quartets to understand what is going on, the author is doing something right.

This book is very short- only 206 pages- but it delivers a lot of good material in such a short time. This book is probably longer to others, but I'm so used books that are anywhere from 300 to 850 pages long that this is a quick, short read for me. Better yet, I got through so quickly because I didn't want to put it down to do something else. As the first book of a series, it does a fantastic job of setting up everything within such a short amount of time. She can do in 206 pages what it takes some authors 400 or 500 pages to do with a world that is decidedly less expansive than this one.

I had to stop reading at the beginning because of a scene in which an immortal spider-like monster called a spidren had a bag of kittens and ate two of them. None of you would know this (or do you? I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but my memory is terrible), but I love cats. I have five and I love them all very much. Once I'm able to buy my own cats, I will have as many as the law and decency will allow me to have. The visual imagery of the spidren eating those kittens upset me greatly because cats mean so much to me and I had to put it down for about ten minutes. Form there on, it was smooth sailing, but the image stuck with me and I still get a little queasy about it. This scene had significance--to give Kel another good motivation to become a knight, to make her want to be a "protector of the small" animals and people like kittens--so at least it wasn't gore for the sake of gore like some other authors might do.

I also felt that some of the characters fell a little bit flat. This was mostly applied to the more minor characters like the first-year pages Kel is taught with and the antagonist, Joren of Stone Mountain and his friends. Part of this is due to the short length of the book, leaving less time for development, and partly because they're just that minor. The mystery of who was sending Kel those gifts wasn't much of a mystery either. Before I peeked ahead to confirm my guess (yes, I do that sometimes), I was already sure I knew who it was and I was right.

Like I said, it did a wonderful job as the opening book, but a few parts fell flat. I'm going to seek out the next books and read those too at some point because if a book is this good in its first entry, the next few must be even better!

4 stars!