If you’re looking for an adventure of a young girl who is fed-up with being a girl and doing “girl things” such as take up her place at a convent to learn magics; then Alanna: The First Adventure is the Young Adult fantasy tale for you!
Alanna dares to suggest to her twin brother Thom, who has no more interest in going off to learn the ways of knighthood than Alanna does in holing up to practice magic at a convent, that they switch places instead and both get what they want out of life. The story follows Alanna as she struggles to define who she will be, while coming to gripes with the female body she has. This means we find out about how she needs to keep hidden the physical manifestations of her entrance into womanhood and also witness her innocent confusion and fear when she gets her first period.
Alanna is an amazing character to follow as she fights to deal with her own perceptions of what it means to pretend to be a boy and a page; when really a girl and a kick-ass page (aka knight-in-training)! This does give a lot of the “female working harder to prove she’s as good as or better than boys” but also has some sweet dips into thoughts on puberty, gender, what it means to be yourself, friendship and also a good healthy dose of fantasy magics to balance with the physical strain of battle-training Alanna goes through.
I enjoyed the tale, even if the story of girl-dressed-as-boy is not necessarily an original or earth-shattering one. What I really loved was how the character of Alanna grows throughout and matures. I’d look forward to reading more of her adventures as there seem to be others since this book was published in 1983.
Character descriptions were kept to a minimum and are given in a factual way as simply information to set your imagination with person-shaped place-holders around which to imagine the actual story. It was rather interesting and a bit refreshing.
“The two boys were about the same height, but the dark-haired boy seemed to be about a year younger and much more commanding.”
“A stocky blond page stepped forward. His hair was still wet from washing.”
“He was short and plump, with long brown hair streaked with gray, and a long shaggy beard… He had a tiny, delicate nose and a smiling mouth.”
Sadly, like the YA tale by Lloyd Alexander that I just reviewed, this book does not delve into any sort of diversity outside of gender and the appealing size neutrality and would win no awards for far-reaching themes. However overall the style of writing was engaging and lively and the story kept me turning pages to find out what would happen next.