Protector of the Small

“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,” First Test, Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small: First Test and Page by Tamora Pierce
First Test: 206 pages, Page: 245
Genre: Fantasy, children’s lit.
Published by: Random House, 1999, 2000
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (for both)
Re-readability: I could definitely return to these some day.

Reviewed by Indiana

Growing up, it was my sister who voraciously read Tamora Pierce books. She read nearly everything the author (who actually lived nearby) wrote. Yet, I never picked them up. I’m glad I’m finally doing so now.

Keladry of Mindelan (or Kel for short) is one of the toughest heroines one could find. She wants more than anything to be a knight and with a new law in the kingdom of Tortall that says girls can finally train for knighthood, it seems like things are falling into place.

Some knights, and members of the royal family, and young men training to be knights themselves aren’t fond of change and will try everything in their power to stop Kel. Unlike other young men training to be a knight, Kel is told that she must go through a probationary period of one year and if Lord Wyldon (who watches over the training and is especially against letting Kel become a knight) says she’s not good enough she’s out.

Though I would have liked to learn more about the world of Tortall, where magic, knights, and mythical creatures collide, Pierce does a wonderful job of creating a rich story seen through Kel’s perspective. In that sense there’s a focus on character development, though I would argue that it’s simply character strengthening. Kel doesn’t really change, she just becomes more comfortable within herself.

While there are many fellow students who want her out, Kel manages to find one or two loyal friends in the beginning of her training. She eventually earns the respect and friendship of many in her class, though a few remain stubborn, fighting with her and insisting she go home.  Kel also makes a few animal friends in both books, who come to her aid when she least expects.

Pierce does an excellent job of pacing, both in the first and in the second books in the series. In First Test, she goes into detail about the various physical and academic challenges the students face, along with the squabbles between the students. But in the second, Pierce skims over those aspects and brings Kel challenges outside of training, which make for an interesting, yet classic-feeling plot.

At the start of Page, Kel takes on a servant, Lalasa, who has been physically abused by the men in the castle who have employed her. With bruises all over her face and arms and a quivering countenance, Kel’s first instinct is to protect her. In doing so, she teaches Lalasa how to protect herself, despite Lalasa’s initial protestations. They eventually form a friendship and Lalasa helps Kel through the worst parts of becoming a woman, tough to do in the midst of constant physical, mental, and social challenges.

Both First Test and Page felt like classic and tightly wound tales and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

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