by Tamora Pierce
Keladry wants to be a knight. Fortunately, the page program for knights in training has been open to girls for the last ten years. Unfortunately, Kel is the first girl to enroll, and a lot of people want to stand in her way. It’s hard enough to get by with so many boys avoiding her or outright picking on her, but the training master has also put Kel on probation for her first year in order to voice his displeasure at having to admit a girl to the program. Having grown up with the stoic Yamani, Kel has learned to master her emotions and rise above such provocation. She is determined to show them all just what she can do.
Your basic girl power story, with a girl showing that she can excel among male peers. What I enjoyed about this one was that Kel made sure to not just behave like a boy in order to gain acceptance; although she never wears skirts or dresses at home, she wears them to dinners at training school to remind everyone that she is a girl. It’s rare to find a girl character who wants to do things boys do but doesn’t express a distaste for all things feminine, so I was pretty pleased with Kel as a character. As for the storyline, it’s is pretty obvious, and it gets really cheesy when these birds Kel feeds decide to follow her on a mission and help her out. It seems like the whole series will go on without anyone nice dying, which is always a bummer for me but it makes it a lot better for younger kids who just want an inspirational story.
I would definitely recommend this to kids nowadays, even though it seems like something written in the 80s (it was published in 1999). I think it’s pretty standard fare, and I’ve heard Pierce’s other Tortall stories are more original. It would still be enjoyed by a lot of kids who like the other series set in Tortall by Tamora Pierce, The Ranger’s Apprentice series, books with girl characters doing boy things, or castle fiction in general. Some book sites say this is for 12 and up, but it’s super tame so I would shift the age group to 8-12.
by Kristin Cashore
In the Seven Kingdoms, everyone knows that those born with two differently coloured eyes are also born with a Grace–an extraordinary inborn talent for one thing or another. For some, it’s baking a mean mud pie, for others, it may be accounting. For Katsa, it’s being a brutal killing machine. Her talent is unmatched, and her role as the vengeful King Randa’s goon has made her feared throughout the kingdoms. Frustrated at her negative role in life, Katsa takes part in a secret society that tries to do good. It is on one of their missions that she meets a boy who seems to have an identical Grace and who may be part of a larger conspiracy to throw the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil. Brute strength alone won’t fix this problem, and Katsa has to figure out who and how to trust when so much is at stake.
Vancouver KidsBooks started recommending Graceling to young girls who came in to buy Twilight. It is a fantasy novel with romance, mystery, action, and supernatural abilities. There are many differences between this book and the Twilight series, but the most profound contrasts are that this book is socially responsible and incredibly well written. Not an insignificant difference, but a unique one as far as supernatural teen fiction goes. Katsa does not want to get married, can physically overpower all of the males in the book, will not sacrifice her values for romance, and is a natural leader. The male lead is respectful of women, cooperative in heroic situations, and shows no evidence of the creepy controlling-man syndrome seen in Stephenie Meyer’s books. Awesome values aside, this book was exciting and surprising, and I would love to read it again.
Even though Graceling is about a girl, I really hope book hawkers everywhere talk it up to boys as well as girls. It’s got a lot of action, bad-ass characters, surprising twists, and a nice absence of gushy romantic feelings (even if it is slightly romantic). A good book for teens of all ages who like castle fiction or supernatural action. Read before Fire!
by John Flanagan
A good first book for a great, long series. Will, an orphan, must undergo a selection process in order to become an apprentice of some trade or other in his fiefdom. He desperately wants to be a soldier, but he is overlooked and Horace, the boy who bullies Will constantly, is chosen instead. Will has been chosen to be the apprentice of the mysterious Halt, the fiefdom’s ranger. Rangers are trained to be stealth protectors of the kingdom, and Will undergoes intense training to hone his skills in undetected movement, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. When an old enemy from Halt’s past re-surfaces, Will’s training is finally put to the test. Meanwhile, Horace has become the victim of bullies at Battleschool, and must learn how to thwart his foes without showing any weakness that might cause him trouble as a knight’s apprentice.
Honestly, the events of the first book seem boring to describe, as it involves a lot of realistic hard work and character development. Will shows a lot of promise, but he only becomes good at what he does by lots of practice. I thought it was a nice change from a lot of other books where the protagonist is “special” and comes equipped with more power than he knew he had. The mentor-mentee relationship between Halt and Will progresses as the series goes on and is really strong but not overly mushy. The books are dependably righteous adventure novels. Will never really fails or has too many moral quandaries, although he does later have to dig himself out of an accidental drug addiction.
Even though Will is 15 in the first book, a lot of younger kids will find him accessible as a character since he is pretty naive and immature. The way I sell these books to kids is by telling them that it’s set in the times of kings and castles, and a boy has to train as a king’s ranger, which is basically like a medieval ninja.