The Woman Who Rides Like A Man by Tamora Pierce
Publication Year: 1986
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: The Song of the Lioness
Narrator: Trina Alvarado
WHY: Well, it's pretty self-explanatorily the third book in a series I have been enjoying.
Out of guilt and sadness, I've been dragging my feet about writing this review. You see, most of my thoughts on this YA classic are pretty negative which bums me out and makes me feel like an old curmudgeonly jerk. But before I get to the complaining, here's what happens in the book.
SYNOPSIS: Alanna of Trebond is now officially a knight and she sets off into the world to do knightly things. Honestly, I don't remember if she has a goal when she sets out? Anyway, she ends up being captured by the people who live in the Desert, the Bashir (sp?), who are obviously patterned after a generic middle-eastern culture. Even though this culture only allows women into more home-based roles, Alanna quickly wins them over, beats the one bad person who doesn't love her and becomes the tribe's shaman. She adopts 3 young people as her apprentices and brings Prince Jonathan in to broker a historic alliance between the two peoples.
The positives? I liked the change of setting and an exploration of a slightly different form of magic. The story while a little meandering was interesting enough to keep me listening. The tone of the books has become more and more overtly feminist which is mostly a good thing. Pierce doesn't inject or explore a lot of the nuance between feminism and a respect of a different culture though she doesn't do a terrible job - she doesn't demonize the entire desert culture/people, just certain elements and the book does suggest that some of the feminist shifts are already slowly happening naturally. However, there is a touch of the white savior complex happening here.
And that's about it for the positives.
My major beef in this installment, if you can't tell from the synopsis, is with Alanna who has become increasingly less appealing as the series has gone on. I loved the spunky cross-dressing girl of the first book who worked hard to become a knight. Unfortunately, her characterization has become increasingly shallow and unbelievable as time has gone on and she crossed the line into unlikeable for me in this book.
Reason number one is that she is good, nee the best, at absolutely everything. Oh she messes up now and again but even her screw ups end up just making people love her more. Because they all do. Love her. Most of the men she encounters want her or if they're a little older, wish she was their daughter. In fact, her old teacher Myles officially adopts her and leaves her his estate and all his wealth. Oh there's a few people who don't like her which immediately tags them as the villains of the piece. Basically, she is too good at everything and everybody loves her too much for her to be relateable and she is not given enough depth to balance her perfection.
And then there is her love life which is literally THE WORST. I liked when Prince Jonathan and she started up a clandestine affair in book 2 but when it was revealed that her friend George also had the hots for her I almost audibly groaned. In this book some manufactured strife is created by Pierce pretty randomly injecting some hard core male chauvinism into Jonathan. He starts off legitimately struggling with the weight of responsibility that comes with being the heir to the throne and is feeling stifled and restless. Alanna is completely unsympathetic about this despite the fact that many of her objections to getting married, because of course Jonathan proposes, are exactly the same reasons he is struggling. She at least has the luxury of saying no or at least not right now. It is at this point Pierce has Jonathan suddenly and uncharacteristically act like an Alpha-hole out of a romance novel so that Alanna has an excuse to storm off in a huff while being morally superior and judgmental. And of course she heads to George. Whom she begins sleeping with. After hearing rumors that Prince Jonathan is paying attention to another lady.
And please don't think that I am slut-shaming in any way. If Alanna enjoys sex she can sleep around all she likes. What I have a problem with is that she is sleeping with two men who are in love with her while she is not entirely sure of her feelings or intentions. Both the men are ready to make a commitment to her - their intentions are clear. She comes across as using them for comfort and to boost her self-esteem while not having any intention of returning their commitment. It's pretty crappy. And it should make me like her more because it's a break in her perfection but the problem is there are no real consequences or payoff in the book. Everybody still loves her. It's sloppy and shallow and the whole kerfuffle just feels false and manufactured.
Contemplating it, I think I wouldn't have had these problems with Alanna if I had read this at 15. I wouldn't have minded the lack of complex and consistent characterization and would have just enjoyed having a strong, desirable female to read about. However as an adult, her character is just not working for me anymore.
FINAL VERDICT: This book mostly just gave me a headache but I have enough love for books one and two of this series to finish it out and will continue on to book 4. As such it gets a generous 3 out of 5 stars.
Other Opinons Are Available: Book Whispers | Leaf's Reviews