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Literature: Protector of the Small
“When people say a knight's job is all glory, I laugh and laugh and laugh. Often I can stop laughing before they edge away and talk about soothing drinks.”

The third series in the Tortall Universe. Ten years after King Jonathan decreed that noble girls can train for the knighthood, someone finally comes forward to accept the offer: Keladry of Mindelan. However, the presence of Alanna and Thayet hasn't magically done away with the deeply entrenched misogyny and paternalism of Tortallan culture, and Kel is faced with discrimination right away when the training master, Lord Wyldon of Cavall, insists that she be put on probation. Fighting against bullies and frequently shifting standards, Kel is ready to fight injustice and earn her shield.

Protector of the Small is also the last Tortall series to be a quartet. The success of Harry Potter made publishers realize that kids and teens will, in fact, read long books, allowing Pierce quite a bit more leeway after the writing of Page.

The character sheet may be found here.

  • First Test
  • Page
  • Squire
  • Lady Knight

Tropes appearing in this series include...

  • Action Pet: Jump, a dog of war if there was ever one.
  • A Birthday, Not A Break: Kel remembers it's her birthday after falling out of a tree.
    • She spends another fending off a bandit attack with a few of her friends, and then throwing up in front of Lord Wyldon thanks to her fear of heights.
  • Abuse Mistake: Kel goes to the public baths one day to enjoy soaking in the warm water. Concerned women rush over to assure her that whoever he is, even if he's a noble, he'll be caught and tried and made to pay. She has to explain that she is a squire and those are normal injuries that one gets from combat training.
  • Action Girl: Kel, of course, who is in training to become a Lady of War.
  • Action Mom:
    • Alanna is a mother by this time and still an active-duty knight, although she has to play a minor role thanks to politics.
    • Kel's mother is not a warrior by trade, but that didn't stop her from fighting off pirates in the Yamani Isles when Kel was a little girl.
  • Ambadassador: Kel's parents, but her mother in particular. Her rescue of royal treasure from pirates raised the Mindelans' stock quite significantly with the Yamanis.
  • Badass: It's a series about kids learning to be knights and the knights who train them. Keladry is this, of course, but so are many of the other characters.
  • Almighty Mom: Kel's mom, Baroness Ilane. Apart from being an Ambadassador, she speaks quite sharply to Wyldon and the palace healers at the end of Page, sets her daughters-in-law to "several years worth of mending" when they compare Kel to a cow, and has a very frank conversation with Kel about sex and attitudes towards in Squire.
  • Ascended Extra: Raoul of Goldenlake becomes Kel's knight-master in Squire.
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: The original edition covers for the US and UK all depict Kel in roughly the same scenes (holding a spear, the baby griffin, her helmet) but the American ones for Squire and Lady Knight make her look serious and intent rather than smiling and optimistic.note 
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: The animals at the Palace are all unnaturally bright thanks to Daine living there. The sparrows Kel feeds soon become attached to her enough that they drive away bullies, both from Kel and people Kel likes, and fetch help when needed. A bunch of horses break up a fight between the pages, unsettling the training masters. And Daine deliberately infuses the camp animals with intelligence in Lady Knight, although she considers it Dirty Business.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: Alanna acts as this for Kel, anonymously sending her practical and high quality gifts such as a bruise balm infused with healing magic, armor and weapon cleaning supplies from the realm's best armory, and saddlebags stocked with camping gear, since she is not allowed to openly mentor the girl. Kel doesn't find out who her mysterious benefactor until after she is knighted and Alanna presents her with a new longsword.
  • Anti-Climax Boss: Invoked in Lady Knight when Kel finally reaches Blayce the Gallan. Once she sees through his concealment spell, he goes down easily. She's a little incredulous at how little effort it takes to kill such a monstrous individual.
  • Badass Family: The house of Mindelan. Kel's mom is an Ambadassador and two of her brothers became knights themselves, both veterans of the Immortals War. And even before she goes off to page training, Kel is badass enough to fight a group of boys on her own and try driving off a spidren.
  • Badass Normal: Kel, the only protagonist in Pierce novels not to have any magical abilities.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: A borderline example in Lady Knight. Stenmun drags children to the castle, then Blayce has them bathed, clothed in silk, fed well, and given toys before he kills them for his devices.
  • Beta Couple: Raoul and Buri get together in Squire while all of the squires are falling in and out of love.
  • The Big Guy: Raoul, good grief. He's called the Giant-Killer, but he practically is one himself.
  • Blade on a Stick: Kel and her mother both use naginata, and are quite good with them. A later book describes Kel as "that mad woman with the giant pigsticker."
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Kel notices right away how pretty the platinum-haired Joren of Stone Mountain is. She notices next what a misogynist douche he is, and he becomes her arch-nemesis until his death in the Chamber of Ordeals.
  • Broken Pedestal: Keladry is very soured on Jonathan when he allows Wyldon to put her on probation. When she meets him after Joren's trial and learns that he has to keep a lot of things balanced if he wants to make reforms without his vassals rebelling, she's a little more understanding, but she still seems to dislike him on a personal level.
    • We also hear that this decision caused the longest rift ever between him and Alanna.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Lalasa was raped by her older brother and her parents refused to believe her. It made her understandably cynical about authority and men.
  • Bully Hunter: Kel during her page days.
  • Camping a Crapper: Joren and his gang try to ambush Kel at the latrine in First Test—only to be attacked by her sparrows.
  • Central Theme:
    • People with strength and power should use it to protect those who don't have any, rather than abuse it.
    • Societal progress is a long process that is painful for pioneers, but worthwhile.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Kel, a natural leader, wonders in Lady Knight if her old schoolmates resent her commanding them. She also has to refrain from greeting old friends with a hug — the leader can't drop her dignity.
    • Not to mention that, in order to gain the trust and respect of her command, she needs to do every unpleasant chore in camp without complaining, and she fully expects to be executed for coming to the rescue of several hundred children. She spends at least sixteen hours of every day working.
    • Princess Kalasin is another example that occurs off-screen. She had wanted to become the first openly female page, but her father vetoed the idea for political reasons. So she did a deal with him where she gets final veto power over any marriage arrangements and heavy involvement in any negotiations.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Balor's Needle—a very tall, thin tower in the palace that Kel shudders to even look at, and which pages are barred from since one committed suicide there a few years ago—is pointed out in First Test. She actually winds up forced to climb it early in Page when Gary chances to send her up on an errand. Jon has to put her in a trance so she can get back down. She has to go back alone and unaided at the end when Lalasa is kidnapped there in the end.
  • Chilly Reception: In First Test, Kel hasn't even set foot in the castle for her page training before she's being hazed, having been put on probation by her training master. Needless to say, the boys she trains with don't exactly improve matters. She makes friends and triumphs regardless.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Not as much as Alanna or Daine, but Keladry is given a quest by the Chamber of the Ordeal in Squire, and it sticks with her for the Lady Knight. She's not pleased about it.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Occasionally, or respect if not actually friendship. In Squire, one conservative knight admits that he was wrong after Kel defeats him in a joust. In Lady Knight a convict soldier turns out to be one of the bandits she'd fought as a page, and he compliments her publicly about the battle.
  • Demoted to Extra: This is invoked and justified in the small prologue for First Test. Alanna is eager to mentor the first openly female page in over a century, but Jonathan and Wyldon forbid her from doing so, as the conservatives will just claim that Alanna helped her with magic. She makes up for it by anonymously sending practical and high-quality gifts like sharpening stones and bruise balm, but she's only able to meet Kel in public after Kel is a squire, and briefly, to keep people from getting suspicious.
  • Determinator: Kel has this in spades. Whether it's dealing with the rigors of training, facing the prospect of repeating four years of pagehood, or rescuing two hundred refugees who've been taking deep into enemy territory, you had better not get in the way of her doing it.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Wyldon, though he's never (or rarely) shown to needlessly raise his voice. He's a hard, uncompromising disciplinarian, but his purpose is that of any drill sergeant: to train the recruits up so they'll survive in battle. They don't have to like him.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Joren is abruptly killed off partway through book three, between chapters. Kel only hears about it when his father tries to kill her over it. After this, the main plot of the book switches to the Scanran war.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Chamber of the Ordeal, which becomes a major character in the last two books.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Our first meeting with Kel establishes several important things about her: at the age of eleven, she attacks a spidren (a giant spider with a human head) by throwing rocks, in order to save some kittens, and then has a crippling attack of acrophobia.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin:
    • The title of each book in the quartet. Fitting with Kel's matter-of-fact and unromanticnote  personality.
    • The things that the Tortallans dub "killing devices" from the last two books: giant metal contraptions that Scanra uses as weapons.
  • Face Your Fears: The Chamber, as in the Lioness books, although it turns out to be more complex than that. Whenever Kel is at the Palace in Squire, she makes a point of testing herself against its brutal visions before undergoing the real thing.
  • Flaying Alive: Blayce deals with disobedience this way, though Stenmun carries it out. A number of rotting victims hang in cages from the castle walls. Disobedience can be subverting the pain he's going to put the children through by bringing them poppy when he picks them for his killing devices.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Peachblossom's bad-tempered nature is humorously contrasted by his name.
  • Four-Star Badass: Raoul, as Commander of the King's Own.
  • Fresh Clue: In book four Kel and her soldiers are able to tell how close they are to the Scanrans they're pursuing by the freshness of the horse manure they leave.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Although Kel lacks wild magic, she has long had a habit of taking care of abandoned baby animals and strays, from kittens to sparrows to an infant griffin—hence her eventual nickname. (Daine's proximity at the palace means that many of these animals start gaining intelligence anyway.)
  • Generation Xerox: Joren of Stone Mountain is so filled with bigotry that he dies during his Ordeal (a magical experience in which one's flaws are tested), and when his father comes to blame Kel for it, he proves himself to be much the same.
  • The Ghost: Maggur Rathhausak, the King of Scanra, is often referred to but is never encountered by any of the characters.
  • Girls Need Role Models: In-universe in Squire. Kel's status as a Badass Normal makes her far more accessible a role model for other girls who want their shields, as opposed to the Goddess-touched and powerfully Gifted Alanna.
  • Glove Slap: Any knight Kel refuses to joust in Squire does this—once it happens a few times, she gives up and just accepts from the start. That is, until Crown and Freckle pass away and Kel, too upset to joust, angrily maintains her refusal to her challenger even after being slapped.
  • Good Is Not Nice: This series moves away from the Black and White Morality some with this. Prejudiced Lord Wyldon proves eventually to be good, though flawed. Raoul specifically points out to Kel, who also saw it with the emperor of the Yamani Islands, that a good king isn't necessarily a nice king.
  • Hand Signals: Frequently seen while Kel is with the King's Own. She continues to use them in Lady Knight and teaches the sparrows several flight signals as well.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Pierce has said that Lalasa is gay, but it wasn't important enough to put in the books outside of subtext between her and Tian without invoking Have I Mentioned I am Gay?.
  • Huge Schoolgirl: The last time Kel's height is mentioned, she's 5'10", fifteen, and not done growing yet.
  • Horsing Around: The horses of Tortall have very distinct personalities in general, but special mention goes to Peachblossom, Kel's inappropriately named, bad-tempered gelding, who decides to be Kel's equine partner because she treated him well, and because, as he tells Daine she needs to be looked after.
  • I Can Still Fight: Merric pulls this in Lady Knight. Though still affected by bloodloss from his wounds, he insists on joining Kel's quest to save Haven's captured refugees by being tied to his horse.
    Kel: You had to tie him to his horse to get him this far!
    Merric: [in tones of utmost reason] But I'm really well tied.
  • Infant Immortality: Way averted in Squire and Lady Knight. The killing devices are powered by the souls of dead children.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: The sparrows, Justified because they are smart enough to recognize commands rather than relying solely on homing instinct, and they're only sent over short distances (elsewhere in a village or on a battlefield).
  • It Never Gets Any Easier: Buri tells Kel this after a Public Execution of bandits Kel helped capture. Kel is disturbed by the festival atmosphere when she knows the bandits' circumstances are as mean as their victims, and Buri assures Kel that nobody in the Riders or King's Own enjoys hangings either.
  • Jousting Lance: Plays an important role in Squire allowing Kel to show that she is just as worth to be a knight as any male.
  • Karma Houdini: Garvey passes the Chamber without any ill effects. Some fans speculate that his knight-master, who complimented Kel's jousting skill, got him to stop being such a jerk once he was away from Joren.
  • Karmic Death: Joren of Stone Mountain, punished by the Chamber of the Ordeal. Too fatally inflexible to handle the prospect of Keladry succeeding as a lady knight.
  • Lady of War: Keladry by the time of Lady Knight.
  • The Lancer: Flighty Deadpan Snarker Neal to level-headed stoic Kel.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Vinson is punished for beating and raping commoner women when the Chamber of the Ordeal makes him physically experience what he did to them. Justified in that it's a godlike entity that examines would-be knights' souls.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: In accordance with Pierce's newly expanded page limit—a cast list appears in back of Squire, setting a trend for every subsequent Pierce novel.
  • Magic Music: Numair Salmalin manages to retrieve several large boulders to fortify the defences around an army camp in Protector Of The Small. Word of God says that the name of the music he uses - "The Sorcerer's Dance" - is meant to reference the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
    • It should also be noted that the Sorcerer's Dance is considered an absurdly simple spell (the scale Numair which uses is rather huge though). Scanran mages are also mentioned to be quite good at music magic.
  • Mama Bear: Despite never actually having children, Kel fits the mold quite well indeed. Do not pick on people close to her. There's a reason the quartet of books featuring her are collectively called the "Protector of the Small" series.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: The man creating the killing devices, revealed in the Chamber's vision to be a dumpy, fidgety little man with acne. When Kel kills him in Lady Knight, she's shocked at how easily he dies.
  • Maybe Ever After: At the end of Lady Knight. Kel is still attracted to Dom, and the book ends with excited to see him again. Pierce specifically avoided They Do with anyone to show that it's possible to have a happy ending without romance.
  • Mind-Control Device: Blayce tries to do this on Kel in their battle. Not really a specific device, as Numair explains, but most mages need a shiny object to grab their target's attention.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Wyldon will only retain his post as training master if Kel is accepted on probation instead of a full page, despite the letter of the law, and the king agrees. Kel is very unhappy.
  • Must Let Them Get Away: Joren is only fined as a sentence for having Lalasa abducted due to his status as a noble and hers as a servant. Kel is quite disgusted.
  • Naginatas Are Feminine: Keladry is trained in them, and her mother once helped hold off a pirate invasion with one. They're specifically mentioned as a weapon woman train in the Yamani isles, which are based on Japan.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Between Joren's antics and Wyldon's desire to make Kel leave of her own accord, Keladry becomes stronger and more skilled than she probably would have otherwise. Wyldon acknowledges that Kel became a stronger person than her male peers because she had to overcome so much more than they did.
  • Non-Lethal Warfare: Mock battles using non lethal weapons in Kel's Page years.
  • Non Sequitur Thud: Not as random as some examples, but Kel is noticeably... ineloquent after three rounds of jousting with Lord Wyldon.
    Kel: I know, my lord. You wish I were a boy. But being a girl is more fun. More fun-er? Is that right?
    Wyldon: Go lie down, Mindelan. You're tilt-silly.
  • Older and Wiser: King Jonathan is much more experienced and political here than he was during the Lioness books.
  • Only The Chosen May Ride: There's a mundane example in Peachblossom. He's a gelding with a foul temper and generalized misanthropy after having been abused, and Daine has to persuade him to let Kel ride him. Kel is the only person who can do so (he'll kick or bite anyone else) until Tobe, who has horse magic and can communicate with him like Daine does.
  • On Patrol Montage: Occurs in First Test. Kel goes "running in the halls" every night to fight older pages who take hazing too far (which is mosly Joren). Eventually Neal and her other friends insist on joining her, and they put a stop to it.
  • Paper Fan of Doom: The Yamani shukusen, which sport razor-sharp metal struts. They like to play catch with them. And this is why you should never try messing with a Yamani noblewoman. Particularly because they're also trained in self defense and Naginata skills.
  • Pet the Dog: Wyldon does this literally. He takes a liking to Jump, despite rules against pages having pets, which is the first indication that he's not as bad as he seems.
  • Platonic Life Partners: After losing her schoolgirl crush on him, Keladry and Neal became this.
  • Politically-Active Princess: Kalasin. She wants to be a knight, but due to the current state of the country she cannot do so without causing trouble. She decides instead to compromise with her parents, allowing her considerably more freedom with who she marries if she doesn't become a page. Keep in mind she's ten at best during this.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Joren and co. are sexist when ever they feel they can get away with it. As a bonus, they are also extremely classist and treat commoners like dirt.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: When the killing devices show up, they speak like toddlers or cry like infants once they're broken. It's later revealed that Blayce, their creator, does not actually have to use children. He just likes to because he's a sick, twisted little man.
  • Promotion Not Punishment: At the end of Lady Knight Kel is 'punished' for her desertion by being put in charge of a new and bigger refugee camp. This is helped by the fact that Wyldon realised that he asked too much of her by ordering her to abandon her kidnapped people, particularly when she was chosen for the duty in the first place because she would care about them.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: A brief but jarring example in Lady Knight. Neal magics Alvik, the innkeeper who physically abused Tobe, so that any attempt to beat his other servants will rebound on him. Forcing a magic is illegal, but Neal's response is basically "I'm a Queenscove." The problem is, noble abuse of privilege and private law was a major point in Squire, one that Kel protested fiercely. While Neal is trying to do a good thing, the contradiction between here and Kel's opinion in Squire is not acknowledged; instead she unambiguously approves of his actions. (Granted, the innkeeper had just hit Kel's Berserk Button hard and he had connections to the local magistrate himself.)
  • Proud Warrior Race Girl: Buri. At this point, she's a high-ranking member of the Queen's Riders.
  • Psychological Torment Zone: The Chamber of Ordeals. If you go in, and are not fit to be a knight, it will break you. As Joren and Vinison found out. And if you are, you'll still be quite wobbly afterwards.
  • Punishment Detail: In Lady Knight, Kel makes sure everyone—including herself—rotates through latrine detail. But she also uses extended latrine detail in lieu of whipping and threatens a particularly difficult man that she'll have him noted as having a particular talent for cleaning sewage tubs if he doesn't settle down.
  • Put on a Bus: Most of Kel's page friends disappear for Squire, as they're scattered around the country with their own knight-masters. Neal and Cleon are the ones most frequently seen. The Bus Came Back in Lady Knight when they were all posted to the Scanran front.
  • Real Women Never Wear Dresses: Subverted by Kel on her first day there. She wears a dress specifically to remind everyone that she is a girl and has a perfect right to be there, thank you very much.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In Lady Knight, Kel initially thinks that her assignment to build and manage a refugee camp south of the Scanran border is this, with the not-unreasonable thought that she's being kept from the front because she's female. However, this is not the case—she's given the job because Wyldon and Raoul know that she's incredibly responsible and unlikely to go haring off out of boredom, unlike some of her peers.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Fully aware that it's technically treason, Kel still rides off into enemy territory to rescue her kidnapped refugees. In the middle of a war.
  • Serial Romeo: Neal. His friends are quite surprised when he starts to act very differently around Yukimi whom he marries. Usually, he will sigh and mope and write bad poetry about women who already have husbands, or at least lovers.
  • Series Continuity Error: Kel says her joust with Raoul in Squire is the first time she's tilted at a live person, but it actually isn't. Pierce has admitted she simply forgot.
    • In the same book, she goes straight from her fourteenth birthday to the sixteenth, with only one year seeming to pass.
    • In Lady Knight Raoul says that no one has ever entered the Chamber of the Ordeal twice. Except that Song of the Lioness established that kings have to do it too, and presumably there have been quite a few who were knights first.
  • She Will Come for Me: If you are under her protection and something happens to you, Keladry will come for you.
  • Shout-Out: Lord Wyldon of Cavall is a blatant one to Cavall, King Arthur's favourite hunting dog. He is pathologically loyal, ruthless, kindhearted and breeds dogs.
  • Shown Their Work: Crown's death happens not for any plot-related reason, but simply because the story had reached the absolute limit of how long sparrows are known to live.
  • Shrinking Violet: Lalasa, at first.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: This seems to be the default state of Yamani women. We don't get to see them in action, but after Neal interrupts a game of fan toss, Yuki tells him the following Yamani proverb, right before she uses the fan to slice up a wooden tent pole as if it were made of paper.
    Beware the women of the warrior class, for all they touch is both beautiful and deadly.
  • Straight for the Commander: Discussed in Squire. Some of the King's Own favor killing the soldiers first as they're the ones who do most of the fighting. Kel and Dom prefer to kill officers first because they think and lead.
  • The Stoic: Kel and her "Yamani face." She uses it to get through the hazing and sexism without visibly blowing a gasket.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Kel's father is stated to be about five foot four, while her mother is a good several inches taller. Kel inherited her mother's height.
  • Title Drop: In Lady Knight, the Chamber of Ordeals names her Protector of the Small. Kel is not thrilled with the nickname, but it gets picked up by the rest of Tortall anyway.
  • Training from Hell: Wyldon does this on purpose anyway (they are, after all, training to be war leaders), but Kel has to deal with the misogynists' continual attempts to drive her out of training on top of that.
  • True Companions: Kel, Neal, and several other pages from their year become this.
  • Waif Prophet: Irnai, a little girl who first appears in Lady Knight. She showed up in a Scanran village one day and predicted that the "Protector of the Small" would come with her companions (alluding to the other knights, Fanche, etc) and her "knowing animals." But she can only give fifty-fifty odds that they'll actually beat Blayce.
  • War Is Hell: Present in the encounters with bandits that happen during Keladry's page years, but it becomes a major theme in Squire and Lady Knight as hostilities with Scanra become a full-fledged war. The descriptions of death and brutality are quite vivid.
  • War Refugees: Much of what Kel deals with in Lady Knight. Even though they're civilians, they're subject to frequent attack due to their location and must be trained to fight alongside the meager amount of soldiers allotted to the camp's protection.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Kel's stern training master Lord Wyldon serves as one of these for Kel — a conservative opposed to the concept of female knights, but fair enough to recognize her hard work and skill. He even admits to Kel that it took a little arm-twisting from his own conscience for him to allow her to stay on as a page after her first year, and up until that point she was all but convinced that he intended to see her fail regardless of her actual talent.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Kel's fear of heights is crippling, making her freeze up and sometimes vomit. When Wyldon figures this out, he orders her to climb tall trees and landmarks to survey the area to get her over it, and she starts climbing walls in the Palace for the same reason. She kicks the worst parts of the fear after being forced to climb down Balor's Needle in Page, but she still never likes them.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Neal and his father Duke Baird when compared to Numair magically. Nowhere near as powerful but as healers trained to a level of precision that Numair could never hope to match because of his Ace Lightning Syndrome. It's only in comparison to people like Numair and Alanna, though; otherwise they are considered to have a strong Gift.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Joren's plot at the end of Page. Either Keladry ignores the kidnappers' note, incurring shame for abandoning her servent, or she rescues Lalasa and misses the page exam, thus having to repeat the four years of training (and, the culprit assumes, quitting rather than doing it all over again). She chooses to rescue Lalasa, and the examiners decide to let her take the exams anyway in light of the extraordinary circumstances.
  • You Killed My Father: Seaver and spidrens. He flips out at the end of First Test and attacks the spidrens head-on, saying the trope name word-for-word.
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