“You frighten them. You are too new; you are too different. Will they have to behave differently, now that you are of the tribe? Better that you die and become a legend. Legends force no one to change.”
Song of the Lioness is the first series set in the Tortall Universe and stars Alanna of Trebond, a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight. The books follow her from the beginning of her training to adulthood as she struggles with issues both internal and external: chiefly her feelings about her gender and sexuality, and then the court intrigues surrounding the King's brother as well as becoming part of Tortalll's army as it wars with its neighbors... to say nothing of her dealings with gods.Originally meant as one book for the adult market, Pierce divided it into four and made a large amount of cuts to conform to the rules of length and content that Young Adult Literature had in The Eighties. It is also a famous work of Feminist Fantasy due to the focus given to gender issues and its message that girls have nothing to be ashamed of, whether compared to men or other kinds of girls.A list of characters is found here, but because many of the characters appear in subsequent series, there are many spoilers.
Alanna: The First Adventure
In The Hand Of the Goddess
The Woman Who Rides Like A Man
Tropes present in this series include:
All of the Other Reindeer: Kourrem, Kara, and Ishak—Alanna's students in the third book—are shunned by the rest of the Bloody Hawk tribe because their Jerkass shaman rails against them as demonic.
Animal Assassin: In the second book, Roger magics a boar to kill Alanna in her snow shelter. Later, he does the same with a man-eating wolf and its mate. Alanna defeats both.
Action Girl: Alanna herself, of course. Thayet and Buri also count.
Afraid of Needles: Alanna faints when getting her ears pierced, much to Thayet's amusement.
Arrow Catch: Liam, the Shang Dragon, catches one of the assassin's arrows during the assassination attempt on Thayet in Rachia.
Artifact of Death: The crystal sword in The Woman Who Rides Like A Man. It's soaked in Roger's magic and incites horrible bloodlust in anyone who wields it while trying to drain their life-force. Alanna eventually claims it and puts a lot of work into neutralizing it.
Asleep for Days: Alanna does this after the battle by the river in Alanna: The First Adventure. It happens again again after her ordeal to gain the Dominion Jewel in Lioness Rampant.
Axe Crazy: Josiane of the Copper Isles. Literally. Stated to have been the result of inbreeding in the island kingdom.
A Birthday, Not a Break: When Alanna and the other knights and squires are sent off to fight in Tusaine, she notes how she'll be in her first war before she turns 16. Indeed, her birthday comes during that grueling summer which is filled with fighting and death.
Black and White Morality: People who like Alanna are good; people who do not like Alanna are bad. Particularly stark with Alanna's friendship with the Rogue and his Court means that one of the Realm's knights, and later other knights as well as the Crown Prince himself are aware of crimes being committed but do nothing to interfere.
Burn the Witch!: In The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, Alanna intervenes when a village, suffering from a drought and inflamed by a religious fanatic, turns on its local healer and tries to burn her at the stake.
Came Back Wrong: Implied to be the case for Duke Roger. At first it seems not so, thanks to his very clever and self-effacing attitude after coming back to life, but during the final battle it's pretty clear he's gone completely insane (and lost much of the nasty manipulations and misleading obfuscation that made him such an admirable villain the first time around).
Comes Great Responsibility: Before Alanna goes to Corus, Maude warns her that her Gift has the power to both heal and kill, and she must use the healing to make up for the deaths she'll cause as a knight.
One of the reprints◊ puts a very pouty Alanna in modern-looking clothing. The third book is the worst—see below for the whole thing.
Some of the foreign editions can get... interesting. One of the Thai covers traces over that picture of Napoleon (you know, the iconic one) and just gives it a feminine face.
Cosmic Deadline: The strict maximum page limit Pierce was working under means the pacing gets a bit wonky at times, with months or even years passed over with barely a mention.
Covers Always Lie: One edition of The Woman Who Rides Like A Man looks like the male models for a certain other series got lost on their way to the shoot. Aside from the fact that Alanna's romantic woes are only a tiny part of the story, look at the characters' clothes — you'd be forgiven for thinking that the book takes place in modern times...
To a lesser note, the horse pictured on this edition's covers for In The Hand of the Goddess and Lioness Rampant is a very decidedly dark brown color. One would assume that this horse is meant to be Moonlight, Alanna's signature mare, who is described on several occasions in the novels to be more of a creamish color.
Cut Himself Shaving: Page Alanna always excuses the cuts and bruises (and in one case, a broken arm) from Ralon's beatings as "I fell down." Stefan elaborates that he did fall down, several times, after Ralon pushed him.
Dead Man Writing: Liam Ironarm writes a final message for Alanna in Lioness Rampant, only to be read if he dies. (Which he does.)
Deus ex Machina: In the climax of book one, Alanna saves the day with a magical ability we'd never heard about before, with a flashback abruptly thrown in of her learning it. This is a result of the book having to be considerably trimmed down to fit the maximum page length of young adult novels at the time.
Devil in Plain Sight: Roger. Turns out to be justified when it's discovered that he was using a spell to keep anyone from suspecting him.
Divided for Publication: As the summary says, Alanna's story had been written as a single book. Pierce says that fixing it up for YA publication improved it significantly.
Numerous individuals (Mooks and all) who sided with Roger against Jon. Their lives would otherwise be forfeit, but Jon doesn't want to start his reign by killing a bunch of his people.
Eldritch Abomination: The thing inside the Chamber of the Ordeal can come off as a less malevolent, if not outright Lawful Neutral, version of this, given all the wonky descriptions about how it is not a god and how it is completely incapable of defining time and space in ways that can be comprehended in human terms. About the only thing missing is the idea that contact with it can potentially break one's mind. That it does rather deliberately, but it also doesn't play favorites. If the would-be knight can face his/her fears and make it out alive (and with mind intact), he/she will truly be made stronger for it and can serve Tortall admirably. And because its power is so great and can overcome that of mortal sorcerers, it enables Alanna to tear through the veil keeping a villain from suspicion, so she can understand the extent of his plot.
Fantasy Contraception: A magic charm to prevent pregnancy, usually worn on a necklace, is commonly available.
Fantasy Pantheon: The huge pantheon of Tortall is introduced here, with Alanna being chosen to do the work of the Goddess.
Faux Affably Evil: The main villain of Song of The Lioness. There's a reason George calls him Alanna's "smilin' friend". And it's precisely because he seems too nice on the surface that Alanna suspects him, since she's figured out that villains aren't always Obviously Evil. He also plays up the Modest Royalty angle by attempting to be familiar and informal. ("Please don't call me Your Grace, it makes me feel old!")
Feminist Fantasy: Pierce's first published work starts a career of writing these.
Final Battle: They get to do this twice, thanks to the Big Bad being brought Back from the Dead. The second time involves everybody—while Alanna is busy getting sage advice from Thom's Old Master, takes out Princess Josiane, and then goes to face The Dragon and the Big Bad, Jonathan has to hold the land together with the Dominion Jewel, George has to face Claw (actually Ralon of Malven), and then he, Rispah, Coram, Buri, Raoul, and Gary have to face the combined forces of Claw's rogues and revolutionaries led by Tirragen and Eldorne soldiers. Even Myles, Thayet, and Mistress Cooper get involved.
Forbidden Fruit: Roger invokes the hell out of this trope to make sure Jon really wants to visit the Black City, giving the pages a big long lecture about how dangerous it is, and the Bazhir stories are just boogeymen to scare their children but no really lads even I know not to tangle with whatever's going on in there, etcetera etcetera....
Forced Kiss: Happens to Alanna twice in Goddess—first by George, who takes advantage when her hands are full, and later Jon.
Grass Is Greener: Alanna feels stifled by Tortall's gender roles, and rightly so. But she gets some perspective when Thayet informs her that the consensus among Sarain's nobility was that Alanna should have been put to death for daring to take a man's role.
God Was My Copilot: Alanna is blessed by the Goddess. Faithful is hinted to be this as well, which is confirmed in Daine's quartet.
Half-Identical Twins: Alanna and Thom are able to pass themselves off as each other as children, long enough to get to where they'd prefer to go. Not so much as adults, though.
Head-in-the-Sand Management: King Roald was known as the peacekeeper and as a result would avoid confrontations at any cost. On one hand this means that he did not punish Alanna for lying about who she was to become a Knight, and on the other hand Roger got off free from his attempts to kill the Queen after his revival.
Healing Hands: Kourrem, one of Alanna's Bazhir students, is a natural healer.
Hide Your Gays: Word of God says that Duke Roger and Thom were supposed to be in a homosexual relationship, but the Moral Guardians of the late 1980s wouldn't have allowed it in a young adult book (which does not mean she took out all the subtext). This is also a rare case where it was probably for the better, as the only gay characters being the Big Bad and a weak-willed guy he's stringing along would carry plenty of Unfortunate Implications of its own.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Big BadRoger's death is made of this trope. Crosses into Too Dumb to Live territory, for while in his defense he could never have expected Alanna to surrender to anyone, and thereby release the sword, once he saw it coming at him he should have released his spell. Even if for some reason he couldn't, the rather mad way he acts suggests he doesn't even care at that point... which is rather dumb.
I Am Not Left-Handed: After members of a foreign delegation insults the prowess of Tortallan knighthood, Alanna is chosen to defend Tortall's honor in a duel against Tusaine's champion. She does well enough until her opponent manages to wound her in her right arm. Instead of accepting his victory, the knight presses in for the kill. At this point Alanna switches to her left hand, beats him in short order, and delivers a Reason You Suck Speech. The best part? Alanna was only a squire at the time and this was her first serious duel. Justified in that Alanna had to learn to fight with her left as well as her right after a bully broke her right arm during her time as a page.
Idle Rich: The King of Tusaine spends most of his time lounging around and sleeping around—it's his brother and cousin who start the war. When they're captured, the king sues for peace immediately so they can go back to running the country for him.
King Incognito: More of a case of Prince Incognito: "Johnny," the rich young merchant's son befriended by the King of Thieves, is really Prince Jonathan. Also Thayet in Lioness Rampant when on the run during a civil war.
Knight Errant: Alanna starts doing this in The Woman Who Rides Like a Man to escape court and find adventure.
Lost Forever: Pierce created the four final books by literally cutting up her original single manuscript and pasting pieces together, meaning it's impossible to ever see it. And she insists it's better that way, as she much prefers the story she ended up with.
Magic Knight: Alanna has a very strong Gift. Unfortunately, conservatives use this as a reason girls shouldn't be allowed to train for knighthood in later books, claiming that she could only have achieved knighthood through magic.
Make It Look Like an Accident: One of Roger's men puts a burr in Duke Gareth's saddle so the horse will throw him. While it's not lethal, it does break his leg and Roger takes over leading the army in the Tusaine war.
Mauve Shirt: Most of the soldiers Alanna befriends in camp when at war with Tusaine are this. Several become a Sacrificial Lamb as well.
Mook Chivalry: Averted whenever possible, but justified a time or two - Alex wants to test himself against Alanna for real, so tells the soldiers with him to stay out of the fight.
Mystical Plague: The Sweating Sickness that hits Corus in the first book. Although the illness was previously known, this version specifically targets healers by draining their magic when they try to treat people, leaving none capable when it reaches its intended target—the royal family.
Noble Savage: The Bazhir in the third book have elements of this, being Proud Warrior Race Guys who are very big on honor and ritual and live in nomadic tribes. Alanna says more than once that she finds their more honest ways preferable to the social maneuvering at court. (Pierce has said that she does regret playing into this trope.)
No Periods, Period: Completely averted. Alanna panics when her first period begins, as nobody ever explained it to her, and outed herself to George when she went to see his mother for medical help.
Sir Myles has a mild form of it, both when it comes to Alanna's true identity and how she obtained her magical sword in the first book. The latter is a tactic he and Alanna agree on to fool the court and Duke Roger, but the former is one he pulls on Alanna herself when her healing Jonathan of the Sleeping Sickness gives her away.
Thom freaks his teachers the hell out when he stops doing this.
Old Retainer: Coram to Alanna's family, and Buri to Thayet's. Shortly after Alanna and Thayet meet, they have a tongue-in-cheek commiseration about how old family servants don't always do what you want them to.
Old Shame: Not the actual books, but Pierce's original single manuscript before she had to divide and edit it for a younger audience. Despite numerous requests by fans to see at least some of it, she insists what we got was far better and that draft is best left forgotten.
She's also said that she regrets the Stalking Is Love writing in Alanna's romance with George. It was the way most romances were written at the time, but now it's the part of the whole Tortall Universe that she most wishes she could go back and change.
Parental Substitute: Both Myles of Olau and Coram replace Alanna's distant and neglectful father (to the point that Myles adopts her and Coram outright says he has "a father's inerest" in her).
Please Put Some Clothes On: In "Alanna: The First Adventure," when Alan (Alanna) and Jon are fighting the Ysandir, said evil magicians make her clothes disappear, revealing her naked girlyness. Jon ogles her for a moment before blushing and offering his tunic. Also been described as the "lolwutboobies" moment.
Polar Opposite Twins: Alanna prefers using her muscles and is overall more trusting then her brother Thom, who prefers using magic and does not trust anyone.
The Power of Blood: Pretty much every Bazhir ritual involves bloodletting and, in some cases, blood mixing. Kids, don't try this at home.
Prince Charming: Justified in Prince Jonathan of the realm of Tortall who is a lover and a fighter. And oh boy is he a lover - right up until he meets Thayet, anyway, and she steals his heart and his ability to speak in all of ten seconds.
The Quest: Alanna's search for the Dominion Jewel in Lioness Rampant, which was added at the behest of Pierce's editor because fantasy's gotta have quests. Basically, Alanna hears about this thing and decides it'll be a useful way to prove herself as a worthy person to Tortall (rather than a disgrace or a curiosity) and it'll be handy for Jon to rule the kingdom with.
Reality Changing Miniature: In Song of the Lioness, the Big Bad's wax figure of Lianne that he places under a running fountain to wash away her life. Meanwhile he has figures of the king, Jonathan, the Provost, Alanna, and Sir Myles wrapped up in a black sack to "obscure their vision" so they cannot be suspicious of him.
Reality Is Unrealistic: Played with. Alanna at the slightly below-average 5'4" is often called tiny, though this may only be because she spent much of her life disguised as a boy among other boys, and carried over even after she revealed her true gender.
Real Women Never Wear Dresses: Deconstructed. Alanna hates being a girl for most of her childhood, but she learns to accept and enjoy being a woman (including fancy dresses) with some encouragement from Mrs. Cooper and the Great Mother Goddess.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Duke Gareth of Naxen, Gary's father, in Song of the Lioness. Very stern, but very fair. See how he handles the Ralon of Malven situation in book one. He becomes a key adviser to Jonathan in later books, along with Sir Myles.
Reforged Blade: Alanna's sword Lightning is broken and reforged during The Woman Who Rides Like A Man. Being an ancient artifact, normal reforging techniques turn out not to be sufficient, and Alanna has to figure out a special reforging method, which has its own consequences later.
Rule of Symbolism: Used a number of places in Song of the Lioness. The most obvious would be the final battle, where Jonathan wearing the Dominion Jewel creates a Fisher King bond with the land which, if he is killed, will wreak utter havoc on the world. But as early as the first book there is the scene where Alanna rescues Jonathan from the world of the dead (and faces off with the Dark God himself) by descending into a dark well. Her obtaining of the sword Lightning from the Old Ones' ruins (and activating its latent power to save her life) comes only after she "surrenders" to death. (Which doubles as a nice Chekhov's Gun to how she ends up defeating the Big Bad in book four.) In the second book, the obscuring magic the Big Bad uses to keep anyone from suspecting him is represented literally by putting dolls of everyone in a black sack. Later, after Alanna used the Chamber of the Ordeal to "tear through" this veil, she finds a hole in the sack, from which the doll representing her has slipped. Book three's resurrection of a certain character naturally occurs at Tortall's equivalent of Halloween.
Second Book Spoiler: The identity of the Big Bad in Song of the Lioness. All right, it's more of The Untwist, but considering the first book ended with Alanna thinking he was the villain but being unable to prove it, while the very first POV we get from him in the second chapter of the next book makes it clear he is the villain...it kind of makes it hard to discuss the series without giving away too much. A secondary example, with the same villain, occurs after he comes Back from the Dead: much mileage is gotten out of playing up just what forbidden thing Thom did in book three, and whom he brought back...only to have the resurrectee's identity revealed by the cover blurb on book four. Sigh.
Sheathe Your Sword: In a metaphorical way, Alanna passes Lightning's Secret Test of Character like this. Once she stops struggling against the magic and accepts that it will kill her, it goes away and leaves her with the sword.
She Cleans Up Nicely: Alanna's first one comes in In the Hand of the Goddess, when she starts taking lessons from Mistress Cooper in feminine dress and behavior, and George and Jon see her in a dress. Lampshaded by Alanna after Jon starts coming onto her:
This was what came of wearing a dress! Men got ideas when a person wore skirts!
Also in Lioness Rampant, where her comrade/lover Liam, despite thinking she looks pretty, reacts snappishly and tells her basically that she can't be a warrior and a lady and she'd better straighten out her priorities. Later he apologizes.
Smug Snake: Akhnan ibn Nazzir, the shaman of the Bloody Hawk tribe. He continually picks fights with Alanna even though she's both more powerful and more competent at magic than he is. He endangers the tribe several times by sloppy magic, including trying to summon a demon without putting down the right protections, claiming the evil crystal sword that Halef Seif wanted to leave in the desert, and ostracizing three kids rather than teaching them how to control their magic. When he tries to wield the crystal sword against Alanna, its power easily eats him up.
The Smurfette Principle: In the first couple of books, but this is justified by the fact that women are restricted from doing most of the things that Alanna is involved with. More female characters become prominent later on.
Stalking Is Love: In The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, George has Alanna tailed during some of her adventures and says that they're destined for each other. Pierce admits this seems creepy now.
There's also his forcing a kiss on her immediately after promising to give her space. The '80s were a different time where portrayals of romance were concerned, and Pierce has since said she regrets writing their romance this way and it's the thing she most wishes she could go back and fix.
Stress Vomit: In In The Hands of the Goddess, Alanna throws up after killing for the first time and again after helping the wounded in the field hospital. When she feels ashamed for this, Jon confesses that he threw up himself.
Textile Work Is Feminine: Alanna starts learning how to spin and weave from the women of the Bloody Hawk tribe, having never properly learned while she was being a tomboy in Trebond. When Ishak scoffs at this 'women's work', Alanna uses a few pieces of thread magic to show him the error of his ways. Kourrem and Kara later make use of it themselves.
Thieves' Guild: The "Court of the Rogue" is introduced here, with George as its head.
Two Lines, No Waiting: In the Hand of the Goddess has Alanna trying to figure out who is plotting against Jonathan and his parents, a search which is interrupted by the seemingly unconnected war with Tusaine which draws her, Jonathan, and their friends off into battle. But it turns out the king of Tusaine and his mages were manipulated into the war by Duke Roger so it all ends up being connected after all.
Vestigial Empire: The historic Thanic Empire, whose states are the modern Eastern Lands. Roughly analogous to Ancient Rome.
War Is Hell: The Tusaine War. Although it only lasts a summer and doesn't go into gory detail, Alanna doesn't enjoy the experience at all and finds both killing and the aftermath of battle to be horrific.