This one was a reread. I often read these books as a kid, in addition to the Song of the Lioness and Immortals series. The Protector of the Small books weren’t favorites back then — as the Song of the Lioness books were — but I enjoyed them too.
Protector of the Small, book 1
The Protector of the Small books, of which this is the first, are set in the same world as Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and Immortals series — Tortall. However, the stories take place after the Immortals War (in the Immortals series) and instead focus on Keladry of Mindelan, who goes by Kel for short.
Due to Alanna’s (of the Song of the Lioness books) successes, girls are now able to try for a knighthood. Kel is the first girl to attempt to do so. However, the conservative Lord Wyldon, the training master, is against having girls train to be knights and doesn’t believe girls will be able to keep up. He strikes a compromise with King Jonathan agreeing to have Kel undergo a probationary year to prove she can keep up with the training before being accepted as a page. Kel does so, confused and hurt by the unfairness of having to endure a probationary year, and surprises everyone. (Goodreads)
I’m working my way through rereading the Tortall books, and again I enjoyed this first installment in the Protector of the Small series. I think I read it at the right time. I was going through a reading slump at the time, and one of the best cures for such things is rereading an old favorite or book from your childhood. The nostalgia such reads evoke helps you to work past the slump and complete the book, and that’s exactly what happened with this. Plus, the story is simple, which is what I needed at the time. I didn’t have to exert extra effort to puzzle out the plot or keep up with a large cast of characters, which would have turned me off and strengthen my slumpiness.
The story immediately pulled me in and kept my interest. As on my previous reads, Kel wasn’t immediately likable to me. I instead became more interested in the side characters, mostly Neal, the opinionated book nerd, and even Peachblossom, Kel’s horse. It’s just that Kel comes off as bland, and I think it’s because she avoids showing much outward emotion due to growing up in the Yamani Islands where being emotional is frowned upon. I think that trait is a strength for Kel because then no one is able to tell how bothered she is — she has a strong poker face —but it makes her quite bland as a character to me.
Anyway, I liked being back in Tortall and seeing some old characters there, like Daine and Stefan, the hostler. I love the boarding school setting as well and how Kel went about resolving the conflicts that sprouted, whether it’s being bullied or trying to work past her crippling fear of heights.
Basically, it was an easy, fun read that was exactly what I needed at the time I read it.
Overall: ★★★☆☆ ½
These are some of Pierce’s early books, so they aren’t perfect, but I still think they are worth trying if you enjoy stories about strong female characters in a medieval fantasy setting.
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