Thursday, January 30, 2014

This Sensitive Horse Girl Is Gonna Kick Your Butt (Immortals)

So I know that I have been a bit of a broken record on the whole Tamora Pierce thing lately (if by broken record you mean "unabashedly singing her praises like a freaking meadowlark). I'm not actually sorry for that, and it's going to continue. I just wanted to let you know that I was aware you might feel like it was getting repetitive.

The thing is, for me, it's not repetitive at all. I get to read these books, these wonderful books with these wonderful characters, and the stories are fun, and the books are progressively better written (for realsies, though, you can tell where the learning curve is), and the female characters are different from each other but still awesome and cool and funny and well written and I just love it all so freaking much. So I'm sorry if you're getting sick of reading about Tamora Pierce books. I'm not. I'm pretty sure I'll never be sick of this.

Actually, I'm mostly getting worried, because I'm now out of Tortall books, and while I'm sure her Magic Circle series is equally good, it's weird and new and I'm scared! Not too scared to put all of the books on library hold at the same time though. Besides, there are like fourteen kajillion of those books, so I should be good for a while.

Anyway, today I finished reading The Realms of the Gods, the fourth and final book in the Immortals quartet, which is actually one of the earlier series in Pierce's Tortall collection. If you're keeping score at home, the timeline (though not the order she wrote them in) goes as follows: Beka Cooper (takes place 200 years before others), The Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, Protector of the Small, and Trickster's. I will actually say that if you have the chance to read them in chronological order (minus the Beka Cooper books, because those mostly stand alone), do it. The books make a lot more sense if you read them in order.

I know that now, because I didn't read them in order. I actually read the Trickster's books first, then Beka Cooper, then Lioness... Yeah, it's been kind of a mess.

Anyways, I've now finally finished all of them, and, yes, everything makes a lot more sense now. I'd been looking at reading Immortals as just another link in the chain between books I liked a lot more and related to better, as sort of an explanation for what happened in those ten years between Lioness and Protector of the Small. But much to my surprise, I found myself really liking them. I mean, it shouldn't have been a surprise. I've liked every single other Tamora Pierce book I've read. But it still somehow was. Good job me, I guess.

The reason I wasn't super enthused in the first place, though, has to do with the main character: Daine. Or, if we're going to be formal about it, Veralidaine Sarrasri. It's a bit of a mouthful, so we're going to stick with the nickname from here out. Daine is kind of the female fantasy heroine I've always hated. Just a little bit. Maybe it's more accurate to say that Daine should be the fantasy heroine I've always hated, but she isn't, and it confused me.

You see, Daine is a nice quiet girl from up north. She grew up with her mother and grandfather (father unknown), and while she's always had a "way" with animals, there was nothing super weird about any of it. And then her family had to go and get themselves killed, and Daine kind of sort of accidentally turned into a wolf and ate the men who killed her family and then she maybe ran away from her village and pretended to be a normal girl for a while but couldn't because dang is she powerful but it's weird power and no one knows what to do with her.

She's had a couple of tough breaks.

And then she runs into Onua, the horse mistress for the Queen's Riders of Tortall, who takes Daine on as an assistant, and Daine is so nice and kind and good with animals that Onua brings her to the capital where she becomes friends with the king and queen and king's champion and everyone important, but she still stays nice humble little Daine. She finds out she has this special amazing magic that almost no one has ever heard of and she uses it to save the kingdom, and everything is super peachy.

That is the first book. And I don't think I really need to elaborate here, but honest to goodness, I can't stand that whole concept and character arc. Tamora Pierce is a good enough writer that I kept going and I even enjoyed it, but oh was I annoyed. Daine (in the first book, Wild Magic) is everything I hate about fantasy heroines. She's beautiful but not aware of it, and earthy, and super duper magical special in a way that no one else is ever, and also all the powerful people love her without question, and she saves the day, and blah blah blah - long story short, she's the sensitive horse girl. I haaaaaaate the sensitive horse girl thing.

For the love of the writer I kept going, though. It didn't hurt that the plots are pretty fun, and I like Alanna and all of the other characters we got to see again. Numair wasn't so bad. So I read a little further. And that's when stuff started getting...weird.

Have I mentioned that I really like weird?

So in the first book, Daine is all magic and powerful because she can talk to animals, and most people really can't do that. She has this thing called "wild magic" which is really rare and weird, but she uses it to fight in battles and stuff, and while it's a little overdone and silly, it's a neat idea and I liked it well enough. But in the second book (Wolf Speaker), stuff starts getting downright strange. This book has Daine and Numair (super powerful mage, Daine's tutor) traveling to the north again to meet up with Daine's wolf pack - you know, the ones who helped her eat the men who killed her family. Those wolves. Nice guys.

The wolves are worried because something is wrong in their area. There is bad magic around, and lots of terrifying immortals - weird fantasy creatures from the immortal realms that have mysteriously reappeared in Tortall and the surrounding lands - preying on the local animals. Daine is determined to help. But this time, Daine's magic starts to go weird. In a good way. Well, in an interesting way.

This time, Daine can't just talk to all the animals, she needs to be able to see through their eyes, or take their shape, or do fifteen other things in order to get out of the situation alive. Which sounds all god-modded and stuff, until you realize that this is a book where the heroine is sleeping in the dirt and constantly trying to remember to turn her ears back to human so she doesn't go deaf, or figuring out how to hide a tail she accidentally morphed into and can't get to go away, or losing herself in a squirrel's mind. It sounds silly, but it's actually really, really compelling to read. Why? Because Daine is afraid. In this book she's genuinely, really afraid. And what is she afraid of? 

Herself.

For me, that's a way more compelling story arc than being afraid that if the others knew how special she was they'd be uncomfortable with her. Daine's fear of herself, however, her fear that she would one day let go and lose all of her humanity is first of all not unfounded, and second, really interesting to witness. She fights it. She loses sometimes. It's good. It's a good book.

And then in the third book, Daine has to stretch even further, fighting not just with animals and immortals, but now with gods and emperors. This third book (Emperor Mage) has her pitted against the master of an empire, trying to solve a mystery, and being tossed this way and that by gods fighting wars best known to themselves. Daine gets pissed. She learns some more. She becomes more comfortable in her own skin. She never stops being Daine, but the thing that is Daine becomes much bigger and more powerful than ever before. Plus, the climax of the book has Daine going on a rampage through the palace while riding a wooly mammoth and commanding an army of dinosaur skeletons (I did not make that up, it is amazing), so, you know, might want to check that out.

But all of this is just leading up to the last book, The Realms of the Gods, where Daine finally has to face her heritage, and deal with the truth of herself and her magic. You see, the main problem I really had with the series and with Daine as a character was that she was so incredibly god-modded. She's all powerful (but still humble) and super duper special (but it never goes to her head). Mostly, though, I always get a little annoyed by stories where thus and such character is the "only one in the world". Come on.

Which is why, in a sense, I should be pissed about the explanation we finally got for Daine's powers. I mean, admittedly, I think the reveal happens in the second or third book, but Daine herself doesn't get confirmation until book four. She's not just god-modded, she's a literal demigod. Her father, he who was never named in her childhood, is actually the god of the hunt, Weiryn, and her mother, who died years ago mind you, has been taken up as Weiryn's consort and a minor goddess: The Green Lady. Daine's powers are so insanely massive and ridiculously specific because she isn't just some girl. She's a god's daughter.

It really does explain a lot.

That's not why this book is so compelling. It's interesting, sure, but the real thrust of the book has to do with Daine's choices now that she knows who she is and where she comes from. She finally has the answers she's been seeking her whole life. The mortal world is wreathed in violence and turmoil, and she could help. Or she could not. She could stay with her mother and father. She could finally be really safe, finally have her family back, finally be free of the worries and cares of power.

It's not really a spoiler to tell you that Daine chooses the harder road, that of a mortal life, but it is important. That was the moment I really learned to love Daine, because that was the moment I finally saw how far she'd come. She wasn't some wilting little horse girl any more, but now she was a terrifying, fierce, powerful woman, who was going to save the world and kill that freaking Ozorne if it killed her. Which it nearly did.

Daine grew up. And as much as she bugs me in the first book, having read the last one, I kind of can't hold it against her. We're all annoying at thirteen. What's important is what we grow into, and Daine grew up good.

Plus, she did finally end up with Numair. Yeah, there's kind of an age difference there, but who cares! He's dreamy and she's lovely. Mazel tov.

I guess what I'm saying, in the end, is that I judged these books a little too harshly, based on my own general annoyance with a trope. I was wrong. They're good books. And while I still don't really like the whole sensitive horse girl thing, at least Daine kicks some major butt. Enough butt that the gods come down and tell her to cool it. I think that's worth appreciating.

2 comments:

  1. Oh my god. PLEASE read the Circle of Magic books. They are stupendously amazing. Honestly, I liked them more than any of the Tortall books except for Trickerster's, but those are a level of amazing as-yet unseen in most fantasy books. Here, let me give you a list of things to love about the Circle of Magic books:
    -Focuses on sibling-relationships more than any other kind of relationship (aka romance)
    -Emphasizes the viability and importance of being able to choose your own family when your natural family rejects you
    -Lead characters include a noblewoman who hates ruling and really just wants to sew all day and a queer (?!?) woman of color (!!!!) who is a magical master at a traditionally male profession, smithing
    -The one significant male character gets constantly shown up in his life by his women mentors and adopted sisters whenever he tries to do or say anything misogynistic (including chewing him out whenever he treats any of his one night stands badly)
    -Oh, and did I mention that the kids are raised by a queer couple in an open relationship? No? Okay cool.

    But seriously, Will of the Empress, the last book in the series, is one of my favorite books that I've ever read and was extremely important to me as a gay teen in a Catholic family to normalize homosexuality. For the love of god, as a fellow lifelong Tamora Pierce fangirl, read these AMAZING books as soon as you can.

    PS: I'm an avid follower of your blog and I love everything you do. I don't say it enough, but thank you so much for adding some thoughtful media commentary to my day!

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    1. DANG THOSE SOUND AWESOME, OKAY. MOVING UP THE LIST NOW.

      You got me with the sweet sweet call of complex relationships and intriguing character development.

      PS: <3

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