If you have read more than 2 blog posts on my blog then you would know I love, love love Tamora Pierce novels. Since she is tied for favourite author and I have already recommended a series by the author she shares that honour with (Sherwood Smith) I thought I would be good (and past time) to do a recommendation for the Queen that is Tamora Pierce. However, I wanted to do something a bit different and hopefully interesting and had the perfect inspiration while watching a video by Lala from Books and Lala. In the video she discussed 5 things she hates in YA literature and every single point she brings up is something Tamora Pierce doesn’t do and it further highlighted to me how great an author she is. So I thought I would share!
1. Underdeveloped and Bland Female Protagonists.
Tamora Pierce started writing when she couldn’t find the types of stories she liked with female lead characters. There were many male led adventure stories out there, but not many female led adventures. So she wrote her own. And each story centers contains not only an interesting female lead (she does have male PoV characters in certain books, but females dominate) but each book she creates has many important, unique and interesting female main and side/minor characters. Her characters have a purpose, thoughts, values, wants, needs, goals, personalities etc which makes them individuals within the larger story. Her characters are not the typical (as Lala said)
bland, brunette, a little to skinny, eyes a little too big, a little klutzy, a little nerdy, has a couple of friends, has never really dated and doesn’t have super strong opinions about anything
type of character. Keladry of Mindelan from the Protector of the Small series is tall and muscular, has several friends and grew up in a culture that didn’t stigmatise gay or lesbian relationships and so is confused when someone else uses the possibility of being gay as an insult (has opinions but also a developed character because of her unique background of growing up elsewhere).
2. Fake Flaws.
Some characters are a little more balanced with the flaws then others, however every character Tamora Pierce writes on top of being unique in the ways I mentioned above, has unique and real flaws. And not the ‘character trait’ type non-flaws that Lala discusses. For example, in Tamora Pierce’s first and arguably best-known series, Alanna is stubborn and has a temper that gets her into trouble. Lala also talks about the characters not being self-aware of their flaws (for example when a character is obviously whiny but they don’t think that they are). Tamora Peirce’s characters might know recognise every flaw, but they do know they have them. Alanna knows she has a temper.
On a related note, Tamora Pierce writes characters with weaknesses, too. They are not the best at everything. Trisana Chandler has very unique magic and can do a lot of things that no one else can, but her magic has repercussions on her. She gets headaches and has to wear special coloured glasses due to some of the vision magic she does because it assaults her senses so much.
3. Drastic Personality Change.
Almost all readers agree that we like to see characters develop over the course of a novel or a series. We like to see them react to the things or situations they have gone through. But at the same time, they are still the same people at their core so we want to see them react similarly as they would have at the beginning of the story. I like to think of it as they would still have a similar thought process but the outcome of the process is different now that the character has learned from what they have gone through. One of the best examples of Tamora Pierce having a character go through a lot in his life but still remaining fundamentally the same is Briar Moss. He goes from a street kid with no family to having money and a family and a career, etc. But he still makes choices as if he was on the streets. He saves money for bad times. He doesn’t like sleeping off the ground. He carries around weapons just in case. He is protective of what he has. He is not immediately trusting of new people. Then he goes through some more hardships and develops PTSD but that still does not change his personality so much that he is unrecognisable.
Also Tamora Pierce does not do the “falls in love and then changes dramatically” trope. Or the “I just meet you and now I will die for you” trope.
4. Friends who get dropped over nothing.
Tamora Pierce writes amazing female friendships. She both has characters develop friendships on page and has characters that were already friends continue to be friends on page. Then she also has characters go through major life changes and fall out of friendship and shows how they interact and come to terms with the new normal, all of which happens in an organic and realistic manner. An example of this is Sandry, Trisana, Briar and Daja in the Emelan books. By the 9th one they have fallen out of sorts with each other and the book chronicles this.
5. A lack of diversity.
I’m of the opinion that white authors can write diverse characters, they just shouldn’t write about diverse character stories. Basically, as an example, have black characters in your story but don’t write about what it’s like to be black unless you are; let PoC or neurodivergent or disabled people handle those types of stories. Instead, white authors should include diversity in their stories in a way that normalises the existence of these characters. In a way that lets a young black child know they too can find a dragon egg and raise the baby or an Asian child save the kingdom from the hands of an evil king or a gay teenager becoming the leader of a gang of thieves. The colour of their skin or their sexuality is a part of them and the story, but it’s secondary to the plot of story.
Daja is black in Tamora Pierce’s Emelan universe. Briar is golden brown. Both of these things are explicitly stated but it does no limit their story. Daja faces discrimination not because she is black but because she is a outcast due to being the only survivor of a tragedy, which in her culture is seen a bad luck. The colour of her skin in her story is not important and she get to have several grand adventures during the course of 6 novels. In Tamora Pierce’s other universe its much more ‘white default’ yet there are inter-racial relationships, something Lala mentioned she has not ever seen. There are also LGBT+ characters (also present in the Emelan universe). She does not always get things 100% correct but is the type to do her research and try better next time.
Want to know more?
Tamora Pierce has been writing for decades: Alanna’s story was published in the early 80s. Since then she has written something like 30 books and many short stories and has a new triology forthcoming. While her early works are more middle-grade in writing, they do deal with important topics and I don’t think they should be overlooked. Over time as her writing improved and publishers allowed her to write longer books she has developed in to a more young adult level author. Her two universes are passionately loved by readers. While reading her books in chronological order might give you a better sense of the timeline of the universe, each book and each individual series does stand on it’s own and can be understood without prior reading.
I honestly believe everyone should read her books as I think there is something there for everyone.