I’ve talked about heroines created by YA author Tamora Pierce a few times before, and it’s no secret that both Pierce and her action-adventure fantasy series have had a lasting impact on me as a person. When I’m asked who my favorite author is, I don’t even hesitate: Tamora Pierce.
My introduction to Pierce came shortly after I turned eleven, right before I entered sixth grade. I had a completely incurable library habit when I was younger, and it was pretty common for me to walk to the library and haul home ten or twenty books a week. One week, that haul contained a copy of PROTECTOR OF THE SMALL: FIRST TEST, and then there was no turning back.
I’ve talked at length about Protector of the Small in the past – its protagonist, the indomitable Keladry of Mindelan, is in many ways the exact sort of heroine I feel girls should look up to – but Kel isn’t the only protagonist across the universes of Tamora Pierce who influenced how I thought about the world, society, and the people populating it.
Alanna the Lioness. Daja Kisubo. Tris Chandler. Dovasary Balitang. Evvy Dingzai. This is just the start of the list, but Pierce’s Tortall and Emelan universes are filled with women who are strong not just physically, but in terms of internal strength, standing up in the face of adversity, and their own willpower.
In fact, one thing I like about Pierce’s novels is the emphasis on love, willpower, and the ability to change as more important than overpowering physical strength. In her first series, the Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna achieves her status as the Hand of the King not by being the biggest and the strongest, but through hours and hours of practicing her skills out of the stubbornness born from not wanting to be the worst at something. In Protector of the Small, Kel faces outright bullying, including classmates who put lead into her practice weapons to make her struggle, but she keeps using the weighted practice weapon – specifically a lance – and ends up mastering the weapon because of her persistence.
Pierce’s novels also highlight how rigidity and inability to change can eventually destroy a person. One of the characters in Protector of the Small dies during the knighthood Ordeal, and when the boy’s father accuses Kel of somehow changing the Ordeal with magic (that she doesn’t have), her mentor asks the father how his son had become “so rigid” that he broke under the Ordeal instead of bending to accommodate it.
Her heroines are also wonderful in that they’re not motivated to be heroic because they seek revenge or because they want to get married. Almost every one of her heroines does what she needs to do out of familial love, friendship love, or compassion for those less fortunate. Kel, who becomes Protector of the Small after gaining the title Lady Knight, is the most marked of these: she wants to become a knight to help people and protect people who need protection. The heroines (and hero) of the Circle of Magic books are driven by their friendships with one another, which exceeds friendship love and makes them a family.
After reading these books, I was compelled to find similar stories – I’ve never quite found them – and my admiration for the author (at the ripe age of 11 years) made me want to become a writer. I’ve met so many young women – many of them around my age – who’ve said that reading a book by Tamora Pierce changed how they thought about themselves. Her heroines are young women who solve their problems through thinking, not brute strength – even Alanna, the “warrior” type of her heroines, defeated her Big Baddie by thinking of something clever to do. Her inclusiveness of women of many shapes and types – short and stout, tall and broad, different ethnicities – has always been something that gave me comfort and showed me anyone can have success.
And that’s what makes Tamora Pierce my favorite author: she’s told me for more than 11 years that my shape, my size, my appearance, and my gender are only secondary to the strength of my will and the compassion in my heart.