Friday, May 29, 2009

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Tamora Pierce; Part 1: The Awesome Quotient

I'm trying something a little different for my last post in AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT week.  I received an email from a blogging buddy who is also a librarian:
I think I checked out seven Pierce books today to patrons, plus put one back in the mail from Interlibrary Loan. Can you give me a rundown on why she's awesome and recommend first books? Not that I need any more to read, but I know you're a fan.
For anyone who doesn't know (and if you don't, I pity you), Tamora Pierce is a writer of books that are technically categorized in Young Adult fantasy (at least, that's where you'll find them at the bookstore or the library.)  Like the works of Robin McKinley, however, Pierce's stories are appealing not only to teenage audiences but to adults as well. 

I thought I would do a two-prong post to answer this friend (particularly because I want to secure my nomination for assistant dictator of the southern hemisphere.)  First, I've been making notes to analyze Tammy's "awesome quotient."  Then, I want to share my own personal journey from Tammy-novice to Tammy-worshipper.

I don't have an actual interview with Tamora Pierce.  However, the fantastic Malinda does, over at the Enchanted Inkpot.  Also, the Tamora Pierce website makes a good place to start.

Now, for the Awesome Quotient Analysis.

1. Pierce is Prolific:  Her first book, Alanna: The First Adventure was published in 1983, the year after McKinley's Blue Sword.  Both books feature strong, red-haired characters who wield swords and save kingdoms.  While Harry's tale ends in Blue Sword, however, Alanna and her children and friends go on to inhabit fourteen more books.  Add to the the Alanna stories the Circle Opens series (plural), and Pierce has published, at present, twenty-six novels, in addition to multiple short stories or anthology collaborations.  Just the numbers assure that Pierce will be a much-checked-out library author.

A long bibliography doesn't tell the whole story, of course.  Pierce is prolific in effective writing.  Her dialogue is snappy and well-executed; her descriptions are sensory but not overdrawn.  Pierce's plots are believable, and she includes roadblocks and how they're overcome: you'll find not even a whiff of deus ex machina.  And her imagination soars.  From the Jade Pavilion to Daine's Immortal parents, Pierce's books are fresh and deeply engaging.

2. Pierce and the Lake Wobegon Effect:  "All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." Somehow, Pierce writes characters that are real (see below) but still hugely attractive: strong, attractive, smart, clever, funny, wise, and all the while fallible.  Reading about these people makes me want to be a better person.  And to be Daine, just because of Numair.  But anyway. 

3. Pierce keeps it Real:
  • Action Scenes Blood is blood, muscles hurt, breathing strains, waste smells, and we can feel the blisters of the sword on our fingers.  Pierce's visceral descriptions are particularly important for her female characters, since women in fairy tales (all right, princesses) usually don't sweat.
  • Evil Pierce doesn't gloss over the costs of battle; refugees whose homes have been destroyed play prominently into her works.  Lack of crops or drinking water are realities in war-stricken Tortall.  But there's evil, too, that mirrors the worst of  human history. (For example, a wizard whose fighting machines are fueled by the souls of children - so, of course, he has to kill the children to capture their souls.)
  • Romance & Sex Sometimes it's love (like my feelings for Numair) and sometimes it's hormones (Alanna explores sex & love), but Pierce never makes romance gushy or sappy, even when someone's in love with a crow.  ("I want to always have the taste of you on my lips," Nawat whispered...Trickster's Queen, page 345.)  Pierce also makes a point to have characters talk about birth control, if necessary.
In Part 2 of AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Tamora Pierce, I'll share my own experiences with her books, and give more in-depth examples. 

In the meantime, I'd love to hear what any of you think about Tammy's Awesome Quotient.   Do share!


  1. Hmmm....while I like Pierce, I've always liked McKinley better. I think one reason is because I actually think that Pierce's romance scenes fall a bit flat emotionally. Sorry!

  2. Aww! "Blogging buddy" and a promotion to "librarian!" What a pal you are. That may just boost you over Moonrat for southern hemi. I'll have to see what Mr. Eaton has to say.

  3. Also, hooray for Garrison Keillor references.


  4. Ooooo ... I have a few of Ms. Pierce's books sitting on my bookshelf though I have to admit that I have yet to get to them. I love Robin McKinley, so if Ms Pierce is anything like Ms. McKinley, I'm sure I would love her books!

  5. hehe nice Garrison Keiller reference. :)

    I love Tamora's books. I haven't read all of them, but I do quite enjoy the ones I have read. I mainly prefer the Circle books over the Tortall books though. I always seem to be alone in that statement, lol.

  6. I prefer the Tortall books over the Circle books. Actually, I gave up when trying to read the first Circle book, but I've read the Tortall books many times over. Keladry is my favorite of the Pierce characters and her story is the deepest emotionally if you ask me. Not fond of the Beka Cooper book - I'm still only partway through it and not finding a need to go back and finish.

    But I'm a King Arthur, knights and swords kind of gal. So those are the ones that call to me and she does it so very well, including the training descriptions. And yes, the descriptions of battle and how nasty it can be.

    She's very awesome!!!!!!!

    (Have you read Sherwood Smith? Close, very close, to Pierce's awesomeness.)

  7. Always looking for new reading material, especially as the end of school grows nigh. Thanks so much for the rec. And PS: Please don't forget to join our Sunday Funnies with a visit to Sx3 today!

  8. I haven't read a Tamora Pierce novel but with Bloodhound all over the blogosphere I did check out her bibliography. I usually like to start with the backlist and work my way up. So I do have Alanna: The First Adventure on my TBR list. I really enjoyed this post because it makes me happy with my assumption that Pierce is a good writer. I think I'll be really happy with her and her many books.

  9. Oh my goodness! Another kindred spirit! I'm participating in the Lioness challenge too. I agree with you whole heartedly on everything you've said. I love the Lioness series with a passion, though I started it after reading Wild Magic (my first TP book). I read McKinley much later; I found her easier to read when I was older (like high school). McKinley's story is complex and builds quite a bit. Pierce is an equally complex writer but in a different way. I always loved fairy tales and King Arthur, but was always tired of the princesses being rescued; I liked it when they at least got to use their wits to help their rescuer. Alanna opened my eyes and was such a refresher; a girl can be a KNIGHT! She can be strong and go on adventures without having to be rescued. It's easy to engage with Pierce's text right off the bat. I picked her up first when I was 11, in 6th grade, and now I'm 24 in grad school and still squeal with excitement when I hear TP has a new book out. Here's a link to one of my posts on the Lioness series; hope you'll pop by to read :)



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