I feel like this chapter has a lot to unpack. There are a lot of things introduced here that come into play not just later in this book or this series, but in the later series of the Tortall universe. This is where a lot of worldbuilding regarding knighthood training is done, and where we first meet a lot of really critical characters who play huge roles in this series and the next ones. And this chapter gave me a lot of thoughts on the role of fathers in these books.
This chapter serves as an introduction to Alanna’s life at the palace – knighthood training, making new friends, taking on new responsibilities. It would be quite a strain on any of the boys, much less Alanna, who is still keeping her gender a secret. Here we see the palace from the inside for the first time, and I’ll be perfectly honest – the Conte Palace is kind of THE quintessential palace in my head. All other castles I read about in fiction are laid out like it, with similar mental pictures.
Likewise, the portrayal of knighthood training here is kind of how knighthood training tends to work by default in my head. If I ever write a book about pages and squires and knights, it’s going to end up resembling this in a lot of ways. Several hours of academic studies in the morning, several hours of training in the fighting arts in the afternoon, waiting on nobility at dinner, and absolutely no free time in the evening, as it is all taken up by additional work and chores. One of the things I love here, especially with the hindsight of future books, is that Alanna almost quits. On her second day, she tells Coram to pack their bags; they’re going home. He persuades her to stick it out for a week or so, and she (obviously) ends up staying. I just love to think that this soon-to-be legendary figure, this larger-than-life hero, very nearly quit only two days in.
There’s another bit of early worldbuilding here with the establishment of how magic works (and also a bit of early installment weirdness). George Cooper is shown as having the Gift (what magic is typically called in this world), specifically an ability that is later identified as the Sight (the ability to see magic, to see lies, to see things about people, etc.). Here it’s not laid out as a separate ability, as it is in later books, especially Aly’s books, where George’s daughter has inherited this ability. It’s established that having magic shields you from those with the Sight, so Alanna’s secret is safe from him, at least for now. Magic doesn’t end up playing a huge part of this book, but in later books, it becomes a huge part of Alanna’s life as she learns to accept and embrace that part of her. Due to her not accepting it now, however, not much is shown about it in terms of how it works.
In this chapter, we meet the people who come to be Alanna’s lifelong friends – Prince Jonathan of Conte, Raoul of Goldenlake, Gary of Naxen, and uh, Alexander of Tirragen I guess (spoilers for later books). While Prince Jon comes to take on a very different role in Alanna’s life (really, several roles at several different points of their lives), Gary and Raoul are just… my favorites. They are best friends and they are Alanna’s best friends and they’re super bros and they’re here to have a good time not a long time. I love seeing them here and watching them all grow into adults. Raoul ends up being quite central to Keladry’s books, later down the line, and I love seeing him become the person he is there.
This chapter is the first to feature two men who are the central figures in one of the biggest shipping wars of my life – Jon and George. George Cooper is introduced properly here, befriending Alanna and Gary on an excursion into the city. Alanna/Jon and Alanna/George was a HUGE conflict in my friend group when I was first reading these; it was a big deal. And while I love them both, I think it’s clear even here which one she’s meant to be with (it’s George; it’s always George). I do like Jon’s introduction here – dressing down a bully, taking “Alan” under his wing, being handsome and charismatic and generally the very image of a Charming Prince.
We also meet two more of Alanna’s father figures here (she has a lot of them, to be honest): Duke Gareth of Naxen (Gary’s father) and Sir Myles of Olau. Both of them are very different, but I think they both are necessary male role models for Alanna. I think in the first two books of this series, Alanna is rich in male role models and poor in female ones – it comes to be more balanced in books three and four. Duke Gareth is very much a reasonable authority figure – he’s in charge of training the pages, and he does an excellent job at it. He is sometimes stern and strict, but ultimately very fair and he is more than willing to acknowledge hard work and accomplishment when he sees it.
Myles, on the other hand, is an academic, assigned technically to teach the pages history and warfare, but ends up teaching them a great deal of philosophy and ethics as well. He’s an amusing, kindly man and he is also the court drunk. In a later book, Myles ends up adopting Alanna and making her the heir to his estate (as he is unmarried and has no children), and I think the first seeds of that are planted here, with a very simple gesture – Alanna helping him back to his rooms when he’s gotten a little too drunk. Interestingly, Myles also guesses Alanna’s true gender long before she tells him, and I have always wondered when he figured it out. I’m gonna keep my eye out for times that could happen here.
Of course, these wonderful father figures are contrasted here with Alanna’s actual father, Lord Alan of Trebond. When Duke Gareth receives a letter praising “Thom’s” progress (being the name of his actual son), Alanna is able to tell a very small lie and say that her father always did have trouble telling her and her brother apart. The truth is, of course, that he doesn’t really give a damn about them, and if he did, it would be a great deal harder for them to get away with this charade of theirs. The chapter ends on a very sad moment where Alanna observes that “there were real advantages to having a father who didn’t care what she did. But if the advantages were so wonderful, why did she feel like crying?”
- The black humor of the young pages – “free time is what you get when you die”, etc.
- “I’m what they call the King of the Thieves, the Master of the Court of the Rogue” damn that’s a good title
- It’s not necessarily Alanna’s reaction to Jon’s and George’s descriptions, but they definitely read as “oh no he’s hot”
- “I’d as soon kiss a pig! Is that what you’ve been doing – kissing pigs?”
- Extremely Gaudy Page Uniforms – bright red shirts and pants with gold tunics