In chapter two, Alanna gets introduced to her schedule as a page, as well as all of the major characters. Alanna also copes with FEELINGS in this chapter, but I'll talk about next time. Instead, I'm interested in looking at how Pierce introduces the main characters. This is a personal obsession because I'm bad at remembering to describe things. I'm just not the kind of writer who has specific ideas of what characters look like, whereas Pierce likes to go into obsessive detail.
Her main technique is person-in-a-paragraph, which means you get all the description in one convenient package, but if you are a bad reader like me who skips over descriptions, you can go on for years with an inaccurate vision of a character. For example, Trickster's Choice was my favorite Pierce book when I was very smol (it came out when I was eleven or so), and for years I thought Prince Bronau had dark hair and eyes because... IDK. I just never bothered to read the block of text that mentions he's fair-skinned with red hair.
So it's not that I recommend person-in-a-paragraph-ing, but it's how Pierce describes all her characters, and therefore I feel obligated to talk about it. She does it three times in this chapter, with the three men who are arguably most important to Alanna: her first love interest, Prince Jonathan; her adoptive father, Myles of Olau; and Best Boyfriend George.
I'll present the three descriptions and let you see if you can figure out which one stands out. Let's start with Prince Jonathan, since he pops up first:
He was about three years older than she was, with coal black hair and sapphire-colored eyes. His nose was straight and slightly hooked. His face was stern, but a smile touched his mouth, and a glimmer of fun slipped from his eyes.
Next comes Myles:
This man was not a priest. He was short and plump, with long brown hair streaked with gray and a long shaggy beard. His hose bagged at the knee; his tunic was as rumpled as if he had slept in it. He had a tiny, delicate nose and a smiling mouth. Alanna met the man's large green-brown eyes and smiled in spite of herself. He was the oddest mixture of disarray and good nature she had ever encountered, and she liked him on sight.
And finally George. Technically we met him in the last chapter, where he flirted with “Alan” because George is bisexual and don't you argue with me, but this is his real description:
His nose was too big for good looks, but when he smiled, he appeared handsome. He wore his brown hair cut short, like other commoners. Alanna felt something powerful about him, something almost royal. She also felt a very strong liking for him.
Now you all are very smart, so I'm sure you noticed the difference between these introductions, but I'll spell it out for you anyway because I'm pedantic like that. Jonathan's and George's descriptions tell us what they look like. Myles’ tells us who he is.
We get detailed descriptions of Jonathan's and George's appearance, but those are just quirks of genetics. Alanna perceives hidden depths to both of them, but nothing about them helps us see that for ourselves. Jonathan doesn't present himself in a way that's different than the other noble boys, nor does George act or dress differently than other commoners. If we left off her judgment of their character, we'd just have two handsome boys.
I mean, handsome boys are great and all, but they're also a dime a dozen, and Jonathan and George aren't your typical leading men. Jonathan is a great leader and fair-minded, but he's also petulant and spoiled. George is a rogue, but he's also honorable and respectful. We don't get any of these details from their paragraphs, even though those aspects of their character make them stand out. And yes, you can get these ideas across with physical description.
Just look at Myles again. Myles dresses sloppily, and he's not well groomed, and yet he's still a scholar and a teacher. Clearly there's more to him than court drunk, or else he wouldn't be teaching pages. He comes off as friendly, approachable, and trustworthy, but we still wonder about him. In addition, his less-than-stellar appearance contrasts with his engaging and intelligent teaching style. Alanna doesn't cast judgment on him until the end of his description, but by that point, we've come to the same conclusion: he’s weird, and we like him. His paragraph is doing several things at once, telling us his role in court and making us wonder what his role in the story will be.
Not to say that the boys don’t prove interesting in their first appearances. Jon is all noble and dignified, and George is a charmer right from the start. But the wall of text we get about their looks doesn’t add much to that impression.