Decided to move on from "Death in the Palace" because I was reading ahead and this chapter interested me more. I do what I want.
Anyway, in "The Second Year," Alanna, obviously, enters her second year of page training. A lot of stuff happens in this chapter: Alanna begins puberty; meets Duke Roger and dislikes him immediately; gets her first horse; and studies the blade.
Sorry, I had to.
There's a lot to unpack in this chapter, so I'll just talk seriously about this first part where Alanna realizes she's developing secondary sex characteristics. She orders Coram to get her bandages to bind her chest (more on that in a minute) and they have this exchange:
"Ye're turning into a women, aren't ye?" he asked from the other side of the screen.
"No!" she exclaimed.
"Lass, it's hardly something ye c'n change. Ye're born with it--"
"Maybe I was born that way, but I don't have to put up with it!"
He looked at her with alarm. "Lass, ye've got to accept who ye are... Ye can be a woman and still be a warrior."
"I hate it!" she yelled, losing her temper. "People will think I'm soft and silly!"
"Ye're hardly soft... and the only time ye're silly is when we talk like this... Alanna, child, ye'll be happy only when ye learn t'live with who ye are." She had no answer for this, but he didn't expect one.
I think this is, like, the second time Alanna's talked about how much she hates herself, and it's really depressing. First of all, I don't think Alanna is trans. Not saying that's not a valid interpretation, it's just my take on it, and if you see it differently, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Rather, Alanna is dealing with a ton of internalized misogyny. Her dearest desire is to be a warrior, but she lives in a culture that tells her women cannot be warriors--not only that it's not allowed, but that femininity itself means she cannot be strong and warlike. Therefore, Alanna's instinctual urge is to reject everything feminine about herself, including puberty, dresses, and jewelry. Eventually she comes to embrace and understand all these things about herself, but this can only happen after she's been outed and realizes that her friends and family don't hate her for hiding her secret for so long. When she does get to be girly and sweet in court for the first time, it's almost like a trauma response. She has a hard time believing she's allowed or that it's okay.
Basically, this is just part of Alanna's character development. She has to start out hating herself this way in order to learn that there are different ways of being a woman, and all are equally valid. (Not that these books do that perfectly, but we'll get there.)
(I'm not going to comment on whether or not I think this passage is trans-exclusionary, either, since that's not my discussion to weigh in on. But I will say that Tammy has since written books that are trans-inclusive, so, you know. People are allowed to change and grow.)
Two other quick things, just because:
A) FYI for writers who don’t know things about trans people: don’t have your characters bind their chest with bandages. Bandages do not expand and contract with the lungs and ribcage, so they will break ribs and have difficulty engaging in athletic activities. And no, having your story set in Ye Olde Fantasy Times does not excuse you from thinking about how trans characters would live and adapt in this universe. In Tortall, characters can buy magical contraception, for crying out loud. I guarantee that people with enough money or power can figure out how to safely alter their bodies to match their conception of their body. Also, if you have breast bands, you can have binders. Period.
Not that I think there's anything wrong with Alanna binding her chest this way in this particular case. It was the 80's. I highly doubt Tamora Pierce was familiar with the concept of transgender identity, except perhaps in the broadest of terms, and even if she was, it's not like it was easy to find out how to safely bind your chest. Her more recent books have featured openly trans and gay characters, so it's more just a relic of when these books were written. But. Like. Binding with bandages would have been terrible for Alanna, even if she never developed much of a chest. She would have had trouble breathing, and considering all the injuries she picks up otherwise, she would have cracked or broken ribs at least once while disguising herself.
ANYWAY. That was a long segue, but I have MANY FEELINGS about trans characters in fantasy books, especially now that they're starting to be a thing. I'm sure at some point I'll get into a further rant about how including marginalized characters requires more thought than "Look, a black guy," but maybe not here because Tammy is pretty good about that.
I also just wanted to highlight two cute things I noticed during the scene where Alanna buys Moonlight. She thinks this when George first approaches her with the offer of a horse:
After careful figuring, she decided she could buy a horse—if it was the right horse. Wistfully she said farewell to sweets for a long time.
I just thought that was adorable. Alanna is eleven, you guys. Of course most of what's on her mind is candy. Tammy has a real talent for writing kids in that stage between eight and eleven, before puberty but after childhood, when they're old enough to have a conception of themselves as a person but too busy absorbing the world to have a real opinion on it.
Then there's one other bit when Alanna sees Moonlight for the first time:
"We're going a long way, you and I," she whispered to the mare. The horse butted her gently, as if agreeing.
YES, YES YOU ARE. MOONLIGHT IS GOING TO BE YOUR BFF. I JUST REALLY LOVE ANIMALS IN TAMORA PIERCE BOOKS, OKAY.