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Squire    by Tamora Pierce order for
by Tamora Pierce
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Squire follows First Test and Page as the third and final volume in the Protector of the Small series. The author, Tamora Pierce, writes highly professional fantasies designed specifically for young girls - and indeed this series is likely to enthrall girls anywhere from eight to eighteen, and many much older than that in body but still young at heart.

In the first book of the series, we are introduced to Keladry of Mindelan, whose father was the ambassador to the Yamani Islands, which are patterned after Japan. Keladry returns home to Tortolla after six years in the Islands, where she learned many of the warlike arts taught to Yamanni women, including the use of the naginata or glaive, a five foot long wooden shaft with a curved steel blade. She is obsessed with the chance of becoming a knight and hero like Alanna, the Lioness, who trained as a squire by pretending to be a boy.

However, Kel is determined to become accepted as herself; she likes being a girl, though this makes it much more difficult for her than for Alanna, who also happened to be a powerful mage. In fact, no one will help her, even Alanna who wants her to be seen by all to succeed on her own merits alone. Keladry overcomes all of the obstacles, accquiring on the way an entourage of sparrows, whose intelligence has been boosted so that she can communicate with them. She is finally admitted for training as a page.

For the next four years she has to fight as hard as ever, and much harder than the other pages in training, to satisfy the training master. She does her best to ignore the obstruction of most of the other pages, (she is taunted by being called The Girl ) and the bullying and worse by a few. Her Yamani training helps her to hide her true feelings , as does her acquisition of an obstreperous war horse, and a mongrel dog who attaches himself to her. She also acquires, rather unwillingly, a maidservant who turns out to be an even greater responsibility than the sparrows, the horse or the dog. In fact, when Lalasa is kidnapped, Kel has to risk losing the chance of becoming a squire, and to overcome a deadly fear of heights, to rescue her.

However, she does become a squire, and now at the age of fourteen, five foot ten inches tall and strong, she is accepted into training for knighthood by Raoul, Knight Commander of the King's Own Guard. The Realm is in danger not only from enemies on its borders, but from the Immortals, including centaurs, ogres and giants who were left in Tortolla after the Immortals War. During her four years training as a squire, Kel has ample opportunity to hone her fighting skills. Also, since during this time the Monarchs and Court are making a leisurely Progress throughout the country with their son and his betrothed, a Yamanni princess, Kel is forced not only into social activities but into accepting challenges on the jousting field, where she more than holds her own. At the end of her training, she must face the unknown terrors of her knighthood vigil in the Chamber of the Ordeal, from which some aspirants have emerged mad, and some have not emerged alive.

Protector of the Small is a much better series than can be apparent from a brief summary. The author has emphasised the elements of a chivalric, medieval, magical society by deliberately exaggerating these qualities without hesitating to show the darker side of the chivalry. Kel is a reasonably intelligent, caring girl with an inborn talent for martial arts. She is also a very real person whose development from page to squire to knight is described in loving detail, including not only her successes but her problems, her worries and her developing sexuality.

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