In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. Up against the traditional hazing of pages and a grueling schedule, Kel faces only one real roadblock: Lord Wyldon, the training master of pages and squires. He is absolutely against girls becoming knights. So while he is forced to train her, Wyldon puts her on probation for one year. It is a trial period that no male page has ever had to endure and one that separates the good natured Kel even more from her fellow trainees during the tough first year. But Kel is not a girl to underestimate, as everyone is about to find out…
When he realized her eyes were on him, he smiled. "Isn't this a great time to be alive?" he asked. "Stormwings and spidrens to fight, beings from legends arrayed at our sides, people in need of protection and us being prepared to do it… Nothing happened in King Roald's time, and everything's happening now. We'll be sung about, our names will be passed on to our descendants."
"It's going to take a lot of work, that's for certain," she replied with a shrug.
Neal propped his chin on one hand and gazed at her. "You aren't a bit romantic, are you?" he asked, amused.
She sat back and stared at him. She was beginning to think that Neal required a keeper. He seemed to have the craziest ideas. "Romance? Isn't that love-stuff?" she asked finally.
"It's more than just love. It's color, and—and fire. You don't want things magnificent and filled with—with grandeur," he said, trying to make her understand. "You know, drama. Importance. Transcendent passion."
"I just want to be a knight," Kel retorted, putting her used tableware on her tray. "Eat your vegetables. They're good for you."
The Protector of the Small series is the pinnacle of the Tortall universe. All the good bits from Song of the Lioness and Immortals are distilled and amplified to create Kel. She has an unwavering idea of right and wrong, of everything a knight should be, as is prepared to face anything to achieve her goals and uphold her ideals. As the first girl to try to take advantage of the laws changed when Alanna became a knight, she feels cheated by the new training master’s condition that she complete a probationary year before he decides whether she can become a page.
With the knowledge that her probationary year is unfair and that the conservative training master will never agree to allow her to become a page, she embarks on her mission anyway. After living for six years in the Yamani Islands, where allowing your emotions to be seen or known is considered a weakness, an embarrassment, and the noblewomen are trained from a young age with a glaive to defend themselves from raiders, she knows that she can work hard and maybe even distinguish herself in her probationary year. She also knows that becoming a knight is all she has ever wanted and she has to try.
Kel and her friends are well-written, both familiar and unique in this realm. Some of the characters from Alanna’s years of training to become a knight make appearances and some of Kel’s new classmates are related to familiar names. There are even some cameos from the Immortals series in First Test, although Daine and Numair show up more later in the series. Kel is likeable and inspirational. While she isn’t perfect, when she faces hardship she has realistic responses and emotions, and she is always working towards becoming a better version of herself. Instead of giving in or giving up, she always decides to work harder or to find a different way. Neal is sarcastic and outspoken, unable to keep his comments to himself even to save himself from punishment and extra work.
This whole book spans only Kel’s first year of training so it’s full of detail and you really get to know the new cast of characters. I enjoyed every page and it rekindled my love of this series and my excitement to keep reading.