Kel is finally a knight. The first girl to make it in decades. She’s dealt with the hazing and prejudice of her year-mates, and the terrifying Ordeal, the final test of a squire. Now she faces the real thing. Tortall is at war.
The Scanran raiders have united to form an army, and they’re invading. Refugees are flooding away from the northern border, destitute and terrified, with stories of the fearsome metal creatures that the invaders have brought with them. Kel’s post is to the border refugee camp – the Scanrans, and their monstrous weapons, will be waiting for her…
After finally achieving her goal of becoming a knight, Kel is conflicted. She followed this path because she believed in her duty, and her ability, to fight for her country. Now with Tortall at war with the Scanrans, she knows that she should be on the frontlines fighting the enemy. However, the Chamber of the Ordeal has tasked her with a mission to find the mage behind the terrifying machines that are tipping the balance of the war to the side of the Scanrans. Knowing she is about to be assigned a role in the war, she doesn’t know if she should be making a break to the border to start her hunt instead. Unbeknownst to her, her former training master, and new district commander, Wyldon has his own idea as to where she should be applying her talents, and it looks like the Chamber agrees.
As a brand-spanking-new knight, Kel has a lot to prove, mostly to herself. Everyone knows she can handle herself in a fight but now she has to earn the trust of her fellows, who are suddenly under her command, and of the refugees under her protection who she must convince to work together to keep them all safe and alive. Never expecting to be given so much responsibility so soon, it’s immediately overwhelming. Luckily, she’s got a lot of help and support, she just has to figure out what needs to be done first and then just keep moving forward.
Though her veins hummed with anger, she made herself smile mockingly as she looked at the Tirrsmont women. "Mistresses, have you ever noticed that when we disagree with males—I hesitate to say 'men'—or find ourselves in a position over males, the first comment they make is always about our reputations or our monthlies?"
One of the new women snorted. Others snickered.
Kel looked at the man, who was momentarily speechless. "If I disagreed with you, should I place blame on the misworkings of your manhood? Or do I refrain from so serious an insult—" she made a face—"far more serious, of course, than your hint that I am a whore. Because my mother taught me courtesy, I only suggest that my monthlies will come long after your hair has escaped your head entirely."
The way Pierce writes about women has been perfected in Protector of the Small. Sure, in Song of the Lioness, Alanna dated multiple people, had a charm to protect against pregnancy, married and had children when she wanted to, and showed the world that being a woman didn’t stop her from being a champion and a hero. But there’s only so much open feminism you can write when you spend half the series hiding your gender from almost everyone you know. I wouldn’t say Daine in the Immortals series was a step backwards, she just didn’t present as many opportunities for these conversations or situations. She spent most of her time with animals, or one-on-one with Numair, or fighting immortals or in another realm with the gods. Pierce touched on Daine’s indecision about dating, marriage, and having children but it was only ever in the background, never quite front and centre. And I’ve already written more than enough on my thoughts about her eventual relationship with Numair so we don’t need to go down that path again… However, Kel is completely different. She has open conversations with her mother and other women about sex and marriage. She dates a friend and her inner turmoil about how she feels about him, how far she wants to take things with him, and whether or not she thinks they should get married isn’t pushed aside or into the background, it’s a consistent theme and thought discussed throughout the relationship. There’s never pressure from others as to whether or not she should be dating. Raoul, a big brother figure, makes sure she’s aware of the realities of the world so she isn’t blindsided but he doesn’t make her decisions for her, he just makes sure she has all the information before she decides for herself. Even better, she’s never too girly for wanting to date someone or too manly as a knight to be desired as a woman. On top of this, equal rights between all people are brought up over and over again, showing the strives Kel makes to fight for what’s right, regardless of how much trouble or unpopularity it brings her way. You can actually see the change she brings about in the people around her throughout the series by never letting up on the right and wrong of everyday practices that have been normalised. There are just so many factions of Pierce’s writing in this series that come together to make Kel an amazing role model for young women and inspiring female protagonist in this YA fantasy.
The only thing I disliked about Lady Knight was the cliffhanger feel to the ending. Not because any part of the plot here was left open, but because I wanted more. Some light hints at spoilers as I question what happens next, just don’t want to give anything away unintentionally:
I want more stories of Raoul and Kel and the rest of the Own, especially Dom. I want to read about Neal’s wedding and marriage and future postings. I want Kel and Alanna to go off on adventures together, while in their downtime George teaches them rogue’s tricks and Myles tells them stories. I want more about Owen as a squire, about him continuing to mature without losing any of his Owen-ness as he becomes a knight. I want to see what happens with Tobe – does he have wild magic or just horse magic? Will he ever let Kel out of his sight again? I want more about Prince Roald, growing up in the shadow of Jon and Thayet, finding himself as the heir to the throne. I want to know more about Lalasa and her shop and her self defence classes. I want more adventures with Peachblossom, Jump, and the sparrows. I just want more!
I honestly could keep going forever, I’m so sad I’ve finished this series (again).