On her first tour as a knight errant, Alanna assumes a position of influence with a fierce desert tribe, makes some changes in the role of women in the society, and continues her own emotional development.
"You are a terrifying creature," the Voice told her solemnly. "You do not take your place in your father's tent, letting men make your decisions. You ride as a man, you fight as a man, and you think as a man—"
"I think as a human being," she retorted hotly. "Men don't think any differently from women—they just make more noise about being able to."
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is generally considered the low point of the Song of the Lioness series, but I have to say I disagree. I don’t know if it’s because, compared to the first two books in the series, it covers a relatively short period of time and mostly takes place in one location, or because of a contrived ‘saviour’ complex everyone is so triggered by.
First, Alanna spends most of the book in the desert with the Bloody Hawk, a Bazhir tribe, learning about herself by helping others. After all the drama that happened in Corus after earning her shield, Alanna is on the road with Coram trying to distance herself from the gossip and the guilt. She is uneasy around magic after seeing how Roger was using his Gift to manipulate and hurt the people around him, the people she loves and has sworn to protect. Being almost forced to stay in one place and to come to term with her feelings and her own Gift is not only the best thing that could have happened to her, but I found it incredibly interesting. It addressed the problems I had with In the Hand of the Goddess, which seemed rushed and refused to settle into the aftermath of the big events. So where others may have wanted more excitement in Alanna’s first year as a knight, I was happy to spend all that time in one place over a shorter period of time.
Second, I understand that many people have a problem with Alanna coming into a Bazhir tribe and having problems with their customs and trying to change them. I have to disagree, though. I think Pierce’s writing here isn’t disrespectful, it’s honest. Alanna has lived an incredibly sheltered life as a noblewoman and training to become a knight. She’s had adventures, but besides George, she has very little experience with people outside of other nobles and knights. She’s spent the last four years hiding her sex and seeing from the male perspective how women are viewed and treated. Of course, when she enters a tribe where women are hiding their faces and seem to be treated as a lower class to the men, she’s going to be triggered. However, when she’s settled into the tribe, she learns more about the men and women around her and the true dynamics of the tribe.
Alanna tried to thank Mari Fahrar. The old woman brushed her words aside. "All things change," she told Alanna frankly. "It does not hurt men to know women have power, too."
Alanna had to laugh. Until Mari and Farda entered her life, she never realized that the tribes-women viewed their men not with fear, but with loving disrespect. Sometimes she felt that she was the one getting the education, not her pupils.
Yes, she pushes for women to be able to hold certain positions within the tribe – there should always be people pushing for change when they believe it is needed – but she has the support of the tribe’s headman, the Voice, and many in the tribe. I understand people are looking for reasons to be angry or triggered, but considering this book was published in 1986, I think it’s aged incredibly well and that most of the people up in arms here may have stopped reading after Alanna’s initial impressions of the Bazhir, before she lives with them, learns from them, and accepts (and is accepted by) the tribe and their culture.
After addressing the potential issues here, the reason people should dislike this book is because of the pompous ass Jonathan has become. In a short period of time, he’s somehow transformed into an entitled prick whose sole purpose is to fight with Alanna, make digs about her character, and break her heart. Thankfully, Coram, Myles, and George are around to support her and give her the love and family she needs. These three men play such essential roles in Alanna’s life and these books would not be as exceptional as they are without them.
All of this is to say, I heartily disagree with the opinions of other reviewers (unless you also love it, in which case I am 100% behind you) and the ranking of this book within the series, Jon is an ass, and Coram, Myles, and George are the best supporting characters you could wish for.
Alanna smiled ruefully. "Have you ever noticed that when you try to deny some part of yourself, things fall out so you need that part more than any other?"