Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Musings: Tamora Pierce, fantasy, and diversity



It’s always us.
Sandry, Daja, Briar, and Tris from Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series, found on the songofthelioness tumblr

A few months ago, I read an interesting post by Silver Miles of Steel Thistle about the fantasy genre and diversity.  I have to say that Tamora Pierce doesn’t fit the typical mode, because she is one of the few fantasy writers out there who is always racially diverse, and equality isn’t effected by race, gender, or sexuality (at least among the main characters.  Racism, etc. from outside characters is generally shown by the less savory sorts).  The Circle of Magic series features a straight white noble, a black lesbian trader, a slightly overweight girl, a mixed race boy, a bi and lesbian couple, an Asian street rat, an older Indian … I mean the list goes on!  You've got all ages, all races (although I’m listing them by their features here, since obviously there is no Asia etc. in the books), I think all sexualities (I can’t remember if there are any trans characters in the series, but it wouldn’t surprise me).

This is one place where the Circle of Magic series wins over the Tortall ones.  While the Tortall lands are also diverse, all the main characters are straight, white women (Unless Daine isn’t white?).  While there are plenty of side characters of other races, it’s not the same as having a non-white main character.  And sexuality is definitely downplayed in the Tortall books (in comparison to the CoM series).  It’s clear all the main characters are very open to people of different sexualities (already a giant step forward in comparison to most books), but none of the characters are anything but straight – even side characters (again, unless I’m forgetting one?).  This is by no means a criticism of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series.  I love them.  I still reread them on pretty much a yearly basis.  You look at when she started writing these series, especially because they are fantasy and it’s amazing what she managed to do.  She wrote fantasy novels with a racially diverse cast, and even back in the 80s, she had characters who could care less if someone was lgbt.  Quick, name some other authors who have managed to do even one of those things (where being racially different is not shown as inferior a la C.S. Lewis, and being lgbt is not used as trope).  Even now, 30 years later.  I can’t name more than a handful.  Kristin Cashore and Sarah J. Maas are the only two I can come up with off the top of my head.  I know I’m missing a few...but the fact that I have to think hard at all to come up with some?  It shows how far we still have to go in this genre. 

While I think I would have always been open to all gender/sexuality/races because I have great parents, having books like these helped affirm that I was right to think so.  I grew up in the South.  I spent half of that time living in the Bible Belt.  I was definitely exposed to very different opinions on these matters.  But I had role models in Alanna, Kel, Ali, and Daine.  I loved these characters, wanted to be these characters, and if I felt that way?  Think of all the other kids and teens who got to read these characters and see that it is ok to be different.  All the kids and teens who were given a chance to wonder if maybe their parents or community are wrong about some things.   That there are books out there that feature someone other than straight white characters. 

Tamora Pierce dominates the genre with her ability to craft not only phenomenal books and characters, but to treat different races and sexualities as normal – part of who the person is, but not making their identity their race or sexual choice – is just amazing.


  1. Ok, so question. IF I were to read a Tamora Pierce book, which one should I read? I read Trickster's Choice about 8 years ago and really didn't like it. From what I remember, I didn't like the main character. But I would be willing to give it another go. (I had a similar experience with Libba Bray...I really didn't like A Great and Terrible Beauty, but loved The Diviners). Thoughts?

  2. Oh man, I LOVE Ali! Ah well, to each her own. So, here are your options..I'll just give you the ups and downs since I'm not really sure what would appeal to you the most. I'm too biased haha

    1. The Circle of Magic - it is more of a middle grade series in the beginning, but it doesn't focus on one character. The first book is only like 200 pages, so if you don't mind waiting to really love the characters until the next book, and middle grade character, this was a great series. The other quartets (the Tortall ones) are sort of self contained, whereas this series is made up of 3 quartets, but really reads like one really long series.

    2. The Lioness Quartet -this was her very first quartet, so most people start here. It features a cross-dressing heroine (which I'm a sucker for). She can be snarky at times, but this has my favourite love interest (outside from Ali's), and she is a powerful mage (unwillingly) as well as an excellent knight. There's a lot about Bazhir tribes in the series which was really awesome (They're like the equivalent of the middle east for us I guess) and is a nice contrast from mainstream Tortall (which is more like old Western Europe) I probably reread this quartet the most.

    3. Wildmage Quartet - this follows a girl who has wild magic (which means she can talk to and change into animals). She's spunky and determined, but her love interest is perhaps a bit old. This is the first time you get to really explore lands outside of Tortall which is pretty cool, and I think this is probably most people's favourite quartet.

    4. Protector of the Small - this follows the first girl knight to openly be a girl..and a knight...there's a better way of phrasing that I'm sure haha. She has to deal with a lot of prejudice, but unlike Alanna, Kel is placid and lets things roll off. She's probably the most levelheaded of all the Tortall heroines This is sort of spoilers but might matter to you *the only one without a defined love interest at the end*end spoilers This one is a lot of fun because you get to see a lot of the characters from the previous two quartets, so I will say that while you don't have to read the others, you'd be missing out

    So sorry this is a super long reply to that opinion would be to start with Alanna's quartet (the Lioness one), because it's the first and I love it (but I love all of them), but I'd see which sounds the most interesting to you!


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