Protector of the Small Quartet (First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight) by Tamora Pierce = 4/5
[Yes, you read that correctly, this is a review for 4 books at once.]
The Protector of the Small Quartet (PSQ) tells the story of Keladry of Mindalen, a noble-born girl living in the fantasy realm of Tortall who wants to become a knight. Unlike her predecessor, Sir Alanna of Trebond and Olau, Kel is able to pursue her dreams and enroll as a page without needing to disguise her sex. Even though new laws enable her to do so, Kel faces misogyny and sexism at almost every turn–from students, instructors, commonfolk, and enemies.
Kel fights back—she stands up to bullies, she takes on harder exercises to strengthen herself physically and mentally, and she rises above petty comments meant to wear her down. She has friends, too, who help her fight back against groups of bullies and stand with her during battle. Kel has a knack for strategy and command, taking charge when she and her fellow pages are ambushed and they’re too petrified to act. She demonstrates persistence, caring for a baby griffin at one point (a most thankless endeavor, but she does it anyway) and putting up with seemingly worthless assignments to excel and earn the trust and respect of the men with whom she works. Most importantly, Kel stands up for what is right and protects those who cannot protect themselves, then teaches them the skills and bravery they need to protect themselves later.
PSQ was a re-read for me—I’ve read the series several times over the years, and it grows on me each time. Kel’s persistence, her refusal to back down when everyone around her is telling her “you can’t do this because you’re a girl”, and her desire to just “do good” are what make her a compelling, likeable character to me. She does fall in love a time or two, but the romance in no way is the focal point of her story. She is strong-minded, independent, and likeable.
TL;DR: I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a coming-of-age story with a female protagonist with a strong moral compass, defends those who can’t (or don’t know how to) defend themselves, and stands up for what’s right even when everyone else seems to think she’s out of her mind.
Review originally written 11 June 2017