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Goddess-Touched

In the second installment of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, In the Hand of the Goddess, Alanna learns to let go of her many, many fears.

Goddess-Touched

BOOK REPORT for In the Hand of the Goddess (Song of the Lioness #2) by Tamora Pierce

Cover Story: Little Girl Catnip
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Flash Forward
Bonus Factors: Loyal Pets, Mythology
Anti-Bonus Factor: Inconsistencies
Relationship Status: Dress-Up Friends

Cover Story: Little Girl Catnip

In order to provide you with the cover art I actually like, I had to get a little fancy and scan the front of my actual book. Much better!

I feel a special connection with this particular cover because this is the first book I ever read from Tamora Pierce (my adult self looks back on my child self, starting a book in the middle of a series, and cringes) and the only reason I picked this up in the first place is because Alanna had red hair (I was obsessed with Ariel) and a cat on her shoulders (I was obsessed with having a pet cat). So, kudos to you, cover art designers, because you tapped into exactly what a ten-year-old girl desired. #nailedit

And over in our “Creepy Alanna” alternate cover series—which would have made younger me avoid this book like the plague—this time we catch Alanna trying to sneak into my tent to murder me while I take an afternoon nap. Why you gotta do me like that, Al? I thought we were friends.

The Deal:

Careful, Sweetie: spoilers! This is the second book in the Song of the Lioness series, so if you haven’t read the previous one, you should probably hop back in the TARDIS and go curl up with the first book in the library by the pool before continuing.

We meet up with fifteen-year-old Alanna about a year after the events that took place in the Black City, where she and Jonathan defeated the Ysandir. While her first few years in Corus were all about her strict training regimen and school lessons, her later teen years are fraught with a wee bit more drama: learning how to be a (secret) lady, getting kidnapped, fending off two men who are in love with her, surviving attempted murder, and learning battle strategies. You know, typical teenage girl stuff.

Alanna continues to harbor mistrust towards the King’s nephew, Duke Roger, and, unfortunately for her, the growing tension between Tortall and its neighbor, Tusaine, keeps bringing her into close contact with him. The other thorn in Alanna’s side is the Ordeal of Knighthood, the final trial she must face before being allowed to take up her knight’s shield. She’s seen the haunted look in men’s eyes when they come out of the Ordeal, and no one gets through it unscathed.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

In this book, our wannabe knight is a walking bundle of contradictions. She loves her friends and life at the palace, but she’s afraid she’ll lose their respect and friendship once she reveals she doesn’t have an extra appendage dangling between her legs. She’s terrified of falling in love because she thinks relationships and marriage are akin to tying yourself to a rock and jumping into the river, but she can’t deny the connection she feels to her two closest friends. And while she’s feeling wildly restless and longing to explore, Alanna also realizes that she’s finally found a true home in Corus in a way that Trebond never was to her.

Alanna, honey, you need a girlfriend, like, yesterday. While growing up surrounded by men may have been fine and dandy for Kid Alanna, Teen Alanna is in desperate need of an older female perspective to let her know that what she’s going through is totally normal, and that, yes, it’s all going to be okay. While Mistress Cooper is thankfully around to quell some of those emotional outbursts with her frank talk, I think what Alanna could really use is a sleepover away from the palace (as Jonathan’s squire, her room is connected to his, and there’s no way you can have good heart-to-heart girl talk when you’re afraid boys might be listening outside the door). 

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

There’s a lot going on in this book, yet the swoon is definitely more on the side stage than appearing as the main event. In the last report some commenters brought up questions about Alanna and George’s relationship, and as it’s been a while since I’ve read these books, I was curious to see how my perceptions may have changed since my first few go-rounds. 

Alanna is roughly three years younger than Jonathan and six years younger than George, leaving him in his early twenties while she’s mid-to-late teens in this book. I can see where some may give his (almost out of nowhere) declarations of love the side-eye, but for a fantasy book that seems to consider teenagers to be adults much earlier than we typically would in modern society, it didn’t bother me much (now if this was a contemporary romance, we’d be having very different words).

What I did give some side-eye to was George’s persistence, especially when Alanna was worried his feelings might ruin their friendship. I feared George would turn into a Nice Guy, but after that initial surprise kiss he didn’t really push Alanna beyond letting her know that he would always be around if she changed her mind. Given that she has told everyone many, many times about how afraid she is of love, I suppose I can’t totally blame George for being upfront with her about his feelings, otherwise he would NEVER have gotten anywhere. 

I was more into the Jonathan romance when I was younger, but this time I was frustrated with him jerking Alanna around by taunting her with his relationship with Delia and sometimes acting like a macho jerk–not cool, man. You may be confused because you suddenly have feelings for your girl-dressed-as-a-boy best friend, but in the words of the illustrious Backstreet Boys, quit playin’ games with my heart

Talky Talk: Flash Forward

Tortall begins to reveal its history as Alanna expands her knowledge beyond the walls of the castle, and it was refreshing to head to some new locales. The writing in this book continues to surprise me a bit, as the tone feels different from some of Pierce’s later works. We breeze through large swathes of time in single paragraphs, dropping in here and there to expound on a particular moment or scene that contributes to the overall narrative, but occasionally I felt like I was just reading one giant recap of Alanna’s life. You could tell Pierce was eager to get to “the good stuff” in the story, and it almost makes me wonder if her later series, Protector of the Small, which goes into much greater detail of the page to squire to knight process, was her attempt to fill in the gaps she left behind in this series.

Where Tamora shines—and always has—is in her depictions of war and battle. From the setup in the war room to the skirmishes in the field, as a young girl I’d never had much exposure to battle strategy, and this book definitely ignited my interest in the “logistics” of war. In the middle of the novel Alanna spends a lot of time in the River Drell encampment, waiting for Tusaine to potentially break their long-standing peace treaty. Although Alanna has been training to be a warrior for years, I think that here is where what war means—to herself, to her country, and to its people—truly hits her. Pierce doesn’t shy away from putting her opinion right out there about the damage that fighting can do to a person’s mental and physical health. 

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pets

At the beginning of the book we are introduced to one of my favorite Tamora Pierce tropes: the slightly mysterious, wise, loyal, and always dry-witted animal-friend! It wouldn’t be a Tortall book without one. Alanna finds a black-furred, violet-eyed kitten in the woods that she names Faithful, and he promptly becomes her shadow. After a time she realizes that Faithful’s yowls and meows sound an awful lot like human speech to her, and pretty soon he becomes her lookout, protector, and agony aunt (even when she doesn’t precisely ask for his advice).

Moonlight is a cool horse, but Faithful is my favorite, y’all. Ten-year-old me would have committed some mild atrocities for a cat that followed me everywhere.

There’s also a fun little Easter egg referencing a certain character in the Beka Cooper series during Faithful’s naming scene (I realize this book was written long before Beka came into existence, but I have to imagine Tamora knew exactly what she was doing.).

Bonus Factor: Mythology

We don’t get too in-depth into the pantheon of Tortall’s Gods and Goddesses, but we do begin to get a picture of their religious structure. It seems like Pierce based her creation on Greek and Roman mythology, where certain areas are ruled over by one particular deity. So far we’ve named-checked the Dark God, who takes people to their deaths; Mithros, the Father of all; and the Mother Goddess, who, for some reason, has taken a special interest in Alanna (hence the book title).

Anti-Bonus Factor: Inconsistencies

I think the story could benefit from just a bit more editing and fact-checking. There was one area near the beginning where Pierce name-checks two squires for Gary and Raoul, but when she mentions them again not even a page later she makes one a totally different character. I also had to get on Google to find a timeline for everyone’s birthdays (because I am an anal retentive like that) and learned that Pierce definitely plays fast and loose with some of their ages to fit the plot. I know it’s just a story...but let’s have it all make chronological sense, mmkay?

Casting Call:

See my previous casting for our main characters here.

Jack Reynor as Gary of Naxen

With Jack’s earnest face and ruddy cheeks, he can pull off that larger-than-life, friendly vibe that Gary gives off.

Adelaide Kane as Lady Delia of Eldorne

Adelaide has the kind of effortless, graceful beauty that a girl like Alanna, who knows nothing of courtesan manners and fancy dresses, would be intimidated by.

Victor Garber as Sir Myles of Olau

I could see SpyDaddy as Alanna’s surrogate father figure; one second in his cups, muttering asides about his peers, and in the next hopping onto his horse to ride into battle.

Relationship Status: Dress-Up Friends

To be honest, Book, I think that you could use a gal-pal, as my Oma would say. When things get too stressful and you need to blow off some steam, head on over to my place and we can try on dresses and play with your hair. I’ll teach you how to curtsey (well, I’ll try) and how to rogue your cheeks. You can talk about your feelings—or don’t, that’s fine, too—and when you’re ready to get back to it, just know that I’ll be around if you need to vent.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. In the Hand of the Goddess is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.