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The Woman Who Rides Like a Boss

Alanna's changing minds about what women can and can't do one tribe at a time in The Woman Who Rides Like a Man from Tamora Pierce.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Boss

BOOK REPORT for The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Song of the Lioness #3) by Tamora Pierce

Cover Story: Shamanic
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Um…
Bonus Factors: Feminism, Criminal Intrigue, Adoption
Anti-Bonus Factor: Jerky Boyfriends
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

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

Cover Story: Shamanic 

This is a great cover for Moonlight, who doesn't really get much screentime in this third installment. His mane looks shiny and freshly conditioned, which is tough to accomplish when you're hanging out in the desert. 

The "Creepy Alanna" cover series takes an ominous turn as Alanna prepares to strike me down with Lightning as I'm trying to do my nightly run through the forest. At least Moonlight is the right color this time. I can take comfort in accuracy as I'm being run through.

The Deal:

Now that Alanna is a full-fledged knight, she’s off to seek adventure (and escape the cold, but adventure definitely comes first). She’s plagued with doubts and dreams about her final showdown with Roger, but distance from her friends in the capital is just what she needs to regain her center. Of course, trouble in the form of roving bandits finds her, Faithful, and Coram as they’re making their way to…wherever they were originally headed. They successfully fend off the attack, but end up ‘guests’ of a Bazhir tribe (the desert people who inhabit the area South of Corus). 

Officially, the King rules all in Tortall, but, privately, most Bazhir could give two horse craps about the reigning sovereign, so they don’t take kindly to the crown's knight (especially a female knight) riding through their lands uninvited. But Alanna asked for adventure, and, by the Mother, she's gonna get it…

BFF Charm: Yay

Alanna finds herself juggling some new roles she didn’t expect to have: magic mentor to three outcast teens and the first ever female shaman of a Bazhir tribe. This forces her to adapt and mature and reexamine some old prejudices, namely, against her Gift and magic usage. Known for being a bit brash, she does try to temper her outbursts and be mindful of her position within the tribe, but she wouldn’t be herself without pushing some envelopes. I enjoyed this more thoughtful side of her, and I think we can connect more on a more peer-to-peer level now.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Ms. Trebond is a lot more sure of herself now that she's a knight and essentially an adult (as much as you can say an eighteen-year-old is an adult). She still has her issues with marriage, but they aren't the knee-jerk, fear-induced reactions she was having as a young teen. I feel like many people could relate to her relationship with Jonathan this time around, as it raised some good questions about who you're expected to be as a spouse (especially when your SO has an important/prominent job). Does being married automatically mean giving up parts of yourself, or your independence? Should you ever have to give anything up for love? Alanna doesn't have the answers, and she (wisely) understands that because she doesn't, she should probably pump the brakes on the wedding train until she can suss out her real feelings.

Although there's some (PG) sexytimes, there wasn't a ton of swoon. Jonathan's behavior is majorly unattractive; he's feeling the pressure, but that doesn't mean he gets to dump on our Alanna like he does! George's unflagging devotion to the knight is sweet, but I couldn't get into their parts too much, knowing how confused Alanna is throughout the whole novel. 

Though I will say the swooniest line, in possibly the entire series, does come from this book, said by George:

"There’s plenty more fish in the sea than Prince Jonathan,” he told her softly. “And this particular fish loves you with all his crooked heart."

Talky Talk: Um…

We finally get to slow down some: The entire journey only spans one single year! Pierce still packs in a lot of story, but it unfolds in a much smoother fashion compared to the first few. 

Alanna spends most of her time with the Bazhir, who seem to be somewhat based on Bedouins, from what I could gather in my brief and very unscientific research. She brings a lot of change with her, some of which it seems like the Bazhir can readily accept, but other changes are foisted upon them when Alanna decides their stance is backwards (like how they treat women). 

Guys, I have so many thoughts. I’m all for more people understanding feminism, giving women equal positions of power, and expanding their world views when they’re being close-minded. But did it become a bit squicky because Alanna was the sole driving force behind these changes? There were points that seemed like they were veering into White Savior territory, and that made me a tad uncomfortable. There were a few things that helped to slightly redeem this storyline: Halef Sief, the headman of the Bloody Hawk tribe, seeming to be a pretty forward-thinking guy in general, and we learn later that the ladies of the tribe aren’t as weak-willed as Alanna initially thinks, so she does have to reevaluate her own prejudices as well.  

But the other plot point that gave me major pause was Jonathan becoming the Voice of the Tribes. This is a very sacred role for the Bazhir; it’s the keeper of all the memories of those who came before and commune together now. I can see how Ali Mukhtab’s goal—to make Jonathan the Voice to bring peace among his people and the kingdom—was noble in theory, but reading it from a distance, in today’s mindset, it just felt wrong that this foreigner now gets to hold this most prominent role within the tribes. Yeah, he studied hard over a few weeks, but does he deserve this honor as an outsider? Probably not. Would there have been way more backlash from the Bazhir in real life? Almost certainly.  

For the most part, Alanna is very respectful of this new family she’s been adopted into, and the Bazhir aren’t played for fools or ‘lesser than’ for their beliefs, so I wonder if I'm being overly sensitive. But then I figure if I'm feeling a bit weird, there’s also probably a reason why. This third installment definitely wasn’t this complicated when I read it the first time around! 

For those who have read the book in the recent past (or just have excellent memories), did you have any problems with the way Alanna and Jonathan’s dealings with the Bazhir were portrayed? 

Bonus Factor: Feminism

Issues aside, I do think that Pierce-as-Alanna made some great points on feminism that young girls should be reading. The very title of the book is annoying, so I was emphatically head-nodding when this exchange came about:

“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.”

Bonus Factor: Criminal Intrigue

Near the end of the book, we switch focus and learn more about George’s position as King of the Thieves and the machinations of those who wish to dethrone him. The Dancing Dove and the twisty intrigues that occur within its walls feature heavily in later series, so this is only the start! 

Bonus Factor: Adoption

Our favorite teacher, Myles of Olau, stops in to see how his favorite pupil is surviving out in the real world, and he presents a proposition to Alanna that had me crying happy tears for her. Taking a glance over her ‘real’ family: a dead mom, a distant (and now dead) dad, and a self-absorbed brother, it’s nice to see that she's got at least one good limb on her (new) family tree.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Jerky Boyfriends

Jonathan is a real stinky-butt here. I sympathize with his dilemma, as I know if I was in his shoes I'd break under the yoke of impending responsibility, and, frankly, he’s long overdue for some royal whininess. But don’t take it out on your girlfriend, and don’t go pressuring people into marriage who have clearly told you, more than once, that they aren’t ready. 

Casting Call:

I cast the main characters' roles in previous reports here and here

Cedric Yarbrough as Ali Mukhtab, Voice of the Tribes

I recently started watching Speechless, so some word association probably came into play with this casting, but I feel like Cedric could pull off the wisdom the Voice needs to impart in that baritone of his.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Book, we’ve always been good friends, but there were a few things that happened recently that concern me. I’m sure we can work through this tension, but while we take a little breather, you should probably use this time to take a look around and re-examine yourself. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man 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.