We’re finishing The Song of the Lioness quartet today with Tamora Pierce’s final book in the series, Lioness Rampant, in which Alanna gets some problematic booty, punches a mystical baboon, and fights an undead wizard.
Contains major spoilers, femme-/non-binary/magic shaming.
Liam Strongarm: Everyone’s OTHER Trash Ex
LM: So initially I read Liam, the blue-eyed (or green, depending on his mood — blehhhh) redhead with the Anglo name as white (like everyone else in this freaking book), but in retrospect I don’t think his skin color is mentioned. But I posed the question to the group that, despite recruiting kids from all countries, why couldn’t Liam be Asian, since there aren’t enough positive depictions of Asian men as romantic leads, especially in interracial couples?
LKR: In reading your post I realized that I had mentally visualized Liam as Asian, not redhead, the entire time I read the book. I am not sure if that is a good sign or a bad one for what goes on inside my head.
LM: In conversation, CR also mentioned this. And that is why I love you all.
However, I do not love Liam.
I really do like that Pierce (in the narrative and through Alanna) acknowledges that 1. flirting can be fun, especially when it’s someone you haven’t known for years, and your shitty ex (Jonnnnnn) who made you feel bad about how you looked, etc. was wrong, and 2. that women in “men’s fields” tend to get treated as if they are nonsexual beings (and I don’t mean “out and ace”) (Kindle 127) So get some of that, Alanna.
I also like that Alanna has no idea how to flirt (Kindle 130) and I like that Liam knows who she is (140-3) and likes her for her personality and reputation, so to speak, AND her looks (in the beginning). That can be very empowering, and it’s nice to feel like someone gets you. Of course, that doesn’t preclude him being an asshole to her when she wears dresses (ugh, Liam), but it’s different than Jon being all like “you’re my best squire but why can’t you act like a girl” and George and her being bros before lovers.
CR: We see Alanna grow up a lot in this final installment, and deal with more adult issues than she’s faced in previous books. When I read this series as a wee elementary schooler, this was the point in the story where things got almost unbearably confusing and dark. (Seriously, my only memory of this book from my youth is an image of a very grown-up Alanna in a fur cloak sitting in front of a fireplace in a dim pub in the middle of a dark, foreboding forest full thorns, drinking from a tankard of ale. This doesn’t even happen??? WTF, baby me.)
On the road, Alanna encounters war, and the consequences thereof in a way that she hadn’t really faced before. The introduction of Thayet and Buri not only gives us (about damn time!) some strong young women for our heroine to fight alongside, but also allows some insight into the complex racial and political landscape of Sarain. I wish more could have been done with this. I would very much like a spinoff series in which Thayet and Buri go back, kick ass and bring an end to the civil war. (Maybe they also get married and rule together. I can dream.)
On a slightly lighter topic, Alanna has to try to flirt for the first time, which is an awkward feeling I think a lot of us can identify with. Liam, aside from the fact that he calls Alanna “Kitten,” (please shut your face, Liam) seems like a promising love interest at first. He doesn’t want to “boast of having the Lioness’s pelt in [his] hut,” (p. 30). Okay, this is kind of a gross thing to say, but it’s true that he is the first and only man Alanna’s been with who doesn’t ever so much as hint that he’d like to tie her down with domestic responsibilities and children. This, at least, is refreshing. “Finally,” I thought initially, “Someone who appreciates her for who she is.”
Of course, as we all know, Liam turns out to be an ass. Sure, there was that one time (p. 69 of my book) where Liam says, “I just wondered why you feel you have to be all warrior or all woman. Can’t you be both?” But when Alanna later puts on a dress and comes downstairs to greet her companions, she delights everyone but Liam:
“Suit yourself,” he shrugged. “I suppose you’ll want earbobs next, and bracelets and other frippery. What comes then? A noble-born husband and court intrigues?”
(Spolier alert, Liam: You know what Alanna does almost as soon as she gets back to Tortall? Yeah, she pierces her ears. HA. Myles, being just about the sweetest character in this book, and one of the only ones who actually seems to get Alanna–or at least is content to let her be herself–later gives her a pair of earbobs as a gift, and I got all teary-eyed.)
Liam’s inability to accept Alanna in a dress has parallels in his attitude toward her Gift. Look, I get that the guy is “afraid of magic,” (we never really learn much about this), but that’s no reason to guilt her about her powers repeatedly, especially when she uses them to get you and your pals out of tight scrapes on a regular basis. Besides, as Alanna points out:
“I can’t change what I am,” she told him, cooling off. “I never asked to be half witch and half warrior.” (p. 73)
LM: Liam’s behavior is also LITERALLY what happens when you have shitty cis/monosexual folks micro-aggressing and otherwise abusing non-monosexual, trans and NB folks. Don’t grow your leg hair out, I’m afraid you want to transition [to a man]! That long wig makes you look straight! Your short hair makes you look too much like a boy!– literally things that have been said to me. Masculinity/monosexuality/non-magical warriorhood SO FRAGILE. /flips a hundred tables
CR: To summarize, list of reasons why Liam is an ass:
- Uses demeaning pet names like “Kitten” and “little girl”
- “She’s a warrior, but also a lady, and also uses magic?? My feelings are hurt” :sulks:
- HE THREW STUFF AT HER CAT. NOT COOL, BRO. (p. 172)
Alanna, Your Fave is Problematic
CR: All this being said, I do appreciate that Alanna identifies pretty early on that the relationship isn’t going to work out in the long run, and while she’s sad about this, she never tries to change herself to make it work. (See p. 86: “It confirmed the end of their romance at its beginning. Someday she would have to leave him–no love would last when he feared part of her.”) This isn’t to say that she’s not struggling with her identity and her role throughout the book, but she always centers that conversation with herself on herself.
LM: Getting all the problematic booty: a novel by Alanna. Literally fuck the haters: a sequel.
CR: Unrelated, but when did Alanna’s “virtue” become a topic of conversation (and mostly for her guy friends/acquaintances?) Coram gets all flustered and defensive on her behalf when he first meets Liam (p. 29), Alex makes that backhanded joke about Alanna “not doing much fencing with the Shang Dragon” (p. 261), and even Thom gets in on the conversation (p. 319):
“Tell me, sister mine, when is the Dragon going to make an honest woman out of you?”
She made a face at him, thinking he had to feel a little better if he was nosing into her affairs. “He isn’t. We were done before I came home. He doesn’t like magic.”
“Silly man. What about Jonathan, then? Everyone knows you two used to be lovers, even if he is a prig about other things. Maybe you should talk to him. Having sullied your reputation, he can’t be allowed to abandon you. You have a good name–”
“I’m not amused, Thom.”
LM: That was WEIRD. I do wonder if Coram didn’t know that Alanna and Jonathan hooked up because he was gone, or he found out later but he didn’t realize (or want to think) they were having sex? Or maybe he treated it as a youthful bit of fun (was is fun, though? George is fun, and Liam….sex is fun with Liam, at any rate)? Coram, why.
CR: In past books, Alanna seemed fairly free to explore her sexuality without repercussions, something I didn’t appreciate much as a kid, but I certainly do now. Maybe this is part of her growing up and facing consequences. It certainly feels more (depressingly) realistic. But it also feels like a bit of a slap in the face. Couldn’t we have this one thing, a fantasy world where women’s “virtue” isn’t a thing people are concerned about, and their sexuality isn’t stigmatized? That would be cool. Just sayin’.
Alanna and Thayet: Lady Power Couple?
LM: Forget pairing Jon and Thayet together, Alanna, she’s perfect for you! Thayet is always so kind and supportive of Alanna, and Alanna thinks Thayet is gorgeous so clearly they should just run away together and have adventures. Buri can come, too. (Buri/Thayet and Buri/Alanna or Alanna by herself would also be acceptable.)
CR: Can we count the number of times that Alanna totally swoons over Thayet? Also when Thayet shows up all dressed up and Buri pokes Alanna’s arm. Please stop trying to hook her up with Jon. You know he’s a jerk, and she keeps telling you she doesn’t want to be royalty anymore.
LM: Thayet even has the courtesy to ask Alanna if it’s cool if she marries Jon. Like no, it’s not cool, but it’s because he’s a jerk, not because people have exes.
Could have been more queer.
AMR: But couldn’t (almost) everything?
LM: Gods, yes. But considering FRICKING THAYET and how she and Alanna are practically mooning over each other, augh. I’m all about gender-nonconforming Alanna sleeping with men, but I wish she could have had a lady lover, too. (Sorry, I clearly have some projection issues here, but I identify with this whole “crappy relationship with a man, great friendship with woman, WHY DIDN’T I REALIZE SHE WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME THE WHOLE TIME” thing a little too much.)
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Thayet is the best choice because she’s a woman. Thayet is my personal favorite choice because she is actually nice to Alanna and likes her exactly the way she is. George is also nice to Alanna and likes her for who she is, but I still have issues with that awkward first kiss and some of his behavior in Book 2 and 3. This is turning into an Eagle One joke.
The fourth book had some of the best action in the second half – fighting a magical baboon! The all-out war at the coronation! ZOMBIE ROGER.
General reaction was mixed–some of us felt like Alanna was the hero we needed as kids (well, sans the racism), some of us thought she was too special a snowflake, and some of us made up our own headcanons about what could have been. I’m actually glad to be zooming off in our spaceship again after all the swords and sorcery discussion, but reading this again was strange, in a way. When I read it the first time a year ago, I was in a horrible relationship with someone who didn’t appreciate me and was mean to me all the time for not conforming to his bullshit ideas about cis-femininity. Reading it again, I wanted to slap Past!Me–how did I not see what was happening with Jon and Liam being so awful to Alanna when it was literally happening to me? LET THIS BE A LESSON TO YOU, KIDS.
More thoughts? Leave us some love in the comments.
Next time: Dec. 5: join us for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, the amazing sequel to Ancillary Justice!