Tamora Pierce is the author who defined my teenage years. Over several years, I used my weekly allowance to buy at least fifteen of her books. I read Sandry’s Book (the first in the Circle of Magic Quartet) so many times that I am missing several pages from the beginning of the book. She informed my attitudes towards ‘girl power’ (though the Spice Girls may have helped with that), using stories of girls who decided what they wanted, and went for it regardless of what anyone else thought. I first picked up one of her books when I was nine—I was a precocious reader and often read above my grade level. As I grew, so did the characters I was reading about. I’ve been reading her books for fifteen years now and I’ll still make a point of picking up her new books when they come out.
Author Name: Tamora Pierce
Date of Birth: December 13, 1954
Location of Birth: South Connellsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania
First Publication: Alanna: The First Adventure
First Date of Publication: 1983
Number of Published Novels (as of January 2014): 28
Books forthcoming (as of January 2014): 2 with 2014 release dates, 2 in 2015 TBD
Why She’s Interesting:
One issue that I really respect Pierce for handling repeatedly in her books is safe sex. I remember being shocked as a twelve-year-old when (SPOILER ALERT!) Alanna sleeps with her best friend, the prince. I will candidly admit that I was probably most shocked because it was the first time that sex had come up in any of the books I had read, but Pierce introduced the idea in a positive (and progressive) way that has stuck with me. Her characters are old enough to think through their decisions and smart enough to be responsible about them. In one of her most recent books, Bloodhound, the main character plans ahead and like any responsible young person purchases a contraceptive before sleeping with the romantic interest.
Pierce is also really great about romantic interests too. She has often—but not always—created a romantic tension between the main character and a possible love interest, had them have a short, if exciting relationship, and then set the main character up with someone else because it wasn’t working out. In real life, our first love is not always “the one.” That’s the case in her novels too. For example (here come more spoilers), in her first series, the main character Alanna is romantically involved with the prince. He wants to marry her; she knows that she doesn’t want to be queen. She breaks it off with him to go adventuring and ends up bringing back the princess that he marries. She marries a reoccurring character who was the first person she met in the series.
Tamora Pierce is known for her views on strong female heroines. Along with Mag Cabot (The Princess Diaries), she founded a group called Sheroes (www.sheroescentral.com), a discussion group about strong female role models, both real and fictional. She says in her autobiography that she when she started writing, she wrote the heroines that were missing from the stories that she was reading.
Tamora Pierce won the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2013 for her early novels. This award is given by YALSA (part of the ALA) and School Library magazine to authors for their
“work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.” (link)
She has won and been nominated for numerous other awards, including “VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Selection” several times, “ALA Best Books for Young Adults” several times, and several other awards, nominations and distinctions.
Over the course of her 28 book career, only one of her books was not honoured in some way (it was one of her very early ones, and every book she has written since has a successively greater list of awards). As one of the leading authors in YA fantasy, her books receive attention when they come out; her books are regularly reviewed and praised by professional book reviewers.
The first book in any Pierce’s series is generally aimed lower in the YA age range (10+), but the recommendation grows in succeeding books (most of her books are recommended for ages 12+). Her books are about young women in magical feudal worlds who face difficult trials, internal and external, before they can come of age. Her ‘Alanna: The First Adventure’ series and the ‘Protector of the Small’ series both follow characters from the ages of ten or so until adulthood. Her most recent series, ‘Beka Cooper’ follows Beka from the ages of about 16 to 18, and would be ideal for teens around sixteen years old. The books are never so explicit that a younger teen would be confronted with something that was so much, but are probably ideal for teens around the age of fourteen. Unfortunately, Pierce’s books are usually shelved in the children’s area of the library and that might dissuade older teens from grabbing them.
Pierce has set her books in two different worlds. The world of Tortall is the setting for her first series and its successors. It is a world of sword and high sorcery (and in several of the series, magical creatures). Pierce continually pulls off excellent coming-of-age stories in this universe. The world of Emelan is the setting for her series for younger teens (10-14 in the first series, though the subsequent series contain moral issues and politics more suited to 12-18), and is centered on more ordinary forms of magic (the main characters have powers over thread, plants, iron, and weather, though the last is by far the most grandiose).
Books set in Tortall:
Song of the Lioness Quartet
Alanna: The First Adventure (1983)
In the Hand of the Goddess (1984)
The Woman Who Rides as a Man (1986)
Lioness Rampant (1988)
Wild Magic (1992)
The Emperor Mage (1995)
The Realms of the Gods (1996)
Protector of the Small Quartet
First Test (1999)
Lady Knight (2002)
Trickster’s Choice (2003)
Trickster’s Queen (2004)
Beka Cooper Trilogy
Books set in Emelan:
Circle of Magic Quartet
Sandry’s Book (1997)
Tris’s Book (1998)
Daja’s Book (1998)
Briar’s Book (1999)
Circle Opens Quartet
Magic Steps (2000)
Street Magic (2001)
Cold Fire (2002)
Circle Reforged Series
The Will of the Empress (2005)
Melting Stones (2007)
Battle Magic (2013)
(Sources: All information in this article is either opinion or from Tamora Pierce’s website: http://tamorapierce.com/index.html. All sections are linked to the corresponding sections on her website).