'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 18 December 2017

Review: First Test

The only female knight in the kingdom hid her gender to make it through training. Since the king has ordained that girls may train, there's no need for skulduggery ten years later when Kel dreams of becoming a knight.

But Keladry of Mendalen faces greater opposition than she ever imagined. Apart from being on probation for the first year, something no boy has ever had to face, her room is trashed on the first day and no senior page steps forward to sponsor her.

It's just as well Kel lived on the Yamani Islands for six years, where showing your emotions is equivalent to picking your nose. With Nealan her only ally, she needs a face like stone to survive all the boys throw at her.

But when her lance is weighted with lead, Kel takes the double disadvantage as a challenge, pushing through her weaknesses to make them double strengths.

Women have fought for the simplest of privileges for centuries. Obtaining the legal right to vote was a hard fought battle, which resulted in tragic deaths. In Australia, where women have fought for decades for the right to play AFL football at elite levels and won through only last year for the first time, Kel's story resonated to my core.

But there's more. Beyond the compelling theme of fighting for what you believe in stands a ten-year-old girl who cares. She fights for anyone who can't defend themselves and will not countenance others being bullied, even if it means she ends up with black eyes, bruised ribs and broken bones. Kel is a hero I desperately want to see triumph over everything, especially the deadly mythical creatures and her terror of heights.

I read First Test about a decade ago and raced to devour each of the three other books in the series. On this reread, Tamora Pierce's language is as contemporary as it was ten years ago and I still can't get enough of Kel, her external calm in the face of internal fury and her ability to care.

The Protector of the Small Quartet is truly an all-time classic.

Title: First Test
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Scholastic, $17.99
Publication Date: 1 August 2006
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781862917170
For ages: 10+
Type: Middle Fiction