Four stars, read in May 2014.
I knew this series was written in the 1980s, but somehow I could tell just by reading it, too; I think there was a certain style for young adult and middle grade fantasy back then, kind of condensed and sped up compared to YA written today. It’s a little jarring at first, to find that several days or even months have passed in the space of a sentence. But the story throughout the series is excellent, and Alanna and her friends are fantastic characters.
For the first three books, the first two especially, I just really enjoyed her development. Alanna and her twin brother, Thom, want different paths than the ones that are prescribed to them, so they switch places—Thom goes in Alanna’s place to the convent to learn magic, and Alanna becomes Alan, a page training to become a knight. Adventures ensue, obviously; there are evil sorcerers, the prince is her best friend, and becoming a knight (while pretending to be a boy) is a lot of work.
The last book ends well (vague spoilers ahead), but before that, I found most of it a bit underwhelming. Alanna the traveling knight is just not as awesome as Alanna the page, squire, and shaman were. While she’s growing up, Alanna is determined and tough and confident (even with that whole self-deprecating business that she eventually outgrows). She goes her own way, works harder than everyone else, and proves herself over and over. But Alanna the knight is kind of whiny and takes a lot of shit from certain Dragons who think they can “forbid” her to do things and shame her for using her magic. It’s not unrealistic for people to have times when they’re less sure of themselves, but really, her behavior just doesn’t fit.
If romance had to be tied up as neatly as it was (and of course it did), I’m at least glad it worked out the way it did. I’m definitely a fan of the series as a whole. They’re great fantasy books, even better if what you’re looking for is an excellent female protagonist.