First Test - Tamora Pierce This book was pretty fantastic. It concerns Keladry, the first girl to try for her knighthood since Alanna became a knight and a proclamation was issued that any girl may become a page. Despite the proclamation, many are still resistant to the idea of women being knights, and Kel does not have an easy time of things.

It's fascinating to compare Kel's and Alanna's experiences and how different they are. Kel's family is supportive of her decision to try for her knighthood, and Kel's mother is a formidable fighter herself. But Kel, as the first openly female person to enter knighthood training, faces challenges Alanna never had to. She is put on probation for a year, and meanwhile she has to endure taunts, tricks, and threats from some of the other pages, who don't like the idea of a woman becoming a knight. There's also the weapons master, a sexist man who doesn't think Kel has what it takes and is biased against her before she even starts. Alanna has broken new ground by becoming King's Champion, but there's still a very long way to go before women can become knights as easily as men, and I like that the book points that out.

Alanna is, of course, Keladry's hero, so it's frustrating that Alanna is not allowed to have any contact with Kel in case she influences her unfairly or some bullshit. But Keladry keeps getting little anonymous gifts of helpful things, so perhaps Alanna has found a way to assist her regardless.

I really like Kel's sponsor, Neal, who is the son of the healer Baird from the Alanna books. He's cheeky and funny and likes to question authority whenever possible, which makes him a perfect foil for Kel, who is Very Serious about her education and reluctant to do anything that might screw it up.

Kel's caution is challenged, though, once she sees some of the older pages bullying the younger ones. At first she runs away, thinking she can't afford to get in trouble for fighting, but eventually she decides she can't live with herself if she doesn't challenge bullies wherever she finds them. As a knight-in-training she feels it is her duty to protect those who can't defend themselves, and the scene where she explains that to the other pages is one of my favorites in the book. She gets them to question how things have always been done, and to examine their own morality in the process.

This series starts strong right out of the gate, and I'm excited to read the other three books.