Ten-year-old Keladry of Mindelan plans to become a knight like her hero Alanna the Lioness, who, years ago, disguised herself as a boy so she could train for knighthood. The law forbidding girls from entering the training changed ten years ago, and Kel becomes the first to take advantage of the new decree, making history as the first girl to officially become a page—but not everyone is happy about it. Lord Wyldon, in charge of training pages and squires, even insists on putting her on probation, which no other page has ever had to endure.
Faced with nastiness, bullying and heated opposition in addition to the already demanding training schedule, Kel has been given a far more difficult test than any boy has ever had to experience. Whether or not she is able to prove herself will determine not only her own fate, but that of any other girls who wish to follow in her footsteps. Fortunately, Kel is more than up for the challenge…
I’ve read a lot of Tamora Pierce’s books, including many of those set in the Tortall* universe, and the Protector of the Small Quartet is my all-time favorite. The author is known for her powerful female protagonists, and out of all of them I’ve liked Kel best. She’s tough, brave, smart and is an excellent tactician—she’s very human, and is all and all the sort of shero I love to read about. Also, unlike Alanna, she doesn’t have magical powers or a legendary destiny; she’s just an incredibly skilled young woman who’s willing to deal with the prejudice that the first openly female knight must face in order to pave the way for other Lady Knights.
Like Alanna, Kel ages quickly over the course of the quartet—in First Test, she’s ten, but by book four she’s about twenty, and the series gets progressively more ‘Young Adult’ in the later installments. So I although I would recommend First Test for ages 10 and up, younger readers may lose interest after the first two books. But it’s a great series, and older readers shouldn’t be put off by the fact that Kel is younger in the first book—she’s an awesome character, and I would highly recommend the Protector of the Small Quartet to readers who love fantasy, action, and strong, fearless heroines.
*Note: Although the quartet is set in the same world as many of Tamora Pierce’s other books (The Song of the Lioness Quartet and the Trickster’s Choice Duology), you don’t need to have read any of them before starting Protector of the Small (we didn’t!)