In the final thrilling installment of Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series ( First Test, Page, and Squire), our sturdy young heroine, Keladry of Mindelan (a.k.a. Kel), has finally been knighted. Never one to rest on her laurels, Kel champs at the bit, ready to tackle the horrific magic killing devices she was shown in the Chamber of the Ordeal during her knighthood initiation. The huge, insectlike machines, “made of iron-coated giants’ bones, chains, pulleys, dagger-fingers and -toes, and a long whiplike tail,” feed on the souls of dead children and are systematically killing off the citizens and warriors of Tortall.
Thoroughly disgusted to discover that not only is she not going to be assigned a combat post, but she has been placed in charge of a refugee camp instead, Kel, in her usual noble, stoic way, swallows her disappointment and sets out being the best refugee camp commander possible. Of course, destiny has a way of sneaking up on a young woman like Kel, and soon she is fulfilling the ordeal the Chamber set out for her… and then some.
I went on a Tamora Pierce binge last year, but somehow never got around to finishing off Kel’s story in Protector of the Small. There are just so many reasons to love this quartet.
For another, flight meant that she took no responsibility for what she had done. That was unacceptable. She had done what was necessary. She would take the consequences.
While I really enjoyed Alanna’s journey, Kel feels more real – she’s not magically blessed – she has to work just as hard, if not harder, than the other dudes to prove her worth. She’s more compassionate, and cares about the little people, or those beneath her, as the title of the series suggests.
“It doesn’t matter what you think of me. If you have a criticism or an insult you’d like to deliver, then take me aside and tell me, I don’t care. Though I must say, I do get bored with folk claiming I became a knight either because I’m a slut or I’m desperate for a husband. You’d think people would be a little more original.”
But, like Alanna, Kel has to constantly deal with the sexism from other men, and women, who think she’s not qualified to do her job. Her comebacks are beautiful, and she keeps her head up high.
“Mistresses, have you ever notice that when we disagree with males – I hesitate to say ‘men’ – or find ourselves in a position over males, the first comment they make is always about our reputations or our monthlies?”
One of the new women snorted. Others snickered.
Kel looked at the man, who was momentarily speechless. “If I disagreed with you, should I place the blame on the mis-workings of your manhood?”
In fact, that’s one of the great things about her character – Kel is level-headed, and practical, and knows her own mind. She’s also refreshingly self-deprecating.
“I was getting better at sowing,” Kel protested, wondering what she had done to make them think she had dignity.
She’s also surrounded by a handful of loyal knights/comrades, who respect her abilities, and will go to the end of the earth at her command.
He raised his eyebrows, an expression so like Neal’s that Kel didn’t know whether to laugh or groan. “Your party, Kel,” he murmered. “Your orders.”
It’s awesome to see the boys she trained with and grew up with becoming their own men, and their friendships and loyalty are heartwarming.
Neal looked at his year-mates and Faleron. “You do realise we should all be put in a nice, cosy room somewhere with muscular people to keep us from harm?”
What’s more, I liked that Kel didn’t end up with anyone at the end of the book. Sure, there’s a hint of possibility there, but as Kel herself points out, she’s nowhere near ready to settle, and there’s so much more she wants to do before she does.
When it reached Merric, he looked at it, and sighed. “Why didn’t I start my page-training with year-mates who were sane?” he asked sadly, then drank.