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In Alanna Trebond's world, boys rule and girls drool—or at least, their life options do. When we meet 10-year-old Alanna, she's about to be sent to the convent along with all the other noble girls to learn "sewing and dancing" (1.8), ugh. She'd rather train to become a knight, which involves horse riding, tracking, wrestling, archery, swordsmanship, and so on. (If you ask us, they both sound awful.)
As you can probably guess, Alanna is a tomboy. In trying to convince her servant Coram to go along with the plan, Alanna compares herself to her twin brother, Thom: "Thom can't shoot for beans, I can. Thom wouldn't be a credit to you. I will, I think. You said yourself a grown man can't skin a rabbit faster'n me" (1.92). At ten years old, Alanna has the hobbies, skills, and—almost—body of any other noble-born boy. When she arrives at court, there's not much to distinguish her from the other pages, except that she's a little small.
But not for long.
Pretty soon, biology comes knock-knock-knocking: her breasts develop, and her period arrives. Naturally, this causes a major identity crisis. Coram tries to comfort her, telling her that she's got to accent who she is. "Ye can be a woman and still be a warrior" (5.13), he tells her, but she's not having it: "I hate it! ... People will think I'm soft and silly!" (5.14).
On the one hand, yeah, if you live in a society that's sexist enough to dictate that boys must be treated one way and girls must be treated another way, you'll probably encounter some judgmental jerks. On the other hand, Alanna works her butt off to get where she is, and anyone who chooses to fixate on the fact she's a girl must be either very, very prejudiced or not too bright. (Or both.) By the end of the book, only a few characters know Alanna's secret, but they all accept her unconditionally.
As Jonathan puts it, "Girl, boy, or dancing bear, you're the finest page—the finest squire-to-be—at Court" (7.269).
Let's not pull any punches, because Alanna sure wouldn't: our gal has a temper, and she's stubborn as a … as a …. well a mule. At least, so says Coram, and he has known her from birth. Let's look at the evidence:
Yeah. Let's just say that we wouldn't want to enter a staring contest with this girl.
But all this stubbornness means that Alanna doesn't exactly have the best sense of humor. Even good-natured teasing can set her off. For instance, when Raoul is playfully giving Alanna the business about not swimming with the other boys in the summer, she snaps: "I'm tired of being teased! … All summer long I put up with this. Why can't I do what I want without being pestered all the time?" (5.23).
Yikes. Simmer down, right? At the same time, Alanna distinguishes herself from bullies like Ralon. She knows that her temper runs hot, and she apologizes to Raoul for shouting at him. And she's even unhappy after she beats up Ralon: "I hate myself. I just know more than Ralon did…I took advantage of that. I'm as bad as he was" (3.223).
You wouldn't catch Ralon apologizing, right? No way. And that's why both Sir Myles and Jonathan set her straight. It's not like Alanna goes around beating up on other pages for fun, now does she? Nope. She only fights in self-defense—but when she does, look out.
With her bright red hair and violet eyes, Alanna doesn't exactly fly under the radar. When she first arrives at court, the other pages give her entertaining nicknames like "Fire-Hair" (2.59) and "Fire-Top" (2.102), lololol. (Come on, give the gingers a break.) Still, Alanna tries to lay low: sure, she's trying to keep up the whole gender masquerade, but she's also trying to keep people from finding out about her magical Gift.
Thing is, Alanna really dislikes magic. Maude taught her and Thom as much magic as she could, but Maude remembers how "Alanna had to be tricked and begged into trying spells" (1.24). Even when she heals Jonathan from the Sweating Fever, she tries to get Sir Myles to take most of the credit.
Duke Roger is not so easily fooled, and so Alanna spends a lot of time trying to put him off her trail. This means Alanna spends a lot of time obscuring the truth—but hey, she was already doing that with the whole female thing, right? Alanna doesn't like lying, but she'd rather powerful people not notice her.
Even with a talent for deceit, Alanna is unquestioningly loyal to her friends. She tags along with Jonathan to the Black City, even though she's got a really bad feeling about it. She keeps George's secrets—which also keeps him from being hanged for being a thief. None of this seems extraordinary to Alanna; she probably assumes that everyone is as good-hearted as she is.
But Alanna isn't just a goody-two-shoes who never experiences character growth. While Alanna's first impulse was to tell Jonathan to pick someone else for his squire, their little fieldtrip to the Black City changes how she sees herself: "All at once she felt different inside her own skin" (7.261). All of her hard work (and stubbornness!) pays off, in that Alanna finally develops some—you got it—self-esteem. A dose of humility's good for everyone, but we're happy that Alanna can begin to feel good about her accomplishments.
It's not like Alanna woke up one day and just decided to be awesome; she worked at it. How do we know this?
Well, when she first arrives at the palace, she's constantly anxious that people will find out that she's a girl. On her first day at the palace, Alanna is super timid when she meets Duke Gareth, and she feels "sick" with worry that the palace tailor will force her to undress for a fitting (2.17).
Over time, Alanna racks up more accomplishments than worries. She learns to fight in order to beat Ralon and get him off her back. She befriends Jonathan and saves his life from the Sweating Fever. She buddies up with Gary, Raoul, and Alex, and they actually (gasp!) seem to like and appreciate her for who she is. She outs herself to George, who stays her friend and encourages her to practice both her magic and her fighting. She works tirelessly to not suck with a sword. See how long that list is? Yeah, it's pretty long.
The final achievement comes in the Black City, when Alanna teams up with Jonathan to defeat the Ysandir. Guess what? She realize that she deserves Jonathan's friendship and the position as his squire, because she's proven that she's the best. This is a neat realization for Alanna to reach, and it all comes about because she did what was right all along: backed her friends, worked hard, acted with honor, and fought for what's right.