Twins in Trouble
Alanna and her twin brother Thom are in the not-so-hot position of being sent to the medieval-fantasy equivalent of boarding school. They decide to switch places so that each can do what he or she truly wants: train to become a knight in Alanna's case (no girls allowed) and train to become a sorcerer in Thom's case (practically no boys allowed). They enlist the help of long-time servant Maude and Coram, make the switch, and off they go!
Since this beginning section sets the stage for the story by giving us so much info about who the twins are and what they want—as well as what they'll do to get it—we're calling this one: it's totally exposition.
Boys Will Be Boys (Except When They're Girls)
Since prepubescent kids all look alike, Alanna manages to masquerade as a boy when she arrives at the palace and becomes a page. She befriends the crown prince, Jonathan, and his buddies, but also attracts the attention of a nasty bully, Ralon. Enlisting the help of her friend on the wrong side of the law, George, Alanna learns to fight dirty and gets Ralon off her back.
That doesn't mean her life is all rainbows and sparkly unicorn poop, however: training to become a knight is super-difficult, and Alanna is constantly exhausted and beat up. Alanna's drive to become a knight even while facing great odds (like getting beat on) sets her up for all kinds of conflicts—and that's why we're thinking that the bulk of Alanna's early days at the palace count as the rising action of the plot.
A Woman's Worth
Alanna's mentor, Sir Myles, is compelled to bring her to his estate, where she unearths a magical sword. Jonathan's sinister cousin, Duke Roger, practically dares Jonathan to visit the Black City, an ancient evil place that Jonathan and his buddies will be nearby on a field trip. Alanna tags along when Jonathan takes an ill-advised jaunt to check out the Black City—where they face an old, nameless evil that devours people's souls. Boy, a magic sword sure would come in handy now, right?
Despite her insecurities about her ladyhood, Alanna manages to team up with Jonathan to kick some supernatural butt. Which is ten kinds of awesome, because it shows her coming to terms with her identity and using her skills to rock out—which is exactly what a climax is about. The rocking out part, that is.
A True Friend is Still There When the Dust Settles
Exhausted but alive, Alanna and Jonathan high tail it out of Evil Central (the Black City) and find an oasis to collapse in. The big bad supernatural guys have revealed that Alanna is really a girl, so Jonathan has a few questions about that—although ultimately he's cool with it. The fact that she was a girl this whole time kind of blows his mind. Alanna hesitantly brings up the fact that it sorta looks like Jonathan's cousin tried to send him to his death, but Jonathan isn't too into hearing that. (Sequel alert!)
On a happier note, Jonathan says that he'll keep Alanna's secret. As far as he's concerned, she's proven her worth as a knight-in-training…and a friend. All together now: awwww. There's not a whole lot of excitement here, but that's okay, because the falling action portion of the plot is more about what happens after the main action of the climax.
One Squire-to-be, Coming Right Up!
As they settle in to wait for their friends to come find them, Jonathan asks Alanna who he should choose for his squire when he gets knighted. Hey, how about Alanna? Turns out, Jonathan already had her in mind. Alanna pledges her life and her sword to her friend, and he accepts her pledge. There are still plenty of adventures ahead—such as figuring out what to do about Duke Roger—but Alanna is content to rest with Jonathan and face all that stuff later. As a squire!
Sure, there may still be some loose ends, but it's definitely a resolution: a lot of Alanna's fears and goals are reconciled in this section. Seems like she finished off the year in style.