Lady Knight Volant
This is a bit different than my normal book reviews, because the things I review are usually books.1 This one isn’t that – it’s one of the best-written pieces of fanfiction I’ve ever come across.2
For context, I’ve been reading a lot of Tamora Pierce lately. It is, as I told people who asked, something akin to my happy place. I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, and I have a deep love for her characters. If you haven’t read anything she’s written before, I cannot recommend her more highly.3 Her books are the swords-and-sorcerers sort of stuff that I already had a liking for when I first picked them up, but with a notable twist: female leads, and realistic ones at that. While there’s certainly a good amount of battles and spells and honor going on, there’s also gritty realism.4 People have to stop to go to the bathroom. There’s a lovely scene in Alanna: The First Adventure when the titular character, having spent her years since she was 10 pretending to be a boy so she can earn her knighthood, has no idea what’s going on when her period starts for the first time, and rushes to a healer she can trust, thinking something has gone horrible wrong with her body.
That said, I’m not reviewing something written by Tamora Pierce. Like I said, it’s a fanfiction.
Lady Knight Volant is set in the time following the last chapter, but before the epilogue, of Protector of the Small, which I’d call my favorite book in the Tortall series.5 The original book left off with Keladry of Mindelan – Kel, to her friends – having returned from an unauthorized wartime mission into Scanra, Tortall’s enemy in the ongoing slog of a war. Her mission was a massive success – not only did she rescue the kidnapped refugees she’d been charged with protecting in a raided refugee camp, but she killed the necromancer whose creations had made the war a thing of nightmares.
And that’s where Bracketyjack, the writer of Lady Knight Volant, steps in. Because, in the original, the epilogue skips forward a year or so, showing Kel in the rebuilt refugee camp,6 generally living life to its fullest and enjoying herself.
For Bracketyjack, that wasn’t nearly enough. Instead, we’re brought into a world of politics and gods, with a new prophecy delivered: the war will end when Stormwings7 play over New Hope.8 Which is, basically, a warning that there’s going to be a rather massive battle at New Hope.
Kel, being the titular Protector of the Small, isn’t happy about the people she’s trying to take care of being left in harm’s way. With the help of the various immortals who live in the area, she starts turning New Hope into the most impressively fortified refugee camp in history.
And it’s there that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to put this novel-length piece of fiction down. There’s something about these scenes of things being created that I adore. It’s why my favorite book in the Tortall universe is Protector of the Small – it shows Kel and her people building Haven. It’s why my favorite Pratchett books are The Truth and the Moist von Lipwig books – they both follow someone building something new and incredible. And New Hope is definitely that – it’s a besieged warlord’s dream.9
But that’s not all, because why would it be? No, Kel has also found herself embroiled in the politics of Tortall. It’s a fair point – even in the canon, she was already a powerful symbol for change in the country, and a lot of people were making arguments about her without her knowledge. In Lady Knight Volant, she’s given the chance to express her own opinion on the matter, and takes to politics like a fish to water.10 She sets the realm on its ears.
Volant11 is distinctly darker than anything Tamora Pierce wrote, though. The warnings at the opening12 are accurate, and if you’re the sort of person for whom trigger warnings are intended, you should definitely look them over before reading.
That said, I think I’m going to stop here – there’s distinctly more material I could discuss – a lot happens in almost half a million words – but seeing as I just finished reading a few minutes ago, I don’t know that I’d be able to do it without giving more spoilers than I’d like. It’s a beautiful piece of writing and, being a work of internet fiction, it’s available for free.
So, the reading recommendation that I usually end these things with: if you haven’t read the Protector of the Small series, read that first – it’ll provide some necessary context, without which a lot will be confusing. In fact, this has enough references to the other Tortall books that I’d recommend having read the entire series first.13 If you can, you should also pick up whichever short story collection it is that includes “The Dragon’s Tale” – I believe it’s in Tortall and Other Lands.14
Once you’ve done all that reading – and my, I’m assigning more reading than any English teacher I’ve ever had – you can go have a look at Lady Knight Volant. Apparently it has a (slightly) shorter sequel, which I’m going to go have a look at now. What a good day it is.
- I was going to say “published,” but a good chunk of what I’ve reviewed have been indie books that were self-published, and a couple things that people just posted online informally, so it got a bit messy in the definitions. ↩
- Fanfiction is something that fascinates me – the community of writers, as a whole, is deeply interesting. If I were a psychology major, I’d have written more papers about the subject than I already have, and I think I could also get some good linguistics and sociology papers out of it, too. ↩
- As to the order, I’d say you could read them either in order of publishing or the canon order. Choosing between the two series, I’d say start with the Emelan books (Circle of Magic), and once you’re thoroughly in love, which I have no doubt will happen, go to the Tortall books. (Beka Cooper/Provost’s Dog if you’re reading the canon-order, Song of the Lioness if you’re going for publishing order.) ↩
- And no, not the boring ‘everything is dark because the world is dark’ BS that got popularized by the last round of Batman movies. ↩
- ‘Series’ is arguably an incorrect term – the Tortall books (and yes, autocorrect, I do mean ‘Tortall’ and not ‘Tortilla’) are a series of series, starting with Song of the Lioness, going through The Immortals, then Protector of the Small, heading off into the Copper Isles for Tricksters, and ducking back a couple hundred years for Beka Cooper. ↩
- More of a small fortress-town, really, but it is technically a refugee camp so I’ll continue to refer to it that way. ↩
- Stormwings are one of the results of The Immortals, a saga that had the immortal creatures of legend being brought back into the mortal realms. They’re basically a human torso and head, with metal teeth, wrapped up in the body of an iron bird. They were born in nightmares, creatures designed to drive home the horrors of war into the minds of mortals in an attempt to prevent further war. ↩
- Paraphrased, of course, but New Hope is the name for the rebuilt refugee camp. The original, Haven, was burned to the ground, and enough people died there that nobody wants to rebuilt on the site. ↩
- I feel fairly safe in assuming Bracketyjack, in writing this, either did a spectacular amount of research or, what I think more likely, was a history major with a focus on wartime architecture. ↩
- Which makes sense, in a way – as a child, Kel was taken to Yaman with her parents as the first diplomats to the region in quite a while, and herself became an important part of the diplomatic process, befriending the children of the Imperial family. ↩
- I’m getting tired of typing, okay? ↩
Another aspect of the fanfiction community that I find fascinating, and I’d love to see Archive of Our Own’s database schema.
… God, I’m a nerd. ↩
- Including the Beka Cooper ones, because there’s some nice integrations of the commoner perspective that those provided. ↩
- I recommend this because some of the developments in that one are heavily referenced in Volant, and it’s also just a delightfully touching little short story. ↩