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The Plot: Alanna, now 14, is a squire serving under the newly-knighted Prince Jonathan. Her first mission as a squire: accompany Jon and the Tortallian army to the River Drell, on the Tortall and Tusaine border, to fight in the Tusaine War. After the war, Alanna starts to explore her femininity. She buys dresses, learns how to style her hair and walk like a lady. This new-found womanhood leads to several interesting romantic developments.

As Alanna grows up and discovers herself as a woman as well as a warrior, she must deal with becoming the chosen one of the Great Mother Goddess, her upcoming Ordeal of Knighthood, and her growing distrust of Jonathan’s powerful sorcerer uncle, Creepy Roger, Duke of Conté.

The Good: I’ve always found it amusing that Song of the Lioness is generally shelved with the children’s books at my local library, because there is a lot more romance in Alanna’s books than in the other Tortall novels. And when I say romance, I mean romance. Jonathan ups his attraction level to downright swoonworthy in book two, and when Jonathan isn’t actively getting into Alanna’s pants, George is there to remind her that he’s a) better and b) also in love with Alanna.

Besides swoonworthy romantics, another Tamora Pierce staple is the Plucky Animal Companion. The first in a long line of animal companions is Faithful, Alanna’s black, purple-eyed cat. Faithful’s origins are explained in the Beka Cooper books (where he guest stars as Beka’s cat Pounce), so I’m going to keep mum about where Faithful came from for now. Suffice it to say he’s awesome, he can talk, and he’s supernatural.

The Bad: I mostly love this book because of the sex, which is always shown through a “tasteful cutaway” (you know what I mean–when movies/television/books lead right up to the sex and then just casually end the scene or the chapter). Besides the sex (and Creepy Roger, Duke of Conté) there’s not really a lot going on in this novel.

Speaking of Creepy Roger, Duke of Conté, in case you didn’t pick up on the subtext, I don’t like him. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–Roger is an excellent villain. He’s unsettling, overly charming, and is a really powerful sorcerer. It’s just not a pleasure to read about him, that’s all.

The Verdict: You can go ahead and treat this book like your favorite romance novel: skip all the silly battle scenes and read it for the romance. If you want battle, wait for The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (book three) or Lioness Rampant (book four).

It’s a solid read, and the pieces between Jonathan and Alanna (and Alanna and George) are sweet and heartfelt. It’s wonderful to read about Alanna reclaiming her femininity, especially considering she’s pretending to be a man. And tasteful cutaways or not, there’s plenty of canoodling to make your heart thump in your chest.