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The Plot: Keladry of Mindelan has returned for her second year as a page. Just because she proved herself to Lord Wyldon doesn’t mean that Kel’s road to Squire will be anything but easy. She has to reckon with becoming a woman (yes, like that), her first crush (on her best friend Neal, no less), and battling her rival, Joren of Stone Mountain.

Kel still protects the small and the helpless–whether it’s her timid ladies maid, Lalasa or impressionable first year pages, Kel has her work cut out for her.

The Good: Neal. Neal, Neal, Neal. Kel’s crush on Neal (five year age difference notwithstanding), just makes him so much more attractive. Plus his romantic side really comes out in this book, as he pines, unrequited, over a series of women. The way Neal spouts poetry and sighs longingly just make me want to give him a hug and ruffle his hair.

Even more amusing than Neal, however, is Owen. Owen is a first year page to Kel and Neal’s second year. He’s spunky, fresh, and only mildly annoying. His eagerness to slaughter bandits could be disturbing if it wasn’t so adorable. Speaking of adorable, Kel gains another animal companion in Page–Jump, the loyal, scarred, rather ugly but endearing dog pictured on the cover.

Kel also perfects her tilting ability. Tilting is like jousting–knights on horseback knocking each other off their horses with lances. Kel started tilting in First Test, but in Page she really hits her stride (though, spoiler alert: in Squire she gets even better).

Tamora Pierce tends to give her protagonists a specific weapon to focus on. Alanna has her sword and Daine is killer with a bow, but Kel has two weapons: the Yamani glaive (comparable to the Japanese naginata), and the lance. Reading about Kel’s success gives me a sense of accomplishment–I’ll never joust on horseback (at least not with a live weapon), but Kel can, and that’s enough for me.

Pierce introduces a new plucky animal companion for Kel in Page, when she’s adopted by the dog Jump. Jump is clever and brave, and he acts as a more portable animal companion (much like Faithful). After all, there are places Peachblossom can’t go! Kel also makes friends with a flock of sparrows, who, as we’ll learn in two book’s time, are worth their weight in gold.

The Bad: Lord Wyldon. Seriously, that guy has a burr up his butt, and I have no idea how Kel stands him. Well, yes I do. Kel stands him because she’s stubborn and determined. I would have lost my temper with him in my first year as a page.

Page also discusses the unhappy (and unfortunately necessary) topic of self-defense and sexual assault. Kel’s maid Lalasa is consistently the target of forceful, abusive men. It’s handled tastefully, but it’s still sad to read about. Nonetheless, Kel teaches Lalasa how to handle herself around abusive men.

The Verdict: Page isn’t one of my favorite books–I much prefer the last two books in Kel’s quartet versus the first two–but it’s solid and entertaining. Reading about Kel as she becomes a woman and juggles both her own crushes and the crushes of her friends is funny and sweet.