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Yeah, so remember the time I said that Emperor Mage was my favorite Tamora Pierce book? Well as I was writing this review I realized that that statement was essentially a bald-faced lie, because Lady Knight is my favorite Tamora Pierce book. Well, it’s tied with Squire. The point is, both Kel and Pierce are absolutely on form in this book, and it pays off.

The Plot: Eight years of hard work and struggle have finally paid off and Kel is (at long last) a knight. Tortall is on the verge of a war with Scanra, and every knight is being sent north, to the front. The only problem is that Kel has other ideas. The Chamber of the Ordeal (the creepy-ass chamber that takes squires and spits out knights… along with the occasional corpse) gave Kel a mission–she has to stop the mage who creates the fearsome killing devices. The killing devices are 7 foot tall iron giants with sharp teeth, knives for fingers (and toes), and a tail with a metal spike. They’re also ridiculously difficult to kill. But before Kel can’t hare off on her own and fight the killing devices, Lord Wyldon assigns her the hardest task yet: to command a refugee camp on the border of Tortall and Scanra.

Yeah. You read that right. 18-year-old Kel (along with her 18-year-old yearmate Merrick and Neal, who is now 23) are being put in charge of a bunch of convict soldiers and civilian refugees. Kel doesn’t know what to do–she wants to high-tail it north to search for the killing devices! But orders are orders, and Kel vows to lead and protect the people of whom Wyldon put her in command. What Kel doesn’t realize is that fate will throw her into the path of the killing devices–and that she won’t like it one bit.

The Good: So when I was 18, I was trying to figure out how to live on my own and plan my own meals for the first time in my entire life. I could barely budget my finances, let alone lead a group of refugees (many of whom are more than twice Kel’s age). The thing is, Kel has been arguably preparing for this moment in some way, shape, or form for the past eight years. And man, when she takes command, she takes command well. She trains all the refugees (even the kids!) in weapons and she treats them with respect. Her charges grow to love her, and she grows to love them. Kel blossomed into a woman during Squire, but she blossoms into a knight and a commander in Lady Knight.

Joining Kel for the ride is a new character: a ten-year-old orphan named Tobe, who becomes one of the strangest of Kel’s strays (given that he’s, you know, human), when she saves him from an abusive house and hires him as her personal servant. Tobe (who is described as a little old man in a boy’s body) is hilarious, touching, and lacks a filter that separates his brain from his mouth.

The act two climax of the book is one of the most tragic and heart-wrenching moments in any Tamora Pierce book ever written, and Kel’s response to said climax cements her place as the hands-down most selfless and heroic shero in Tamora Pierce’s entire canon. I will argue this point to my grave (or until Pierce writes someone more heroic than Kel).

The Bad: Ugh, are there any bad things about this book? I would say no, except that there’s no romance, which is part of the reason I read Tamora Pierce in the first place. But Kel has way too much on her plate to even DEAL with romance at this juncture. And the end of the book hints at some potential future Kel/Dom kissing, so that’s always fun. Unfortunately for Cleon fans, he and Kel break up in, like, chapter two.

The Verdict: Probably one of the best conclusions to a Tamora Pierce series. Kel’s personal growth (as well as the growth of supporting characters like Neal, Merrick and Owen), is deft, subtle, and 100% believable. Kel doesn’t show up a bunch in the next series (which is understandable, just a little sad), so I always find myself returning to Squire and Lady Knight when I have a yearning for warrior women.

Did you ever wonder what Alanna and George’s children would be like? Then tune in next week for Trickster’s Choice, the first in a two book series about Alianne, Alanna and George’s daughter, and her exploits as a spy in the Copper Isles.