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You know how when an author just cranks out a bunch of books and they start off pretty good and then they just start getting lame and formulaic (I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks!). Well the exact opposite happens with Tamora Pierce. Remember how I was kind of “eh” about books like Alanna: The First Adventure, or Wolf-Speaker or The First Test? And while they were generally strong pieces of fiction, they weren’t… AMAZING? Well get ready, because Squire  is the beginning of what I like to think of as the Tamora Pierce Tortallian Golden Years of Awesome (TM).

Squire, in addition to being action-packed and stuffed full of the kind of swoopy romance we saw in In the Hand of the Goddess, is also the first book where I really start loving Kel as a character. I didn’t dislike her before, but she never really spoke to me. She was so stiff, so idealistic. It took me years to realize that I hated Kel because of my own unresolved body issues. I’m not muscular by any stretch of the imagination, but I always felt like I took up too much space–even before I was overweight. Squire introduces Kel as a young woman, not as a child (though we get glimpses of her young-womanhood in Page). Her crush on Neal is also hilarious and adorable (well, it is now. When I was thirteen it was heart-wrenching).

The Plot: Kel made it! She successfully navigated four years of page training with all their pitfalls and doubts. But now Kel needs a Knight Master–the knight who will take her under her wing for the next four years until it’s time for her to take the next step: her Ordeal of Knighthood. Kel’s initially afraid that no self-respecting knight will want to take The Girl under his wing (except, possibly, Lady Knight Alanna?), but her fears are dispelled when Raoul of Goldenlake (remember him from the Alanna books?) asks Kel to be his squire.

Raoul is the Knight Commander of the King’s Own (essentially, the army), so Kel not only works with Raoul, but with the other soldiers and commanders in the Own. Kel learns about military strategy and group command, while half of the nation embarks on a Grand Progress, during which the country can meet Prince Roald’s betrothed, the Yamani princess Shinkokami. In addition to all this activity, Kel’s friendship with her friend (and fellow squire) Cleon starts to change in exciting ways.

The Good: There is literally never a dull moment in this book. Between Kel’s jousting training, the Grand Progress, Kel’s relationship with Cleon, the baby griffin she accidentally adopts, there is action on every single page. Kel’s relationship with Raoul is also very sweet–he acts as a mentor and father figure for her, as well as a teacher. With his help, Kel’s jousting skills become close to legendary, and she jousts in tournaments during the Grand Progress–winning some, losing others, but in the end building up a name for herself as a knight-in-training.

And Cleon. Oh, Cleon. Their relationship starts slow and sweet. Cleon always gave Kel silly little pet names (pearl of happiness, mirage of delight), but once he starts really pursuing Kel, they change. They become less silly and more heartfelt. However, on the periphery of Kel’s attention is Sgt. Dom, Neal’s cousin, who is at least as attractive as Neal (possibly even more attractive, though that has never been proven). Needless to say, Kel’s romantic entanglements keep her hopping.

The Bad: The constant action can make the plot progression and the progression of time difficult to follow. Since I’ve read this book at least 20 times I can probably recite the plot backwards and forwards, but as it stands Squire is the book version of one of those movies with a really complex plot that you have to watch (or read) at least twice to fully grasp what the heck is going on.

The Verdict: This book is amazing, end of story, full-stop. It’s filled with romance, action, touching character relationships and a wonderfully complex protagonist.