Protector of the Small
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|Genre||Fantasy, young adult fiction|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Immortals|
|Followed by||Daughter of the Lioness|
The Protector of the Small quartet is a series of books written by Tamora Pierce that tells the story of Keladry of Mindelan, a heroine in the fictional kingdom of Tortall.
The story opens in the realm of Tortall, where women have been legally allowed to train for knighthood since Alanna the Lioness disclosed her gender publicly; however so far no one has tried. Keladry (Kel) is a serious 10 year old who - with the support of her noble family who have just moved back from the Yamani islands after 6 years - is determined to become the first official female knight of the realm in over a 100 years. Conservative elements of Tortall's nobility are reluctant to let this happen for fear that it will derail training for men. One of the realms most outspoken conservatives, Wyldon of Cavall, who also happens to be the training master insists that Kel is put on a year of probation to determine her fitness for the program. While Kel is bitterly resentful of this additional burden atop the many other challenges that she has to face as the only girl in the entire training program, she is determined to prove to him that she's as good as any boy.
While initially Kel's only friend is her year-mate and sponsor, the contrary and academic Nealan (Neal) of Queenscove, she slowly finds her way with his help along with the assistance of a mysterious benefactor who occasionally sends her useful "gifts". Her determination, skill at arms - particularly with a Yamani glaive which is her weapon of choice - and inborn sense of justice gain her both friends (including the animal kind!) and enemies. Her primary opponent is fellow page, Joren of Stone Mountain, who has been marked by Wyldon as the best page in his year. Joren hates Kel's subversion of traditional practices. His unspoken antagonism takes physical form when Kel declares an unofficial war against the hazing of the first year pages, something that Joren and his gang revel in. As Kel 'rescues' more and more victims, her circle of allies widens and others join her in both fighting and friendship.
At the summer camp for pages which takes place at the end of the year, Kel and her friends assist Lord Raoul and the King's Own on a Spidren hunt. Her role in the skirmish that ensues showcases her natural ability as a leader. Her successes do not go unnoticed and at the end of the year Lord Wyldon surprises everyone by allowing Kel to continue to train to become a knight.
Kel is now officially a page but she has still to get through the next three years if she ever wants to fulfill her dream of becoming Tortall’s first female knight. These three years are not going to be easy as she continues to deal with relationships, training, hormonal changes, and an unshakeable fear of heights while the public page examinations loom which will determine her future ever closer in the horizon.
At the outset of the book Joren, her archenemy, appears to have stopped tormenting her. While initially Kel is distrustful of this apparent reversal, eventually she lets go of her animosity. While Joren has backed away, another antagonist in the form of Vinson comes to the fore. Vinson is one of Joren’s gang and also a squire. Kel catches him attacking her timid maid Lalasa Isran who Kel recently hired with the aim of protecting her from such incidents. While Kel successfully stops the assault she is torn between her responsibility to report Vinson or stay silent to protect Lalasa’s reputation. While she chooses silence, this decision weighs heavily upon her.
Despite these internal personal struggles Kel's aptitude with weaponry and her skills as a leader continues to grow. Over the course of the book Kel’s prowess with the lance, staff and bow is refined, and her knowledge of battle strategy is developed through mock fights. Her expertise serves her well when she and her friends are attacked by bandits whilst camping in the Royal Forest. Despite the overwhelming odds Kel keeps a cool head and calmly orders her friends, leading them to safety until Lord Wyldon and his troops can arrive.
While Kel makes extraordinary progress throughout the book, her fear of heights torments her throughout her time as a page. Though Lord Wyldon attempts to force her to face her fears by assigning height related chores/punishments, she remains terrified until the day of her page examinations. An hour before the exam she gets an anonymous message that Lalasa has been kidnapped and left atop Balor’s Needle – the highest tower in Tortall. While Kel is determined to save her she knows this mean both potentially missing the exams – the punishment for which is repeating the last four years of study – and confronting her own shortcomings. Despite these challenges Kel climbs the rickety, rusty, spiral staircase on the outside of Balor's Needle and successfully rescues Lalasa.
For her bravery, and because of the extenuating circumstances, Kel is allowed to retake the examinations alone; she passes with flying colors and officially becomes a Squire.
Kel’s last hurdle before she can become a knight is spending four years as a squire. Her new knight-master, Raoul of Golden Lake and Malorie's Peak and Lord Commander of the King's Own, is as different from her original master, Lord Wyldon, as a man could be. He introduces Kel to a new way of life, one that's as much fun as it is challenging. He not only allows her to carry and use her chosen weapon, the Yamani glaive, but also helps her to take her skill at jousting to the next level in addition to nurturing her natural ability to lead. With his help, she becomes a formidable new force on the tournament field, sending shock waves through the world of young Tortallan knights-in-training, and intriguing young lady nobles.
As Kel travels with Raoul and his regiment - Third Company -, she encounters Neal's handsome cousin Domitan, or Dom, as well as other interesting folk. When Raoul finds himself pressed into escorting the "progress," a group of noblemen and women who are traveling across the entire realm to celebrate Prince Roald and Princess Shinkokami's wedding Kel has a chance to reunite with her childhood Yamani friends, including the Princess.
Old friends and foes appear: Neal of Queenscove, Owen of Jesslaw, Cleon of Kennan, and the still-bullying Joren of Stone Mountain. Through it all, Kel never allows herself to forget what awaits her after her night-long vigil in Midwinter of her fourth year as a squire: the Chamber of the Ordeal. All her work eventually pays off and she eventually successfully emerges from the Chamber as Tortall’s only Lady Knight.
Kel is now an official Knight of the Realm. As war with the neighboring country of Scanra is declared, Kel finds herself in charge of a refugee camp. While she fears that her district commander, Lord Wyldon, has given her this assignment because he views her combat skills as inferior to those of other men he disproves this notion. He explains that she was chosen for her post because she is the only knight Wyldon knows who wouldn't discriminate against the poor and disenfranchised. Kel soon comes to realize that these refugees, torn from their homes, robbed of their wealth and self-respect, are her responsibility. She must feed them, house them, and keep them safe from harm, on a piece of ground that is far too close to the Scanran border. She is able to be a hero, even off the battlefield.
In her work she receives help in the shape of her old friends Neal and Merric, the horses Peachblossom and Hoshi, the dog Jump, and her personal sparrow flock, as well as from mixed a myriad group of others: the Wildmage Daine; Daine's lover, the great mage Numair; Neal's own father, Duke Baird of Queenscove; Kel's former knight-master Raoul of Goldenlake and Malorie's Peak; men of the King's Own (including Kel's friend and Neal's cousin Sergeant Domitan of Masbolle); convict soldiers who have been given the choice to fight in the army or to die at hard labor; several hundred disillusioned refugees who have received too many empty promises from nobles; smugglers; and a stolid, unusual boy named Tobe.
While Kel struggles with her responsibilities and the urge simply to abandon the camp and find a real fight, another obligation hangs over her. Before the war began, she was given a task by the Chamber of the Ordeal: to find and destroy the mage who is using foul magic to create the rat-like, swift-moving, deadly metallic things known to the Tortallans as "killing devices." But, tied to the camp, she cannot pursue it. However, as the summer wears on and the war intensifies, events move to put that perverted mage and his conscienceless war-leader in Kel's path, and at last her resolve is tested, and she and all of Tortall find out if she is truly worthy of her shield. Kel tricks her guards into letting her slip away from them, and pursue a journey to bring back her stolen refugees. She is quickly accompanied by her friends, and once and for all, given the chance to earn her name as a Lady Knight, protector of the small.
- Keladry "Kel" of Mindelan: The protangonist of the series, a young noble striving to become the first official Lady Knight in Tortall in over 100 years. She is the youngest daughter of Piers and Ilane of Mindelan, and has several older siblings. She spent six years of her childhood in the Yamani Islands, where her father, a Tortallan diplomat, negotiated a peace treaty between the two countries. As a result, Kel adopted several Yamani customs, which she continued to practice after returning to Tortall.
- Nealan "Neal" of Queenscove: Kel's first friend and year-mate in the training program. He is the son of Duke Baird of Queenscove, the chief of the palace healers. Neal has got a very strong healing Gift, which, like his father's, is emerald green. Neal is several years older than his year mates, since he initially studied healing at the university of Corus before deciding to carry on the family tradition of always having a Queenscove knight in royal service.
- Wyldon of Cavall: Lord Wyldon, nicknamed "the Stump" by Neal, is the stiff, conservative training master when Kel tries for knighthood, and is the one to demand a year of probation for her, because she is a girl.
- Joren of Stone Mountain: Joren is an enemy of Kel, and tries to drive her out. He has a group of followers who are against women being knights. He bullies first-pages, claiming that it is making them obedient. In Page, Joren seems to have changed, but it is later shown that this was just a ruse.
- Lalasa Isran: A maid to Keladry, and niece to Gower Isran. Joren hired two thugs to kidnap her, and this made Kel face her fear of heights and overcome them.
- Lennard, John."Reading Tamora Pierce's The Protector of the Small"
- Melano, Anne L. "Utopias of Violence: Pierce's Knights of Tortall and the Contemporary Heroic" (Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, vol 3 issue 2, 2009)