And no, I’m not talking about John Green’s cover for The Fault in Our Stars (which is lovely, for the record).
SPOILERS: if you have not read the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce, stop right here. Go to your local library, and check them out. Then we’ll talk.
The Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant) are Pierce’s first published novels, about a young girl, Alanna of Trebond, who disguises herself as a boy in order to become a knight.
Alanna is one of the great female main characters of young adult fiction. She is a fireball of awesome. One of the wonderful things about Alanna’s journey is her struggle with her desire to be a knight (typically a male structure) and her own femininity. She is a feminist character who is not stripped of her gender in order to prove her worth. She is stubborn, loyal, and proud, but she is not fearless, nor is she perfect. I love her determination to become a knight, to step into this standard male role while still being identified female (you know, eventually – she has to mature first). If I ever have daughters (far, far in the future, thank you very much), this is the kind of book I would want them to read for a female example.
All this being said, you should know that while she certainly identifies as female, she is not “feminine” in the sense of pink cupcake dresses – that’s not Alanna. And while she is sexual (involved in several relationships with men throughout the series), she is not “boy-crazy” nor does she depend on men to make her life worth living. The Alanna books are about Alanna’s quest for equality, control of her own power, protection of her kingdom – and while there are relationships with men, they do not occupy her entire existence. The books are set in the fantasy realm of Tortall, but Alanna’s journey is very real, especially when you consider the cultural context of the publication (the early 1980s). They are a woman’s life experience.
So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the most recent covers for the Song of the Lioness paperbacks. The covers of books one, two, and four are decent – the woman on the cover is standing with her sword, looking tough.
Although she looks far too tall, she seems like the kind of woman who would pretend to be a man for a good length of time in order to gain acceptance, who could break binding gender constructs of her culture, who could defeat all kinds of evil. Ok, I can buy that.
But the cover of the third book, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man…
Oh, no. What happened? Where did you go wrong, Atheneum?! What is this supposed to be? Alanna is NOT some boy-obsessed-airhead who has no respect for herself or others. The sword, which is pretty central to the series, is barely there. Her shirt is the complete antithesis of a typical Alanna outfit (granted, there are times when she wears more “feminine” clothing, but the majority of her time is spent in tunics). It’s… awful…
And why is there no reference to the Bazhir? You know, the desert-dwelling people she lives with for almost the entire book? Oh, I guess that’s not important. What’s important is the two men vying for Alanna’s attention, but she’s got her back to them, and her hand on her hip, look at that sass! (This is sarcasm, by the way). It’s not even like either of those men could possibly be Jon or George, especially not George.
It sickens me that great books like this one have fallen victim to the “two men and a woman love triangle” that seems to be pervasive in current young adult literature after a certain series hit the shelves (and before you fans freak out, know that I have read all of said series). Is this all that our young readers are interested in? And, let’s be honest about who they’re marketing to: is this what young women care about in their books? Love triangles? Men fighting over a woman? Sure, she looks like she has a bit of an attitude (and, oh I don’t know, some personality), but isn’t this book cover awfully reminiscent of the Eclipse movie poster? It frustrates me that this is the marketing ploy that Atheneum has resorted to in order to sell books. And it is even more frustrating that this kind of marketing should be necessary at all. It is an insult to the plot, the character, and most importantly, the author.
Oh, and one final thing. Does it bother anyone else that Faithful only makes it on to ONE cover?
What do you think of these covers? Leave comments below!
[Photo credits: Amazon]