Tamora Pierce's Tortall as an Adaptation and an Escape

This year, I am not in the dance show. In fact, I’m not even in dance class, even though I should be. Instead, all the girls who aren’t in the show are in the auditorium watching the team practice. So, to stave off boredom, I’ve brought a secret weapon: the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce, in omnibus form. Over 500 pages should keep me happily entertained during this week’s practices, right?

Tamora Pierce’s coming-of-age fantasy novels ended up serving me well in various situations throughout my adolescence. Needed books for vacation? For long car trips? Just wanted a new series to read? Tortall was there, covering decades of fictional time, told through the eyes of five different girls: Alanna, Daine, Keladry, Aly, and Beka. 

Colour Me Read

Last November, Deadline reported that all 22 books in the Tortall universe have been optioned for television by Lionsgate and Playground Entertainment. Apparently the plan is to tie into a ‘Games of Thrones, but young adult’ fanbase. I’m excited by the news, if a little apprehensive. I’ve been reading Pierce’s work for over a decade. If more fantasy TV ends up written badly, then networks will stop taking a chance on it. Genre fiction is rare, and fantasy in visual media is, in a way, the rarest of all. Fantasy (in medieval settings especially, of which Tortall is one) is expensive, and difficult to pull off. After all, there are only so many Lord of the Rings trilogy-caliber works in the world. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

This adaptation, so far, hasn’t decided which parts of the massive plot they are adapting, but luckily they have a lot to choose from. Beka’s story (Provost’s Dog) is set 200 years before the rest, but the other four series all have overlapping characters, locations, and plots. Song of the Lioness (Alanna) is an obvious origin point for the show. Alanna changes everything around her because she wants to be a knight when her father intends her to become a lady. She switches places with her brother, Thom, and he heads off to learn to be a sorcerer while Alanna trains to become a knight. One of her friends is Tortall’s Prince Jonathan; their friendship ends up having an impact on the other series, set decades later. Daine possesses animal magic, Keladry is the first girl to train as a knight after Alanna, and Aly wants to become a spymaster. Beka, in the prequel series, is learning to be a police officer, albeit one who has magic. Some of these girls have magic, while some work without it, but they’re all following different paths and interests. There is no one right way to be a girl.

518W7A1ZWDLPierce improves as a writer and storyteller as the universe expands. Parts of the later Keladry books were written after 9/11, and the novel’s plotting was directly impacted by the event, Provost’s Dog has some of the greatest societal writing Pierce has ever done, as she combines themes of classism, poverty, sexism, and the idea of wanting to give back to your community now that you’re in a better place, which is one area where Beka succeeds during the series. The plots get smarter, the writing is tighter, and the characters—always a highlight—grow and change as we continue reading.

There are so many ways to be female—and succeed. You can learn how to swordfight and wear dresses. If you know how to handle it, you can enter a dangerous line of work, even as a woman. This universe has taught me how wonderful it is to be a girl.

“Not only am I over the moon that the Tortall books will be adapted by Playground, but I know my fans will be ecstatic,” Pierce mentioned to Deadline. As one such fan, right now I am excited, and I sincerely hope this series soars. Seeing more heroines who triumph gives me hope for seeing more in the future, both in media and in real life. 

Noemi Arellano-Summer is an arts and culture journalist currently working in the Boston area. She has experience as a writer, editor, copy-editor, photojournalist, and arts critic. She is passionate about arts, history, culture, entertainment, film, and literature. You can often find her roaming through a bookstore or working on her novel at a cafe.