In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness: Book 2)

Still disguised as a boy, Alanna becomes a squire to none other than the prince of the realm. Prince Jonathon is not only Alanna's liege lord, he is also her best friend – and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a mysterious sorcerer threatens the prince's life, it will take all of Alanna's skill, strength and magical power to protect him – even at the risk of revealing who she really is.

Now, once more I find myself reviewing book 2 in a series. ( Any chance that when you have a series, the fact it's book 2 can flash in neon lights on the front so I notice BEFORE I buy it?) However, in this case it's not too much of a problem. All the characters are deftly re-introduced so that new readers know who is who and what is what. The book stands alone, although it's obvious that there is plenty of story either side of this one.

Alanna is a strong heroine, but also very sympathetic. We get right into her struggles from the off, and she leads us through the intricacies of the world the author has created very well. There are some Mary Sue qualities to her it's true ( violet eyes, again, magical pets, the fact she's great at almost everything) but she's engagingly written so this doesn't intrude too much on the story. And yes she does have a touch of 'feisty princess' syndrome, wherein any strong female character must eschew all femininity – however as Alanna grows this is addressed so by the end, she was a better realised character.

The secondary characters are all nicely drawn too, so that the reader knows just why she feels as she does about them.

But while I appreciate this is for younger teens, the plot was rather simplistic and required a few leaps of faith that I feel didn't really work so well. It was all a bit predictable and…pat. While there was plenty of danger, I never really felt much in the way of tension. Possibly because I'm too old and cynical J It does deal quite nicely with a few issues that are probably on the forefront of many young 'uns minds though – the scare factor of falling in love, finding yourself and who you are as you grow, and these are handled quite subtly.

My copy of this was also riddled with typos, which always seem to leap of the page and stab me in the eye. Not so much of a problem for most of you I'm sure!

So, in conclusion – sympathetic characters nicely done for the most part, clear, engaging prose, let down by a too-simple plot. Although this is billed as teen fantasy, even my 11-year-old found it a tad too bland and predictable on the plot side.  Nicely written, but nothing really new.

7/10 Sympathetic characters and a clear engaging prose let down by a too-simple plot.

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