Who is Keladry of Mindelan?
Keladry of Mindelan, more commonly referred to as Kel, is the lead character of Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series which consists of four books First Test (1999), Page (2000), Squire (2001), and Lady Knight (2002). The series, generally considered fantasy YA fiction, follows Kel as she trains to become a knight of the land of Tortall and follow in the footsteps of her idol Alanna “The Lioness” (the protagonist of an earlier series by Pierce) who is the first female knight in a century. The thing that makes Kel unique is that she is the first female to openly train since the law forbidding women from such training was overturned 10 years prior to the book’s opening. (Alanna had spent her eight years of page and squire training disguising herself as a boy.)
The first book of the series, First Test, follows Kel through her tumultuous first year in page training at age ten, full of challenges and interpersonal struggles with her fellow trainees and the rest of the country who all have an opinion on her behavior. Page includes the next three years of Kel’s rigorous training, made more challenging by prejudices among the community, her reflexive response to protect everyone, and the typical struggles of a being teenage girl. In Squire, which takes place over the next four years, Kel has graduated to the second stage of her education, becoming the squire (essentially a personal assistant and trainee) of Lord Raoul of Goldenlake and Malorie’s Peak, who is a close personal friend to King Jonathan and Knight Commander of his personal army, the King’s Own. Added to this enormous pressure and the rigor of training, Kel’s teenage struggles of romance, sexuality, and identity are becoming more of a challenge, as are people’s negative opinions and insinuations about her character and how she got to where she is, not to mention the baby griffin she accidentally adopted, and she is passionately determined to confront every challenge head on, by exploring and pursuing her romantic interests, raising the angry immortal despite the injuries it causes, and fighting anyone who insults her honor. The series culminates in Lady Knight and as one can assume from the title, it follows Kel’s passage of her final trial into becoming a knight and the first assignment she is given once she has earned her shield. Tortall is at war with their northern neighbor Scanra and she is assigned to run a refugee camp near the border with two of her fellow year-mates and friends, Neal and Merric. Though initially bitter about the assignment, which she feels is a way of putting her in a corner to keep her out of trouble, Kel throws herself wholeheartedly into it as she has every other challenge and task set to her to the point where she becomes willing to risk life, liberty, honor, and everything she has in order to keep her people safe.
Theoretically, one could spend at least several days talking about the feminist themes and the responses to it in Tamora Pierce’s novels, so I’ll only be touching upon the ones that Kel has the strongest reaction to in her first book to give you an idea of what I’m talking about without it becoming too long or giving everything away.
It’s pretty clear from the start that Kel is a “strong female character” in every typical sense of the trope: brave, physically strong, determined, passionate, stubborn. She is also, as expected of a female character, kind, compassionate, and protective of those who can’t take care of themselves. She balances the two sets of traits with honor, loyalty, and duty, becoming a leader and mother to her men rather than a literal mother as in more traditional feminine story arcs.
It is established from the very beginning of the series (page one of First Test to be exact) that Kel is going to be facing an uphill battle if she’s going to become a knight because “Lord Wyldon [the training master] was known for his dislike of female warriors” (1). This leads him to place restrictions on her as “conditions” of her training, or else he will refuse to allow her in at all. Because of Wyldon’s political pull, King Jonathan agrees to these terms which include a stipulation that Alanna cannot have any contact with Kel while she is in training because the conservatives will immediately assume that Alanna is helping Kel to somehow cheat at her trials, and that Kel is placed on a year’s probation at the end of which, assuming she passes all of the usual tests, Wyldon will judge her and decide whether or not she is fit to continue training (this is not required of the male pages).
In addition to these two major institutionalized challenges, which are further reflected in her teachers,’ sometimes excessively, critical handling of her training, Kel faces a multitude of issues with her fellow trainees. The first time she enters her room she finds that it has been ransacked, property destroyed or damaged, and “No Girls! Go Home! You Won’t Last!” painted on the walls (30). Later at dinner, when she sits down with Neal (her page sponsor who is assigned to show her the ropes and is the only one treating her like just another page) other people at the table get up and move to several seats away as if she is contagious. While cleaning her equipment later in the book, she discovers that someone has tried to sabotage her ability to succeed at weapons training by weighting her weapons with lead to make them heavier.
Kel responds to all of these injustices in roughly the same way, which is to rise to their challenge and push back without ever directly confronting anyone. She presents a stoic front to the world, only letting out her emotional turmoil in private when others cannot see her, and refuses to acknowledge that any problem exists for her. She makes the decision, in part because of the attack on her room, to use mealtime, when pages are allowed to be out of uniform, to constantly remind them that she is a girl by wearing dresses (she also resolves to use her first free day to go into the city and buy ribbons for her hair). She ignores the constant comments that everyone makes about her and does everything she can not to let them get to her; when she discovers the attempts to sabotage her training she takes them in stride and decides to use the weighted weapons to her advantage, but in a moment of pettiness decides to make the entire class wait to be able to eat lunch by taking her sweet time in bathing regardless of the potential punishment, thinking to herself “If extra work was the price she paid to remind them that she could disrupt their lives, too, she would pay it gladly” (129-130).