Page by Tamora Pierce (Protector of the Small #2)
As the only female page in history to pass the first year of training to become a knight, Keladry of Mindelan is a force to be reckoned with. But even with her loyal circle of friends at her side, Kel’s battle to prove herself isn’t over yet. She is still trying to master her paralyzing fear of heights and keep up with Lord Wyldon’s grueling training schedule. When a group of pages is trapped by bandits, the boys depend on Kel to lead them to safety. The kingdom’s nobles are beginning to wonder if she can succeed far beyond what they imagined. And those who hate the idea of a female knight are getting desperate—they will do anything to thwart her progress.
AUTHOR: Tamora Pierce
PUBLISHER: Random House Books for Young Readers
LENGTH: 288 pages
AGE: Young Adult
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
PAGE continues with Kel's second year as a page, now that her probation is over. It covers three years, concluding with public tests for pages ready to become squires. It continues Kel's resistance to Joren's bullying, bringing younger pages into her and her friends' protection as they try to stop the hazing. In addition to new and old friends among Kel's peers, she gains a maid and a dog. Lalasa has been subject to unspecified harassment and physical assault, and her uncle, Gower, hopes that being Kel's maid will offer Lalasa some protection. There's a mostly new storyline related to Kel's efforts to teach Lalasa self defense and help her have a life outside her duties. It intersects with the continued harassment of Kel and her fear of heights in a very dramatic finale which I hesitate to spoil. It doesn't really try to wrap up many plot threads, other than specific incidents (which resolve soon after they begin) and the finale. It's building up to challenges she'll presumably face as a squire, meaning that most things are assumed to continue later in some form (or are so minor as to not require a resolution at this time).
Kel's voice is consistent with the first book. She sounded a bit older than ten there and now she actually is, so it's a benefit to this story even if it didn't quite fit the first one. The story could mostly make sense to someone who hasn't read FIRST TEST, since the harassment and bullying begun there continue here in a form which is easy to understand even if its origins were shown elsewhere. Happily, the friends she made before continue here as well, with the welcome addition of Owen to their group. It also focuses on Kel's perception of her training and the differences in her body as becomes a teenager. This gets the room to be a fuller story and slightly less of an anti-bullying PSA, while still having enough of that for continuity. The slight reduction there is made up for in discussions of sexual harassment and self-protection, as Kel teaches Lalasa to defend herself from unwanted advances. It's a bit coy about exactly what Lalasa fears, and my one worry would be that it's only helpful to a reader who doesn't need things explained in the first place.
Overall it feels like this book is doing more work for the quartet as a whole than it is for itself as a volume within it. The plot that's mostly unique to this volume has to do with Lalasa, but even that story is of Kel trying to prepare her to defend herself and then it not being enough without Kel's help. Having read later books before, I know that even this incident is part of a broader conflict spanning most of the series, which means that the main conflict is a continuation of things begun earlier and finished elsewhere. That's fine for the second book in a quartet, it's common for book two of a series to have this feeling, I just wish this book had more that was its own.
Graphic/Explicit CW for kidnapping, confinement, violence.
Moderate CW for sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual assault, bullying, animal cruelty, blood, injury detail, death.
Minor CW for ableist language, homophobia, child abuse, physical abuse, rape, vomit, excrement, torture, suicide, war, child death.