Squire by Tamora Pierce (Protector of the Small #3)
Keladry of Mindelan dreams of becoming squire to the famous female knight Alanna the Lioness, but she worries that she will not be selected by her hero—perhaps not by any knight master. When Kel is picked instead by the legendary Lord Raoul, the unexpected honor shocks her enemies across the realm. Kel must quickly prove herself up to the task, mastering her fighting and leadership skills while discovering what it takes to be part of the royal guard. A new romance is blossoming as well, bringing with it the rush of first love and the unexpected challenges of balancing knight work and a relationship. All the while, Kel prepares for her biggest fear: the infamous “Ordeal,” the last challenge that stands between her and knighthood.
AUTHOR: Tamora Pierce
PUBLISHER: Random House Books for Young Readers
LENGTH: 432 pages
AGE: Young Adult
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
SQUIRE is the third book of Kel's quartet, covering her time as a squire (as the title implies). It wraps up storylines related to Joren's bullying when Kel was a page and Lalasa's kidnapping. We also finally get an answer as to her mysterious benefactor's identity. Her practice at tilting continues with more practice and some tournaments. There is a completely new storyline related to Kel's time with the King's Own as Lord Raoul's squire, as well as her care of a griffin (which is both introduced and resolved). The end sets up some things to be addressed in the next book, including but not confined to war with Scanra.
The worldbuilding leans into a details of the tournaments and the role of the King's Own, folding in Kel's lessons on tactics and strategy from her knight-master. There are references to things learned in previous books and other series set within Tortall, which help give a feeling of depth for those who have read those earlier stories. It's a character-focused story, with references to what Kel is learning and how she's thinking about the information, punctuated by action scenes when she's in training or combat.
I like Raoul as her knight-master, their rapport feels easy and her admiration for him shines through. She sees much less of her friends as they continue their training at the Palace or have knight-masters of their own to follow around Tortall. The plot focuses on the inglorious and brutal work of defending peasants, killing bandits, and dealing with the increasing forays of Scanran raiders. Kel also starts to solidify her own ideas of justice and the ways that the current laws and customs fail those they're meant to protect. She's also figuring out what she wants from love and relationships, finding herself in a romance filled with long separations.
Kel sounds a bit older than she did in PAGE, with her narration on the page finally tracking her age better than it did in FIRST TEST. The story could make sense if someone started here without having read the first two books. There's a more robust storyline here during her time as a squire, and while the resolutions to past bullying and harassment won't be quite as satisfying without knowledge from earlier, there are sufficient and succinct explanations which let the events make sense anyway. Such a reader would miss out on the sense of how much she's grown up, but as she learns and matures even within this volume they might not miss too badly the early parts of that journey. I do still recommend reading the quartet from the beginning, since at times it feels like one single long book that just happens to be broken into parts. There's a lot of overlap of timelines, since the books are divided based on Kel's status on her journey to knighthood, and the events around her refuse to be so neatly confined.
Graphic/Explicit CW for sexism, misogyny, blood, gore, violence, child death, death.
Moderate CW for fire/fire injury, kidnapping, excrement, vomit, injury detail, medical content, war, animal death.
Minor CW for sexual content, bullying, ableism, racism, racial slurs, xenophobia, physical abuse, sexual harassment, rape, alcohol, alcoholism, confinement, slavery, suicide.