Thursday, June 20, 2024

Unity, Duality, and Divison in Lioness Rampant

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First published in 1988, Lioness Rampant concludes the first of Tamora Pierce’s series’ in Tortall. Fittingly, the end of this series coincides with the ending and beginning of a new wave of feminism. Second wave feminism is generally considered to have ended in the mid 1980s. Moreover, there are several moments of unity, duality, and division showcased in Lioness Rampant, which ties quite heavily into the transition between one era and the next. However, the transition in the novel is more of a transition from first- to second-wave feminism. We see many elements of this transition both in how this series concludes and in the foils that Pierce creates.

Spoilers for all of the Song of the Lioness Quartet. Content Warnings for death, suicide, and animal death.

What Happened?

Lioness Rampant begins with Alanna looking for someone who can translate the map she recovered at the end of the last book. When a friend of Myles’s finally translates it, they discover it leads to the Dominion Jewel. The Dominion Jewel is a mythical artifact which amplifies a king’s traits, good or bad. Alanna decides that this is just the thing she needs to return to Tortall with honor.

She and Coram meet Liam Ironarm, the Shang Dragon. Liam joins them as they travel through Sarain, a country in the midst of a brutal civil war. They meet Thayet, daughter of the old king, and her bodyguard Buri, and the two of them also join Alanna’s quest. Alanna enters a tentative romantic relationship with Liam, which falls apart. Alanna climbs the pass through a massive snowstorm and fights Chitral, an elemental being, to retrieve the Jewel.

After that, the entire party returns to Tortall. They hear a massive lot of news on the way. Thom resurrected Duke Roger after being dared to display his strength. In addition, Queen Lianne finally died due to ill health, and King Roald committed suicide. George has been fighting a rival named Claw, who is actually Ralon of Malven. 

When they arrive in Corus, Alanna and Jonathan reconcile. Jonathan falls in love Thayet, who returns his affection. There are several conspiracies beforehand, and everything falls apart on Coronation Day. Roger tries to shake the earth apart, but Jonathan, thanks to the Jewel, manages to prevent it. Alanna fights Alex of Tirragen, and kills Roger again. Several people die in the fighting, including the cat guardian Faithful.

The series ends with George’s proposal to Alanna and her acceptance.


One of the constants when transitioning from first-wave to second-wave feminism was unity. There was always a sense of singular purpose, the idea that this was progress. From the voting inequality to de facto inequalities, there was always the notion that united together, women could succeed and better their lives. This translates to Lioness Rampant in several ways. The unity of characters in accomplishing their mission for one, as more and more characters join Alanna on her quest. The series ends on a show of literal unity, the proposal and engagement of Alanna and George. Unity in Lioness Rampant invariably leads to a brighter future.

Unity in Lightning

Alanna’s sword Lightning is the weapon that any fan of the series thinks of when they think of Alanna. She’s had it since the first book, and won her first duel with it in the second. During Woman Who Rides Like A Man Lighting breaks and is remade using a crystal sword that was made by Duke Roger. When Alanna is fighting Chitral, the elemental spirit guarding the Dominion Jewel, it is Lightning she fights with. Chitral comments on the sword, “I suppose you [made it] only because you wanted a whole sword you could command. Not because the magic was beautiful for its own sake.” (161) Alanna mentally refutes that statement.

Chitral’s characterization of the sword as Alanna’s is challenged in the final sequence. During her duel with Roger, he attempts to pull Lightning out of her hands with the magic he used to make the crystal sword. The only reason he doesn’t immediately succeed is because she melded the crystal sword and Lightning together. She lets the melded sword go, and Roger’s calling spell drives it into his body, killing him for the last time. The unity of the melded sword allows Alanna to defeat her greatest enemy. Afterwards, she and Jonathan attempt to pull it out of the ground where Roger’s final spell embedded it. They are unsuccessful, and Alanna leaves Lightning there, a symbol of a job well done.

Unity, Jonathan, and the Dominion Jewel

During the battle on Coronation Day, Roger attempts to create a massive earthquake that will kill his cousin. The side effects would destroy the palace and the city of Corus, but Roger is content to rule a ruined city. The only thing stopping the land from shaking itself apart is Jonathan and his use of the Dominion Jewel.

Alanna was originally going to give Jonathan the jewel at the end of the coronation. However, the earthquakes intervened, so George and Liam brought Jonathan the Jewel earlier. This unity of purpose in all three of Alanna’s lovers foreshadows the greater unity to come.

“[Jonathan] threw [the magic of the Jewel] over the length and breadth of Tortall, feeling the Earth’s pain as if his own body were being shattered. Like an ancient tree spreading out its myriad roots, he bound each crack and fault with sorcery, gripped the whole to him — and held.” (p. 351).

Using the magic of the Dominion Jewel, Jonathan keeps his kingdom from falling apart. This is the greatest literal show of unity in the whole novel.

Unity, Alanna, and George

Pierce set Alanna and George up as the romantic endgame from the first book. There were several stumbles in the beginning, as with George coming on too strong. However, with years of time, two different lovers on Alanna’s part, and three books distance, things change. By the end of Lioness Rampant, we see they have developed into a much more believable and comfortable couple.

The book starts with the two of them on hiatus after Alanna left Port Caynn. Eleni comments that Alanna could have stayed and waited for George to return to the city. George defends Alanna’s right to roam and doesn’t push to resume their relationship. In fact, he helps facilitate the renewal of friendship between Alanna and Jonathan. He is respectful and allows Alanna to approach him after she ends things with Liam. Jonathan then ennobles George so that he can serve as spymaster.

In short, Pierce builds the relationship between the two of them to the point where it feels inevitable and right. Alanna spends the epilogue with the Bazhir again, and has two sets of visitors. First is Thayet, and the second is George. George asks Alanna what she wants, and she chooses him. The promise of their marital union is the note on which Pierce chooses to end her first series. The pair of them have grown so close, grown together, and their natures are aligned rather than opposed at long last. It’s a beautiful poignant note, and one that I enjoy reading each time.


Duality in feminism is a strange thing. In first- and second-wave feminism, the concept is always binary. Feminism versus the patriarchy, or the reconciliation of women’s power and agency with their male counterparts. However, duality in Lioness Rampant is less about binaries, and more about aligned but different interests. There is potential for conflict, of course, but the foils do not quarrel. As makes sense, the two great examples of duality in this book both involve Alanna.

Duality, Alanna, and Thom

Alanna’s twin brother is one of the most central and easily understated characters in the series. It is because of him that Alanna becomes a knight. He creates the shield that becomes emblematic of her: the gold lioness on a red field. Thom breaks ground in his own right, the youngest magician to attain the title of Master.

But the twins are not one being, they are individuals. Alanna hates court formalities and intrigues.  However, Thom adores the luxuries of the court, and can manage it well. The court games that he plays means he accepts several challenges to his skill. One of those challenges leads to his resurrection of Roger.

If the relationship between the twins was one of rivalry instead of duality, this would split the twins forever. But, because these two are complementary images of each other, rather than rivals, Alanna accepts it. She is slightly hesitant, but takes the opportunity to make sure she had done the right thing in killing Roger.

When she reunites with her brother, she sees how ill he is. Later Pierce reveals his illness comes from Roger’s Gift corrupting his own and taking Thom over. Thom is corrupted by Roger, unlike his twin. With Alanna and one of his mentor’s help, he takes steps to undo the corruption. Unfortunately, Roger kills him before the corruption can be undone, leaving Alanna alone.

Despite being twins, Alanna and Thom are unique, and because they are not one, Thom’s loss does not completely shatter Alanna. She grieves for him, but it doesn’t destroy her. The story of Song of the Lioness shows how they grew up and grew apart. But they never grew opposed to one another. Each loved their twin until the end.

Duality, Alanna, and Jonathan

Jonathan and Alanna’s relationship complicates itself endlessly. They start friends, then become lovers. Then they feud for roughly a year straight. But in this book, they rekindle their initial friendship, and Jonathan makes Alanna the King’s Champion—the one who defends the honor of the Crown. The Champion is also one of the only few people who can truly argue with the King.

Before Jonathan begins courting Thayet, he asks Alanna if she still wants to marry him to make sure the road is clear. Alanna responds with, “we’re very different people these days … if we were married we’d make a mess of things.” (p. 293). She then goes on to detail all the ways in which they’re different people. Alanna and Jonathan would not work as a union. They’re fundamentally too different to make the intimacy and intricacy of marriage work, and each of them recognizes this.

However, as King and Champion, Alanna and Jon find ways to work together without completely suppressing parts of themselves. Alanna can argue and disagree with Jonathan, but still support him. It blends their friendship and their personalities in a way that benefits the realm. Overcoming differences of opinion and actions because of friendship and aligned interests is the core of duality in Pierce’s work, and we see that no better than in the conclusion given to these two characters.


The transition that takes place in Lioness Rampant is reminiscent of the one between first- and second-wave feminism. Despite this, there are elements of the transition between second- and third- in this book. One of the things that ended second-wave feminism was the feminist sex wars. The sharpness of the division between people who should have worked together lead to the fall of second-wave feminism in the early and mid 80s. It is reflected here in literal division between royal factions.

Roger and Jonathan

From the first book, Pierce set Roger up as the great villain. He is Alanna’s enemy yes, but he also keeps trying to kill Jonathan. That finally culminates in Roger’s attack on Coronation Day. His attempts to kill his cousin are carefully planned. There are other plotters that try to kill Jonathan in the second half of the book before Roger does. Roger is suspected of leading them, but after he is informed of their existence intuits who they are. Claw, Delia, Josianne, and Alex are stopped from any further attempts until at his command. In such a way, he works with Jonathan as pleases him, but always works to undermine him.

In addition, neither of them directly attack each other. Roger attacks Jonathan with earthquakes, rather than attempting to stab his cousin in the back. Conversely, Alanna attacks Roger for Jonathan. Before Coronation Day, rumors swirl through the capital. Some people say that Roger looks more like a king than his barely-out-of-adolescence cousin. Others say that Roger is a curse and a blight upon his family, and that his return from death is unnatural. The division in the royal family leads to fighting in the palace and much destruction. King Roald pardoned Roger when he returned from the dead. Jonathan felt duty-bound to uphold it, but remained conscious that his cousin was evil. Roger technically had no part in killing either the Queen or King, but he certainly made things worse.

George and Claw

One of the secondary feuds and divisions in Lioness Rampant is the one between George and Claw. Claw is otherwise known as Ralon of Malven. In a call back to the first book, George initially taught Alanna how to win against him, while Ralon was still a noble and her problem. Now George gets to take a crack at him himself because Ralon as Claw is making a bid for the throne of the Rogue.

Ralon and George both break thief’s honor in their war. Ralon attacks civilians not involved in the fight. He sends his people after Eleni, who is not a member of the Court of the Rogue, but instead is George’s mother. George on the other hand betrays the highest law of the Rogue, and betrays Claw to the Provost. George’s relationships with the nobility, unprecedented among thieves, lead to him valuing those friendships over the law of the Rogue.

Their war leads to the destruction of the Court of the Rogue. Hundreds of people die in the conflict between the two, and others jape that they don’t need the Provost to stop the thieves anymore. Their feud ultimately ends with a knife fight between the two of them in the halls of the palace. George wins because he has been doing this his entire life, whereas Ralon only learned a few years ago. But, after their conflict ends, the remainder is made respectable. George accepts a pardon and a title of nobility. Most of his friends in the Rogue are dead, so he has nothing to stop him from leaving.


Over the course of four books, we see these beloved characters grow. They change, they make mistakes, and the author that writes them makes mistakes in her turn. Lioness Rampant ends the Song of the Lioness Quartet on a strong note. Every page is so well written, and every character, well plotted. You can’t help but fall in love with Pierce’s world again. There are so many things that could be discussed. You could talk about the Doi and the K’mir and how they are handled more respectfully than the Bazhir. The foils between Josianne, Delia, Alanna, and Thayet are also worth discussing. You could talk about Alanna’s sexual freedom. But, the unity, the duality, and the divisions inherent in this book most reflect the changing times as Pierce was writing this story.

One of the greatest strengths of Pierce’s universe is that things never end. Characters return in later stories and layer into the universe, making it deeper with every book. Pierce spent years making us fall in love with these brave, flawed, human characters, and keeps bringing them into the future of her world. She has them keep growing and changing, even after the stories that focus on them have ended. I look forward to tracking that growth and change in the rest of her work.

Image Courtesy of Atheneum Books

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