This month Liz Flanagan shares the works of Tamora Pierce

It might seem strange that one of my greatest inspirations is a children’s writer I discovered as an adult, but it was both my love of her books and the impact they had on my child that makes me adore her work so much.

Tamora Pierce is an American fantasy writer of sweeping, often interconnected series. Born in 1954, she’s still writing – I’m so glad! Also counting the months till her next release – and there’s a TV adaptation in development of her Tortall universe books, so I think we are about to hear a lot more about her work.

I read many excellent children’s books with strong female characters as a child and young teen (favourite authors included Susan Cooper, Margaret Mahy, Rosemary Sutcliff and many others) but if I could send any books back in a time-machine to eleven-year-old me, it would be Tamora Pierce’s entire back catalogue.

Our battered copies of Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, re-read so often they fell apart!

Pierce says she started writing the kind of fantasy books she loved to read, but in which she had spotted a central flaw:
“The books I loved were missing teenaged girl warriors. I couldn’t understand this lapse of attention on the part of the writers I loved, so… I wrote about those girls, the fearless, bold, athletic creatures that I was not, but wanted so badly to be.” - Tamora Pierce 
Sometimes her female characters are warriors, other times they rely on their intelligence and magical gifts. My most beloved of Pierce’s books are Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, which I’ve written about here. The protagonist of these books, Aly, starts off as a wilful, spoiled child, who is impatient to find her way in the world, overshadowed by her famous mother, Alanna, heroine of the earlier ‘Song of the Lioness’ series. Soon Aly proves herself resourceful, courageous and quick-witted, but she’s also sassy, fond of quick retorts and teasing, and she’s allowed to feel desire and act on it, with no negative consequences. She earns her place in her world, surviving great peril and demonstrating her loyalty and skills, time and again. Pierce gives Aly’s story exactly the space it needs, in that capacious, satisfying pair of books, which I am now rationing so that I only re-read them every few years, to keep their magic bright.

Pierce’s novels tend to feature heroic female protagonists, brave and
strong and resourceful, like Alanna the Lioness in this quartet

All of Pierce’s characters are beautifully written: believable, flawed, brave and striving. She has such a compassionate and generous eye, creating vast and varied casts of characters, most of which I want to be friends with, a few of which I’d sprint to avoid. The characters speak with humour, irritation, wit and insight. They live and breathe, vomit and menstruate. They fall in love with the wrong person, then the right one.

And the animals! Sometimes real, sometimes mythical, Tamora Pierce books are bursting with beautiful creatures whose personalities are every bit as developed as the humans, from magic cats to flying horses.

Politics are here too. There are wars and revolutions, there’s racism, corruption and oppression, and there are complex webs of intrigue. But beneath the magic and the worldbuilding, there’s passionate political commitment, and there’s always, always hope.

Another high point of Pierce’s worldbuilding is to be found in her cities, which teem with life, energy and violence. Her characters tend to move between different circles, adept at disguise or code-switching. There are charming spies, thieves, beggars and queens.

 Some of our copies have somewhat dated covers but it’s still good to see the protagonists of colour represented as such and not whitewashed in cover artwork.

Most of the stories can be classified as adventures, but they contain love stories, fantasy-medieval police procedurals, and inter-generational sagas. I love seeing Pierce’s once-teenage characters appear in the later books as adults and parents, their children now centre-stage as the protagonists.

That’s something that has definitely inspired me. My most recent fantasy novel Rise of the Shadow Dragons takes place ten years after the end of Dragon Daughter, and its new child protagonists are helped by the now-adult characters of the first book.

My child has a special shelf for all the Pierce novels we have slowly sourced, some tracked down as second-hand copies

However, even if write my whole life, I can only aspire to the richness and generosity of Tamora Pierce’s story worlds. And for another, very personal, reason, I am deeply grateful to her. My child, who read and re-read Pierce’s books till they fell apart, has experienced times of ill health in recent years, when all she can do is cycle her reading back through the deep comfort of Tamora Pierce’s books, one after the other. So Pierce may have inspired me in my own writing, but more importantly, it feels as if her books have been life-rafts for us in our darkest times. Only the very best stories can do that.

*All photos authors own, except for feature image, which is credited to Penguin Random House

Liz Flanagan is a prize-winning children's and YA author, whose books include Dragon Daughter and Carnegie-nominated Eden Summer. Her latest book Rise of the Shadow Dragons was published in May 2020.
Liz teaches creative writing and lives with her family in Hebden Bridge. You can find out more at, or by following Liz on Twitter: @lizziebooks.

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