Well, except for herself that is. First published in 2000, Page deals with Kel’s next three years of page training. It takes her on a journey through growing up. It also showcases just how powerful her protective streak is. In this book, Kel protects so many people. While First Test largely focused on distinguishing itself from Song of the Lioness, Page is able to start working on the backbone of this series as a whole. Pierce uses Kel’s protective streak as a way to talk about the various problems in Tortallen society.
Spoilers for all of Page and Pierce’s previous books. Content warning for mentions of attempted sexual assault.
So What Happened?
As mentioned before, this book covers three years of Kel’s training. She advances with the lance, learns how to wield swords and axes from horseback, and serves at the Midwinter feast. From the beginning she befriends Jump, a stray dog, and Owen, a page a year below her who she protects from Joren’s bullying. She also takes Lalasa, Gower’s niece, into her service, after she found out that other servants and nobles harassed her. Kel eventually goes through puberty, with Lalasa’s guidance.
At the summer training camp, Kel and a group of other pages run into a bandit camp. Kel takes command and they all survive. Wyldon changes the training accordingly and adds in group work and leadership training. He also makes the generalized training harder, in an attempt to prevent the tragedy that might have been. Joren starts acting strangely friendly after he becomes a squire. Kel develops a crush on Neal, but works to ignore it. Kel protects Lalasa from further harassment from a servant and from Vinson.
Before the Big Exams, that determine a pages fitness to become a squire, someone kidnaps Lalasa. The kidnappers worked for someone who wanted to stop Kel from taking the exams and repeat her four years of training. Kel decides to help Lalasa anyway. She finds her on Balor’s Needle, a painfully tall tower. After they climb down, Jump and the palace dogs find the kidnappers. Wyldon and a Magistrate decide that because of the extenuating circumstances, Kel can take the exams in two days. She passes and she and her year-mates become squires.
The Growing Up Narrative
Physical and Emotional Developments
In addition to growing taller and older, Kel also grows in other ways. Her breasts start developing and her menstrual cycle starts in the same year, at the age of eleven. Here, the support Kel gets from others is the important thing. Kel is incredibly frustrated both times. But, opposed to Alanna, dealt with everything alone, Kel has a support system. Lalasa is there, and she gives Kel advice both times. Kel cries when her period starts, and “Lalasa turned to Kel and pulled her mistress’s head down to her shoulder.” (98). In these instances, Lalasa serves as an older sister figure, or as that of a friend. It’s delightful, especially in comparison to how Alanna’s development was devoid of any close, recurring, female advice.
Kel’s mother, while Kel sees her only in the summer, is also a touchstone of normalcy for Kel. She commiserates with her daughter about the physical changes. When Kel talks about how she doesn’t want to have children, she listens, and doesn’t judge. It’s a very sweet mother-daughter relationship, and one that we haven’t seen from Pierce before. (Alanna’s mother died young, and Sarra only shows up in Realm of the Gods).
Kel also develops a crush on Neal over the three years that Page covers. She seems to regard it as a nuisance, and tries to will it away, but that doesn’t happen. Lalasa serves as a support system here as well. Kel talks about how Neal doesn’t tell his crush, how he feels, and that she would do the same in his place. Lalasa punctures her argument by reminding Kel that she decided not to tell Neal about her crush to avoid that particular heartbreak.
In this way, Lalasa protects Kel, by supporting her through the physical and emotional changes of puberty.
Training and Acceptance
One of the other major elements of the bildungsroman, is the quite literal training, both physical and moral, that Kel goes through. While moral growth happens on Kel’s part, it also happens on Wyldon’s. Their growth parallels and pushes the others.
It all starts with the bandit attack in Kel’s second year. All of the other pages, older pages, who should have led everyone to safety were paralyzed. Kel kept everyone safe, and afterwards, Wyldon changed the training. He added group fighting exercises, started teaching tactics. He gave Kel a special target for the lance, and he had pages skilled at archery train with trick arrows. In short, he completely revamped the training program, because what Kel’s group went through proved it wasn’t thorough enough.
Kel, in turn, excels at every challenge that Wyldon puts in front of her. So much so that she no longer earns punishment work. Wyldon’s standard punishment for her was heights. He’d make her map out a section of the city wall, or pitch hay from stable lofts. But, when Kel stopped getting punishment work, she decided that she needed to continue stretching herself and managing her fear. That practice pays off at the events at Balor’s Needle at the end of her fourth year as a page. It banishes her fear and ultimately, with the training, makes her a better person.
Wyldon’s change happens after that as well. At the end of year feast, after the Big Exams, he stops her before she leaves. He says, “I think I will no longer try to predict what will or will not happen to you, Squire Keladry. So far you have proven me wrong on every count. Even I can learn when to quit.” (251-2). These three years made them both better people.
Owen and Jump
Owen and Jump get lumped together because they both show up at the same time, and they represent things that Pierce already established. Kel met Jump first, when she protects him from an irate butcher. Jump stole some sausages, apparently repeatedly. Kel bargained the butcher out of his blood-lust, and decided to give Jump to Daine. On the way to give him to her, Kel thinks, “He was so bony, and so light! Couldn’t she keep him until he’d made up for the meals he had missed? … She knew she was being silly. …Thoroughly miserable and determined to hide it, Kel resumed her climb.” (22-3). From the very first moment, she got attached.
This is something we already knew about Kel, that she adores animals. She agreed to the probationary period because she couldn’t rescue kittens from a spidren. Also, Peachblossom and the sparrows. Jump, and their mutual fondness for each other is just an expansion of that.
Owen, and his joining the group, also expands on Kel’s anti-bullying crusade. Kel meets Owen when she heads back to the pages wing after leaving Jump with Daine. (Jump comes back to Kel, of course, but she doesn’t know that at the time.) She runs into Owen being bullied by Joren and his crew. It was the first night, and they thought that Kel and her group wouldn’t be trying to stop them. Kel fights Joren and company, and Owen joins in. Owen objects to Wyldon’s assigning punishment work, and Kel steps on his foot to keep him from being to ostentatious. After that, he’s folded into their group, and brings his younger cousins Iden and Warric to join them in later years. After Owen, they never again find Joren hazing anyone else.
Lalasa is one of the central characters of Page, what else could she be? It wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe her as the secondary moral center of the book. Kel, of course, is the first, but Lalasa is the second, and she also prompts Kel to change.
While Kel initially took Lalasa on because she saw that Lalasa was being abused by other servants, Kel doesn’t have much patience with her to start. “Kel was a patient girl, but there was something to Lalasa’s meekness that set her teeth on edge.” (41). It takes a while for the two to warm up to each other. Lalasa frets constantly about things, and they’re constantly rubbing each other the wrong way. Kel sees Lalasa’s meekness as silly, and Lalasa’s acting out of trauma caused by repeated attempted sexual and physical assaults.
Kel is in the wrong here, and it’s one of Pierce’s strengths that she shows Kel failing to understand Lalasa initially. Typically, in anything else, Kel just powers through it with sheer perseverance, and Kel does well in so many things. But in having her fail at understanding the effects of trauma, Pierce is pointing out the similar failures in our own society.
But, eventually, they start to get along. Lalasa helps Kel when she starts puberty. Kel interferes with Hugo Longleigh, when he attempts to coerce Lalasa into a sexual relationship. It eventually culminates in Kel teaching Lalasa self defense. She models the moves with Neal, and then does the constant training with Lalasa to reinforce them. Eventually the two become friends.
That friendship and mutual care leads Kel to rescue Lalasa, even over her own dreams of knighthood. Kel goes to Lalasa because of the responsibility for and friendship she feels for Lalasa.
Lalasa and #MeToo
When Vinson tries to assault Lalasa, a sparrow guides Kel to her aid. After she drives Vinson away, Lalasa begs Kel not to report it to anyone.
“She certainly knew of nobles who forced themselves on serving women. No one put a halt to it. Within their own fiefdoms, nobles could do as they pleased. Even the priestesses of the Goddess, sworn to protect women and girls from just this kind of thing, might hesitate to defend a lord.” (186).
Kel threatens Vinson, and says if she hears one more thing about him hurting women she’ll take him before the Goddesses’s court. But there’s something in this passage that has become very familiar over the past year. In the fall of 2017, a movement called #MeToo took over twitter. It raised awareness about sexual assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It grew to be international in scope, and it talked about sexual assault culture in a way that resonates with Lalasa’s story.
While Pierce published Page in 2000, it foreshadows an issue that is now of great interest. Lalasa’s story tells the reader about why a woman might hesitate to accuse a man of crimes he committed. It talks about the misogyny anyone accusing a man of sexual assault will face. Lalasa even says it straight out, “They’ll talk until I’ve no reputation … Nobles can make a girl’s life a misery— they always do.” (186). Kel’s fury at Vinson and at the society that produced and protected him once again foreshadows how people feel today, in the wake of #MeToo.
In addition to talking about rape culture, and bullying, Pierce also talks about class-ism in this book. One of these is obviously Lalasa. Her lack of power to report the men who have assaulted her stems largely from her position as a commoner in a classist society. While Kel protects her as well as she can, the fact that Lalasa needs that protector says something about society as a whole. Kel thinks about it after Vinson’s attempted attack. “She couldn’t get rid of her anger … with a world in which servants didn’t matter.” (189).
Another moment when Kel thinks about how classist her society is can be found in the wake of the bandit camp. “Still, she also saw the poverty in their camps. Only the best fighters had shirts without holes; their children were naked, hollow-eyed, and big-bellied with hunger.” (122). The book then goes on to describe the farmers kicked off their farms and the two year long drought that plagued the area. As Kel said, “There were no easy answers.” (123).
But Kel’s concern is out of step with the views of the rest of society. There’s a reason that the series is called Protector of the Small after all. As with Lalasa, the fact that there needs to be a protector shows something in society needs to change. There are signs that Tortall is changing. King Jonathan pushes for reforms, Thayet educates, and there’s nobles debate better protection oforcommoners. But then there are people like Joren, conservative to the core, who fight those changes at every turn. Kel is both a sign of better days to come and someone willing to fight for those better days.
Page is an excellent book that tackles issues that are still deeply controversial in our time. Kel grows and changes and becomes better. There’s hope that she can inspire society around her to become better as well. Wyldon changes, after all. He’s the most stubborn and pigheaded of the conservatives in court, and he accepts Kel is worthy to be a squire. Kel’s protective instincts, while a sign of societal wrongs, get a hearty workout. One of the first beings she saved, Peachblossom, being purchased for her by the mysterious benefactor, is symbolic of societal changes, and Kel’s effect on them.
Kel may not be perfect, but she always tries to help others. That’s why Kel has so much value as a protagonist in a world gone acedia mad. She’s someone who perseveres, who has flaws but grows to accept and overcome them. Kel has a positive effect on the world around her, and that’s something to celebrate.