It's been ten years since Alanna the Lioness disguised herself as a boy in order to became the first lady knight in the realm of Tortall, ten years since the king decreed it lawful for women to train to be knights without having to resort to trickery. And Keladry of Mindelan wants to be the first to do so. Ten year old Kel was raised abroad, the child of a diplomat, and has a very different way of looking at the world as a result. Trained in the ways of the Yamani warriors since the age of 6, to her it seems only a natural leap upon returning home to Tortall with her family, that the next step for her is to train as a knight. Unfortunately, since she is the first girl to want to train as a knight since Alanna, the path to knighthood proves to be more stressful than she had imagined. On top of dealing with the rigorous training young pages all must go through, she also has to deal with the scorn that comes with being 'a woman out of her place,' as one character so deftly puts it.
This is the third series by Tamora Pierce that I've read, after Song of the Lioness and The Immortals. So far, I like this better than Immortals, and it is a more polished text than Alanna, as Pierce had been writing for years at this point in her career. The hook in Song of the Lioness was that Alanna was pretending to be a boy and doing something no girl had ever done. Here, everyone knows Kel is a girl, and her biggest challenges come from dealing with the expectations placed upon her by the men in her chosen field: her fellow pages, the older boys (including some bullies), and her training master, just to name a few.
I enjoyed Kel as a character, even if she is a bit humorless. She overcomes all the obstacles thrown at her with stubborn integrity, and manages to piece together a loyal group of friends in the process.
There were several appearances from past characters, including the Lioness and Daine and Numair from the Immortals. I love how Pierce is building this world. Continuity with past books makes me so happy, and its evident throughout the entirety of First Test. This isn't the same Tortall from Alanna. This is a Tortall that is slowly changing, as characters grow up, as political climates shift, and as the immortal world encroaches on the mortal world. Probably my favorite bit of continuity is how all the animals in Corus (capital city where they all live) are gradually getting smarter because of Daine's influence.
Overall, a really fast, fun, and satisfying read. On to book two.