At the age of 14 and standing 5 foot 10, Keladry of Mindelan is a squire. A squire serves and learns from a seasoned knight for four years, then faces a final test. That final test is the Ordeal, which takes place in a magical room called the Chamber. There, a squire encounters the parts of him or herself that the Chamber deems to be the most difficult to face—be they fears, failings, or unrepented wicked deeds. Does Kel have what it takes to survive?
In Book 3 of Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small sequence, 14-year-old Keladry of Mindelan is ready to begin training as a squire after undergoing four grueling years as the first girl to be officially educated as a page. Disappointed at first that Lady Alanna (whom we first met in the Song of the Lioness Quartet series) does not choose her, Kel is delighted when gruff, good-natured, down-to-earth Lord Raoul takes her on. The next four years prove to be tough but happy, for the most part, as Raoul and most of the others in the King's Own (a corps of 300 men--299 now, plus Kel--that enforces the law and helps local nobles deal with problems such as centaur attacks and forest robberies) treat Kel as an equal. Throughout, Kel is physically and mentally preparing herself for the final test in the Chamber of the Ordeal, in which fourth-year squires must successfully face their greatest fears before becoming knights.
In this sequel to First Test: Protector of the Small and Page: Protector of the Small, Kel continues to be an admirable role model: stoutly loyal, strong, independent, honest, yet very real in her fears and weaknesses. Romance lurks for the budding adolescent as she develops a crush on one fellow and begins a sweet kissing-only relationship with another, after a very frank discussion about sex with her mother. Although the buildup to the Ordeal is watered down a bit by Kel's periodic visits to the Chamber door for a taste of what's to come, overall, this latest in Pierce's series is a rousing tale of chivalry and heroism that any reader will be sorely challenged to put down. (Ages 12 and older) --Emilie Coulter