There are other books in between, which do get referenced here, but this is a direct follow-up to the Alanna quartet. You have a lone female entering into the boys’ world of knights and military training. The… decade and a half between the publication of the two series shows a lot of how far we’ve come, and how much we’re still struggling with the concept.

Whereas Alanna disguised herself as a boy, and worked through the system, Kel is the first girl to officially get trained as a squire. At the insistence of the training master, Kel is accepted ‘on probation’ for her first year (thus the ‘test’ of the title), helping keep her an outsider to the main group.

Much of the novel deals with the kinds of hazing and bullying that have become all too familiar when the small-minded see their ‘territory’ encroached upon. The plot is naturally strongly character-focused, and mostly deals with internal struggles, even while focusing on the external struggles of the deliberate overwork of training, and the hazing. The ending portion switches gears some, and gives a chance for more old-fashioned adventure.

As with Tamora Pierce’s other books, this is solidly YA, but it’s just as suitable for adults. It is its own thing, and while there’s references to the Alanna and Immortals series, it in no way rests upon them (thank goodness, as I’ve realized I don’t remember the Immortals books well enough).