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The series launches with a very small book, simply called Alanna: The First Adventure". True, the four books in this series are not my favourite, but it so quickly grows and expands to include so much more than just a tale about a little girl who dresses as a boy because she wants to be a knight.
Tamora Pierce really struck gold when she expanded this series. We get to see Alanna as both a headstrong kid and a frustrated parent. Daine as both clueless herder and powerful mage (and object of teenage boys' crushes). We learn about George as a youth, as an adult, and the history behind the family. While Emelan is a wonderful world, it's just so much... smaller than Tortall. Emelan focuses on the four mages: Tortall looks at one girl and the ripples extending even to other countries in the other lives she and those close to her touch.
I didn't really mean this to be a comparison of the two series, because in doing so neither really comes out on top for me. Both have their wonders. Their pains. Their secrets. Both have such... real characters (even those whose very existence made my head hurt at one point). Both of them take the stage they were written for and lure so many youths into them that even now, so many years after I first met these characters, I still cannot forget them.