A bit of a Thanksgiving break from various classes, and a new chapter!
Before we begin, I’ll revisit Chapter Four, as I missed a bit of the action that will probably play a part in the rest of the plot, but more importantly shows the heroine’s attitude. Kelsea is in camp with the stunningly awful Fetch. He’s about to let her go, but then tells her that he wants to keep one of her magic gewgaw necklaces.
“This necklace is yours; I don’t claim it for myself. But I’m going to hold onto it.”
“Until you earn it back with your deeds.”
Kelsea opened her mouth to argue, thought better, and shut it. Here was a man who did almost nothing spontaneously; everything was deliberate, so the chances of changing his mind with words were slim.
Well, why don’t you just punch him, then? No, really, why is Kelsea such a log? This necklace is Kelsea’s one gift from Carlin, one of the only two people Kelsea has ever known til, oh, about three days ago. Kelsea’s first instinct isn’t to protect this gift from the woman who is basically her mother. She doesn’t even let him have the necklace because she has a crush on him and wants to earn his respect-slash-love. (That would require a tiny bit of intellectual curiosity on her part, as she’d have to figure out what his ideals actually are.) She just thinks he’s smarter and will shut her down, like all of the other men around her, and that’s that. This is starting to get suspiciously close to romance novel territory, in which assumed male intellectual dominance is a requirement no matter how powerful a woman is “on paper” (and how stupid the male character actually shows himself to be).
However, technically we’re not reading a romance novel, because instead of a scene of turgid manhood entering feminine flower petals, we get… Chapter Five. Oh well.
Chapter Five begins with a little bit of infodumping about the capital of the Tearling. The Mace and Kelsea are finally arriving. Kelsea takes the crowds and the noise remarkably well, considering that she’s only spoken to two people on a consistent basis for 99.9 percent of her life. She doesn’t take well to the great church she sees–Christianity has survived, seemingly as Roman Catholicism in its most flagrant form, full of corruption and evil lechy priests. Odd that a group of utopian Americans and British would eventually recreate the structure of the Catholic Church, complete with celibacy requirements, but I suppose they wanted to keep the author from having to do any pesky worldbuilding.
Kelsea arrives at the Keep, expecting excitement at her arrival. Instead, the crowds are there because slaves are being sent to Mortmesne. It turns out that the Tearling made a peace pact with Evil Kingdom Mortmesne by promising to send a certain amount of slaves per month. The slaves are picked by lottery, and anyone who tries to run away is harshly punished.
Kelsea is shocked and disgusted, and her magic jewel burns, too, kind of like how Scooby Doo would react to Shaggy. She tells Mace that she’ll put a stop to this. The Mace tells her to think before she acts–according to the peace treaty, if a shipment doesn’t come in on time, Mortmesne will attack the Tearling again.
Kelsea is unmoved by his caution, and vows to take action. The Mace is impressed. He vows to protect her, even though she hasn’t even been crowned yet.
“No matter, Lady. I see the queenship in you, and I never saw it in your mother, not one day in her life.”
Wait a second. Hold on here. It’s all very nice that Kelsea has strength of character, but the opposing army has swords. She does have her magic burny sapphire, though, so I suppose that’s all right, and will be even more all right once she gets the other magic jewel back. The sad implication here is that the entire Tearling relies upon the moral character of its ruler. All the people who were massacred and sold into horrible slavery could have been saved from those fates if Elyssa had just been more queenly. Must suck to live in a kingdom that relies upon a sentient piece of jewelry for its defenses.
The POV suddenly switches to Javel, a man who guards the Keep’s gates. He’s sad, because his wife was taken away as a slave a while ago, and he’s vaguely angry at the priest involved (fat, of course) and Arlen Thorne, who takes the census of slaves and is just generally a nasty man in the Littlefinger mold. He watches as the Mace reveals Kelsea as the Queen and she orders the cages open. The no-longer-slaves-to-be come out, and there’s general rejoicing.
Now that that’s done with, we return to Kelsea, who is exhausted and a bit frightened by the reaction she’s caused.
They expect me to do something extraordinary, she realized. Now and every day for the rest of my life.
The idea was terrifying.
This would be an interesting concept to explore if it hadn’t been immediately preceded by the sentence “The pressure of their eyes was a monstrous weight,” which suggests that Kelsea is thinking this thought while buried under a great mound of eyeballs. Yuck. Also, how can a pressure be a weight? Nevermind, I’ll stop nitpicking about bad imagery because Kelsea’s met another main character!
The Mace points out some women who are hanging around. Now that she’s free, he suggests Kelsea take them into her service. Kelsea recognizes the one of the women as someone she had dreamt about when she was having those horrific nightmares–a woman who had held out a bloody child to her. Oooh, spooky!
Kelsea tells the women that they can come serve her of her own free will.
The women began to deliberate. For most of them, this seemed to consist of staring helplessly at their children.
Yeah, women, so stupid and helpless what with having to give up their kids on the spot or not, am I right? Jesus.
Turns out most of the women are widows or otherwise man-less, except for the spooky dream lady. Fortunately, she’s been horribly abused so Kelsea can totally take her on! And, oh, yeah, all the kids can come too! Why?
“Children are good, Lady. They make women predictable. Now keep your head down.”
Oh, they’re insurance for their mothers’ good behavior. That’s nice. Oh, btw, shut up again Kelsea!
Anyway, Kelsea sets the cages on fire. She realizes that she can still go back on her actions right before she does so, because doing this will cause Mortmesne to invade again. But she decides that it’s better to “die clean.”
I’d agree with this sentiment if the plot wasn’t structured so clearly as to make everything all right in the end–if there really was a chance that this was a story about a group of people coming together and deciding that it’s better to fight than to live with injustice, even though that fight will probably end in their deaths. But it comes across more as a stupid decision made for drama’s sake–aren’t there any guerilla leaders? Is there way to prepare the people for defending the land? You know, some practical stuff that might be worth thinking about before committing to a suicide defense? Because things are going to get grim real quick otherwise. Presumably Elyssa knew this and made her peace with the shipments. Kelsea hasn’t, but once those soldiers come in, what happens next? Maybe we should figure this out because–
Oh, wait a minute, Kelsea and the Mace are crossing the moat into the Keep itself.
“Is the water not drained?”
“No questions now, Lady, forgive me.”
OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE, WE CAN’T EVEN HANDLE THE MOAT HERE. I give up, just let them all be killed.
The chapter ends with the Fetchdouche looking on from afar. He compares Kelsea favorably to Elyssa, who couldn’t even decide what dress to wear in the morning. OK, I get it, Elyssa was weak and girly. We’re done for this chapter.