Kelsea wakes up in her bed. She’s mending from the assassination attempt at her coronation. The first thing she notices is that the frou-frou pillows have been removed from her bed. I suppose this is important, whether there are pillows on this bed or not, more important than almost being killed and killing a man, but everyone focuses on odd things sometimes, right?
The Mace arrives and apologizes for not having Kelsea’s back. He also hasn’t caught whoever it was who threw the knife into Kelsea’s back. Kelsea isn’t worried, though, and tells him to move on.
It’s a bit strange how much Kelsea trusts the Mace. The Keep is supposedly a den of assassins, at least according to the book jacket (although nobody seems to have bothered to bump off cretinous, poorly-guarded Evil Uncle Thomas). The Mace is incredibly stingy with information and hasn’t been able to protect Kelsea from danger—either from the Fetch, or from the knife thrower. Yet Kelsea doesn’t doubt his ability or his loyalty. She shows more interest in those stupid pillows.
The real evil
The Mace tells Kelsea that her defiance of the treaty with Mortmesne will mean war. He’s summoning her top general, whom he warns is old and lame in one arm from defending the Keep during an attempted coup. Oh, so somebody did try to bump off Thomas! Who could it be? Kelsea isn’t interested, so we never get to find out.
We are treated to Kelsea’s internal monologue on her tiara, though. It’s too girly. Sigh.
The Mace and Kelsea look over the treaty. A certain amount of people have to be sent as slaves to Mortmesne, or Mortmesne has the right to come into the Tearling and take slaves by force. Kelsea notices that the Queen of Mortmesne signs without a name. Perhaps Evil Queen is maintaining her powers via name magic, a la Rumpelstiltskin or the wizards of Earthsea—although the concept of name magic doesn’t seem to be familiar to this world.
Kelsea wonders why her mother signed such a one-sided treaty, then wonders what she would have done if she had been in the same position. That’s awfully empathetic for Kelsea. She then wonders aloud if her mother was assassinated. Predictably, the Mace doesn’t tell her one way or the other, just that there were attempts and after one, Elyssa sent Kelsea away. Doesn’t Kelsea want to know who the assassins were? I’d assume it was Evil Uncle Thomas, as he’d have the most to gain. But maybe it was a noble family? The Fetch? Space Hitler?
It was Blue Ivy Carter!
It turns out that Thomas set up the lottery that sends people to be slaves in Mortmesne; anyone except churchmen can be picked to go. Some of the slaves have to be kids, although the Mace says that Elyssa used convicts and madmen to fill the quota. Where did Elyssa get jailbird children? Man, now I’m starting to feel sorry for Evil Thomas, his sister was convicting kids to make them slaves. Actually, I’m pretty sure Johansen just didn’t think this one through, so Elyssa’s off the hook here.
Anyway, Kelsea meets her servants and some more of her guards. She goes into a makeshift nursery, where one of her uncle’s mistresses is entertaining the children with a story. It’s Marguerite, the woman that Thomas was keeping on a leash a few chapters back! Marguerite was horribly abused by Thomas, in case we didn’t get that from him keeping her on a leash. She’s also a redhead, because you can’t have a fantasy set in pseudo-Europe without a special redhead. It’s genre law, people.
Kelsea meets with her armorers and asks them to make her armor and a sword. She wants to learn how to fight. I’m all for general self-defense, but learning how to use a sword is time-consuming if you want to do it well. Kelsea, you have a war to fight and a kingdom to rule. Now is not the time to learn swordfighting because Swords are Cool. Why not just continue with your knife fighting? You already killed a guy with that knife, Kelsea. By the way, if you want to a story about a female swordfighter, read Ellen Kushner’s Privilege of the Sword. You can thank me later.
I’m pretty sure Johansen just didn’t think this one through, either, and thinks that a sword is the olden-tymes equivalent of a gun. Should I start using an abbreviation? JJDTTOT is a bit long, though.
For some reason, Evil Uncle Thomas is still hanging around the Keep and has an audience with Kelsea. He asks to stay and help her rule. He also begins to ask for various things back—his art and his mistresses.
“Marguerite’s under my protection now.”
“She was a gift, and a valuable one.”
“I agree,” Kelsea said, “widening her smile. “She’s very valuable. I’m sure she’ll suit me fine […] Perhaps when I tire of Marguerite, I’ll set her free. But at the moment she’s happy here.”
The Regent looked up, his face incredulous. “Bullshit!”
“I assure you, she’s quite content,” Kelsea replied blithely. “Why, I don’t even need to keep her tied up!”
It’s good stuff by this book’s standards, although I don’t know what poor Marguerite would make of it.
Kelsea decides that she can’t trust her uncle, so she decides to… let him go. He just has to leave, and that’s it. On one hand, Kelsea thinks that Thomas is conniving—on the other hand, she views him as so inept that he can be trusted to just wander off and be no threat at all. I think that the real reason that Kelsea won’t execute or imprison Thomas is because the Fetch wants to kill him. Way to go, Miss Absolute Monarch. Oh, I can’t bother to rule because my random thieving crush in the woods knows best!
Thomas is angry, but suddenly Marguerite shows up and sits at Kelsea’s feet. Er, did she hear all that stuff about how Kelsea was planning to use her? Because, you know, she’s an abused slave, so she might take some of that in a serious way, not a ha-ha way.
Anyway, off goes Thomas and in comes the new treasurer. He’s a bookmaker. The Mace laughs at Kelsea when she doesn’t know what that is, and the treasurer, Arliss, calls Kelsea “Queenie.” Damn, really? I didn’t know that being an absolute monarch was similar to being an intern or a work experience girl. Anyway, it turns out that he’s also a black marketeer. Why does Kelsea trust the Mace again?