Why has it been so long since I updated this readalong? Well, I’ll admit it: I lost the damn book in my book hoard. What, you don’t have a giant pile of half-read books that can completely conceal a large hardback? It’s just me? Anyway, it’s all good, I guess, because we’re coming up to a real disaster of a chapter here. Gave myself a breather and all. And now I’m back to tackle Chapter 11.
The faux historical excerpt at the beginning of the chapter describes the Tearling religion as a post-apocalyptic mishmash of Christian beliefs, shaped by the fear of the death of the human race. Wow, what would such a religion look like? Sounds fascinating.
Well, we’re not going to find out, because the church as depicted is straight out of a David Eddings novel—full of corrupt, evil perverts. Nuanced! Father Tyler, the one non-evil priest, shows up at the Keep and wants to hang out with Kelsea and read Kelsea’s books. He promises not to try and convert the nonbelieving Kelsea, because apparently the church is all-powerful and all-controlling and yet doesn’t give a fuck if the ruler of the country is an atheist. Hey, are any of the people in the Tear religious? Do they mind that Kelsea doesn’t share their beliefs? If the church is so oppressive, is there an alternative religious movement? Maybe atheism is popular?
Oh, I forgot, this is fantasy land, where every illiterate, downtrodden peasant has the tepid religious sensibilities of a 21st-century Western agnostic. Never mind, go on.
Anyway, Kelsea tells Father Tyler that she wants to reestablish printing presses, and he likes that idea, so he agrees to help her. That’s nice.
Afterwards, Kelsea goes through her first court audience. She thinks back to her preparations for the event, when she was hanging out with Marguerite, the former mistress of Evil Uncle Thomas. Kelsea asks Marguerite whether she wants to go back to her homeland of Mort. Marguerite doesn’t care, she’s a victim of fate. There aren’t many women in this book with speaking roles, but it turns out that the ones who aren’t evil are predestined to misery. In Marguerite’s case, she can’t control her destiny because she’s beautiful.
“Because of this,” Marguerite replied, running an explanatory hand up her body and circling it around her face. “This determines who I am.”
Kelsea reacts with internal envy. She wants to be objectified, too!
She would give anything to look like Marguerite […] She had already noticed how, on those rare occasions when Marguerite emerged from the nursery, the guards’ eyes followed her across the room. There was no overtly boorish behavior, nothing for which Kelsea could take them to task, but sometimes she wanted to reach out and slap them, scream in their faces: Look at me! I’m valuable too! Eyes followed Kelsea across the room as well, but it wasn’t the same at all.
Marguerite can sense Kelsea’s resentment.
“You think of beauty only as a blessing, Majesty, but it brings its own punishments. Believe me.”
Kelsea is unconvinced.
Beauty was currency. For every man who valued Marguerite less because of her beauty, there would be a hundred men, and many women as well, who automatically valued her more.
Jesus. Where are we here? I understand that one woman might be envious of another’s beauty, but this is written like Kelsea and Marguerite are high school girls pining after a jock with sexy anger problems or a mysterious boy with infinitely kissable lips. Kelsea is the plainer one, while Marguerite is the hotter one who will probably come to some sort of sticky end so that Kelsea can get with the secretly-sensitive jock or the outwardly sensitive, long-lashed boy. In short, it’s YA.
But Kelsea’s not a high school student. She’s a queen. Men will definitely desire her, even if she’s not a great beauty, because she’s so very powerful (and in addition, whoever fathers her child has a claim to the heir to the throne). Hell, she’s the queen, she can set beauty standards if she wants to. Actually, since Kelsea is only 19 and very sheltered, I’m surprised that men aren’t swarming around her already, flattering her and trying to be the first to get into her bed. But Johansen can’t seem to get out of the YA mindset, even when it makes no sense, so Kelsea is tragic because she isn’t the hottest in the land and so her crush (the one who told her that she was too ugly to rape) won’t want to sleep with her, ever.
Kelsea’s “tragedy” also seems ridiculous when you consider that when she first saw Marguerite, Marguerite was kneeling half-naked and had a leash around her neck! Oh, and don’t forget, Marguerite was repeatedly raped and forced to have abortions. Wow, what sweet perks! Obviously being beautiful is better than having absolute power! I guess at least then you can get raped, right, girls?
In a more subtly written book, Kelsea could express these feelings while still being sympathetic—she’s young, she’s sheltered, and she has normal human desires, which sometimes shade into envy. But it’s written completely straight, as if this is really just as important as war or as traumatizing as continuous abouse. It’s rather like the narration for an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. Kelsea doesn’t have to confront her reality as a queen, because she’s the protagonist girl and is vaguely YA-like and has YA problems that are the most important things in the whole world, just like Thomas is the protagonist train and is blue and lives on an island of talking trains and none of this makes any sense at all for anyone over five.
I’m not done with this chapter yet—there’s a really problematic scene coming up that I want to tear into on multiple levels. But I need another breather. Almost done, almost done.