zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
If I do the Emelan/Tortall crossover I'm pondering, it just occurs to me that the Dominion Jewel itself poses two huge problems, namely:

1. What happens when an ambient stone mage who can canonically talk to rocks like they're sapient beings gets near the Jewel?

2. What happens when the living heart of a mountain, who can talk to more rocks, gets near it?


...If I were writing epic crackfic, I'd totally ship Luvo/Dominion Jewel, actually. XD
zodiacal_light: AU: Because everything's better with zombies. (AU)
Fic update: wrote two new fics, one (Memory) reconciling the end of Battle Magic with what we got told in Will of the Empress and Melting Stones (my first Emelan fic!), and one (Duty) playing with an old, old idea about what would happen if Numair died on a mission for the Crown.

Speaking of Emelan... I'm really wishing I knew more people into the Circle books, because I've just been bit with a plotbunny for, well, another in the inexplicable genre of Tortall/Emelan crossovers. (Probably 'cause I've been reading a bunch of other peoples' crossovers, actually; it seems like half the Emelan fic out there is crossed over with Tortall.)

And, well, it seems like everyone sets their Emelan crossovers in the Lady Knight era. I have no idea why, save that PotS and Kel and the gang are pretty damn popular. I guess people sort of default to "present day" in writing fic?

But I am a SotL junkie, and as anyone who's so much as sneezed at this blog knows, I'm ... more than a little obsessed with Lioness Rampant, and the AU-ing thereof, in particular. XD

You can probably see where this is going. If you haven't read Emelan, beware of spoilers. Plotting ahoy! )

So... too contrived? Did I miss something blindingly obvious? (Wouldn't surprise me.) Other criticisms? I ... sort of really want to write this, but I'm not sure if the genre's overdone.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
So I'm rereading LR in preparation for yet another Dominion-Jewel-goes-to-Sarain AU, and I'm struck by how Liam describes the civil war. Apparently, I remembered it all wrong:


  • Adigun is the third jin Wilima ruler of Sarain. Apparently his transition to power was peaceful; no mention that it wasn't.
  • The text implies, but does not outright state, that the jin Wilima took over the Saren throne from the zhirit Kaufain, and does not imply that this happened particularly brutally. (Random question: is "zhirit" plural or singular, or both? "jin" seems to be both.)
  • Two years prior to LR, rebels try to put zhir Anduo on the Saren throne. Their reason is that he is a descendant of the Kaufains; that his surname differs suggests the Kaufains' main line died out.
  • According to the timeline, this rebellion is three years after Adigun ascends to the throne. No mention of prior problems or challenges to Adigun.
  • "Last spring" - i.e. approx. halfway through the rebellion, Adigun hired mercenaries (from where?) that "destroyed towns, crops - people." Liam uses this as proof that the Anduo partisans might now win, because Adigun is no longer strong enough to maintain his hold on the throne.
  • Liam also states explicitly that it is after this mercenaries' rampage that the K'mir rebelled against both sides, and that they "promise to fight the winner" of the Saren/lowland civil war.
  • No problems with the K'mir are even hinted at before this.

And as we all know, Adigun married Kalasin and had a daughter, who was twenty in LR and thus must have been around eighteen when the rebellion started - nineteenish when the K'mir rebelled. Adigun must also have married Kalasin well before he was even warlord, because he became warlord when Thayet was ~15.

This, to reiterate, is what Liam says about the effects of Adigun's mercenaries:

  • They destroyed crops, towns, and people - implicitly, this caused the famine and utter systems collapse evidenced in LR.
  • Prior to the hiring of these mercenaries, Adigun was in a much stronger position; Liam implies that the Anduo partisans could not have unseated Adigun until Adigun destabilized his own position by hiring mercenaries.
  • The mercenaries were what triggered the K'miri rebellion against both factions of Saren lowlanders.

The further implication here is clear: Adigun couldn't control the mercenaries. Liam speaks of them in terms almost more suited to a natural disaster, and the implication is that they slipped their leash and went on a campaign of terror against everybody in Sarain: not just against Anduo partisans, which is what Adigun hired them for, but against the K'mir and even Adigun's own partisans.

Later WOG talks almost as if it's lowlander vs. K'mir, but that's explicitly not what Liam and Alanna describe in LR. Except for one thing: Liam also explicitly states that the war is in the mountains and highlands, not down by the coast, which implies that the war has become Saren vs. K'mir.

I also see no implication that Adigun married Kalasin for political reasons. All it says is that he married her, and that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I do suspect they were a love match, and that Adigun, and possibly most of the Saren, had no problem with the K'mir until the K'mir decided they had a problem with all the Saren.

I'm not, incidentally, blaming the K'mir for this. If Adigun's mercenaries did go after them and, say, torch their land, it's entirely reasonable for them to a) blame Adigun for not controlling them/think he let them loose deliberately and b) think that the lowland war has gotten out of hand. The mercenaries might be ethnically lowlander, as well.

This puts the crackdowns against the K'mir Buri mentions later in a new light. The laws against the K'mir must be relatively new - only a year old, if that. Buri does imply a longer, much more entrenched animosity towards the K'mir - lowlanders taking them for slaves, stealing their horses. But part of me wonders if that is all that longstanding, or if it's new since the war; it's not explicit either way in text. The laws forbidding the K'mir to meet are new, and seem to be a wartime imposition; this is bolstered by the fact that Kalasin and Thayet's pleading doesn't change Adigun's mind. I wonder if the lowlanders have only been enslaving prisoners of war - or perhaps using the war as an excuse. It wouldn't be unheard of for either case, at all. The horse-stealing could even be justified by military or economic necessity.

I also find it interesting that Adigun apparently passed "laws" - as in, more than one, forbidding the K'mir to meet in groups - and that these are apparently the only anti-K'mir laws he passed.

But Liam also says that "in five years, Adigun has destroyed the work of generations" - implying not only that Sarain was peaceful for generations, but also prosperous. This squares with the suggestion that the jin Wilimas took over from the Kaufains or whoever was in between peacefully, but also suggests that Adigun has, from day one, been a bad king destroying his country - which is somewhat contradicted by Liam's earlier timeline for the rebellions, unless the reason zhir Anduo made his play was that Adigun had spent three years running the country into the ground. Which is possible.

I've also been wondering about Thayet. She speaks some K'mir, and is implied to be fluent; Buri says Thayet's "K'miri-taught," but contrasts it to her being "K'miri-bred," yet implies that Thayet's basically as good as a pure K'mir. When did all this happen? Given the timeline, I assume before Adigun even assumed the throne - i.e., before Thayet was fifteen. Yet Buri doesn't say Thayet was raised K'mir, so it wasn't like prior to Adigun's ascension Thayet was living full-time from birth among the tribes. It does, however, bolster the notion that pre-war Adigun didn't have a problem with the K'mir, or even with his half-K'mir daughter learning and even celebrating her mother's heritage. Which goes towards the notion that the antipathy towards the K'mir as a whole is recent and driven by their sudden rebellion, but does not square with how Thayet and Buri talk about the Saren court so virulently hating female warriors and K'mir. It also doesn't square with how Kalasin sent Thayet to the convent - but given the timeline, that could be something Kalasin only did after the war broke out.

Also, given how Buri refers to Thayet as "Kalasin's daughter," as if this means something significant, I wonder if Thayet is twice-royal - she's the last jian Wilima, though not Adigun's heir, but she might well be Kalasin's heir among the K'mir, and possibly to a position of high power, if not necessarily an explicitly royal position.

--
On the question of zhirit - Coram talks like it's a higher title than zhir, in which case it's likely to be both singular and plural, like jin seems to be. On the other hand, since I can't quite figure out how to feminize zhir - you can't pull a jin/jian - and we know that the K'mir are at least partly matriarchal, part of me really likes the idea that the last true Saren royalty was a matriarchal line, and that zhirit is the female equivalent of zhir. This does not square with Thayet's insistence that no woman may sit on the Saren throne, or with Liam's insistence that Thayet is not the heir, but that could be a relatively recent rule, perhaps made because of however the Kaufain line fell.

Daaaaamn.

Sep. 12th, 2012 04:09 am
zodiacal_light: AU: Because everything's better with zombies. (AU)
A lot changes if you eliminate the Immortals, and not always the obvious stuff. It means a lot of little changes too, like Kel not having her griffin-feather band, that I entirely forgot about.

...This is fun and exciting and I wish I didn't have to sleep now and do classwork tomorrow (er, later today) because I have SO MANY IDEAS and two stories fully laid out in my head and the end is omg in sight and I want to write them all NOW.

Oh, well.

Also, is it just me, or does not a lot actually happen in the Immortals Quartet? I've blown through the books again for the fics, and I was trying to keep track of the major events - there aren't really that many, and certainly not after you cut out all the stuff with Immortals. There are pretty big time jumps between the books, but the books themselves cover very little. Which in a way is wonderful, because it means I can skip a lot and not end up with a massive fic o'doom again.

cut for me nattering on again )

All that said, I am so ready to churn out this fic. Pacing/flow problems or no.

Largely because it's turning into a sort of character exploration of Numair, with the requisite crackishness this 'verse demands. XD

ETA: There is only one single plot thing I can't decide on, for Unhidden #3, though I'm still ironing out some details. So I ask the internets - Daine/Numair, or no Daine/Numair? I hate the 'ship, but. I am wondering if that'd come across forced, since I usually do break them up/make them never happen.

On the one hand, canon. Also, I can almost make the case for it in this 'verse, esp. if I do what I'm considering and limit Numair's role as Daine's teacher/mentor. On the other, well. I don't see them a) lasting, whatever Pierce insists, or b) happening outside a very specific set of circumstances*, largely but not entirely known as RotG, which basically doesn't happen in this 'verse. So.

Maybe I should just write them as a fling. Or marry Numair off again.

---
*Funny how very many times I've said that about stuff in Pierce's books, really. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily - for example, Joren's bullying occurs under very particular circumstances, and he'd be much less of a threat in a different context.

But it's interesting how often that's true of her romances. Daine/Numair and Aly/Nawat are the ones that come to mind - and in Tortall, there are only three lasting romances out of four leading ladies. So. Alanna/George I can see happening under multiple scenarios - not either of the other two.
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Am I the only one who thinks the gods are really quite impotent in Tortall? In SotL this is kind of explicit: IIRC the Goddess (or was it Faithful?) tells Alanna that there are pivotal turning points where even the gods can't see what happens and humans have to do things for themselves, but also in SotL it's strongly implied the gods need to work through chosen people anyway - like for saving Jon, or for bringing back female knights to Tortall. And the most active divinity is a constellation, who at least in PD is explicit about not being a god. Honestly? SotL's view of the gods as these powers on the fringes works for me, and it works well with the setup of the whole world.

Later canon, starting with Immortals, borks all this. Suddenly, we get some really bizarre rules about gods, like the whole thing about new ones being bound to their land for 100 years, and honestly? Letting us see the Realm of the Gods, especially all the cutesy-ass animal gods, really ruins everything. It brings them all down to just people-with-powers, really no different than powerful mages except in lifespan. The Immortals themselves bork things: suddenly we have to have all these fine distinctions between immortal non-god things and immortal gods, and it just unnecessarily overcomplicates things - especially because the dragons are portrayed as being on equal footing with the gods.

I honestly like the Graveyard Hag, and she's about the only deity in TIQ that makes sense to me; she fits with the mode of godhood we saw in SotL - she has to work through a human medium, mostly - though she, in line with her nature, pushes the envelope in a way the Goddess doesn't with Alanna. But the other gods are all problematic: Gainel has no substance, the badger is just there to be a grumpy guide for Daine, Weiryn is just kind of ... there to provide Daine with godly parentage, and Sarra becoming a god is six kinds of fucked up. IDK. Also, the whole fighting-Chaos thing is just so simplistic that it comes out in the narrative as really weird, especially when it's shoehorned in there with this also-simplistic message about how humans are part Chaos anyway. I really don't get RotG as it stands, can you tell? I can see what Pierce was trying for, but what we get is just a muddle.

PotS - we're back to SotL mode; the gods apparently cannot intervene directly, and so the Chamber assigns Kel the task of ridding the world of Blayce. But. In the previous quartet, we saw much more active gods - the Hag, again sorta - and the gods certainly interfered in RotG, to great extent - and only to save one kingdom. Tortall is not that effing special that it should get its enemies - immortal-but-killable beings or not - removed by divine intervention. But apparently intervention is selective? IDK. Kel also mentions Yamani gods, particularly Sakuyo, and her belief in those gods does manifest in her daily life in small ways; she also has a few interesting musings on the dead, which work with the whole backgrounded-supernatural idea.

DotL is what really effs things up. There we get directly interventionist deities, Kyprioth being both direct and indirect, and we also get the sparkly sky battle of DOOM, which is wrong in so many ways I can't even articulate them. But more to the point, DotL was what tipped me off about how hollow the gods are: with a single exception I can think of, they are all trappings and no substance.

Let's see:
-Kyprioth has all the surface trappings of a trickster, but he is missing the deeper sense: the amorality, the whimsy, the liminality, the appetite/primal drive, and the cunning, all of which are rather essential to a trickster. (I am starting to think Pierce has a real hard time writing cunning people, esp. given how badly she fails with Aly.)

-Mithros has the trappings of a war god, but he never acts as one, and his priests are, as Carmarthen pointed out so well, ripoffs of Buddhist monks. Which is more than a little jarring.

-The Goddess rings hollow because she apparently, despite physically existing, physically appearing to people, and actually being able to talk to mortals, cannot make her nature and desires known - yet sort of can? IDK. She's so inconsistently portrayed, and so is her cult, and more importantly, so are Tortall-world notions of women. Women can make their own decisions, except then they can't, and it all contradicts and the whole thing falls apart. IDEK

-Gainel is a ripoff of Gaiman's Dream, to the point that there's really nothing there. He ... shares the split nature that humans have, between Chaos and Order? Uh, wouldn't all the tricksters? Hell, wouldn't all the gods, esp. those we see with nature connections, like the Goddess? He gives weird and opaque messages in dreams. Honestly, I think Pierce is just bad at writing dreams; they're not always these horribly disjointed, illogical, opaque messes. But Gainel is a really flat character.

-The Black God is just sort of there. We don't get much on him outside of PD, which I don't remember well, so there's not much to say on him. In SotL, we glimpse him as a kind of gatekeeper, which is reasonable.

-Weiryn is ... weird. We never see him being godlike; again, it's all surface trappings. He's supposedly a god of the hunt, but he's also a lesser one, and Pierce seems to write lesser gods as not really being very godlike ... except, well, she writes Sarra being lesser-but-still-godlike. Sorta. IDK. Weiryn made more sense when he was mentioned earlier on as a somewhat mysterious local god the hunters left offerings for. Once we see him, he goes into grumpy-patriarch mode, and it just, it doesn't work. Trappings but no substance; he's a god, apparently, just 'cause he has antlers.

-Sarra is bizarre. She's portrayed as Daine's mother and only that, but inexplicably deified, until the narrative needs to hammer home to Daine that her mother is really a god - then we get the absentminded-Sarra scene, which makes me think all Pierce's gods are answering-machines. We're told she appears as the Green Lady over the Snowsdale well, but we never see that, and she never leaves the Divine Realms to go manifest, and while I can get behind the notion that gods can appear in multiple places at once, it's so awkward in that scene I just. It feels fake. My-godhood-is-pasted-on fake. (Also, Sarra becoming divine at all skeeves me out more than a little, but that's a separate topic.)

-Chaos is just a hot mess, largely because it's portrayed entirely as a horrible, hideous, and yet-again crazy villain - all of which skeeves me out bigtime in a moral/philosophical sense, because hello? Order =/= good and chaos =/= evil/bad; they're both, if you believe they exist as such, fundamental principles of the universe that interact with each other to give rise to life/reality, and both things that can destroy life, the universe, and everything if taken to an extreme. Lip-service is given to the notion of balance, mostly through Gainel being emo, but the narrative comes down pretty firmly on the chaos=evil thing.

-The only other god I recall really seeing (aside from the animals, who are treated like talking animals, not gods) is the Graveyard Hag, unless Chitral counts as a god. The Hag works. She's a trickster, and because EM still somewhat holds to the notion that gods need mortal vessels to do their work, we really get to see her being a trickster, pushing at the boundaries of indirect action. We see more of that trickster nature in DotL, where she outtricks the Trickster and thus comes off as far more real a trickster than Kyprioth, who really reads more as a badly-thwarted Apollo- or Zeus-type, or a childish Odin-type, than a genuine trickster. I think part of it is that the Hag is where Pierce breaks her own mold of having the gods be presented as majestic; she portrays a Hag who is associated with all sorts of not-so-nice things we wish we could sweep under the rug: rats, slaves, physical ugliness, old age, the grave, skeletons, physical deformity/mutilation, etc. She's also the only god (other than half-assed Gainel) who is portrayed as being somewhat chaotic - and this is portrayed as a good thing, and isn't harped on. And yet, despite her associations with chaos, brain-breaking, and drastic change, the Hag is also portrayed as being on the side of order, and as wanting to get Carthak back on track.

....Honestly, the only issue I have with the Hag is the issue I have with Kyprioth and the unseen Jaguar Goddess: tricksters, and gods associated with unsavory animals (rats, crows, jaguars-implied to be insatiably bloodthirsty), are gods for the dark-skinned barbarian peoples. They're not "proper." The Graveyard Hag revels in that impropriety, which gives her a sense of realism and, IDK, divinity, i guess, that the others lack.

So. The Hag, and possibly the Black God, are the only two Tortall gods that read as gods to me. XD

Also- I just realized that another reason I wonder about the impotence of Tortall's gods is Blayce. If he honest-to-god thought the Black God existed and/or could mess with him, would he really be doing what he does to dead souls? IDK. Blayce is supposed to be all crazy, but. He's crazy in an our-world way, and I'm not sure it directly translates to Tortall.

Also also - Carmarthen mentioned ... somewhere ... that the Bazhir mention that the Burning-Brightly One and Night One are gods. We know they're Alanna and Jon, which means, I guess, that we're meant to read this as an exaggeration on the part of the Bazhir legends. But. Ozorne goes and declares himself a god, basically - which again, it's something that works in an our-world setting as a shorthand for megalomania on the part of the ruler, but is frankly suicidal in a world with gods (if the gods aren't impotent). It's implied in EM that this is part of why the Hag finally slaps him down, but if you couple it with the Bazhir legend, and with Numair's offhand mention of heroes going through tests in the Divine Realms, and couple it with Sarra becoming a god for no other reason than that her one-night-stand asks for it, there is only one real conclusion to draw: mortals in Tortall can become gods. And they don't even have to be particularly exceptional mortals to do so (Sarra...).

...Which might explain a lot about the so-called Great Gods we do see.

ETA: I forgot about Yahzed! We never see him, only his cult in WWRLAM, and it is skeevy. It is so high-handed and wrong I just don't know. Pierce was clearly trying to slap down both witch-burnings and patriarchal religion, and slaps down monotheism in the process - which can work, with the polytheistic set-up of that 'verse - but it reads as such a twisted, deliberate ripoff of faux-medieval Christianity that I, pagan as I am, want to scream. And then q-canon (was it mentioned in canon? I don't recall) has it that Yahzed is a Scanran god, which makes it yet another case of all of Tortall's traditional enemies - and all the cultures specifically shown as barbaric, though at least Scanra is white - having unacceptable deities.

Also, wasn't it the Yahzed cult in the short stories that insisted on veiling, and tried to burn an unveiled woman? I don't own T&OL, so I can't check, but if so, that just underlines the issues. Are there no redeeming features to the Yahzed cult? Who the hell would follow a religion that had no positive side? And if it is the Yahzed cult in T&OL, then the implication is that it's only okay again if/when the oppressed goddess is worshipped. Which has, despite the supposedly feminist message, some skeevy gender-essentialist implications. What, no god can be positive without a goddess? I don't quite buy that - I don't think men need the restraining, gentling hand of a woman, thanks - but it does have some interesting implications for Kyprioth, whose own goddess counterpart is explicitly bound.

Ozorne.

Aug. 26th, 2012 04:15 am
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Okay, I have to apologize. I went sort of off the internet for a while; I used it mostly for school, and the occasional fic-spree (I will get around to posting the backlog here at some point...), and otherwise pretty much dropped off the face of the earth for, like, a year.

But I am back from outer space, so.

Headcanon post, whoo.

I'll just up and admit it, I love Ozorne. (Pre-Stormwing, anyway.) I think he's flat-out the best Tortallan villain - and I think he's the only one who I can pretty easily see as a hero, or at least a good king, in his own way and from his own perspective.

Post-Stormwing, Ozorne goes the hell off the rails, which is pretty typical of Pierce. She derails her own characters - especially the villains - so frequently that they're less people than caricatures, and they are so hard to get a grasp on.

Okay. So. I am utterly convinced that Ozorne sees Tortall as an imperialist power trying to oppress Carthak, and frankly I'm not entirely sure he's wrong. Jon reads more and more like a tyrant and would-be emperor to me every time I reread; most disturbingly in my eyes, he flat rejects his father's pacifism as weak, and explicitly embraces his grandfather's canonically imperialist mode of thought.

I find it telling that the Tortallan negotiations in Emperor Mage break down over fishing rights in a really narrow stretch of waters - at a time, we should note, when Carthak is suffering severe drought, and it is implied that much of Carthak is desert and poor scrubland/grassland anyway.

There are really two major issues with Ozorne: the whole Immortals thing, and the whole Numair thing. Let's take them each in turn.

1. The immortals thing. I'll be blunt: I think this was a smart move strategically for Ozorne, if we assume he's right (and I do think he might be) that Tortall is imperialist and gearing up to encroach on Carthak. Ozorne discovers a way that he can harry and maybe, with luck, even destroy his great enemy, with no cost. What sane ruler wouldn't use that? If Carthak was threatening Tortall, and Jonathan discovered a spell to unleash immortals on Carthak, do you really think he'd hesitate?

Of course, it backfires for Ozorne, but that's not necessarily something Ozorne could have anticipated.

2. The Numair thing. We're used to viewing Numair as Jon's lovable court mage, who had to flee from Carthak when Ozorne unjustly tried to have him killed. But from Ozorne's perspective, Numair is a traitor. And yes, I do believe Ozorne believes that to be true; his reaction to Numair in EM is frankly too extreme for it to be some trumped-up charge or whim. Let me reiterate: Ozorne thinks Numair really is a traitor. Now, he may not be totally right in that, but in a way, he absolutely is.

I want to note a couple things here. First, it is often assumed, though I am not quite sure the basis for this, that Ozorne asked Numair to do battle magic and Numair, finding this repugnant, fled. If that's true, then I can see Ozorne finding that a real personal betrayal, as well as treason, because there is definitely a way in which mages (or rather their abilities) are property of the state, at least from my reading of the extensive Carthaki mage system. Heck, it may be that Carthaki mages are required to serve the state's interest by law, and if Numair refused, he's at least a criminal.

Second, Numair is at least currently a criminal in the eyes of Carthaki law because he fled his execution. He's a wanted fugitive.

Third, and more importantly, regardless of the soundness of the earlier treason charge, Numair is now a traitor to Carthak. He's gone over to the enemy, and is working for the king of Tortall, and is not just doing his (substantial) magic for Tortall, but is sharing intelligence on Carthak and the Emperor. (And if the common fanon assumption about battle-magic is true, then Numair is now doing for Tortall exactly what he wouldn't do for Ozorne.)

But wait! Numair's a Tyran, so going to Tortall and working there's not treason, right?

Not so fast. Numair quite clearly settled in Carthak. He may not have had any ability to go home - canonically he fled not back to Tyra, but to Tortall, despite having family still alive. Moreover, Numair was a close confidant of Ozorne; he was pretty seriously integrated into the Carthaki power structure. Also, like I said above, from what we see, I'm pretty sure the whole point of the Carthaki university system is to train mages to work for the state of Carthak. Carthak was indeed Numair's country, and Numair did indeed have, at least in Ozorne's eyes, an obligation to it.

The final thing I'll point out about the Numair thing is that Numair's presence in the embassy is virtually a declaration of war. It is certainly Jon thumbing his nose at Carthak, whether he realizes it or not; by including as a full member of the delegation a traitor to Carthak who is also a criminal on the run, Jon is basically saying Carthaki law doesn't matter, and he may well be flouting international law/tradition. He is certainly being rude; this is not a good-faith embassy.

Moreover, Numair is a walking weapon. Couple this with the fact that Jon has also sent his rude, hot-tempered, diplomatically-challenged Champion along, the only logical conclusion Ozorne can draw is that this is a show of force, and it is calculated belligerence on Jon's part.

Ozorne's attempt to capture and execute Numair strikes me as a bit too poorly executed to have been planned out before the delegation arrived; also, something about the scene where Daine witnesses Ozorne crushing the mini-Numair makes me think that Ozorne had actually been trying to be diplomatic, despite the huge insult of Numair's presence, and that that was when he made up his mind to screw diplomacy and execute the traitor.

My final major canon-bit of Ozorne is that I do think he genuinely cares about Carthak. I think he certainly has a militaristic bent; most emperors do. I think he believes in a very strong centralized government, and I do think he may well think that he is in fact indispensable to it. I think he is honestly trying to do right by Carthak, and I think he knows - and embraces - that this means he cannot be a good man. He is too busy being a strong emperor.

I also think that while transforming himself into a Stormwing to escape death may not be out of character, how he acts afterwards is.

Okay, now the fun part: pure headcanon.

-I think Ozorne is the Tortallan version of an atheist: the gods here have physical reality, so he knows they exist, but he does not think they should be worshipped, and he may not think they even have much power to truly intervene. (This would work with the gods as portrayed in SotL, but the later series complicate this.) I am convinced that at the very least he thinks they are corrupt and venal, and he is not really wrong.

-Ozorne loves his family. I also think he thinks Kaddar is a good heir, if a bit too pacifistic.

-Ozorne's birds are something of a mental crutch for him. He can take care of those, at least, even when Carthak falls to pieces around him. I think that their illness, the fact that an upstart Tortallan brat heals them effortlessly when he can't, and the fact that she blithely tells him that he had essentially poisoned them all along couple with the stress of Numair's presence and the horrible delegation to push him over the edge in EM.

-I think Ozorne loved Numair, and my headcanon absolutely is convinced they were lovers. Even if Pierce explicitly denies this, I will still believe it. Ozorne's hatred (and Numair's, for that matter) is too deep to not be rooted in betrayed love.

-Ozorne only ever loved Numair, and it's one reason he never married; Numair was the only person Ozorne ever let in that deeply, and Numair's treason, whatever happened, utterly destroyed Ozorne.

-But more than anything, Ozorne has always loved Carthak first. Even above Numair, which is what ultimately precipitated the break.

-Ozorne goes off the rails after EM because he has no idea how to be anything other than the Emperor Mage of Carthak. He has bound all of himself up into that role.

-Ozorne deeply hates Daine, which is canon, but not for dethroning him or wrecking his palace so much as for seducing Numair, attacking his beloved country (and yes, Daine's actions were either mass murder or an act of war - and a war crime, at that), daring to tell him he had poisoned his birds, and for being an unstable demigod. I think the latter terrified Ozorne more than anything, and I think it's why he wants so much to kill her.

-In a similar vein, I think he probably had every intention of killing Daine at the end of EM.

-Ozorne knew the simulacrum was a simulacrum. (This is a man who a) habitually makes them himself and b) knew Numair intimately, whether or not they were lovers. Numair could fool Tristan, who didn't really know him, but not Ozorne.) It's why he didn't kill Daine immediately; she was meant to be his backup bait when Numair inevitably tricked his way out of his execution.

-Ozorne has divine blood. (I admit, this is totally crackish.) Also, along those lines, there are deified rulers in the Tortall pantheon, and so Ozorne's cult of the emperor thing was not as loony as it would be to us. This one has absolutely no canon evidence at all, but it's fun, and Pierce cribs so much from real mythology that I don't mind doing the same for my own purposes. :)

-When I am not playing around with the idea of the old Thanic Empire as rooted in Maren, I tend to go with the notion that it was old Carthak, and that there was a transliteration error, typo, or misreading (Thak-->Than just needs to lose the uprights on the k, if they use something akin to the Latin alphabet). This gives Ozorne the added benefit of reconquering lands he might consider rightly his - especially if the people who overthrew the Thanic/Thakic Empire were the same people who founded Tortall from its ruins.

I think ultimately what really draws me to Ozorne is that he's really the only human villain Pierce has - Roger is a cartoon, and I honestly don't remember DotL well enough to speak of its villains, except that I was left feeling really skeeved out by everything in that duology. All of Pierce's villains have really opaque motivations - except Ozorne. It is so ridiculously easy to see his side of things - and in a way that doesn't require him to be insane or stupid - that it makes Pierce's usual OTT characterization even more jarring.

Ozorne is what a pre-death Roger crowned king would have been, except Ozorne actually understands what he's doing, and is far colder than Roger ever was. There's a sort of necessary edge of ruthlessness to Ozorne, and I love it.

***

My Ozorne Fics
Canon compliant:
Traitors and Monsters - Ozorne and Numair, before.
Love Consumes All Things - Ozorne has ever only had one great love in his life.

What A Flicker Brings AU:
Bitterness - Thom does not like Carthak.
Unlucky - (spoils an in-progress fic) This is not how he thought he'd die.

Not not canon, but I do consider it AU:
Red and Yellow - Jon really should've known better than to send Alanna to Carthak.

Iron King AU:
The Bird Empress - Fazia finds a strange stone.

Making the Best of Things AU:
Some People - Ten people never intimidated by Thom, and one person who should've been.
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Why the Tortall stories aren't as feminist as Pierce thinks they are.

Broken Aesops from Tortall )

There will be more, if I can ever stand to think about this again.
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Like classism, racism is something Pierce thinks she handles well, and utterly fails at. Let me count the ways.

Racism ho! )

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The more I read these books critically, the more skeeved by the blatant racism I am.
zodiacal_light: That is not dead which can eternal lie; and with strange aeons even death may die. (even death may die)
Apparently I forgot to post this earlier. Huh.

***

Kings must sometimes be ruthless, and Roald was no exception to that.

There were plenty of people ready and willing to do the dirty work a kingdom sometimes demanded. Plenty of people for whom honor was found in doing what was necessary, or to whom honor was a foreign concept entirely.

Roald wondered, sometimes, which category Alan fell into.

He suspected it was some unstable mix of both. But that was Alan for you - he had never quite connected with reality in the same way others did.

Yes, a king had his pick of loyal, if disturbing, folk ready and willing to do his dirty work, but they usually worked in the shadows and kept their dark deeds hidden from polite society.

What made Alan all the more terrifying was that he didn't. Roald suspected he honestly didn't see why he might want to keep his work a secret.

But Alan had a standing royal pardon, and no one was quite so suicidal as to challenge him - or try to eliminate him in other ways.

And Alan's mother was long dead, and his father had taken one long look in his mad son's eyes and turned willfully deaf to all whispers of his dealings, and his sister had finally been declared a traitor to Tortall and exiled, and his brother was about the only person in the realm more terrifying than Alan himself - though at least Thom was sane, and would, if provoked to it, only incinerate you.

Roald shook his head. His thoughts always headed in a predictable direction when he walked the path to this room, and he didn't entirely appreciate it. He pressed one hand to the hidden lock and opened it with a whisper of his magic.

"I heard that you were back," he said coolly.

Startled hazel eyes met Roald's blue. "I just got in," Alan said.

Roald nodded. He knew. He kept lookouts posted around the palace grounds, just to know when Alan came and went.

Keeping track of Alan was something of a necessity.

"Were you down in the catacombs again?" Roald didn't need to see Alan's nod.

Alan had, sometime during his page training, taken to haunting the tombs of the old kings, completely disregarding the fact that the whole section was off-limits. He never did trip any of the mage alarms, so it took haMinch and the other masters the better part of two years to figure out where the young man kept vanishing off to.

Sir Padraig had told Roald later, when asked, that when they finally followed Alan down they found him avidly tracing the melted-in swirls of the Gate of Idramm and entirely ignoring his mother's famous sword. When confronted, Alan had simply grinned and shrugged, like any page caught in a misdemeanor, and strolled back out.

He had never, to the best of the training master's knowledge, gone back down to the old tombs for the remainder of his training. But it was in the catacombs that Roald found him, after his Ordeal, and it was to the catacombs that Alan vanished, when his mother was thrown from her horse.

"A rather ignominious death for the great Lioness," Alan had said with a strange not-quite-chuckle when Roald stopped next to him. Alan had promptly turned on his heel and left, face perfectly composed and even cheerful, eyes far too dry and bright with mirth.

And all Roald could think about, later, were the stories of how Alan had nearly killed two fellow pages during training with a smile on his face, and how Alan laughed as his fingers briefly danced along the blade of his mother's sword.

Roald wondered, even later, how his father could be so taken by surprise when he had supposedly seen his own death. Alan, gently wiping his knife clean, accepted Roald's offer of the post of Champion with nothing more than a soft smile, perfectly polite.

It was a dangerous move, but this was a dangerous dance.

Roald never asked what, precisely, happened to his father's body. There were many things, with Alan, where it was better not to pry. Because Alan would happily answer, in his usual tactlessly honest way, and there were some things Roald didn't want to know.

"You're very distracted today," Alan breathed, suddenly right in Roald's face.

Roald jerked his wandering thoughts back into focus. This was a dangerous dance.

"I was thinking."

"You do that too much," Alan whispered. "Do you know why we laugh, at the little sword?"

The non-sequitur was typical Alan. It was usually best to humor him. "Why?"

Alan grinned roguishly at Roald. "Because it cannot hurt anymore."

Of course not, not while it was -

"And not because it's stuck in the floor now, either," Alan finished. His eyes were too intent on Roald's face.

"Why, then?" Roald asked, refusing to be unnerved.

"Because it is no longer the blade it was."

"Except for three inches by the hilt," Roald reminded him.

Alan spun away, and Roald left. This, too, was part of the dance. The steps, of course, were always new, and always old.

Years later, when Thom finally broke down and begged him, Roald would leave Alan's corpse cooling on the floor of his hidden room, those untainted three inches driven straight into his heart from behind, and would order the stones of the Black City overturned, broken open, and scorched entirely with the hottest fire possible. And there, under some of the pillars, they would find piles of bones, gnawed clean.

And Roald would scuff out the strangely-untouched marks of a small man's hands, where he had dug beneath the mad black stones.

There is always one more Ysandir.
zodiacal_light: AU: Because everything's better with zombies. (AU)
Daine is very much not sure what to make of Tortall. It's better than Galla, so far, but that's not saying much, and is probably unfair; the folks in Cria hadn't hunted her like a dog, either. Maybe that was just a Snowsdale problem.

Or maybe it was just what people did, to folks who ran mad with wolves. Maybe she really was no better than an animal, and dangerous like an animal, and should be put down like an animal. (She tries her damndest to bury the image, but in the back of her mind she's remembering the bandits, and how the wolves wouldn't have gone after them without her urging them on. She shivers, and the image sinks away.)

As they approach Corus, Daine slants a look at Onua, wondering how long it will take for the madness to rise up again.

***

It is NOT madness. For the last time, Daine…

Daine clutches the badger's claw that hangs from her neck and eyes the badger himself suspiciously. "I ran with the wolves," she says, much more calmly than she would have had she been awake. "Cloud had to bite me to make me remember I was human."

The badger sighs gustily. You lost yourself in your magic. You lost track of who you were. That doesn't have to happen next time.

"It's not that easy to keep track of myself, then!" It still isn't a shout, but it's closer to one than she's ever managed in this muted inner space. "And I don't have magic anyway."

The badger cuffs her. Daine. For the last time. You DO have magic, you just don't have the Gift. Your magic is with us, the animals; you can listen and hear us, talk so we can understand, heal us even when we're on the brink of death. It's what I've been trying to get you to DO, these last few weeks.

Daine scowls. The badger, unperturbed, swats her again.

As for your so-called madness, are you the strong-willed girl who walked halfway across Galla during spring thaw for a better life, or are you a mouse?

"There's nothing wrong with mice!" Daine squeals, outraged, and wakes to the bemused agreement of one of the barn cats.

***

When Onua offered to keep Daine on, Daine was overjoyed. That was exactly the kind of job she'd hoped for, when daydreaming on the road.

The reality of the job is different than she'd hoped. Oh, most of it is fine; Daine gets on well with all the ponies, and has developed her own bellow, and most of the Rider trainees have learned to mind her.

But on the ride to the summer training site, griffins swoop overhead and when Daine screams, outraged, when no one will listen to her - the horses do.

So do the griffins.

The trainees, Buri, Onua, Sarge, Sir Alanna, and the Queen all stare at Daine as she translates what the animals are saying to her. She is blushing hard; so much for her secret.

Finally, Thayet moves to stand in front of Daine. "You had best learn control, mistress," she says, dark eyes hard.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Onua says, cutting the Queen off before she can scold Daine further.

This softly-spoken question stings more than the Queen's hard eyes do. "I didn't know how. I wasn't even sure I really had magic, until now."

Alanna claps Daine on the shoulder. "That's okay," she says, steering the girl back towards the wagon. "You know now, and even if it isn't normal magic, the basics of training it should still be the same."

Hesitantly, Daine smiles.

***

Daine has never been in a real battle before. The Stormwings before don't count; they were just nuisances, more like eerie bandits than a real battle.

But Pirate's Swoop is under attack by the Carthaki navy, Sir Alanna is gone to fight some ogres at another fief, and a weird fog has rolled in, draining off the Gifts of all the healers and warriors they had left.

The keep's holding out, but it won't forever, not under the onslaught of catapults and blazebalm and sundry immortals, and Daine for the first time since coming south wants to go home.

The animals are all clamoring in her head, and suddenly, something slips deep inside Daine, and she loses herself inside her magic for the first time since the wolves.

The animals, enraged, turn on any enemy they can, drawing on Daine's magic and her mind. The soldiers ringing the Swoop break and run, but they cannot escape the unnatural assault, and even their own horses turn on them, killing and disabling most of the ground troops.

Reinforcements arrive in the form of Sir Alanna and the King's Own, and a bored kraken.

***

The Ninth Rider Group vanished near Dunlath half a year past. Two months past, twenty soldiers also disappeared in the vicinity. Now, finally, the king sends someone to investigate.

Sir Alanna is possibly not the best person for the job, but she is bored and is also the only one willing to put up with Daine, who is going to Long Lake whether or not anyone else wants her to. The wolves came south, far out of their territory, to seek out her help, and she will not disappoint them.

It doesn't take the two of them long to find the craters filled with the charred remnants of the missing Riders.

It also doesn't take them long to get thrown out of Dunlath by an angry Lady Yolane.

"Hmpf," Alanna says, hustling Daine up a game trail towards the edge of the valley. "I will say, though, that that's the most polite booting-out I've ever received." She grins impishly at Daine's incredulous look.

Alanna crosses out of Dunlath, resettling her sword. She turns back to Daine, who has stopped dead. "Girl, come on. You won't be able to help your wolves alone. We have to call up Raoul."

Daine bites her lip and looks over at the pack.

Alanna reaches a hand back impatiently. "Remember you're human, Daine," she says quietly. "We have to deal with them using human methods."

Daine nods, and steps forward, and slams into empty air.

Alanna's hand shoots out and hits solid nothingness, and Daine can see her straining. Faint multicolored sparks - yellow, pink, brown, orange, red, black - flare to life when Alanna probes the invisible wall with her Gift.

"There's nothing for it," Alanna mutters. She looks at Daine. "Stay here, and stay hidden, and stay safe. I'm going to the City of the Gods for mages; we'll have this down in a week."

Daine nods, and rejoins the pack.

***

The week goes by rather crazily. Lady Maura runs away and joins Daine in her cave - not entirely willingly, but Daine is not about to let the girl get into trouble, and Maura won't go back and can't leave the valley anymore than Daine can. Some monster tries to track down and kill the wolves when they decide to get creative and start stealing tools; Daine manages, barely, to use her magic on the monstrous beast and redirect its focus onto the battle mages down at the castle.

It irks Daine greatly that she can't persuade the creature to stop hunting the thieves. Tampering with its mind, which is what redirecting that focus amounted to, doesn't sit well with her. When an inhuman shriek echoes through the mountains, followed closely by an explosion, Daine feels even worse.

The week doesn't end on a better note. Alanna does come back, along with the Own and the promised mages, but they are not enough to crack the barrier.

Daine, shakily, volunteers to sneak into the castle and destroy the barrier's anchor. Maura describes for her where the mages' workshop is, then trots off to go "cause a distraction."

***

Maura's distraction is quite effective, and quite explosive. Everyone's direction focuses outward; Daine, using her newly-mastered ability, scampers up to the turret workshop as one of the castle cats.

She scampers straight into another of the monsters.

Daine has never really tried to use her magic while in a different form; somehow, she doesn't expect it to work. It works fine, though it takes just as much effort to manipulate this monster as it took to manipulate the last one, and soon the beast is thumping off down the stairs to hunt down one of the mages, convinced he is a thief.

The monster makes it to the bottom of the stairs just as Daine makes it to the workshop door. The door, to Daine's great surprise, is not only unlocked but ajar.

The monster sticks its head out into the hallway just as Daine turns back to human and shoulders the door open.

An explosion blows the monster's head off. Daine freezes.

Footsteps start up the staircase. Daine is suddenly thankful it's curved; whoever it is can't see her yet.

She scrambles inside and locks the door behind her. Quickly, she runs over to the crude model of Dunlath on the far table, skirting cautiously around the evil-looking brew bubbling by the window.

Daine hurriedly surveys the model. A dome of black fire glittering with sparks of other Gifts is clearly anchored into two jewels. Looking around, she sees a heavy butcher's knife; she strikes one gem with the tough handle right as the footsteps reach the workroom door.

"I could have sworn I warded this," comes a man's warm voice. The knob jiggles.

The small magical wall is still there, though it looks weaker. Of course both gems have to be smashed, Daine thinks frantically.

Her eyes fall on the bubbling pot. She's seen enough over the last week to know it's far more dangerous than the wall; she has no time to take care of both, but in a split second, Daine decides to gamble on the wall being weakened enough already.

She pushes the pot over right as the lock clicks. She is up on the window ledge by the time the door swings open, and she is already blurring into golden eagle form when the dark eyes register her presence and widen in shock.

***

It's almost anticlimactic. Alanna manages to take down the broken wall all by herself; the stress of anchoring the whole wall means the anchor can't hold up to extra strain. Yolane, Belden, the mercenaries, and the mages are rounded up without much fuss; the only fuss, really, is Tristan Staghorn, self-proclaimed head of the mission, who tries to blast the whole group of the Own.

Alanna, Daine thinks, looks a bit too gleeful when she skewers that pompous ass.

"I blew up a granary," Maura says when Daine asks, and Daine is so distracted by this answer that she doesn't notice the weird-looking hawk until it is well past them, out of the range of a bow.

Daine gapes, then whirls to stare at the captured mages.

Sir Raoul notices her look. "What?" he asks, shifting to grip his sword.

"Where's that other mage?"

***

It is strange to be back at the Rider barracks after the month she's had. It's autumn; the trainees are now assigned to groups, and there's a lull while the teachers all catch up on their other work before active recruitment starts again.

Daine is irritated with herself. This is the life she wants, the life she dreamed of even before the bandits, working with horses, valued for her expertise.

She is so bored.

She also can't stop thinking about Carthak - Carthak that sent war barges to assault Tortall, Carthak that unleashed the immortals on Tortall, Carthak that tried to foment rebellion and undermine Tortall from within.

Daine loves her adopted homeland, and each day she broods on this, she grows angrier and angrier.

It doesn't help that she still feels guilty, for letting that mage get away. Who knows what kind of information Carthak has now?

"Daine?" Onua calls, eyes worried.

Daine turns.

"The Queen wants to talk to you," Onua says.

Anything would be better than brooding more. Daine puts down her brush and follows her friend.

***

It's been a year since Dunlath, and though Daine knows, having been somewhat involved in the preparations, just how long it takes to prepare an embassy to Carthak, it still feels like too long.

I want to see this Ozorne for myself, Daine thinks. I want to see this self-important vulture who preys on my home.

The last person she is expecting to see is waiting on the imperial galley, standing just apart from the other mages.

Daine can't quite repress the hiss that escapes her when she sees the missing mage from Dunlath, standing there cool as you please behind the prince, dark eyes glittering with amusement as he takes in the expressions on Daine and Alanna's faces.

"Welcome to Carthak," he says pleasantly enough, when he's (re)introduced to the Tortallans. His eyes linger a moment on Daine's. "You are the one with wild magic," he says, and it is not a question, though no one had mentioned her magic during her introduction. "We should talk later," he adds, moving back slightly at a soft cough from the herald.

Daine's mind reels. To her surprise, she notices the prince is looking at her intently; when he catches her gaze, his eyes flick in an unmistakable warning towards the black-robed mage, who is studiously pretending not to notice. Daine gives him an almost imperceptible nod, and Kaddar turns his attention back to the proceedings.

Arram Draper, Daine thinks to herself. Yes, we should talk later.

She forcibly keeps from clenching her fist, and tries not to think about the havoc her new borrowed power could wreak.

This is a diplomatic conference, after all.
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Tyrans had this tendency, Ozorne noted, to omit the proper titles of the people they were dealing with. They rarely showed proper deference; if anything, they tended towards defiance.

Stiff-necked, the lot of them. That's what you got, Ozorne supposed, when you overthrew your nobility and turned your country over to merchants - a whole race of people who forgot the proper order of things.

Young Arram had been no different, but with him the typical Tyran attitude was less arrogant defiance and more a bizarrely charming sort of cluelessness. Ozorne had been drawn to the boy immediately, and as Arram progressed rapidly towards mastery and beyond, Ozorne knew he'd been right to befriend him.

Ozorne always did have a natural knack for making useful friends.

But Ozorne was somewhat surprised one day, when he looked at his younger friend and realized that the distracted sixteen-year-old was quite handsome.

(In later years, there would be nothing between them but cold bitterness and hot anger. Arram would leave behind his name, his standing, his whole identity abandoned along with his lover, and would die thinking of Ozorne as nothing but a monster. Ozorne would die much sooner, in a body not his, killed by his determination to kill the girl who'd had the arrogance to take everything from him - his palace, his throne, his humanity, and his mage, and he would die with his heart broken, still fervently believing young Arram had betrayed him.)

(But things start somewhere, and betrayals require a relationship to break. Even monsters and traitors are capable of love.)

(Some would say love is a requirement, to be a monster or a traitor.)

(Some would say love itself is the heart betraying the mind.)

Here and now, Ozorne, entranced, gently traces Arram's cheekbone.

Arram looks up, startled, and smiles.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
It was not quite a week before the start of Midwinter festivities when Neal's lovely knight-mistress kicked open his door.

"Up and at 'em, Queenscove," Alanna ordered. "Let's get a move on."

Neal blinked blearily. "Why?"

Alanna's brows snapped together in a terrifyingly familiar glower.

Neal, frantically, threw up his hands. "I just meant, I thought you said you were going to stay here for Midwinter."

Alanna's face smoothed out. "We are. We're just going into Corus. Now come on, Neal. I'll meet you at the stables."

An hour or so later, they pulled up in the courtyard of a very nice townhouse. The door swung open as Alanna dismounted, and an elegant lady Neal recognized as Baroness Eleni walked forward to embrace her daughter-in-law.

"Alanna, you look well," Eleni said. "And this must be your squire."

Neal dismounted and bowed. "Nealan of Queenscove, my lady, but please, call me Neal." He flashed her his most charming smile. Next to him, Alanna snorted.

"So like your father," Eleni said.

Neal … didn't really want to think about that too hard. Alanna, fortunately, came to his rescue.

"Are the children here?"

"MA!" came a bellow from inside the townhouse; too much experience with a little sister caused Neal to duck aside out of the path of not one but two hyperactive blonds who came flying out the door towards Alanna.

Alanna wrapped her twins in a hug, the biggest smile Neal had ever seen on her face. "Aly. Alan. You've been behaving, I hope?"

The two eleven-year-olds nodded. Their grandmother, behind them, smiled and nodded as well at Alanna's glance.

"Good," the Lioness said, clapping each twin on a shoulder. "Where's your brother hiding?"

Aly eyed her twin, who shrugged. "In the library, I think," she said.

"I don't think so," Neal said softly. Alanna looked at him, and he nodded at the open door, where a shy, gawky redhead was peeking around the doorframe.

"Thom," Alanna said. "Come here."

The boy ducked back behind the wall with a nervous glance in Neal's direction. Alanna sighed, exasperated.

"That's Squire Nealan. I wrote to you all back in June that I was taking a squire."

Thom muttered something inaudible. Aly giggled, then subsided at a glare from her mother.

"You know Duke Baird. This is his son."

"My lady?" Neal asked softly. "May I?" At Alanna's questioning frown, he tipped his head at the door.

Alanna's frown cleared. "Don't upset him, okay? I don't want him holing up in his room again."

Neal nodded and, with an apologetic bow to Lady Eleni, walked inside the house.

Thom, taken completely by surprise, squeaked. He stared up at Neal with wide greenish eyes that must have come from his father. Neal, undeterred, bowed.

"My name is Neal," he said. "Your mother talks a lot about you."

"She does?" Thom whispered. He startled as if remembering himself, then bowed. "I'm Thom. Those are Alan and Aly. Don't mind them too much."

Neal grinned. "I won't. I have a little sister."

Thom looked dubious. "There's two of them," he pointed out. "And Ma always says Aly's as bad as three people."

An outraged squawk came from outside.

"That's okay, then. Father always said Jessa was as bad as any four."

Thom ducked his head, but not before Neal saw his shy grin.

"Your mother says you've applied to the University," Neal said. Thom glanced up at him. Neal grinned. "Did you know that I went there for a while?"

"You did?"

"Yup."

Thom, shyly, reached out to grip Neal's hand. "Can you… Can you tell me a bit about it?"

Neal squeezed his hand. "Let's let your ma inside, first." He looked back over his shoulder at his knight-mistress. "We don't want to make her grumpy."

"Ma's always grumpy," Alan grumbled. Alanna mock-glared at her youngest.

"Well done," she whispered as she moved past Neal.

It was later, after dinner, when Eleni shooed her grandchildren into the kitchen and Sir Myles had moved into the lounge, that Alanna took Neal aside.

"This is my Midwinter tradition," she explained. "I'm away from the Swoop a lot, and I usually have to be at the palace for the Midwinter festivities themselves. You've been to them; they're not exactly the place for rambunctious children."

"No," Neal murmured, remembering how many mishaps there had been with nothing but sedate adults.

"And, well." Alanna fidgeted uncomfortably. "You've met Thom."

"He's going to have an interesting time of it at University," Neal said. He remembered what his classmates had been like; he doubted Thom's yearmates would be any less boisterous.

Alanna squeezed his arm. "Talk to him? Later?" she asked, worry in her eyes.

Neal bowed. "Of course, my lady."

Alanna swatted him, relieved. "Enough of that."

"Ma! You're supposed to be in the lounge!" Aly hollered, outraged.

Laughing, Alanna dragged Neal down the hall. Neal resisted.

"I can go upstairs," he said at her look.

Alanna snorted. "Don't be ridiculous, Queenscove. I didn't drag you down here just to let you hole up like Thom."

"But-"

"You're my squire, now. That makes you honorary family." She shoved him into a chair. Myles covered a laugh with a cough.

Neal accepted a sugared Midwinter bun from a shy Thom and smiled. He'd always wanted a large family.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (humor)
When the imperious Duchess of Naxen was on the warpath, everyone got out of her way.

Roanna stopped by a page, who was quaking in his boots, and asked, "Have you seen my husband, by chance?" She gave the page a gentle smile. He shook harder. Nervous young things, these pages, she thought.

"Um, your grace, his grace is, um…" The page gave her an awkward bow and flapped his arm in the direction of the hallway.

Roanna's eyes narrowed. "He's hiding in his office, isn't he?"

The page frantically nodded.

"Ah." She gave the boy a couple coppers for his trouble, and he skittered off nervously.

She might have to have a talk with haMinch. These pages really were far too skittish.

Later, though. First she had a husband to accost.

"Gareth!" she snapped as she slammed open the door to his office.

Her husband jumped, upsetting his ink bottle. "What?" he snapped in reply, trying frantically to mop up the mess.

"It's Midwinter, and where do I find you?" Roanna tapped the doorframe. Gareth tried not to flinch. "Locked in your office going over-" she flipped an un-ink-soaked page upside down "-grain reports. In case you haven't noticed, dearest, you're not prime minister anymore."

"If I were locked in my office, you wouldn't have been able to get in, would you?" Gareth muttered.

"Don't be cheeky, Gareth; of course I could have." Roanna smiled. "Not everything they teach at convent is utterly useless."

Gareth mumbled something undoubtedly uncomplimentary under his breath, then glared at his wife. Roanna, unrepentant, grinned down at him and spun, dramatically throwing her arms wide.

"It's Midwinter. The season of love, and joy, and family. So tell me, husband dear, why you are hiding in your office?" She threw her head back, dramatically, and caught sight of a bit of greenery on the ceiling.

Gareth chuckled. "I wondered when you'd notice that," he said, limping around the desk. He tugged his wife's chin down, and laughed again; Roanna was gaping at him in an entirely unladylike manner.

"It's not easy to surprise you, you know," he breathed, leaning closer.

Roanna stared at him, stared back at the mistletoe, stared at him again, and then laughed just like she had as a young girl fresh from convent.

"You silly man," she said, and yanked her husband the last short distance forward for a kiss.

The season of love and joy, indeed.
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
What broke Tortall.

There's a sharp difference between SotL and later Tortall. SotL is often treated like the kink in the works, like it is what messes up canon and forces Pierce to come up with really bizarre deuterocanon that doesn't work with her own texts, but I have a problem with that view. SotL came first. Later canon should have to fit with it, not the other way 'round.

SotL had a Tortall that had a completely different culture than later Tortall, in ways that it is implausible to postulate cultural evolution in such a short time span. SotL, to my brain, had the more interesting world, a culture that didn't map to any one of our times, and that had some interesting things of its own. There seems to be no trace of slut-shaming in SotL, for example; the closest we come is Coram being mildly worried in LR after he runs into Liam and Liam remarking that no one would talk around her anyway, she's too good with a sword. For all that it would be an easy charge to make against Delia, or an expected one to make against Alanna, it never happens.

We're also shown things like a militant Goddess cult that is still not powerful enough to prevent women from having their futures decided by their fathers, and so on.

All this gets broken by later canon or deuterocanon.

It all gets broken, basically, because Pierce wants to write stories set in a world culturally much more like ours, with sexism that follows the exact same patterns ours does, and heterosexism that follows the exact same patterns ours does, and so on. And then she also decides, at the same time, to go run with the Goddess cult to the breaking point, and simultaneously postulates a world where women have a ton of rights, including the right to determine fully their own partners and even jobs.

Um.

The Goddess cult thing is just insanely ridiculous, and reads, actually, like it would fit better over in Emelan.

As for the other way, the major way, Pierce starts shattering her own canon, it really starts to seem after a while like Pierce wanted to write thinly-veiled versions of our world with a fantasy pseudomedieval gloss. Suddenly, we have to have US-style progressives and conservatives, both of whom are bang-on caricatures of progressive views of US political sides. Suddenly, we have to have a world that criticizes slut-shaming not subtly, by just not having a culture that does it, but directly, by having modern slut-shaming show up as an issue. Suddenly, we have to have awkward talks on the sleeping-with-the-boss issue. In SotL, only a certifiably insane person thought of bringing that up at all, and it's treated there like a line of attack wholly unheard of.

It almost feels - hell, forget the almost - like Pierce has systematically stripped out all the interesting bits of Tortallan culture, to make it more and more "medieval" and more and more a platform for addressing some checklist of "real-world scenarios". Hell, she even does that with the magic, taking away all the interesting unexplained bits and hammering out an unconvincing explanation for them all (oh, they're all just wild magics. humdrum stuff) and then going more and more into Standard Fantasy Territory, complete with crazy fantasy names that read like a virus-addled spellchecker autocorrected her work.

PotS is still my comfort reading, and WM sometimes is, but those feel like a completely different world from SotL, which has finally become, or perhaps always really was, my favorite Tortall series overall. I can see why Pierce wanted to tell PotS especially in the Tortall world as a contrast to SotL, but she should have kept to the damn canon she herself as created. Hell, she should have stepped off her damn soapbox before writing anything after SotL.

I do love Tortall, though I often wonder why after posts like this. I will continue buying and reading her books unless everything turns into a DotL-style scramble. But more and more, I have to separate the Tortall of TIQ/PotS/DotL and the deuterocanon from the Tortall of SotL, because more and more they are becoming just flat irreconcilable.

I really, really wish Pierce had either kept to her own canon and written different books, or set everything post-SotL in its own damn world. Or, hell, a hundred years or so in the future.
zodiacal_light: Pray to all space that you may never meet me in my thousand other forms... (nyarlathotep)
For all that Pierce tries to tackle sexism and racism, and even, lately, attempts to tackle heterosexism, she never really seems to tackle classism much at all.

Read more... )
zodiacal_light: I will tell the audient void... [fractal] (the audient void)
Since I really, really don't want to get tangled in an argument there, I will post my thoughts here. EDIT: Grar, ok, fine, I'm posting there. This whole issue annoys me too much for me to leave it be. *has no self-control, sigh*

Someone just posted that it's not just all girls (aside from very minor characters) who fight, but all the men, too.

First, we have a few more prominent examples of men who don't fight (though again, we don't know they can't). I'm thinking here largely of Duke Baird, and we get a whole slew of background men in the form of the Mithrans. Hell, there's Thom, too. I'd bet that on the whole we get more male background characters who don't fight but are good than background female characters who don't at least want to. Part of that's because of the fact that these books - even the ones that aren't about female knights, for some reason - tend to be set in a "man's world". Which, incidentally, is something I despise, especially when there's no reason for it (like in the Daine books).

Second, it doesn't change the fact that these books are girl-centric, and sending the message to people that girls are only worthwhile if they fight is still a problem; if it's true that all the guys are also only worthwhile if they fight (which it isn't), that message is still a problem, just a bigger one.

You know the only good female characters who don't fight and aren't condescended to that I can think of? Tian, Adalia, and Oranie. Adalia and Oranie show up in one scene; we don't see Tian much more often. (I don't count Kara and Kourrem because the book is explicit that being a Bazhir shaman means you do fight, even though we never to my knowledge see them fighting. Varice and Sarra don't count because the text is very condescending towards them both; Maura is arguably either a character who does fight, or falls into the same category as Varice and Sarra.)

Compare that to the good men who don't fight: Duke Baird. A whole slew of Mithran masters. Si-cham. Arguably, Thom. I won't, out of fairness, count any man who's been knighted, even if they seem to be averse to fighting, so I won't count King Roald or Myles.

Bottom line: it doesn't even compare. Pierce seems to feel far more free, in Tortall, to create peace-loving or non-fighting men than peace-loving, non-fighting women. Any woman who's on the side of good and non-fighting is explicitly treated in a condescending manner, in a way that no non-fighting man is. (Edit: Aside from King Roald, who is treated like an idiot because he explicitly tries for peace. Which just feeds into the whole nasty "fighting is awesome!" subtext that I'm really starting to loathe.)

...There's something deeply wrong, there. As far as I'm concerned, it's still sexist if you say that the only way for women to be worthwhile is to know how to fight. It's not empowering at all, just a new twist on the same old "women must be THIS way, but men have choices" crap.

If Pierce were doing that deliberately, to build up some subtle statement on such sexism, I would be thrilled. Unfortunately, given how the text reads and how her comments read, I doubt very much that's the case.

ETA: It occurred to me, belatedly, that we also have the interesting case of Neal, who had a different and noncombatant career path before switching to knighthood. And he is the only fighter in the series whose decision to fight is legitimately questioned, who is treated as if doing something other than fighting would be just as legitimate a choice.

And he's, well, male. We never get that grace for a woman in the series - the message for women is "fight, or we'll make you, or you're not worthwhile".

You can contrast him a bit with Lalasa, actually; Lalasa, in a series of cringeworthy scenes that I never reread, is forced to learn to fight, even though she doesn't want to, and when she does learn and starts teaching others, this is treated like how things should be and the text explicitly starts portraying Lalasa as a strong, worthwhile person, as opposed to the caricatured meekness we first meet.

Neal, on the other hand, also initially didn't want to fight, and changed his mind and learned to do so. But he is treated as if he would have been just as worthy a person as a healer, whereas Lalasa is very clearly shown to be not really a worthwhile person until she can fight.

Lalasa also bothers me because here we get another warped aesop, that shows up in more minor ways with Daine and Maura and Kel's ... aunt? I think? - If you're a woman and don't fight, circumstances will conspire to make you, or you will be victims of circumstance.

With men, the message is: you can fight, or not, as you will. Go for it.

That is wrong. I can't even express how repugnant I find that. It's like rape "advice" that tells women they must be scared and know martial arts and carry pepper spray and a gun.

I think I would only ever recommend the Tortall books to people with a good head on their shoulders and a good grasp of such issues. That saddens me - I do like these books - but I have serious moral issues with them that are only becoming clearer the more I poke at the books.
zodiacal_light: In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu lies dreaming... (cthulhu)
*sigh*

Why do people act like King Roald is an idiot? People over on glake are so derisive of him for being a peacemaker - what, that's a bad thing? Silly me, here I thought things like peace and diplomacy were good.

It's bad enough the text is incredibly condescending towards him for being a peacemaker and not a warmonger. Am I the only one who thinks he probably had to be, after Jasson's wars of expansion?

...I kinda want to do an AU now where King Roald continues Jasson's policies, and ends up tearing Tortall apart, but I don't think I could do it justice and I'm not sure I have much interesting to say.

I think the recent threads on glake have convinced me to give up on it once and for all. I'll probably pop in to see the new prompts, but the sheer idiocy over there recently is astounding. I thought better of that place, but at least I'll spare my blood pressure. I shouldn't have commented today, but I am, apparently, constitutionally incapable of not replying to utter morons.

But back to Roald. There are only two things he does that could be construed as stupid - his presumed suicide, and his not letting the pages study magic sooner, and in both cases we don't know what's going on there. We don't know for sure Roald did commit suicide - only that he'd missed a jump he'd made before, and Jon thought he'd killed himself. On the magic - we don't know his reasoning, or if it was even at Roald's direction that magic wasn't taught to pages. It could have been longstanding policy. It could have been at the discretion of the training master, in which case it would have been on Gareth's shoulders. We don't know, and so I'm not willing to call a man stupid over ... one debatably bad policy. Concerning pages.

But what really pisses me off is that neither of those examples are why people on glake have decided Roald is stupid. They've decided he's stupid because he's a peacemaker.

Am I the only person who thinks that's fucked up?
zodiacal_light: In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu lies dreaming... (cthulhu)
You know one of the argument techniques that drives me nuts? When you make an argument - Good women in Tortall fight, say - and someone throws out a minor character who doesn't (that we see, anyway), and declares that this makes your argument invalid.

Um.

Look. When I'm arguing a trend exists, pointing to very minor characters as exceptions to the trend doesn't mean the trend doesn't exist. If anything, it proves my point, when the only characters you can find that don't fit the trend I mentioned are incredibly minor - or when you have to twist facts to have examples.

Also, I am really wishing people on glake would verify their facts before spouting off at the mouth. Uline does like to fight, folks, she's one of the Queen's Ladies.

For the record, the following characters do fight (or are known to) in canon: Eleni, Winna, Nuritin, Sarai, Dove, Lalasa, Uline, Maura, the refugees. Varice and Sarra are not exceptions to the trend, because the text is explicitly condescending to both of them. Kara and Kourrem are implied to fight later, because one of the specific jobs of a Bazhir shaman is to fight off attacking mages - this is specifically stated in the text, though admittedly, since we never see Kara and Kourrem as shamans on their own, I don't think we ever see them fight. But, incidentally, the way their magics are described, we know damn well they both can.

ETA: [personal profile] carmarthen has just reminded me that Kara and Kourrem help Alanna fight off the hillmen. So no, they're not exceptions to the trend, and no, you can't argue that they only do it under duress, given that this is a recognized part of their job.

Characters who are too minor to really buck the trend: Adalia and Oranie.

If I have to explain this again, I am going to blow a gasket.
zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
I am becoming more and more convinced that by Alanna's time, it's not that it's illegal for girls to be knights, it's that cultural pressure is against it, so there hasn't been one for 'round about a century.

This would neatly solve one of the most inexplicable things of SotL, for me - why Roald lets her keep her shield.

I don't buy that he can't take it away because she passed her Ordeal; there pretty much has to be a mechanism for removing knights who are unfit for duty - and unfit for not upholding the moral standards, or for disobedience that doesn't rise to death-penalty levels, or so on. And frankly, Alanna lying about her identity for her training should have been enough to kick her out over; I still suspect the reason that was allowed to slide was that Jon knew.

But if it's actually illegal for a girl to be a knight, Roald wouldn't have had a choice.

(As a corollary, this basically means that it was technically legal for Alanna to have gone openly for her shield, too, though I do doubt that she would have been allowed to. Oooh, yet another AU idea...)

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zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
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