Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter 7 – The Black City

In the seventh and final chapter of Alanna, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. HOW. WHAT. WHERE. WHY. H E L P. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Alanna.

seven: The Black City

Oh god, I am so glad there are three more books in this series because THIS WAS CERTAINLY NOT ENOUGH TO SATIATE MY DESIRE. There is so much here that Pierce sets up for the coming books, yet I’m still immensely satisfied with what Alanna has given me. Truly, Alanna’s journey to the Black City is her first real adventure, AND WHAT AN ADVENTURE THIS IS. You know, I thought I had this all figured out. Of course Jonathan would go to the Black City, and of course Alanna would somehow end up going with him, and then THIS IS NOT AT ALL WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE.

Let me just first say that I’m not terribly pleased that the Bazhir follow the same trope I see so often in fantasy that it’s one of the reasons I was turned off by the genre in the first place. It’s so common in fantasy novels that the protagonists are white and the “other” culture that lives in the desert/forest/across the sea/on another planet are almost always brown people. At the same time, I want to be best friends with Ali Mukhtab, and I demand that Tamora Pierce make him appear in every book I have ever read. Okay, I’m being ridiculous, but while Pierce does use this trope, I’m also super pleased by her treatment of Ali. He’s sympathetic, he’s given a pretty full characterization, and his dynamic with Alanna is just awesome. More Ali?

The thing is, this is the first book of eighteen in this universe, and it was also written a bazillion years ago (making me a bazillion years old), and while I do side-eye using people of color in this role, I have no clue if this gets better. I mean, Pierce in ’83 seemed pretty damn genre savvy if you ask me. Anyway, is it enough to ruin or taint the book for me? Nope, not at all. But that’s my personal taste. I dislike one element of it, and even though I’m quite brown myself, it’s just something that irks me. Plus, everything that comes after Ali’s scenes? JESUS, YES, RAIN THIS PERFECTION DOWN ON ME.

Anyway, Ali and Alanna’s conversation about the Bazhir might be my favorite part of this whole book. Alanna has this thirst for knowledge, but it was established at this point that she doesn’t get people. She’s much better at being physical, violent, and crafty, but human nature and human interaction confuses her. Ali notices how blunt she is about her ignorance, but I think he respects the fact that she is straight-up about that lack of knowledge. She doesn’t feign superiority. She admits she is confused or foolish, and she desires ways to fix that. Like… okay, that is seriously a damn admirable quality, at least to me. I respect someone who admits being ignorant about something and wanting to learn!

And then this:

“In fact, if you and your friends can leave discreetly, I will show you all something interesting.”

LOL NOPE, THERE IS NO WAY THIS ENDS WELL. This book isn’t exactly subtle, but I knew in heartbeat that this would have to do with the Black City. And I was right! Only it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. Ali leads Alanna and her friends to the Sunset Room, and it’s there that we find out just what’s so terrible about the Black City. The NAMELESS ONES live there! It’s a pretty rad legend about weird demon spirit thingies (I SWEAR I KNOW WORDS) who stole people’s souls, but then the Bazhir REBELLED AGAINST THEM and that’s why the land is a desert. Seriously, let me just state that I love legends or mythology that explains shit like this. It’s so fascinating! In this legend, though, the Nameless Ones apparently steal children and women away, never to be seen again. It got so bad that they would restrain people who tried to get away, and those people STARVE THEMSELVES IN PROTEST. What the fuck are the Nameless Ones??? Oh shit, then Ali says this:

“We have another legend – the Bazhir have many legends – that says one day we will be free of the call of the City. It says two gods, the Night One and the Burning-Brightly One, will go into the City to battle with the immortals there.”

Okay, seriously, that HAS to be Jonathan and Alanna (respectively), right? I MEAN, COME ON, IT’S TOTALLY THEM. Well, I think I was right, but I’ll return to this at the end to discuss the implications of that legend. I also picked up immediately on the reason why Jonathan became so suddenly dismissive of the Bazhir legend. Like Alanna, I knew it was such strange behavior for the prince. AND LO AND BEHOLD, I WAS ACTUALLY PREPARED FOR JONATHAN SNEAKING OUT OF HIS ROOM LATER THAT DAY.

But I won’t lie. From that moment on, I slipped into a realm of YOU ARE NOT PREPARED that I haven’t quite recovered from. As soon as the two stepped into the empty and barren Black City, I felt awful. Were the Bazhir legends true? If not, what other horror was hiding inside the city? Bless Pierce for building dread so simply and effectively. Are the creatures carved into the buildings real? WHERE ARE THE CAT PEOPLE AND HOW CAN I BEFRIEND THEM?

Then the central square came into view and I just started shouting NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. TURN BACK. NO, DO NOT STOP ONTO THE CREEPY POLISHED SURFACE. DO NOT GO TO THAT BUILDING IN THE CENTER. NO, WHY ARE YOU GOING TO GO INSIDE THOSE DOORS WHILE YOUR SWORD IS HUMMING? It was so much to handle all at once!

Okay, that’s the understatement of 2012. I am still so overwhelmed by the last thirty pages or so of this novel. It’s left me feeling emotionally spent. It took me an hour just to start writing this review, and I’m not sure I’m even ready to start understanding what just happened here. So, here’s what I do get:

  • The Nameless Ones had ten manifestations present, split evenly along gender presentation: five men, five women.
  • All their names started with a “y”? That’s pretty cool. And helpful!
  • The Nameless Ones are misnamed! As a whole, they’re the Ysandir, and each of them do have names. HOW UNFORTUNATE.
  • My headcanon: they stole people’s souls because they were pissed that they got stuck with the Nameless Ones.
  • The Ysandir are stuck in the Black City because of the fire curse the Bazhir used.
  • Because Alanna’s sword casts light when she uses it, that makes her the “Burning-Brightly One.” Well, that’s not spelled out in the book, but I feel comfortable stating it!
  • Ylanda disrobes Alanna. I SHRIEKED. I SHRIEKED WHEN THIS HAPPENED. Holy shit, what the HELL.
  • Well, Jonathan knows now. And he clearly has more important things to worry about.
  • Okay, can we just talk about how this entire final battle is basically about sticking together with your best friend and not letting the forces of evil separate you? Those fucking ponies were right. Friendship is magic.
  • HOLY SHIT TWO OF THE YSANDIR DIED WHEN THEY TOUCHED THE WALL OF POWER WHAT THE FUCK THEY AREN’T IMMORTAL WHAT THE FUCK!>!?!?1?!?!/1?!
  • ALANNA JUST KILLED YLIRA. WHAT IS AIR.
  • OH MY GOD JONATHAN, WHAT SPELL DID YOU USE TO DESTROY THE TRIANGLE OF YSANDIR???
  • No, I just love that the first spell “any Naxen learns” is what they use to destroy more Ysandir. IT’S SO SIMPLE.
  • “We are gods and the children of gods,” the woman said. “We were here before your Old Ones, and we laughed when their cities fell.” HAHAHAHA I AM LAUGHING BECAUSE I AM S C A R E D what the fuck are these things?
  • Jonathan conjures the older version of himself again. I seriously understand so little of this, and it’s still so exciting.
  • I don’t know if a film version of this exists. I think it would be better suited to a miniseries, but I would love if one did just to see Alanna attack the remaining Ysandir with Lightning. It is beautifully narrated, powerful, and empowering scene. I adore that she becomes the physical one while Jonathan, the older boy, handles the magic. This is poetry.

So, I think that the Ysandir/Nameless Ones are definitely gone. I was completely taken by surprise when this book ended where it did. It’s clearly part of a series, too, as it ends before the two ever return back to the city. Even just in terms of this most recent adventure, I’m left with a cliffhanger.

But Alanna and Jonathan do get discuss Alanna’s secret. Alanna knows she has no reason to lie anymore, but even after telling the prince everything, she’s still afraid that her secret is going to get her kicked out. However:

“As far as I’m concerned, you earned the right to try for your shield a long time ago.” She heard him moving. “No one will learn your secret from me, Alanna.”

I admit that I teared up a bit when I read this. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from Jonathan, but I was so relieved that Alanna wouldn’t have to worry about lying to the prince anymore. She was so convinced that this act would tarnish her future as a knight that the guilt overwhelmed her at times. But now she doesn’t have to lie to him anymore. Oh god, FRIENDSHIP.

It’s at this point that Pierce does something else to set up the plot for a future book: Jonathan admits that he knows Duke Roger goaded him into going to the Black City. However, he believes it’s because Roger IS HIS FRIEND AND DID IT TO HELP HIM. Oh my god, I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS. There is now a clear conflict for Alanna to deal with in the future. Her twin brother claims Duke Roger is an evil sorcerer, but the prince – the very person Thom is convinced is in the most danger – thinks Duke Roger is the most trustworthy person he knows.

WELL. THIS SHOULD BE FUN.

I am going to take the time to end this post two ways. First, I need to flail in terror because if Alanna is the “Brightly-Burning One,” that means Jonathan is the “Night One.” Okay, what the fuck is that? Is he evil? Does he have some hidden destiny to be dark or something? I DON’T THINK THIS IS A THROWAWAY DETAIL.

Second, I loved this book, full-stop. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it’s one of the best things I’ve had the chance to review for Mark Reads, and I am so happy I agreed to do all the Tortall books. MORE TAMORA PIERCE NOW AND FOREVER. On Friday, I’ll post my predictions for In the Hand of the Goddess, and we’ll start that book bright and early on Tuesday, September 25th. THE PARTY ISN’T STOPPING ANY TIME SOON.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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2 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Alanna’: Chapter 7 – The Black City

  1. EllieMurasaki says:

    Jonathan’s hair is black and Alanna’s red. I think that’s all it is.

  2. Fran says:

    I forgot to mention at the time, when I read this post – did you notice how Geoffrey randomly pops up in Persopolis, even though only the Squires (and Alanna) are meant to be there?!? Classic error.

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