Mark Reads ‘In the Hand of the Goddess’: Chapter 5 – By the River Dell

In the fifth chapter of In the Hand of Goddess, Alanna faces the horrors of war as the Tusaine forces invade the Tortall camp. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read In the Hand of the Goddess.

Chapter Five: By the River Dell

This is just great. It really is, and it’s so exciting that I’ve chosen two series to do simultaneously that I’m enjoying this much. I worried that since I was choosing things I’d never heard, I might run the risk of finally choosing something I didn’t end up liking. BUT THIS BOOK IS REALLY ENTERTAINING AND SATISFYING. Oh my god, Alanna is fighting in her first war AND I AM NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH THE FIRST BOOK. This continued exploration of Alanna’s growth as a knight and a young woman is endlessly fascinating to me. That’s why it’s so easy for me to look beyond the pacing of In the Hand of the Goddess. The story is progressing rapidly, yes, but it is still a really good story.

So what does a world of war mean for Alanna? Well, she’s still a squire, so for a good portion of “By the River Dell,” she doesn’t do all that much to contribute in the battle against the Tusaine. When she’s not assisting Myles or Jonathan, she’s often taking history lessons with Sir Myles. She does, however, make a new friend in Thor, a gigantic foot solider fighting on her side. I swear to you all, I will never get sick of this series’ insistence on friendship. I’m in the midst of the fourth season of Angel on Mark Watches, and everyone is always fighting and arguing and there’s so much drama, so it’s nice that I get a break like this. Plus, Tamora Pierce is showing her readers that you can be friends with people who have absolutely nothing in common with you, who look nothing like you, and who you might unfairly judge if you don’t have an open mind. Who else would have trained with Alanna if she’d not been friendly to Thor?

As soon as Jem Tanner appeared again, all I thought was, “Well, he’s going to ruin everything.” Glad to know I was right.

Anyway, FRIENDSHIP. The end of this chapter is so shocking to read because we just get this tiny glimpse of this wonderful relationship between Thor and Alanna. I enjoy the fact that Pierce does not have an all-out war break out immediately. Truthfully, it’s boredom that leads Alanna to seek out the Chief Healer. It’s not that she isn’t having a good time training under Thor or getting history lessons from Sir Myles. For Alanna, nothing is more unbearable than the wait that she has to endure. Every day, she has no idea if her friends or teachers will return to camp alive. Her job upriver is repetitive, and she feels guilty that she’s not doing more.

I found it striking and noble that the first thing Alanna sought out was a position that would put her to use helping other people. There is nothing gratuitously selfish about what she does with Duke Baird, despite that she has such a visceral reaction to working with the men wounded (and eventually killed) by the war. I think it’s an important moment for Alanna because she can’t deny that death is very much a part of what she does. It’s also typical of her to be so stubborn that she doesn’t even stop healing when it becomes detrimental to her own well-being. She is so predictable in the best way.

I was initially a bit confused by Faithful’s comments about Alanna’s behavior around Jonathan until the second time he brought it up:

If you’re going to fall in love with the prince, don’t show it, the cat advised. Unless you want the whole camp talking about you both.

Before this, I thought, “FAITHFUL, YOU LET ALANNA FEEL HOW SHE LIKES, YOU BIGOT.” But then this line reminded me that everyone thinks Alanna is actually Alan. So that would be an utter disaster, wouldn’t it? Well… I suppose I don’t really know. Is there homophobia in Tortall??? I don’t read any of these characters as queer (despite the very queer behavior of Alanna), so I’m just curious. DON’T TELL ME, OKAY. I am just thinking outloud.

It’s at this point in the story that shit gets real and then keeps getting real. Thor and Jem Tanner are missing from their guard duty, and Faithful and Alanna run into three men in dark clothing who are clearly from Tusaine, and THE ENEMY HAS CROSSED THE RIVER. Again, totally not surprised that Alanna is stubborn enough to volunteer herself for battle. What else would she do? But I wondered exactly how much action she would see. She was a good fighter in general, but all her experiences were far more controlled than what she’d faced in the past. (That is, of course, with the exception of her battle against the Nameless Ones at the end of the last book.) Would she actually have to hurt anyone?

Yeah, I get the answer to this question in one page. Like, literally one page after I thought this, Alanna draws Lightning and goes on the attack. Oh, Alanna, I have so much respect for you. She is reckless. I won’t deny that. But her lack of practicality is all in the service of doing what is right, and this moment is so beautiful to me because her only concern is that she needs to protect her friends.

Swiftly Alanna slid Lightning into the opening between the knight’s arm and chest armor, thrusting deep. With a gasp of surprise, her enemy fell from his horse, dead.

WHAT. WHAT. She just killed someone??? Oh my god, the worst part is that Pierce gives her absolutely no time to think about what she’s done. She is in the midst of one of the most chaotic experiences of her entire life. Yet even when more Tortellan troops arrive to give them assistance, she’s still concerned about other people. BY THE WAY, SHE HAS A HUGE GASH IN HER ARM. Instead of seeking help with her wound, she seeks out her friend Big Thor. Alanna, I just love you so much. Here, she chooses to use her Gift to seek out Thor rather than healing herself. For all that Alanna worries about what kind of knight she’ll be, I have no doubt in my mind that she’ll be incredible. LOOK WHAT SHE DOES HERE. She is so foolish, yes, considering she goes to look for Thor ENTIRELY ON HER OWN WHILE THERE ARE ENEMY FORCES EVERYWHERE, but that doesn’t diminish her good deed.

That being said, I thought I knew how this would end. I swear I did.

“Can you help me?” Thor whispered. “I’d just like to… go to sleep. I’m that tired.”

Alanna trembled. Healing was natural for her, but she had never killed a human being with her Gift. She didn’t think she could.


She felt him falling away gently, slipping into a long, dark well. Alanna rose. Thor’s chest was still, and he was smiling.

I can’t fucking deal with this. She used her Gift to give someone a mercy death. Oh my god.

A huge shadow figure was bending over her. “Thor,” she sighed, recognizing the Dark God. “You want Thor.” Reaching out a hand that was blacker than night, the God touched Alanna’s eyes. She closed them; if this was death, she didn’t care anymore.

I can’t. You can’t end the chapter like this. Goddamn it. What just happened??? The worst part is that Alanna notices this earlier:

Men died as she watched, and they didn’t care about what they had fought for.

In this final moment of chapter five, Alanna doesn’t care either.


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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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