In the ninth chapter of Emperor Mage, I was never prepared for this. It was impossible to be so. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Emperor Mage.
Chapter Nine: Daine Loses Her Temper
I’m still in shock. I mean, obviously from that thing, but also because… wow, this book has gone in a direction that is pretty much the last thing I would have ever expected.
This whole time, I mentioned multiple times that the very structure of Emperor Mage was fascinating to me because the narrative itself was tied so heavily to the gods’ revenge. There wasn’t a conflict so much as the agonizing, suspenseful wait for the inevitable shitstorm to come down on Carthak. Tamora Pierce doesn’t invalidate this in the slightest. Instead, she brings about the chaotic end to Carthak in a way that’s personal, disturbing, and shocking.
This chapter starts off so dismally. I didn’t doubt that Daine’s dreams were real, so it was frustrating to know that Ozorne’s plan to hide Daine and blame the stalled peace talks on her was working. Daine can’t intervene, and the Tortallans have their hands tied behind their backs. With so much “evidence” to prove Daine is trying to raise a slave rebellion, they’re left with little options. God, it hurt to see how angry Numair and Alanna were. They care so much about Daine, and they know she’d never do something so misguided. It sucks. I DON’T LIKE IT, AND I DON’T LIKE OZORNE.
Ozorne’s key flaw is that he thinks so highly of himself that he underestimates those around. Numair even says as much in this chapter:
“Ozorne has trouble believing in his heart that anyone else has more of the Gift than he does, even when his mind knows there are more powerful mages. I can use that to fool him.”
It’s precisely this reason why his plan to hold Daine captive was destined to fail from the beginning. His inability to fully understand Daine’s form of magic was a weakness, and this is what Daine exploits. And she does this by getting mad. I knew that the chapter title was referencing what the Graveyard Hag had told Daine about her power, but I never once expected it to become this. This transformation is, at first, an amazing and uplifting display of her connection to the world of animals. She has done so much for the animals in Carthak, and now they return the favor as her cries fill the kingdom. Her sorrow becomes their sorrow as well. Well, not only that, but the motif of being caged finally reaches the emotional climax that Pierce was planning all along. Her claustrophobia in the confines of that room are paralleled with the animals in the menagerie, with the immortals in their cages, with the societal cages that the slaves inhabit, and it’s a horrifying and damning indictment of what is so evil about Ozorne: he puts the things he does not understand or fears in cages.
God, and then a whole host of animals are killed during this rebellion, and this is just the tip of the iceberg for what happens in chapter nine. After Zek glorious sets Daine free by stealing Ozorne’s keys, she is taken to the Banjiku chamber, where she requests Kaddar to begin planning her final acts before she escapes. And I honestly thought that this is where the book would go. She’d free Numair, and then the two of them would flee as the gods rained down their hell upon Ozorne. Even when Kaddar acted strange upon mention of Numair, I thought he was going to tell Daine that Numair had been captured, that he wasn’t in hiding anymore.
“They caught him. Master Numair. He gave them the slip in Thak’s Gate, but they found his hiding place at the university. And my uncle wouldn’t risk his escape. Not a second time. He was executed, a day ago.”
It was like a punch in the stomach. Killed. Off the page. I hoped that maybe it wasn’t witnessed, but Kaddar watched it himself because OZORNE MADE THE ENTIRE UNIVERSITY WATCH HIM.
What happens here is unsettling on a billion levels. I mention in the video that the moment when I found out my father passed away, I also experienced the sensation that the world was more real and more detailed than it had ever been. In that moment, we watch as Daine makes a decision. It happens with a cold and calculated precision, and that is what is so upsetting to me:
The gods had taken too long to say whatever it was they’d planned to say here. With all these omens and portents they had sent, the sole effect had been her kidnapping and her friend’s execution. Plainly she would have to take care of this herself. If any gods tried to stop her, they would regret it.
I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t get revenge either. And it’s not that I think Ozorne doesn’t deserve to have his palace ripped to shreds. What bothers me about this is that Daine only thinks of the present. She doesn’t think about what this will do to Tortall. Or her friends. Or to the innocent people who live in Carthak. She is single-minded in her approach for revenge, and I’m terrified of what this is going to do to her as well! Reading this chapter is endlessly unsettling because we have not once seen Daine this cold before. Pierce brilliantly modifies her own narration through Daine to become extremely matter-of-fact, to relate us information as if Daine is simply walking through the palace, not orchestrating the destruction of an empire and the murder of an emperor.
But nothing scares me more than Daine’s transformation into believing that her power makes her worthy of doing the gods’ work. Her entire conversation with the Graveyard Hag needed to happen, especially since she was frustrated that the goddess was using her as a vessel for what essentially was going to be a prank. All the Hag wanted to do was raise some humans bones as a portent, to spook Ozorne and his followers. I agree with Daine that it’s too little too late, but this? This is your solution, Daine? I’m so torn about all of this! I want to support her, and by gods, I don’t have a problem with Numair’s death being avenged, but is this the best possible way to go about this? Taking wild magic from rats, using the bones of dinosaurs to lay waste to the palace?
Okay, actually, yes. That is kind of an incredible idea, and I was comforted by the fact that Daine ordered the dinos to leave all two-leggers alone if they were running away. But can she stop? Will she stop??? How much further will she go in seeking out her revenge? I was in awe of the destruction these creatures left in their wake, and I understood this to be the literal elimination of the spoils of this empire’s bigotry and imperialism. It’s a powerful image, and I wasn’t exactly torn up about this.
Plus, we also get an incredible scene with Varice, where Pierce uses her to decry the demonization of femininity. In this case, Varice rages against Daine’s contempt of the woman because she chooses to use her Gift to do things that are traditionally understood to belong to women:
“You must think I’m useless and silly. Maybe I am. I just like things pretty. Is that so bad, to want people to enjoy themselves? Only, when you have the Gift, you can’t just go to parties and keep house. They expect you to study, and to do something in life. Arram – he always wanted me to learn more spells and be famous. I don’t want to be famous! What I do is useful. And I like using my Gift for cooking and baking. Great power hasn’t brought the mages I know happiness or peace of mind.”
GODDAMN, that is incredible. Daine realizes just how true Varice’s words are, and I love that this moment exists, to tell folks that there’s nothing wrong with liking these sort of things and wanting nothing else of them. For Daine, she’s reminded of her Ma, who love dancing and working in the garden and the kitchen.
I don’t know what the future holds for Daine, but I’m still frightened. Inevitably, she’s going to have to face-off with Ozorne in this last chapter, but what’s going to come of that? She’s not going to get Numair back. Oh god, I am not excited to get to the point where her shock wears off, y’all. Ugh, I cannot believe what this book has become. Don’t get me wrong; this is stunning, some of Pierce’s best writing, but it hurts so much. IS ANYONE SURPRISED THAT I WAS UNPREPARED.
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on tour!!! I have 26 events spread out across the eastern HALF of the U.S. and Canada. They are all free and all-ages. Come see speak about the Mark Does Stuff Universe and read terrible fanfiction live!
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