In the first chapter of First Test, I CAN’T DEAL WITH THE RAGE AND PRIDE I AM FEELING AFTER JUST ONE CHAPTER. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Protector of the Small.
Chapter One: Decisions
I knew absolutely nothing about Protector of the Small going into it, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have helped me at all.
The next Tortall quartet opens five years after The Immortals (OH MY GOD I NEED SOME UPDATES ON DAINE NOW), but reflects what’s happened in the ten years since King Jonathan proclaimed that girls are now eligible to become pages. The proclamation itself was a crucial moment in changing the culture of Tortall, but Tamora Pierce isn’t naive. Simply making something available won’t change the cultural landscape of an entire kingdom, and I wasn’t terribly surprised that not one girl had been sent to become a page in the capitol. And I think this chapter does a fine job of detailing how there probably have been countless young girls who have wanted to become knights, but the pervasive fear and misogyny has gotten in the way.
That starts off with Lord Wyldon, who I desperately hope is eaten alive when Numair opens the earth and drops him in it. The dude is a textbook misogynist, spouting out the same stereotypes, mistruths, and inane “facts” about women that WE ARE STILL HEARING TO THIS DAY. In him, Pierce gives us a portrait of the old class of nobles who believe that King Jonathan’s changes were foolish and unnecessary. What’s especially frustrating is that he knows he is being a complete butthead, but he uses the precarious political situation in Corus to his advantage. Alanna’s fury is our fury because we cannot believe someone would say such sexist bullshit in front of her. But that’s why this hurts so much: Lord Wyldon knows he can get away with this.
“Surely the girl’s parents cannot be aware of the difficulties she will encounter.”
SHUT UP. JUST SHUT UP. My god, I don’t even know how to engage with half of this bullshit, y’all. Like, the counter to this is so obvious, but I also want to be careful and not MANSPLAIN FEMINISM all over this, you know? But then I’m like SERIOUSLY, DO YOU THINK WOMEN CANNOT DO ANYTHING DIFFICULT OR CHALLENGING? They have to talk to you on a daily basis, and that is a goddamn challenge in and of itself.
“Girls are fragile…”
STOP. JUST STOP RIGHT THERE. DO I NEED TO BUST OUT THAT GODDAMN WHALE. Fragile? Fragile? Lord Wyldon, explain what this means. Spell it out for me. You’re not allowed to say that women are easily broken because they are literally made up of the same material as men, so come at me with something else.
THIS DOESN’T EVEN MAKE A BIT OF GODDAMN SENSE. I don’t care if I’m repeating what I said in today’s video, but think about this for a second. Are you suggesting that men have less emotions than women? I mean, do you want to imply that if you measured the emotional reactions of different genders, you’d have women all the way at the top? This whole logic is so asinine because even the most stereotypical man is constantly emotional. They just express themselves different, but to quantify it this way is absurd. Of course, we all know what he’s really referring to: the demonization of any emotion traditionally associated with women or femininity.
“…easier to frighten.”
I can’t even deal with that. I can’t.
“They are not as strong in their arms and shoulders as men.”
IS THIS LITERALLY THE ONLY THING YOU COULD COME UP WITH? Look, even if we ignore the horrifically essentialist nature of this entire affair, do pages only use their arms and shoulders? Is that the only body parts they use? No? Then shut your face.
“They tire easily.”
I AM THROWING MY HANDS IN THE AIR. OH MY GOD, YOU LITERALLY DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW BODIES WORK.
“This girl would get any warriors who serve with her killed on some dark night.”
Right, so the very men you claim are better than women and stronger and the best material for knights die and you blame it on the woman? WHY ARE THEY BEING KILLED ANYWAY IF THEY’RE SO GREAT? What possible fucking scenario are you thinking about? That “some dark night,” someone will surprise Kel with a box of chocolates and she’ll just sit down and cry about her feelings while all her companions are slaughtered because she can’t use her arms and shoulders?
GO AWAY FOREVER.
I’m glad that this whole sequence is interspersed with Alanna’s anger. Again, the gall of this man to openly insult an entire gender in front of the person who literally disproves everything he’s said grates me, and you know what? I hate that King Jonathan concedes to him. I get it. Politics are complicated. This is not easy to navigate. Jonathan has to do what he can to ensure that he has support to push through later changes. But my god, agreeing to give a page a year probationary period simply because she’s a woman? And then agreeing to keep Alanna away because it’s an unfair bias? NO, FUCK YOU, TOO, JONATHAN. I expect Lord Wyldon to be awful, but you?
Seriously, think about this. In one breath, Lord Wyldon claims that it is unfair to let Kel study as a page without a probation because women aren’t cut out for being knights. Just pages later, he claims it is totally unfair and biased that Kel should get any help because pages shouldn’t get special attention. You godawful fuckhead, YOU ARE GIVING KEL SPECIAL ATTENTION BY FORCING HER TO GO THROUGH THE PROBATIONARY PERIOD.
I’m so done with this.
After this infuriating opening, Pierce takes us to Mindelan, where Kel’s parents respectfully and kindly support their daughter in making whatever choice she wants. It’s such a drastic contrast with what we just saw, and it’s refreshing. They give their daughter the time and space she needs to sort through her thoughts. Does she still want to become a page despite the special requirements she’ll have? Or will she choose to turn down such an insulting offer? Her time spent in the Yamani Islands has left her more sober than how she used to be, but once she gets some time to herself, I enjoyed that she was openly emotional and irate about what she was going through. She was raised in two different cultures, and I think that this is going to play a part in how she responds to experience in Corus.
That being said, there are a few factors at play that hint towards the fact that Kel is going to be more defiant than we might expect. The fight that she has with the fatphobic bullies shows us that she’s quick to defend herself, violently if necessary. Basically, she takes shit from no one, and I imagine that the bullying and teasing is not going to end once she gets to Corus. I got the sense that this book might mirror Alanna: The First Adventure, but the themes of sexism and bullying are far more explicit this time around. How is this going to be different?
Kel also exhibits a desire to protect and save the weak and helpless when she decides to face-off with a spidren. GODDAMN, NO, I HAD HOPED NEVER TO SEE ONE OF THOSE THINGS AGAIN. Anyway, I was most fascinated by the fact that Pierce portrays Kel as one who wants to be brave and heroic, but she’s not quite there yet. She does fear the spidren, at one point freezing in terror. It’s a realistic reaction given how young she is, and I’ll be interested to see if she can shed that fear.
But there’s nothing that gives me an idea of why Kel wants to go through with this than the dream she has recalling what happened to her and her mother on the Yamani Islands. It is a thrilling, mind-melting flashback that grounds Kel’s desire. Her inspiration came from the moment her own mother revealed that she was an extreme badass with a sword. Oh my god, HOW DID SHE LEARN HOW TO WIELD A SWORD LIKE THAT??? WHAT THE FUCK!!!
I want to protect people. And I will. I will. I’ll be a hero one day, just like Mama. Just like the Lioness.
Nobody will kill two kittens in front of me then.
THERE IT IS. Protector of the Small. Kel’s mother protected her, and now she wants to grow up and do the same. Oh my god, I’m going to love this.
Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
– I have announced what the next books I am reading on Mark Reads will be, as well as updated y’all on the events, cons, tour dates, GOING TO EUROPE OH MY GOD, and general shenaniganry going on in my life. I have a similar post up on Mark Watches, detailing the next two shows I’m doing as well as the return of Double Features, and I finally explain what happened with my Vimeo account. Check these posts out!
– Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
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