In the second chapter of First Test, Kel faces her less-than-accepting welcoming. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read First Test.
Chapter Two: Not So Welcome
Oh, it’s so fun starting a new series. And while there are a few familiar names and faces in this chapter, I’m excited to see who else I’m going to despise and love and laugh with and JESUS, I HATE WYLDON OF CAVALL SO MUCH.
Whether it was intended or not, First Test feels like a response to Alanna: The First Adventure. There are a few direct parallels to Alanna’s journey, obviously, but Pierce is also giving us a look at the world that Alanna, Queen Thayet, and King Jonathan have created. Just because they’ve made it legal for young girls to become pages if they like doesn’t mean that they instantly eradicated the backwards bigotry out of Tortall. Instead, Pierce has written a story that inherently accepts the difficulty these people face. Minds are not changed overnight, nor even in fifteen years. Truthfully, the page program has historically been a boys club from top to bottom, and Alanna didn’t really change that. It’s upsetting, sure! Kel doesn’t to fanfare and praise. No, what she faces is somehow worse than what Alanna went through because she can’t hide that she is a girl.
People like Lord Wyldon are determined to make sure that this is the case:
“You have a year in which to prove that you can keep up with the boys. If you do not satisfy me on that count, you will go home.”
Wyldon has this need to constantly define Kel by her gender, something he has never done with a single boy who has come under his care. That’s why his next statement is so egregiously foolish:
“You will get no special privileges or treatment, despite your sex.”
I think what bothers me so much about this is that he actually believes what he is saying. He’s ignorant about the ramifications of what he’s saying and doing, so much so that it doesn’t occur to him that giving the first page a probationary period because she is a girl IS SPECIAL PRIVILEGES AND TREATMENT.
Oh my god, I hate him. I hate that he sexualizes her within five minutes of meeting her, because apparently girls are these unending flirt machines and boys are just these innocent moral beings who are ~seduced~ by Kel’s insatiable wiles??? UGH, I DESPISE THIS MAN SO MUCH.
Throughout this, Kel has to exercise patience. And as I understand it, it’s not just patience. Pierce references Kel’s Yamani upbringing quite often, so I don’t want to ignore that. That definitely plays a part in why she chooses to keep quiet. That background helps her to keep her opinions to herself. But as many of y’all who are marginalized know, there is a time and a place for standing up for one’s self, and the line between that and staying silent is constantly changing. Just personally, I remember some particularly awful jobs I’ve had where I have had to sit at lunch and listen to the person who signs my paychecks yell about how all homeless people should be shipped off to an island and burned alive. Or the multi-millionaire CEO of a company I worked for shrieking at me about how the towel racks at their hotel weren’t heated and how this was akin to the fucking Holocaust. Should I have stood up to these people? Perhaps, but given my financial status at both times this happened, what was I supposed to do? Risked the ability to pay rent just to tell someone off? Kel recognizes how wrong Wyldon is (and I’m glad it’s so blatant in the text, too), but knows it will not serve her to mouth off to him.
This chapter introduces Salma, Kel’s servant, who quickly does what Wyldon tried to prevent Alanna from doing: helping her out. Salma recognizes the difficulty Kel faces, mostly because she is a woman herself. She knows how virulently sexist this environment is! She’s seen it every day for five years. So I am thankful that someone who has some influence, no matter how small that is, stands up for Kel in whatever way she can without risking her own job. I remember feeling very disappointed that a lot of the professors and staff members at Hogwarts never properly disciplined bullies at that school, from Draco to the Weasley twins and many characters in between. It just makes me so happy that Salma is quick to clean up the mess in Kel’s room and make her special magical keys to prevent the boys from destroying her stuff.
My god, the bullying displayed here is just so bad. I know I should have expected it. I mean, I did expect it from Wyldon, but I definitely did not anticipate how violent it would be and how quickly it would manifest once Kel arrived. That is how ingrained this sexism is in the culture here. These boys found it appropriate to tell someone that she was going to fail, that she didn’t belong, and that she was worthless without a second thought. It’s why the boys physically move away from her and Neal in the mess hall, why Wyldon thought it was appropriate to DEDICATE HIS PRAYER TO THE IDEA THAT ONE DAY, NO WOMEN WOULD BE ALLOWED TO UPSET HIS PRECIOUS TRADITIONS, and why the pages refused to sponsor Kel. No one wants her to succeed. They probably see her as a threat to their masculinity and manhood, and I hate them for it.
And then there’s Nealan. Right from the start, he’s different, though not solely because he thinks Kel has a right to be a page. Even I know you shouldn’t mouth off to your superiors in this context, but he gleefully racks up three weeks of dish duty just so he can poke fun at the absurdity of what Wyldon says. Look, I’m going to love anyone who takes Wyldon down a notch, okay? ALREADY A HERO IN MY BOOK. I don’t understand why he is this way, though. It’s perplexing because I’m not used to such sass coming from a page. Alanna or Myles or Jonathan, maybe. Or Daine. Or Cloud. But they’re all in positions of power or are respected enough to get away with this sort of stuff! Nealan is not. So what gives? What’s his history?
At the very least, I’m pleased that Kel has Neal, Salma, and Tkaa (!!!!) eager to have her around. The journey that Kel has in front of her is a hell of a thing, y’all. It would be hard enough to become a page, right? But she also has to deal with other people’s expectations based on her gender, the bigotry and bullying she’s going to get directed her way, and the endless frustration and anger this is going to bring up in her. And while I personally don’t think emotion is a weakness, I totally understand what it means in the context of this book: Kel has to find a way to navigate this disaster of a culture without letting these assholes get to her. My only hope is that she never feels like she needs to stop being a girl in order to get this done.
I can’t wait for her to get those hair ribbons, y’all.
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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