Mark Reads ‘First Test’: Chapter 6

In the sixth chapter of First Test, Kel tries to deal with disappointing herself and others with her performances. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read First Test.

Chapter Six: The Lance

There are so many things here that Tamora Pierce is doing differently this time around, and I LOVE IT.

This chapter shows us that Kel, while resilient and lovely and a thrill to experience as the narrator, is not super great at everything she does. She’s the main character in a fantasy epic, and she’s not immediately talented. Granted, she is good with a glaive and at math, so her talents are very specific. Once again, though, she differs from Alanna and Daine in that she doesn’t possess any spectacular, mind-boggling skill. That sort of plainness in her approach is extremely refreshing and realistic, especially in the genre. It feels like both a response to the whole idea that OMG WOMEN CAN DO NO PHYSICAL THINGS EVER and the trope of having super special protagonists. Plus, this really does convey how overwhelming schooling can be when you have so much to do all at once. (Which I will talk about in a bit.)

Now, I don’t want to make this sound like Kel is some sort of boring character with no significant character traits. My use of the word “plain” is more to contrast her with the fact that most fantasy heroes (and the last two Tortall protagonists) have some sort of special ability or power. Kel faces her training and her schooling with a desire to do well, but that doesn’t mean she does do well. No, she fails at a few things, disappoints some of her teachers, and embarrasses herself in front of people she views as important. She isn’t immediately successful mounting Peachblossom or striking the target on the quintain. Hell, she’s not actually that good at all. As someone who has very poor strength in their arms, I know your struggle, Kel. Granted, it’s in a different context. Kel has the added stress of being under probation, so her perception of her failures is exacerbated because of this. As I said in the previous review, she knows she has to be better than the boys in order to stay on, and that means when she does worse, she panics. It’s also why Neal doesn’t really understand why Kel is so upset this whole chapter. He can’t possibly understand what this experience is like for her or why she’s so anxious all the time.

On top of that, she feels ashamed that she did not stand up for Merric, and the moral weight of her choices rests on her shoulders throughout the day. Combine that with multiple mistakes or disappointments in her classes, and you might understand why Kel is so frustrated. It did make me wonder why teachers never coordinated to understand how much work they were giving their students. I remember the last couple years of high school feeling like I was perpetually drowning under homework and studying. Granted, I should say that I took mostly AP classes, so it wasn’t like it was a surprise to get so much work. Still, it was always enraging when three or four teachers in a row would assign these massive, time-consuming projects without a care for how much coursework you had in your schedule. I had a history teacher who was notorious for giving his students these time-sucking assignments that weren’t necessarily hard, but couldn’t be completed in under four hours. And he’d do this three nights a week, which would suck your time away from other classes, and whenever we brought this up, he’d always say that he was preparing us for college and the real world. Dude, no one at university taught or assigned like you do. Ever!!!!

Okay, that’s not the point of all of this. It’s not like Kel’s teachers are doing this to her just for the hell of it. She didn’t finish one assignment, and her punishment was to do more work to make up for it. My mind simply strayed, and I wanted to talk about it. THIS IS WHAT I DO HERE, FYI. At least Myles provided her with her first real break of the day. (Well, Master Ivor did not humiliate her, which was nice.) He also offered to be her friend. DID ANY OF YOU FORGET THAT I LOVE FRIENDSHIP? You better not have because I love characters becoming friends. It’s especially important for Kel because Myles is the first person to offer Kel a kind of understanding about her life that she’s not getting from the other teachers. (Let’s not forget Salma, though, who did offer help to Kel in the very beginning. And Neal has been largely wonderful, too!)

I’m also pleased that after all this difficulty, the stubborn, Yamani side of Kel is what gets her through this challenge. She refuses to let her lack of physical strength keep her on the sidelines. Instead, she seeks out Eda to get guidance on how to build strength in her arms, making another ally in the process. God, I just love that she refuses to let the world tear her down, you know? It’s so empowering! I imagine a lot of you feel the same way, too.

Part 1

Part 2

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!!!
- Video commissions are open, and you can commission a Mark Reads/Watches video for just $25!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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