In the seventh chapter of First Test, a frustrating find gives Kel the strength she needs to do something she failed to do earlier. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read First Test.
Chapter Seven: Kel Takes A Stand
I love this. I love this, and I needed this.
Trigger Warning: While most of it is fairly mild, we still must discuss bullying!
It’s that a thing some of y’all experience these days? It’s been such a neat thing for me to take this journey through Tamora Pierce’s everything because I’ve heard the same message over and over again: These books were my childhood. I would not be the same without them. They are my everything. I unfortunately hadn’t even heard of them until I started Mark Reads, but it’s nice to discover why they mean so much to so many people. At the same time, I know that my life as a bullied kid would have been much easier to tolerate if I had read this book back when this was happening to me. There’s no doubt in my mind that I needed this.
I latched on to a lot of things growing up as a way to cope with what happened to me. I will forever worship The House on Mango Street for its depiction of loneliness and poverty. I adore The Stranger because it was the first book I read that depicted the emptiness I was struggling with. Music was a huge deal to me, and bands like The Smiths or Bad Religion gave me a lot of comfort. To this day, Metallica’s “Dyer’s Eve” will remain one of my favorite songs because thematically, I’d never come across a song that spelled out my childhood to me so distinctly. Over the years, that list grew bigger and bigger. I grow emotionally attached to art. It’s what I do! Y’all have seen me do that over and over again, and fiction in particular really does make my life better.
So, again, reading a book that explicitly addresses bullying is going to be difficult and cathartic for me, but this chapter? This chapter is like my personal fantasy in a way because I never stood up to my bullies. Up until I left high school for college, fleeing the city I hated for the hope of a new life, I’d never once fought back physically against anyone who bullied me. I’d tried to stand up for myself with my words, but if you’ve been bullied, you know that this often doesn’t work. Well, for me it didn’t! Maybe it worked for you! If so, what was your secret? Did I just play the wrong action card or something? Reveal your wisdom to me.
Let’s get into this. Kel settles into her schedule with more confidence, and I saw this as a sign that she was adjusting to the experience of being a first-year page. The day that I am writing this, May 13th, is the day that chapter four’s review is going up, and KeraineW has that brilliant thread about what Kel’s schedule probably looks like. Which is what I’m thinking of now. Which is making me tired on Kel’s behalf. Which is then making me hungry. I really want cookies. Anyway! Kel relies on her Yamani upbringing more than ever, and it continues to prove itself worthy amidst the difficulty of what she’s doing. Even when she’s embarrassed by her performance during tilting, she buries her shame within her. And I understand that bottling up emotions rarely pays off because welcome to my entire childhood. It’s still a struggle for me not to bottle things up inside! But Kel has a different context for this, one I’m fascinated. She’s found a way to compartmentalize and cope with the stress and fear of her studies through the culture she was raised in. I’m enjoying the way that Pierce is making this empowering. It’s unexpected!
It’s related to what Pierce does with Kel once Kel discovers that her lance has been weighted with lead. Yes, I basically was stunned into incoherency once I figured out what was going on. (If you don’t watch the video commission for this chapter, I misread the whole sequence where the wood buttons fell out because somehow, I thought they came out of the floor and stuck to the oiled lance. Therefore, when it was clear what was meant by this, it was like a metaphorical punch in the face.) It is just so devious and unreal because it demonstrates the desperation these boys will go to just to ensure that Kel fails. Kel’s understandably enraged by this, but then Pierce gives us some hope later that day:
What if she kept the lance? If she mastered it, the bigger lances of the knights would be easy to handle.
Oh my god, holy shit. She should totally do this! Take what was used to hurt you, Kel, and turn it into a weapon against them. Oh my god, I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. It fits so perfectly with what happens directly after this realization. Kel knows she’s being treated unfairly from multiple angles, but that doesn’t mean she needs to allow it to happen to others unchecked. I was reminded of Kel’s declaration at the end of chapter one, her desire to become a hero like her mother, when she stood up for Merric. I know I’m not alone in reading her claim of “not killing another kitten” as a sign that she desires to protect the “small,” both literal and figurative. That’s what I see here: Kel takes the misogynist establishment head on, represented in Joren, Zahir, and Vinson. (It’s interesting that this moment doesn’t involve Wyldon, who was the most openly misogynist up to this point, but I’ll get to that in a second.)
Now, I know whenever there’s violence in a story about bullying, particularly when the bullied person stands up for himself, there are always folks who claim that the violence is unnecessary, that we must be better than our bullies or we risk becoming like them. Personally, I think the distinction between a bully and a defender isn’t as thin as these people claim it is, especially not here. In the context of the events of chapter seven, Kel sees these pages purposely mistreat Merric. She knows in her hearts that what they’re doing to this poor kid has nothing to do with being a knight. She spells it out for them! It’s so incredible! She risks her position in the school, her reputation, and her health to stand up for someone who might not feel the bravery to stand up for himself. I wish someone had done this for me. I wish someone had taught me how to fight so that when I was getting beat up, I hadn’t just rolled into a ball and let those boys hurt me so badly.
And it’s obviously fine if you were bullied and you don’t feel people should resort to violence. We aren’t a monolith of singular opinions, you know? But I felt that Kel’s fight was immensely empowering to me, even as I near being thirty. Just as a narrative choice, it injects the story with this cathartic energy! These boys were held (somewhat) responsible for their behavior, and it’s rewarding.
That brings me to Lord Wyldon. He’s the most bewildering part of this chapter. He did not act as I expected. I thought he’d be more harsh, brutal, and plain ol’ mean to Kel. Instead, he is shocked into repetition when Kel not only lies about what happened to her, but insists she has no desire to leave the school. He honestly thought that she’d want to leave. Instead… well, I don’t know what happens. He’s difficult to read in the text because Pierce characterizes him in a way that hides his true feelings. But the way he dismisses Kel hints at some new feeling he has for Kel. Respect? Shock? Is he impressed? He normally has some awful and witty quip waiting to hurt Kel with, but he has nothing. He doles out her punishment as if it’s just a passage from a schoolbook. Oh god, what’s happening?
I was super ecstatic to meet Duke Baird because he helps Neal make so much more sense. It reminded me of the time my second boyfriend met my mother for the first time. Afterwards, he told me that my entire personality finally made sense, as if it was aligned into the proper context once he knew what she was like. Every friend who has met my mom since has said a similar thing. That’s what happens with Duke Baird! ALSO HOW THE HELL DOES HE KNOW KEL’S MOTHER? HOW? Also, not that I would trade meeting Duke Baird for anything, but how rad would this scene have been if Alanna had healed Kel? There you go, fic writers, I have given you a prompt rife with possibility. Go make it happen.
What a great chapter, y’all. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.
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!