In the ninth chapter of First Test, Kel’s friends join her in combatting bullying at the palace. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read First Test.
Chapter Nine: Tests
THIS IS EVERYTHING I COULD HAVE EVER WANTED, OH MY GOD.
For those who followed along when I was reading Harry Potter, I had said that I wish stories that dealt with bullying also dealt with people actively trying to stop it. The sad truth is that a lot of kids are still bullied these days, and most of the time, the staff or administration either doesn’t know about it or isn’t doing anything to stop it. (Which is not to ignore the many fine folks who have done something.) So what I ultimately adore about this is the ferocity with which Kel sticks to her moral code and how others finally agree to stand up to bullying with her.
First of all, I love how casually these people have formed a study group. It has happened with virtually no conversation about it whatsoever. The group of outcasts and the bullied have all come together just to study with one another. Do you realize how awesome that is? Wait, of course y’all do. I’m the last person here to read these books. Anyway, it’s an unconscious statement on their part. These people trust one another, at the very least, not to bully someone. I used the word “unconscious” on purpose because it takes Kel making that a conscious thing for Neal for him to realize what’s going on.
AND WHAT A GLORIOUS SCENE THAT IS. Holy shit, this is one of my favorite passages in a Tortall book because of how much Tamora Pierce totally fucking gets it. In particular, there’s a line that really hones in on why Kel can’t ignore this:
“I figured I was the only one here who thought it was all wrong. I thought maybe I saw it different because I’m a girl.”
Bolding mine. Y’all, Kel has already been used to a life where she’s picked on and given negative attention because of who she is. She is going to be more sensitive to bullying than the others, able to pick up on it and name it for what it is. So much of this relates back to the end of chapter one: Kel wants to protect the small, to never allow another kitten to die because someone or something bigger and stronger will use that to overpower another. To these boys, the hazing is tradition. It’s the way of the world, plain and simple. But Kel doesn’t come from this world, and she knows what sort of world this will lead to:
“If we take this as pages, what about when we are knights? Do we say, Oh, now I’m going to be nice to the weak and the small? Or do we do as we learned when we were pages?”
BULLYING CREATES A CYCLE OF ABUSE. This kind of treatment affects people for the rest of their lives! It has so for me, though it’s manifested in a myriad of ways, some positive, some negative. Why risk this? Why allow a system to remain that can permanently damage knights, creating people like… well, I was going to say Lord Wyldon, but I’m not certain he’s as black-and-white as I first thought he was. Regardless, look at the culture surround the knights and pages, and you can see how turning a blind-eye to this sort of behavior is already awful. Kel is evidence of that! How is it possible that in fourteen years, not one single young woman has tried to become a knight? There’s no way that there are no young girls wishing they were knights.
And then Neal goes and makes me feel emotions and no, I’m not crying.
He looked down at her for a long moment. “You’re the oldest ten-year-old I’ve ever met,” he said finally.
I can’t. I can’t.
“It means I’m trying to justify to myself the fact that the best lesson I ever had on chivalry came from someone five years younger than me.”
Neal. Neal. You can’t do this to me. You can’t. But that’s the truth. Kel is years beyond her age for this, and it’s why I respect her so much. I don’t know that I could have ever formed a rogue band of wandering anti-bullying fighters like she does because I’ve only hit one person in my whole life, but by gods, I respect her for doing what she can. Except maybe interrupting Numair? Oh my god, I love how he just drifts out of his room, casts a spell on everyone so they can’t move, and then shuffles his way back later. Dude. Dude. What are you doing? Where’s Daine and when can she show up again? Okay, that’s not the point. The point is that what Kel and her friends are doing is working. Joren and his friends are realizing that they cannot bully other people without repercussion. THAT IS SO LOVELY.
Which doesn’t mean that Kel is in the clear, though. One thing continues to hang over this whole narrative: the threat of Kel’s probationary period. While I do get a sense that there’s more to Wyldon, I don’t know that I’ll ever see that at this point. He still calls Kel “probationer.” He has given virtually no indication that Kel might actually have a chance in passing. (Though he could be doing this on purpose so she doesn’t get comfortable??? IT’S A POSSIBILITY?????????) So when her fear of heights gets the best of her during a morning workout, it’s upsetting because I’m worried that it’s yet another thing that can count against her. And look, I think it’s entirely possible that at the end of this book, Kel isn’t allowed to stay another year. There’s so much potential for where this quartet can go at this point! (That’s mostly because I have no idea where this is going.)
However, Wyldon doesn’t make fun of Kel for her fear of heights. I can’t believe that counts as evidence, but I will grasp at these straws like they’ll save my life. And then, in a moment of dejected fury at Joren giving her another weighted lance, Kel has a revelation. Or an epiphany. Something! The world makes sense. Everything comes into alignment. And a girl, one that few people have any faith in, one that others believe is destined to failure, is the first in her group to nail the target on the shield. Five times in a row. Wyldon, even though he sounds pained, has to admit that she’s done well. It’s a step in the right direction. Oh my god. IT HAS TO WORK OUT IN HER FAVOR.
I can’t believe there are still two chapters left, though. HOW. HOW. Oh god, what’s going to happen in the forest? When does Kel find out if she stays? HELP.
Mark Links Stuff
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