In the eleventh chapter of Squire, Kel struggles with the complications of duty, lust, and love. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Squire.
Chapter Eleven: Cleon
I just love everything this book chooses to be.
There are so many difficult moments here, and Tamora Pierce handles them all with wit, talent, and grace, and it is such a privilege to read a book by someone who so clearly cares. I know that may seem like a strange thing to say, but I want to read books by people who care about the world they create and the characters who inhabit it, and I really feel like that’s the case here. Kel’s life is deeply important to Pierce, and at the same time, Pierce cares about who is reading this book as well. I can’t think of many books I read growing up that so honestly spoke about attraction, lust, and love, and how those three phenomenons intersect.
Amidst this all, there are rumblings of what sounds like a cultural war. What’s happening in the palace and in Corus has spread to the rest of Tortall, and Raoul hints that there might be more rebellions from nobles who are displeased with the changes brought by King Jonathan and Queen Thayet. So, the Great Progress serves more than one purpose, and it was nice to see what else the group accomplished on their massive tour of Tortall. Plus, Pierce is giving us both sides of this journey, the personal and the political. For the most part, this chapter focuses on Kel’s personal experience through this complicated world. I think there’s a way to view nearly every scene as a manifestation of this patriarchal society, but we also get to see all the attempts to subvert such an arrangement.
A good first example: Kel finally getting to meet Lady Alanna. Which, okay, y’all, I seriously thought it wouldn’t happen until the last book! I based that solely on what had already happened, so THIS IS TOTALLY REASONABLE. But seriously, Alanna had to essentially trick Kel in a sense in order to arrange to have a conversation with her. That’s MESSED UP. But everyone is so suspicious of Alanna that it’s the only way she could have pulled it off. Again, it’s impossible to ignore that any of the male knights who possess the Gift are not restricted from talking to young pages and squires, but such is this reality. It’s blatant sexism, but Alanna finds a way around it. And I love her for it.
After learning that Owen is going to squire for Sir Myles (!!!!!!!), Kel walks in on Joren, Sir Ansel of Groten, and a Tirrsmont knight beating up on Lerant. Unsurprisingly, they feel like Jonathan and Raoul are betraying the traditional order of things by allowing Lerant to serve, or bringing Joren to court, or letting Kel be a squire. I used “unsurprisingly” on purpose because they are predictably bigoted at this point. They act that way because they know they can get away with it! Joren’s already been to court, and the fine he had to pay was child’s play to him and his family. Plus, every man Kel goes up against severely underestimates her because of their misogyny. So Ansel didn’t expect to be challenged, but guess what? YOU WERE. TAKE THAT. YOU’RE GOING TO GET DESTROYED. I hope? Oh gosh, I really hope so.
Of course, Lerant’s reaction is to immediately reject Kel’s help. Granted, I get that he just doesn’t plain like her, but I couldn’t help but suspect that maybe he thought that a woman coming to his defense was a shot to his pride. Ugh, can you not, Lerant? Even if I’m just imagining that, she still helped you, and it was her duty to challenge him. So. Can you not.
And then there’s Cleon. I like him, but don’t have any particular attachment to him. I tend to gauge my reaction to other characters here through Kel, and it was fascinating to see how Pierce wrote Kel’s struggle with her attraction to Cleon. I did get worried at one point (right where Cleon had Jump close the tent flap) that Cleon might have been forcing himself upon her, but thankfully, he respects her. Plus, it’s true that Kel is attracted to him. (And let me talk about one tangent here: I swear to you, the way people fit into clothes is a major turn-on for me, so Kel, I understand you until the end of time. I don’t have a particular type at all, so it’s entirely on a case-by-case basis. With my current boyfriend, it was precisely the same thing Kel describes here. It was the way his shoulders filled out his shirt and the way his chest pressed against the front. Okay, I’LL STOP.) But what kind of attracted is she? She already inherently understands that this is a layered experience, but it’s not until she talks to Raoul and Ilane that she’s able to sort out some of her more confusing thoughts.
I do want to echo Kel’s compliment towards Raoul, though:
How many knightmasters would have done this differently, even hurtfully? How many would have said nothing until Kel was so deeply in a mess that she would never get out of it? Only Raoul would treat it as another lesson in the intricacies of command.
I’m just so happy that Kel ended up with Raoul. He’s been such a positive force in her life, and I’m thankful that someone so honest and respectful is helping shape Kel into a knight.
But my favorite part of this chapter is Ilane’s frank talk with her daughter. Like this series’ honest depiction of a young woman getting her period for the first time, I can’t say I’ve ever read a fantasy novel that touches on anything that Ilane brings up. Ilane’s big message here is that her daughter has a choice, not just in general, but in the sense that there aren’t many noble women in her position. Like Raoul, she doesn’t shame her daughter, and in fact encourages her to figure out what she wants. IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL, Y’ALL. She does what we should all do in this situation: give information and advice, but leave it up to the person to decide for themselves.
Bless this book.
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