In the ninth chapter of Squire, Kel makes progress in her training and for the kingdom at large, brings a couple together, and has a disturbing experience in the Chapel of the Ordeal. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Squire.
Chapter Nine: Midwinter Luck
There are SO MANY IMPORTANT THINGS IN THIS CHAPTER. Let’s talk about each of them.
I am so thankful for how Tamora Pierce has chosen to portray King Jonathan in this novel. For those readers who had read the Tortall books since the beginning, we’re given a fascinating experience through Kel’s eyes. We’re reminded that practically every interaction Kel’s had with King Jonathan has not exactly shown his best side to her. He was the one who agreed to the year-long probation. Plus, we got to experience that scene where he refused to let Alanna help out Kel, despite that she would have benefitted greatly from such an arrangement. That still makes me angry now that I’m sitting here and thinking about it. I know I commented on it at the time, but Jonathan didn’t ban any of the pages who were dudes from having friendships or getting mentors who were older men. So yeah, fuck you. And I like Jonathan! He’s such a great character, and I get that his job is extremely complicated.
But it speaks to Pierce’s willingness to tread in an uncomfortable topic to do something I find incredibly necessary. (Not that she needs my goddamn approval to do this shit or anything, haha.) But so often in our world, people are reluctant to call out folks who do problematic shit because they like them, because they’re attractive, because they’re popular, and so on. It’s related to her treatment of Joren, too. He’s described as the most attractive squire in all of Corus, and yet he’s an awful human being. We all know Jonathan is a thoughtful king and a caring person, but that doesn’t mean he’ll understand how sexism works. He’s a guy! That’s why I made that comment above about Pierce not needing my approval. It’s not my job or my space to tell women how they should combat sexism, you know? Everything I’m saying here is not because I’m some genius who figured this shit out myself. Nah, I had to learn this from my fellow sisters and my friends and the people in my life who lived with misogyny.
So I appreciate this. That’s a good way of explaining it. I mean, a very similar thing happens to people of other marginalized groups! I know what it’s like as a Latino man or a queer dude to have to hear gross shit from people I respect or admire. It’s almost harder than the blatant garbage that you come across from unrepentant bigots, you know? It’s way more complicated, so I like that this is just as complicated for Kel. She has to struggle with her expectations for the king. She knows going into this private meeting with him that she’s about to do something incredibly risky. She’s going to disagree with the law the king enforces, and she anticipates Jonathan (once again) being unable to empathize with such a sexist arrangement. So he surprises her on multiple counts. He agrees that the law is not right; he offers to listen to her; and then, after telling her about how impossible it’s been for them to pass progressive legislation in such a conservative kingdom, HE AGREES TO DO WHAT HE CAN TO CHANGE THE LAW ANYWAY. Y’all, even I have to admit that I didn’t think Jonathan would do this. But I had to remember that even if he had made poor choices before, he was a reasonable leader. That’s why he asks Thayet and Raoul their opinions. It’s why he asks Kel to give up her own personal vendetta for the sake of others. Of course, I think that’s more indicative of Kel’s role in this quartet, which is something I brought up in the first video below. She is the protector of the small, and she understands it’s more worthy of her to help protect women who aren’t noble over her getting revenge.
I love Kel. I love her so, so, so much.
Without a doubt, this entire scene might be my favorite thing in the history of Tortall. There are so many things here to love and adore that I don’t know how on earth I’m supposed to deal with this. Kel’s vulnerable here, though it’s by design. She’s overwhelmed! And she has every reason to feel that way. Her life is so chaotic at this point, and I was really satisfied that Pierce allowed Kel to have this moment. She’s not superhuman, and it was necessary to remind the reader that she is just one teenage girl who has to deal with all of this. So I was really happy that Raoul doesn’t condescend down to her when he talks with her as they repair her comforter. Instead, he opens himself to her, making her comfortable enough so that she can be honest with him about how she feels about Jonathan. He also opens up to her, and it’s such a raw, intimate thing to read about. Mind you, they are having a sewing race the entire time, which just gives this scene an air of adorableness that’s simply unfair.
But I love that he has so much empathy for Kel, that he accepts her, that he gives her advice for the future that’s honest and respectful, and that he’s able to talk with her like no one else does. Oh, right, and he’s better at sewing than she is. Bless him.
This portion of the chapter is probably the longest, and that’s because there’s a lot of information given to us so that we’ll understand Kel’s plan to get Roald and Shinkokami to bond with one another. Here, Tamora Pierce explores the patriarchal world of Tortall, pointing out all the ways such a society hurts everyone. In particular, Kel knows that she can get Shinkokami and Roald to talk, but she has to do so within the framework of proper social conduct. I mean, it’s so awkward! Practically everyone knows what an incredible conversationalist Shinkokami is, but they can’t just bring it up. There is protocol to be followed! And we see that in the actions of Buri and Raoul, too, who begrudgingly have to follow along with specific behavior that befits them.
Kel sees how frustrating this is, specifically the idea that Roald might Shinko “unmaidenly” for wanting to hear about the groups bandit hunt in the summer, so she devises a way to get around this. I LOVE IT. I love that she does all of this for other people. There isn’t a clear way that she benefits from it. On top of that, many of the midwinter guests are drawn to the in-depth and knowledgeable conversations that are spawned from the one that Kel and her friends helped set up. It becomes a pattern at a lot of parties! That’s so awesome, y’all. Kel simply amazes me more with each passing chapter, I swear.
Just wanted to definitively state that he clearly has a crush on her. CLEARLY.
The Chapel of the Ordeal
So, it’s now clear to me that the vision Kel sees when she touches the iron door can change, and that’s because whatever her greatest fear is at that specific moment is dependent on where she is in life. In this case, the events surrounding Joren’s trial are fresh in her mind, and that’s what manifests in her vision. She sees a horrifying future where the people she loves are forced into slavery or death at the hands of Joren, and she’s completely powerless in the process. It’s obviously an important scene for her character, especially as she realizes that she doesn’t want to be a knight who is powerless against the law. And I really think that’s what this is about! Her experience with the court showed her that brute force and bravery can be powerless in the face of politics and law, and that no matter how unjust something might be, she may need to enforce it anyway since she works for the crown. It’s a complicated vision, you know, and I think it was vital that we experience it as the reader. It helps us understand what Kel is up against.
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