In the eighteenth and final chapter of Squire, Keladry of Mindelan finally faces the Ordeal. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Squire.
Chapter Eighteen: Ordeal
Let me just start this off by saying I am still done with all of you.
There’s a grace to what Tamora Pierce pulls off in this final chapter. In many ways, she shirked a traditional narrative pace. While Kel’s Ordeal always hung over her in Squire, there was never quite a single plot that was to be explored and resolved in this novel. Instead, it’s a lengthy, complicated, and layered examination of what it was like for Kel to be a woman squire. With that comes the reality that life doesn’t really progress like a carefully planned novel. (Which is not to suggest that this wasn’t a carefully planned novel. My gods, it sure does feel that way, and I love it.) There are ups and downs, things resolve themselves before the end, and many things are left unsaid and unanswered. This all adds to the air of realism in Squire. Well, realism in that specific context. Obviously, this book has a whole lot of fantastical elements to it, which includes Kel’s UNREAL EXPERIENCE in the Chamber of the Ordeal.
I’ll get to that in a bit. Pierce writes the first half of this chapter with a very distinct tone that’s a combination between wistfulness, fear, and sadness. I know that the next book is called Lady Knight, and even if I hadn’t, Pierce isn’t that cynical that she’d write an ending where Kel died in the Chamber. And yet, she still makes so many fascinating and rewarding decisions in this chapter that were unexpected. First of all, I didn’t expect to feel so sad about Kel entering the Chamber. That comes initially when Raoul admits that he’d let her stay with him in the Third Company instead of pursuing her shield. He does care about her, so much so that he’d be willing to keep her as a squire if she wanted to. But becoming a knight is far too important to her, despite that it means she has leave her new friends and comrades behind. Raoul knows this, but I found it to be a sweet moment nonetheless, one that’s continued with her positive interactions with Flyndan and Lerant. This weird sadness I felt only got more intense as Raoul escorted Kel to Corus. I simply did not want these two to be separated at all. I had enjoyed them together so much that it was affecting me to think about Kel going off and being a knight for the realm on her own, and can’t they just be a buddy cop duo fighting crime in Tortall? This is all I want.
I mean, the two settle into such a personal and comfortable routine at the palace in the weeks leading up to the Ordeal. I think that’s a clear sign that they’re just perfect working together, and it’s an unspoken part of this chapter. Notice how Kel is most comfortable with Raoul prior to the Ordeal and not with any of her own friends, many who have returned to Corus to go through the Ordeal themselves.
So it goes without saying that Kel and I were both getting extremely nervous about the Ordeal as it approached. CAN YOU BLAME ME AT ALL. First, we find out that Lord Turomot has offered to be Kel’s second knight, the one who will bear witness to her vigil. WHICH IS A BIG DEAL. In a way, it’s kind of sweet? Yeah, he has his own reasons for it. He is pissed that tradition had been so gloriously uprooted when Joren had tried to prevent Kel from becoming a squire, so it makes sense that he’d oversee her vigil so that no one could try to sabotage her again. And I like that Kel’s resentment for her treatment rears its head again. She’s always wanted to be treated as the boys are, and even if Turomot is protecting her, it’s not something any of the boys will ever have to deal with.
On top of all of this, the aftermath of both Vinson’s and Joren’s Ordeal haunts everything. Yuki expresses her fearful concern about Neal to Kel, something she’s embarrassed to admit. (omg Yuki likes Neal it’s so adorable.) Hell, how could you not be worried about another death after what happened to Joren? But Neal ends up surviving the Ordeal, though he’s a bit shaken by it. (I loved the detail of Neal wearing Yuki’s shukusen in his belt during his knighting ceremony.) After that, Kel’s friends all go through the Ordeal, one day after the next, all surviving and becoming knights themselves.
But oh lord, everything felt so foreboding as Kel prepared for her Ordeal. As I said earlier, the tone that Tamora Pierce used in this chapter conveyed such a sad and fearful note to me. Kel bids her friends and pets and companions goodbye as if she won’t see them again. She eats dinner alone. Oh my god, that image alone kind of ruined me. I think this was so powerful because Kel was genuinely worried that the Chamber would kill her. And I don’t think this was a matter of her believing she was a horrible person. Based on the visions she had receieved over the course of the novel, she knew that the Chamber wanted to destroy her. How could she stop that if it wanted to?
And yet, amidst a whole lot of anxiety and terror, Pierce gives us one of the most poignant bits of writing in all her books to date. Once Kel starts her vigil and begins to meditate on what it means to become a knight, I realized that the scene really could have fit at the end of the quartet. It was such a gorgeous and evocative summary of everything that she had been through since the start of this series. It was a way to reminisce about the past and show us how she has grown over these three books. But it also touches on the titular theme of the quartet: Kel wants to become a knight so that she can protect the small. It’s always what she’s wanted, and she sees this reflected in the “duty” of Turomot behind her.
Then it begins. So, I really loved Alanna’s scene in the Chamber of the Ordeal, but this totally punts that one into the stratosphere. It felt like Pierce spent far more time in the Chamber with Kel than Alanna, and what we see here is a whole lot more disturbing and visceral. Unexpected? No, I wouldn’t say that, at least not about what the Chamber makes real for Kel. As we’ve seen time and time again, Kel’s terror is rooted in feeling useless, and this is just another variation on the visions of the past. Kel must deal with the awful growing horror she feels as she is paralyzed while her friends are all brutally murdered. Obviously, it’s extremely upsetting, but it’s that very fact which Kel latches on to:
I thought you would be grand and terrible! I thought you would make us grow up, make us accept knighthood’s duties and sacrifices. This is just mean – you’re a nightmare device, bringing bad dreams to people who want to help others!
It’s a shocking moment, one that’s actually foreshadowed earlier when Kel mouths off to the Chamber about climbing a tree. This is what’s unexpected, the first of a few things. Kel rightly calls out the force behind the Chamber as being cruel, something that we all felt but may not have vocalized. How does this determine if a person will be a good night? How does driving people into fear make them better? The Chamber’s response is even more shocking:
You’ll do, a cold, whispering voice said somewhere between the inside of her ears and her mind. You’ll do quite nicely.
Even without the absolute mindfuck that follows this, the Chamber’s words are just so fucking creepy. But in a way, the Chamber respects her rage and rejection, doesn’t it?
However, then the thing happens. It is the thing that I never could have anticipated or guessed and oh my Mithros WHAT JUST HAPPENED.
First of all, a face shows up. A face shows up in the Chamber. And it’s a physical manifestation of the Chamber, and I was so confused, and WAS THIS SOMETHING THAT NORMALLY HAPPENED? But then the little man shows up and this made zero sense. At first. At first. Because once the robot beetle creatures that Kel fought in the previous chapter show up, and the Chamber reveals that there are twelve of them, it was clear to me that this was not tradition. The Chamber had chosen Kel to convey a message, and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the most disturbing things I have ever read:
Later she would understand why she had refused to believe what she saw. It was too vile. A twelfth black killing device forced her to see things as they really were. It stepped out of the shadows. It tossed a dead child onto the pile. They were all battered, dead children.
This is your task, the whispering voice told her shocked brain. You will know when it has found you.
!!!!!!!!! LIKE, WHAT DO I EVEN SAY TO THIS? WHAT IS THERE TO SAY ABOUT THIS? It doesn’t matter that I basically figured it out because please make this go away. OH MY GOD. The Scanrans – or someone they allied with – have murdered children to make their robot killing machines.
It will find you, the Chamber told her. When it does, fix it.
oh my gods ARE YOU SERIOUS? It was right around here when I realized Kel was not allowed to talk about what happened in her Ordeal. She literally can’t share with anyone what she just learned. UGH! Thankfully, I was distracted by all the glorious joy and happiness. Kel did it! KEL IS NOW A KNIGHT. And then the Queen and Buri and Shinkokami present Kel with her shield, and I am a new kind of done. I understood how significant it was that Kel got a distaff border, and I am still that new kind of done.
But there was one more surprise waiting for me: Lady Alanna.
“You’ve grown since the last sword I gave you, and I got a better idea of your fighting style on progress.”
HALLELUJAH, I WAS RIGHT. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD I AM SO HAPPY.
“I had the magic, don’t you see, and the hand of the Goddess one me. Everyone could and did say I was a freak, one of those once-a-century people. No one else needs to strive for what I did, because they couldn’t reach it.” Alanna smiled crookedly. “But you, bless you, you are real. Those girls watched you, and talked about your style in the saddle, and the things you did. They swore they’d take up archery, or riding, or Shang combat, because you had showed them it was all right. I was so proud.”
I had to quote this. I had to. I have needed to read it this whole time, and it was every bit as satisfying as I could have hoped it would be. Oh my god, Alanna, I adore you, and this means so much to me. I AM VERY EMOTIONAL RIGHT NOW, CAN YOU TELL.
Ugh, and then there’s the Yamani steel sword, and I discovered another type of done. It’s right here. SHE NAMED IT GRIFFIN. This is all your fault, Tamora Pierce fandom. Your fault.
I don’t know how Tamora Pierce can ever top this book because IT WAS SPECTACULAR, so I’m very eager to keep going. MORE KEL. MORE TORTALL. MORE EVERYTHING.
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