In the seventeenth chapter of Lady Knight, the local villagers take Kel and her friends to their confrontation with Stenmun. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Lady Knight.
Chapter Seventeen: The Gallan’s Lair
IT’S HAPPENING. NO, IT HAS HAPPENED. Y’all, this chapter is so much.
Truly, I don’t think the stakes have ever felt so immense before, despite that this is not the first time that the end of a Tortall novel has deal with something so massive and important. Daine certainly has. Alanna has seen some shit, y’all. But the way that Pierce has framed Lady Knight (and, for that matter, the Protector of the Small quartet) lends the story to a sort of all-encompassing terror and tension. Kel is fighting for something incredibly specific and something that will have far-reaching ramifications if she can take down Blayce. This is as much about saving the lives of the children that Blayce has had kidnapped as it is about the very idea of protecting the people who need the most help from those with the most power. Kel’s victory here would be a powerful message sent about what is not acceptable to do, too! So, obviously, I want her to succeed for multiple reasons. At the same time, I don’t know that the odds have felt so impossible. That’s not to suggest that these people are ill-qualified or poor fighters. No, I’d say it’s the opposite. But, like the rescue of the refugees a few chapters ago, there are so many things here that could go wrong. They’re all believable things within the context of this universe. The risk feels real. The danger feels palpable. It’s unbearable, y’all.
It doesn’t help that the very first thing that Pierce does in this chapter is provide the full context of what Blayce has been doing. King Maggur’s complicity in the subjugation of the villagers in the Gallan mage’s terror is spelled out, as well as the reason why these Scanrans are suffering so much. As we’ll later learn, it’s a combination of opportunity and apathy. Maggur had the chance to gain the upper hand, so he took it, while he simultaneous turned a blind eye to whatever Blayce was doing to secure children for his killing devices. There’s also this line of Zerhalm’s that’s important:
“Couriers say we’ll eat like kings when we’ve land in the south, but we don’t hear of any great victories.”
This is a conscious decision on the part of Pierce to make sure we’re viewing this war from the point of view of people who don’t normally frame narratives of war. These villagers aren’t soldiers, and they aren’t necessarily going to benefit from the war itself, either. How does the war against Tortall affect them, then? In the case of this village (and, apparently, many around it), they end up being war fodder themselves. Their children, who are viewed as disposable by those in charge, are sent to Blayce. The parents are often beat or sometimes skinned alive and hung in cages to die just for trying to get their children back or for questioning the castle’s needs. Eventually, all of their children were taken. I can’t even begin to fathom the scope of this. I don’t know, I guess I always assumed that Blayce was doing this as some weird sort of revenge against Tortall, but this isn’t some sort of nationalistic act. No, he’s a fucking pervert, and he doesn’t care where he’s getting the children.
I seriously don’t think there’s a more despicable antagonist in Tortall, y’all.
Pierce moves from this to a deliciously dense section that reads like a heist sequence, planned and acted out by some of the villagers and Kel’s forces that she commands. It’s… lord, it’s suspenseful and detailed. Like Kel’s journey into the Chamber of the Ordeal at the end of the previous book, this truly feels like the amalgamation of all of Kel’s learning since First Test. Her techniques are equal parts originality and learned knowledge, and it’s one of the main reasons I called this “immense.” I know that the end of Squire felt like the end of the series, but now it really feels like this is the case. This is what’s going to make or break Kel, and I think she knows this. So she takes extreme care in planning this siege, knowing that there are about a million things that could make this go terribly. (That’s also in part due to her time spent with Lord Raoul. Raoul. HE WOULD BE SO PROUD OF HER.)
There are so many amazing little moments throughout this, like Owen’s speech about why he wanted to become a knight, which made my heart ache because he was potentially risking his knighthood to do the very thing he believed knights should do. How is this book real. I love that there are all these subtle signs of how sloppy the Scanrans are because it works as a reminder that the Scanrans were once not as united as they are under Maggur. Well, it’s not just that; I’m being reductive. It also comes from the fact that they simply aren’t preparing for a siege within the castle. I think that’s indicative of how willing the Scanrans are to underestimate both the Tortallans and their own citizens. That includes Blayce and Stenmun, who both clearly don’t value most human lives.
Then there’s the whole part where Kel and her group begin to rescue the children from the second floor of the castle, and it’s too much? I nearly started crying just thinking about it. I know they’re not out of harm’s way quite yet, but the very idea of them passing silently by Kel and crying as they realize they’ve been rescued by the woman who promised to protect them is akin to being punched in the heart. But there was another aspect of this that set me on edge: WHERE WAS STENMUN? WHERE WAS BLAYCE?
I couldn’t believe that Kel would get out of this without a confrontation with them, and then THE FIGHTING HAPPENED. Again, Kel figures out a way to use the element of surprise to change the odds (as Raoul taught her to do), and what follows can only be describe as ANNIHILATION OF THE ENEMY. Well, I make it sound all victorious and honorable, but, as she’s done in the past, Pierce makes sure to acknowledge how uncomfortable Kel is with what she’s doing. It’s not necessarily easy for Kel to kill people, but she puts aside her own discomfort in service to those children and to Tortall. As the Scanran soldiers spill out of the barracks and are cut down, I could tell that Kel was doing what she had to so that her group would stay alive, and if that meant cutting a man who had fallen to the ground, so be it.
So, I’ve mentioned a few times that this was tense and hectic and everything hurt (more or less), but I didn’t state that I WAS CONSTANTLY TERRIFIED THAT EVERYONE I LOVE WOULD DIE. Because that was a very real threat here, and once Morun, the lockpicker, appeared dead, I was SUPER WORRIED. (Could you tell in the videos? OF COURSE YOU COULD. Why do I drink coffee while reading these things? I’m such a fool.) Would they be overpowered and outnumbered?
Loesia screamed. Tobe was shot, an arrow in his side.
Yeah, this was the exact sentence where I was so done with the book that I seriously contemplated just not reading anymore. Because sure, I wanted to find out if Tobe survived, but I was completely unwilling to deal with his possible death. I’m still not! If he dies, so does all my willpower. I feel better that Neal is with Owen, but still. Don’t you dare do this to me. DON’T DO IT.
The final part of chapter seventeen is… it’s unreal. Stenmun has largely been a distant force, an idea, and even though we’ve seen him in the book, Kel never confronted him. So when she does fight him here, it feels so much more frantic than I anticipated. He’s a formidable, intimidating fighter, and Kel knows that she’s got a very frightening fight ahead of her. Of course, this is made worse when, in the midst of the fight, she questions why Stenmun would even help Blayce in the first place:
“Only you rich folk think money doesn’t mean anything. Listen, these commoners’ brats die all the time. Famine, disease, war – something gets them.” He feinted at Kel, who dodged and feinted back. he blocked, still talking. ” At least Blayce’s way they have a bit of fun and decent meal before they go, and we have King Maggur’s gratitude.”
I can’t. I CAN’T. Just… THIS IS SO GROSS. “Something gets them.” YEAH, YOU’RE HELPING CONTRIBUTE TO THAT, YOU ASSHOLE. Oh my god, I didn’t think I could hate Stenmun more. So I wasn’t particularly sad at all that Kel bested him by USING HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT TECHNIQUES. BEST. BEST THING. And I didn’t feel bad when she crushed his skull or slashed his throat. No, if anything, I was eager to see her confront Blayce so that he’d get his comeuppance, too. That’s clearly being saved for the final chapter, which means I am unprepared yet again for the end of a Tortall novel. Oh my god, what do you say to someone like Blayce??? I can’t wait to find out.
Please note that in the original text and the videos that the words “idiot” and “mad” appear.
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