In the eighteenth chapter of Lady Knight, Kel faces the Nothing Man. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Lady Knight.
Chapter Eighteen: Blayce
Evil can come in the most unassuming packages.
Tamora Pierce does a brilliant thing in this final (full) chapter of Lady Knight, and it’s yet another aspect to this novel that toys with our expectations. This is perhaps the most realistic of the Tortall novels, not necessarily because of the brutality of what happens here, but because Pierce deliberately refuses to make Blayce a cardboard cutout villain. After everything we’ve heard about him over the course of this story, he’s presented here as… well, just some dude. He’s not hypersmart. He isn’t frighteningly beautiful, like Joren. He’s not necessarily cunning, or brilliant, or vicious, or intimidating. No, he’s just a bigot, and it’s his inherent plainness that upsets Kel. And I think that’s meant to unsettle us as well. Even I succumbed to the same thing, wondering aloud what the hell this confrontation was going to be like. How was this fight going to go down? After Kel’s stupendous battle against Stenmun and his men, I admit that I came into this chapter expecting something absolutely ridiculous and over-the-top.
But that’s not what this book is about in the end, and I appreciate so much that Pierce shows us that evil need not be a spectacle or a procession. It can be perpetrated by cowards and perverts who simply believe that they’re special and unique. For all that Blayce believes that it was his destiny to pursue necromancy, it really doesn’t seem to matter at the conclusion of his life, does it? He doesn’t get to grandstand and monologue, and what little he reveals about himself here is suspect. It’s possible that before Kel discovered he was tricking her, Blayce was lying about everything. Does he believe he was forced? Is he convinced that this was his destiny since he was “naturally” good at necromancy? Who fucking knows, y’all??? Pierce refuses to let Blayce fall into archetypical villain narratives, and that’s because it doesn’t matter. What he did – exploit the innocence of children so he could murder them – was so awful that his death ends up being without ceremony. In just two moves, Kel causes Blayce to fall to his knees, and then she beheads. There’s no fanfare. It’s not anywhere near as epic as her fight with Stenmun, and I don’t think it should have been. Blayce didn’t deserve it, you know?
She stopped, thinking about what she’d just said, and smiled briefly. He had deserved worse, yet she had not given it to him. That was something to be proud of, and it made up for her carelessness in almost getting trapped by the pendant spell.
And I love that throughout this, Pierce continues to analyze Kel’s humanity. What kind of person is she after essentially executing two of the most heinous antagonists in the entire Tortall universe? But I actually think there was a bigger question at hand:
Because right? What the hell does Kel do next? It was appropriate that the Chamber god appear once more to tell Kel that her quest was over, specifically because Kel told that god she was done with the Chamber god. This is about her choosing her own destiny, to reject the influence and direction of a god who didn’t really help her that much anyway. Like Daine in Emperor Mage, I really like this idea that the heroines of Tortall can reject gods’ work in their own way, and that it doesn’t mean they don’t believe in them. Kel thinks her title – the Protector of the Small – is silly, but that’s because she doesn’t see herself as we do. The scope of what she’s done in this quartet is unreal, and it’s hard to wrap my mind around how far she’s come. But I think you can see that in her actions in this chapter, too! She picks up the (allegedly) dead cat who helped distract Stenmun, believing it deserves better than to be left behind with these horrors. She gives Loesia necessary advice when Loesia is conflicted about killing one of the Scanran men who had been nice to her. And she gives the bodies of the Scanrans to the Stormwings, knowing that some good must come from them. These are all qualities that represent just how much Kel has grown, as well as of the sort of person she always was.
Not everything is victorious, though. Gil, Sergeant Connac, Morun, Lofren, Corporate Fulcher, Happy, and Shepherd all perished in the fight, leaving Owen more stricken with grief than usual. (I don’t blame him because I cannot deal with pets dying. It’s too much for me, y’all. And yet, Kel doesn’t even allow herself time to grieve. She organizes the survivors quickly so that they can get back into Tortall, and the entire time, she thinks of others instead of herself. Even when she briefly entertains the notion of desertion out of fear that she’ll be executed, she discards the notion, knowing that she has to be responsible to those she helped survive and for her own actions.
That doesn’t mean I was a bundle of joy when Kel finally arrived on the other side of the Vassa to see Lord Wyldon, Lord Raoul, and Duke Baird waiting for them. It was immensely uncomfortable, especially since I could figure out exactly how this was going to end. I could have seen Wyldon go either direction for a number of reasons, though I suspected that even if he did chastise Kel, Owen, and Neal for what they did, he would still find a way to keep them around. However, this part TOTALLY BROKE ME:
“I am sad for the loss of the horse – he was one of the best I’ve raised – but I would be sorrier still for the loss of a squire in whom I can take pride.”
It’s a shocking moment until you think about it. Lord Wyldon had come to respect Kel after Squire, and he trusted her to take care of and protect the refugees at Haven. Truthfully, Kel, while disobeying her superior, did exactly as he asked. She protected those people. She fought for them. She broke the law to do so.
“You are a true knight, Keladry of Mindelan,” he told her. “I am honored to know you.”
Oh, this is just too much for me to handle. I am bewildered by the growth of these characters. I use the plural there because as much as Wyldon’s development over the course of Protector of the Small is heart-wrenching, you can’t divorce said development from Kel’s. It happens in tandem. Wait, that’s not quite right. His character development happens because of her. Even better, Pierce inherently centers Kel’s growth over Wyldon’s, and I appreciate that this reversal of expected roles is so present and obvious in the novel. How often do we read novels where the women who help men “grow” are relegated to manic pixie dream girls or minor side characters? That’s not the case here, and it helps me understand why so many of y’all have looked to these books for comfort and empowerment.
There’s still an epilogue left (NO, NOTE ENOUGH LEFT, EVERYTHING HURTS), but I found it fitting that Kel would be assigned to build and then command a new refugee camp. I can’t imagine a better thing for her to do.
Why must this end?
Please note that the original text and the videos contain the words “mad” and “madness.”
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