In the sixteenth chapter of Trickster’s Queen, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Trickster’s Queen.
Chapter Sixteen: Dunevon’s Birthday
Well, “everything hurts” has never been more appropriate.
There’s a grace to the way that Tamora Pierce both constructs and executes this chapter, which is a ruthlessly difficult thing to deal with. We’d been warned that Elsren and Dunevon were “in the way,” so to speak, and that at some point, the book would have to deal with them. And it’s not like Trickster’s Queen has been a fluffy, feel-good novel.
But fuck. Fuck. I know we always joke around here that I’m not prepared, but this is the point of this chapter. We could not have been prepared for this because of the chaotic nature of the environment that Aly is in. It’s here that Pierce very sternly reminds us that the gods do not and cannot comprehend human interaction. We know this from The Immortals quartet and firsthand through Daine’s experience. And yet, Kyprioth was portrayed as.. well. It’s complicated. He is humorous. He’s silly. He lives up to his nature all the time. And he’s entertaining. But he’s a god with a desire that is literally incomprehensible to Aly. She can’t understand what it must be like to live under the control of other gods like Kyprioth does. She doesn’t know what it’s like to lose your homeland, to watch your believers be shackled up and murdered in a mass genocide, to be in submission to powers and forces out of your control. In that sense, it’s a two-way street. Aly can’t understand the depth of Kyprioth’s determination, and Kyprioth can’t appreciate the depth of the sorrow that he caused.
And he caused it. There’s no doubt about that, and while the regents were directly responsible for what happens here, he’s the one who put it in their minds and influenced the decision. I doubt it would have happened like this (and with so much human collateral damage) if it weren’t for Kyprioth.
In terms of pure dread, though, this chapter is fucking brilliant. I don’t feel like Pierce has the same reputation as authors like George R.R. Martin or writer Joss Whedon in terms of following up joy with utter heartbreak. I don’t feel like she’s as cruel of a writer as them. (And I have complicated feelings about both of their work, more so for Joss.) However, there’s an undeniable dynamic at work here: Dunevon’s birthday was too happy. It was too genuine. In the midst of a rebellion that’s growing and swelling all over the Isles, how is it that the regents were able to steal away a day of calm and order? But let’s just assume that’s not enough. The Shakespearian use of a storm as a bad omen? Oh, hell, y’all. GREAT. SO GREAT. And by “great,” I actually mean “entirely harrowing.”
It’s the waiting that’s stifling and frightening, though. Winnamine’s refusal to obey Ulasim, and then the utter silence from her on the docks. The glares of anger that Nuritin casts on Imajane. The rejection of social expectations on the part of all the families as they await to see if their sons will return. Kyprioth refusing to show himself. The entire idea of a vigil held on the shore. Y’all, it’s so effective at conveying dread, at building suspense, at hinting at the horrors to come.
And the language Pierce uses to describe the ship that does come into harbor all denote violence. Mauled. Battered. Tattered. And Taybur Sibigat himself is a sight of grief and pain:
His eyes were red and swollen. His mail was gone, his clothing ripped. There was a long gash over his left temple, and the entire right side of his face was one purple-black bruise. He limped as he carried Dunevon’s corpse to the regents.
There’s just so much heartbreak here. It’s in Taybur’s body language. It’s in his voice as he apologizes to the other families for not being able to bring their sons back, for not being able to secure their bodies, for losing them to the sea. It’s in Winnamine’s curt silence. It’s in the friend hug that the darkings give Aly. Y’all, this is one of the most oppressively sad things I’ve ever read, and it’s rooted in a deep and brutal unfairness. Elsren and Dunevon were children. Those boys didn’t deserve to die for a rebellion. They didn’t deserve to die for “being in the way,” as Kyprioth later puts it. They didn’t deserve to die because of pure circumstance. The unfairness of it all hurts.
So I’m glad that Pierce doesn’t ignore a bit of this in her condemnation of Kyprioth during the scene where he finally appears to Aly. Kyprioth admits his impatience. (But is it impatience if he’s waited thousands of years for this moment?) He admits his need to be strong when his brother and sister return. (But is it need if there was another solution to this that did not involve their deaths?) He calls Aly and the other raka “tenderhearts.” (But are they tender when they’ve been murdering mages and governors for months now?) And Aly finally gets is:
She looked into his face and saw that those lives meant nothing to him. He was a god. He might care for a few chosen humans. He might even enjoy their company. But in the end, he could no more feel as humans did than could Stormwings.
And yet, amidst the brutal mourning that settles in over the Balitang house, there is some hope and some happiness. On the day after Elsren’s death, Nawat returns to Aly. No… he returns home. Because home is where Aly is:
He set a bow and quiver of crow-fletched arrows by Aly’s door and came toward her, an odd look on his face.
It was a look she would have known on any other man’s face as he greeted the love of his life. She had seen it blaze in her father’s eyes, King Jonathan’s eyes, and Uncle Numy’s eyes, but never in Nawat’s. It was there now.
The last three pages of this chapter are unashamedly joyous, both because of the reunion and because of the physicality of Nawat and Aly. I’m so pleased that Aly discussed (and really, demanded) that they use protection before they finally had sex, and that whole sequence is prominently featured, too! It’s right smack dab in the middle of a SUPER STEAMY MAKE OUT SESSION where I nearly swooned because Nawat.
“If I go to the Peaceful Realms tomorrow, or the day after, I want to go with the taste of you on my lips.”
Well, sweep me the fuck up in your arms, Nawat. GODDAMN.
So yeah. This chapter made me feel… a lot of things. All at once. And there are somehow still five chapters left, which terrifies me. With Dunevon and Elsren dead, it’s undeniable that there’s now a direct path for Dove to take the throne. So how are they going to deal with Imajane and Rubinyan???
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