In the third chapter of Sandry’s Book, the four newcomers to Winding Circle all discover that life in their new home is not that easy. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Circle of Magic.
Trigger Warning: For bullying, violence, racism, and anti-Roma racism.
GODDAMN, THIS IS SO GOOD ALREADY.
I’m beginning to see why so many of you were telling me that I was going to have a blast with the Emelan books because CLEARLY THEY WERE WRITTEN FOR ME. It’s kinda neat that folks are aware of my tastes to the point that they can recommend books to me and know what I’ll like. Now, of course I’m barely into this fictional world, so my thoughts are going to change over the course of this series, but I’m so deeply impressed with how Tamora Pierce handles the numerous complicated issues brought up in this chapter alone. I’m not surprised, mind you, because I’ve largely loved her choices for the Tortall books. But so many authors – not just fantasy or genre authors! – fuck up the basic things here, let alone the more complex concepts. LET US TALK ABOUT THIS.
Sandry and Daja
Y’all, the first time these two characters meet, it’s because Sandry is defending Daja and trying to make her feel welcome and I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS ABOUT THIS I MIGHT BURST. It is a surprise to absolutely no one that I am invested in narratives around bullying, and Pierce writes this sequence with a mind for how bullying can be both general to a culture and painfully specific. There are racial and culture markers in the way the nobles bully Daja, and I am thankful that Pierce doesn’t shy away from pointing that out. I can see a parallel between the Roma people and the Traders, given some of the stereotypes that the nobles assign to Daja once she enters the room:
“Hey, Trader,” a boy demanded, “who’d you rob today?”
“Whose baby did you kill to magic a wind for your sails?” called someone else.
Lord, the parallels are so obvious, and I imagine there will be more as I learn about Trader culture. But Pierce does something else that I’ve only really seen handled in the Harry Potter series: how people in authority either ignore or encourage bullying. Rowling both succeeds and fails in pulling off a nuanced look at this. Dolores Umbridge is one of the most horrifying creations in fiction (but a necessary exploration of how power is abused), but she fails to be anywhere near as critical as she should be about Professor Snape’s behavior in the classroom, or the way in which Dumbledore seems to ignore all the bullying going on under his watch.
So I immediately noticed how Pierce called attention to the fact that the dedicates who interacted with the four main characters all failed them somehow. Just after Daja is insulted openly, the dedicate present does not discourage the others from picking on her. She says:
“Find a seat,” ordered the dedicate who ran the dining hall, her voice sharp. “No one can serve until you have a place.”
That’s what she immediately does: places the onus of the entire meal on Daja. So yes, I was thrilled that Sandry was able to see how messed up this was and, at great risk to her personal safety and reputation, she chose to align herself with the most despised person in the room, all so that Daja would feel like she had a friend. And she doesn’t do this quietly, either; she’s obvious, she’s bossy, and she insults Esmelle beautifully. THIS IS THE START OF A WONDERFUL FRIENDSHIP, ISN’T IT.
Tris is failed in the third sentence of her section:
“Trisana, listen to me – I have your best interests at heart.” The blue-robed dedicate stood over her, blocking the light. “These odd ways of yours make you no friends with the other girls. They’re outside enjoying this splendid weather. You should be, too. If you are to make anything of yourself, you need friendships with girls who will help you meet the right kind of people.”
I’M BORED WITH YOUR WORDS, PLEASE STOP. This dedicate lacks empathy; she has no interest in finding out why Tris behaves as she does or why Tris would prefer reading a book than playing outside. (Seriously, am I Trisana? THIS IS TOO EERIE.) The dedicate is certain that with the right friends and the right training and the perfect way to act, everyone can be successful and popular, and –
“This is for your benefit,” the dedicate told her. “Whatever caused your parents to give you to the Living Circle temples –”
Well, that was the exact point that the dedicate utterly lost me. How much longer until she had blamed Tris for her parents abandoning her? If you knew someone’s parents LITERALLY GAVE THEM UP, why would you possibly insist that this is the child’s fault? You don’t have Tris’s best interests in mind because you don’t even care enough to treat her like she’s deserving or basic respect. Tris has every reason to be disinterested in being friends with other people. It’s how she protects herself from the inevitable heartbreak and abandonment that she has experienced so many times that it’s commonplace for her. It’s all she knows, and this woman isn’t making it better.
So Tris lashes out. I’m still a little surprised that she’s not too cognizant of the fact that she is causing all the storms and earthquakes, but she’s young, and it’s an admittedly absurd concept. Controlling the weather and the ground? WHO DOES THAT? I have to remember that she still doesn’t believe she is a mage of any sort, and the possible explanations for her strangeness that Niko suggested are all fairly rare or unheard of anyway. I just want her to have a friend. 🙁
OH HEY LET’S MAKE THINGS WORK. The anti-Trader bias is most likely going to play a large part in this, given that Daja faced yet another attack in this chapter. This time, it was a lot more violent and scary, and it reminded me of all the times I had my ass kicked in junior high and high school because I was perceived as gay. For Daja, it’s just another unfortunate interaction on top of a string of horrible luck. She’s disappointed in herself, she misses her home and her people, and she’s stuck in a place where people despise her on sight.
So here’s where Pierce gets it right. Niko and the Honored Moonstream, who is the Dedicate Superior, offer Daja a new place to live, one where she’ll at least have some privacy. That’s important because it means she can sleep and dress and have a quiet space free from the bigotry that surrounds her. But then, Moonstream says:
“Now – I want to find the ones who did this.”
I mentioned the Harry Potter series on video, but it’s very common for there to be no real repercussions for bullies in a school atmosphere. TRUST ME, I AM INTIMATELY FAMILIAR WITH THIS PHENOMENON. Oh god, the most common excuse I heard whenever I did scrounge up the courage to tell an adult? “Boys will be boys.” AHHHH, BURN THIS AWFUL SENTENCE FROM ALL OF OUR MINDS, IT IS A PLAGUE ON THIS CULTURE. So I’m pleased that Moonstream does not want this to be a part of her school.
Like Daja’s treatment, Briar’s treatment at the hands of his peers and his superiors is awful. Sometimes, I forget how cruel children can be, but this is a disturbing reminder of that. Now, it would be bad enough that these kids bullied Briar, but when a male dedicate comes to THE BULLIES’ DEFENSE, he makes it clear that he was biased against Briar from the start:
“I knew what would happen when they let that guttersnipe in!” The male dedicate hauled Briar up by his shirt. “You’re out of this dormitory. If I have my way, you’re out of Winding Circle altogether.”
He doesn’t care that Briar was bullied, that the other boys touched what little stuff he owned and dumped it on the floor, or that they threatened him. As soon as Briar reacted violently, he lost in that dedicate’s eyes. (I absolutely do not trust anyone who focuses on the reaction to violence or disrespect more than the initial act. Nope.) And it’s upsetting! Briar shares an experience with the other three newcomers: all of them are too weird and different from the general population, and they suffer for it.
Tris and Sandry
Well, now we know that all four of these kids are bound for Discipline Cottage, which is a… a place. For things. Where stuff happens. Maybe Niko is in charge of that place? Eventually, they’ll all be in one location, but I did like that they’re starting to slowly get introduced to one another. While Tris waits outside Moonstream’s office, she meets Sandry, who is brought in to see Moonstream as well for some unnamed act that finally made a dedicate break her patience. (These dedicates aren’t very patient, are they?) Now, Tris does not immediately warm to Sandry, despite that Sandry is nice and unafraid of Tris. I thought that was perfectly in character for Tris. Again, she has no reason to trust any of these people because she’s used to everything being temporary. Why open herself to anyone? She’s used to being disposed, and she’s got no sign that this is a different case.
BUT I HOPE IT IS BECAUSE TRIS.
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