Mark Reads ‘Street Magic’: Chapter 1

In the first chapter of Street Magic, I WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOMETHING. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.

Trigger Warning: For talk of gangs/gang violence, classism.

I love this. ALREADY. Buckle in, I’ve got a lot to say.

The Rich and the Poor

Pierce hasn’t been afraid to talk about class before this, though… shit, saying that is weird? Isn’t it? Technically, this book wasn’t published in the order I’ve read Pierce’s books; I think you can see a lot of the Doggy Books (OFFICIAL NAME, FYI) in Magic Steps, and I believe that’s the case here, too. Of course, I’ve only read one chapter so far, but I can see how themes of gentrification and the class strata play into the world that is being built in Street Magic.

And make no mistake: THERE IS A TON OF WORLD BUILDING IN THIS CHAPTER ALONE. A ton of it! I actually think it’s neat that Pierce reverse a pretty common metropolitan dynamic within Chammur because I would normally expect the rich to live in a place that is literally higher up than everywhere else. I’ve written about this before, but that’s quite frequently how many large cities in the United States function, and certainly those that I’ve lived in. Brentwood? The Hollywood Hills? Ladera Heights? All of these places contained the best real estate. You see that here in the Bay Area as well, with million dollar homes lining… wait, that’s a terrible example because EVERY HOME IS A MILLION DOLLAR HOME IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Still, I liked that there was a clear divide between the rich and the poor. Much of the original part of Chammur, called Heartbeat Heights, is where the poorer citizenry lives, while the wealthy people live on open ground. Why?

As the city grew crowded, the wealthiest and most powerful moved their homes to the flat, open ground between the heights and the river, where they could surround themselves with elaborate houses and gardens.

It’s a different culture, and so their wealthy value different things than what I might be used to in a Western nation. Pierce chooses to have this manifest in a number of ways in Chammur, from the street gangs, to Zenadia’s behavior, to the politics within the souks. I’d even go so far as to suggest that the policy of checking hands before entering the souks is a clear sign of a class divide. Who is more likely than not to be persecuted for committing a crime? Who is more likely to be caught for committing a crime? These questions matter when discussing justice and punishment because of how often societies skew towards demonizing one group over another, often along class, race, and gender lines.

Street Gangs

I grew up in Riverside, California, and my neighbors for many years were in a gang. Most of our block belonged to that gang’s territory, and the first time I heard gunshots in our neighborhood, I was nine. I soon learned to phase them out. I also began to emulate a lot of their behavior, not just because I was impressionable and young, but because I felt like they brought me closer to a culture I wasn’t a part of. My twin and I had an abysmal time living in Boise because we were the only visibly brown kids in our school. (There might have been others in the upper grades, but we honestly could not recall a single one.) We got to Southern California and were promptly overwhelmed. Not only where there a majority of kids who looked just like us, but there were kids darker than us, something we’d never seen before. That sense of excitement died fairly quickly in me, though, because I suffered from a glaring problem:

I did not speak Spanish.

It went further than that, though. I wasn’t raised in any culture. I didn’t have the same experiences as anyone. I shared no collective journey with a people or an ethnic group, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. (One day, I’ll write in detail about the experience of transracial adoption and language. Because my brother and I had accents growing up, and I don’t anymore, and that’s because of a very specific reason.) So suddenly, I’m living next door to people who seemed very authentic to me. No one questioned them being latinx or black or anything. They just were. I picked up particular ways of wearing clothing or walking or talking from those guys. I saw other kids dressing certain ways, and I wanted to dress that way.

Gang life was inescapable growing up. Sure, some of it was violent and scary. I saw a lot of fights. I knew people who didn’t ever show up to school again, either because they were carted off to juvie or prison, or because they never made it home again. But I also had friends in some of these gangs, people I actually trusted because they were loyal and they had my back. That was rare for me in junior high and high school; I often felt like my support network was a fragile thing. But there were a pair of guys in a local gang (admittedly one of the most territorial of the bunch) who I tutored for years. They never beat me up. When I got outed, they didn’t turn their backs on me. And years later, when I was in Riverside visiting home and someone did try to kick my ass for some homophobic nonsense, one of them stepped in to defend me.

It’s a complex thing to talk about, not just on a personal level, though. People turn to gang life for a myriad of reasons, many of which I couldn’t possibly address correctly or respectfully. But there’s a reason that street gangs are so common in impoverished neighborhoods, and there’s a reason that these groups are so heavily policed and monitored. I don’t know if any of that will play a part in this book, but one thing I appreciated about what Pierce wrote here is that there’s no condemnation of these people. While Zenadia’s behavior is portrayed negatively, most of this is presented simply as the way of Chammur:

He wasn’t surprised to find more than one gang here – souks were traditionally grounds where gangs roamed under truce.

That’s something that Briar has to navigate while in the city, and he does so brilliantly. He’s made friends with the Camelguts (WHAT A NAME!), and he’s made enemies with the Vipers, though he did so because he knew that they were not behaving as gangs should within the souks. Briar doesn’t forget where he came from, something that makes his character so rich and interesting. You can see that in his interactions with the Camelgut youths; there’s a sense of respect in his voice and manner, you know?

Evumeimei Dingzhai

YES Y E S. Okay, so I’m already into the idea that each of the Discipline kids finds new students that desperate need magical instruction. Briar does so entirely by accident when he asks Evvy, who is polishing stones for Nahim, if she’s using her magic during her work. Like Pasco, Evvy rejects the claim that she has magic wholesale:

Why did he ask about magic? If she’d had any, her parents would not have sold her to a Chammuran innkeeper before continuing west. If she were a mage, she wouldn’t have to live in Princes’ Heights as a street rat who scraped to feed herself and her cats.

I think it’s also important to note that she doesn’t have quite the same reasoning for rejecting Briar’s claim. Here, we can see a very clear division along class lines in Evvy’s perception of magic. She would not have been sold into work if she’d been a mage; she would not be living in poverty if she were a mage. These markers are obvious to her because they define the world she lives in. Thus, Briar is absurd. His claims are absurd. If he were telling the truth, then why has her life been so hard up to this point?

Lady Zenadia doa Attaneh

WHAT THE FUCK, EVERYTHING IS MESSED UP ALREADY. There’s no more clear sign of class privilege than in Zenadia and her… gang? Her group of boys she abuses and manipulates to do her every whim? I don’t even know what to call them, but you know what this feels like? Someone who is very rich and VERY BORED. So what do they do? Gather those “below” them to act out some messed up drama for their amusement. LIKE THIS:

“Once you have taught the other Vipers the use of blackjacks, you will enter Camelgut” – she wrinkled her nose – “territory by stealth. Separate these upstarts from their gang one or two at a time. Take them coming and going from their homes, when they will not be with a group. Deal with them harshly, and leave them where they will be found. Try not to be seen. The less people know, the more they will fear. Am I understood?”

WHAT THE HOLY HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU??? You’re ordering children and teenagers to kill other children and teenagers. All of this over an act of “disrespect,” one which Sajiv kinda earned because he was a creep to Briar??? Oh my god, WHAT.

I’m not ready.

The original text contains use of the word “crazy.”

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in Emelan, Street Magic, The Circle Opens and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.