In the eleventh chapter ofÂ Street Magic, Evvy moves and Briar clashes with Lady Zenadia. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to readÂ The Circle Opens.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of homelessness, poverty, classism, slavery.
This is a tale of two cities.
Chapter eleven is split fairly evenly between the disparate worlds of Chammur, and Pierce juxtaposes the life that Evvy has known for years with the one that Lady Zenadia takes for granted. It’s a haunting portrait of privilege and class, and it absolutely informs the story that’s happening around it. And that’s what I appreciate about the worldbuilding that happens here: you can’t divorce it from these characters or the plot. This would not be the same book unless we knew that Zenadia, with all her wealth and power, was desperate to treat Evvy like a mere trinket to be purchased and used.
The same goes for Evvy, who gets the focus of the opening scene of this chapter. Her home helps her explain who she is andÂ whyÂ she is the person she is. I imagine that Pierce’s time doing social work and working with foster kids played an influence in what appears here. I say that because there are details about poverty and homelessness present in Evvy’s section that areÂ tooÂ real, uncomfortably so. The most obvious of them?
That’s something that I’m certain many people don’t truly understand. When you don’t have access to regular showers or the ability to cleanse yourself frequently, there’s a specific stench to it. When I was homeless in high school, I figured this out the hard way, and so I started using the school’s locker room to shower daily, making up excuses whenever I could aboutÂ whyÂ I was doing so whenever my friends asked why I did. They all went home after practice to shower, but for nearly a month, I didn’t have access to anything like that.
I also appreciated that brief sequence with Qinling, namely because it reflects a fairly specific immigrant experience. There’s a reason many immigrant populations seek out reminders of home, refusing to assimilate entirely to the new culture that they’re a part of. Here, Evvy is sad about leaving Qinling behind because “[s]he’s the only one who speaks Zhanzou with me.” That’s significant because there are so few people like Evvy in Chammur and she lacks an obvious, immediate connection to anyone. Of course, that’s complicated by the fact that she was sold into slavery and denied the chance to go home.
And yet, amidst all of this trauma and heartbreak, Evvy made a home for herself, one that shocks Briar when he finally sees it. I think that’s a sign of how Briar has moved up the class strata, first of all, since he once knew exactly what it was like to have nowhere to live. Did he not once fall asleep on a patch of moss in a cell? But I think his surprise is largely reserved for one thing: the physical sign of Evvy’s power. She had unknowingly used her stone magic to coax the rock of her home into acting likeÂ butter, all so she could press the stones she collected into the wall. THAT’S SO INCREDIBLE, Y’ALL. How long had her magic been manifesting??? Had it appeared much earlier than she knew???
She’s gonna be such a powerful mage. I don’t doubt it at all.
It’s fascinating to me, then, to see how Pierce walks us through Evvy’s home, only to later walk us through Lady Zenadia’s home. The contrast is glaring and horrifying at the same time. Briar trekked to Evvy’s home through claustrophobic passages and eye-watering smells. While on Lady Zenadia’s property, he’s treated to one of the best tended gardens he’sÂ everÂ seen. It’s a methodically plotted location, and being a green mage, it’s understandable why he’s so impressed. That’s particularly the case with certain “trees and shrubs” that “were gleefully vigorous, pulsing with strength.” Chammur is a desert climate, and somehow, Lady Zenadia’s gardnerers found a way to keep a lush garden alive.
hah akd;lfj a;ha aha ahah aÂ alive.
Briar hesitated, curious still. What are they feeding you? he asked the fruit trees by the rear wall. What have they put in your earth to make you so alive?
Good food, they chorused, leaves fluttering. Rich food!
This was honestly one of the most disturbing epiphanies I’ve ever had reading a Tamora Pierce book. I then knewÂ exactlyÂ what “good food” the trees were referring to: IT WAS PEOPLE. It has to be the bodies of the murdered Vipers, right??? RIGHT??? oh my gods HELP ME.
While Evvy was humble and kind about her home, Zenadia is the exact opposite. When she confronts Briar here, it’s important to note that her behavior isÂ alsoÂ in contrast with Evvy. Zenadia, bringing a docile, obedient Jebilu Stoneslicer with her, she implores Briar to hand over Evvy, promising her a new life:
“Once Evumeimei is under my roof, her childish attempts to order her life, rather than to fit obediently into her proper place, will end. She will thank us both for that, one day.”
It’s so unmistakablyÂ arrogant, you know? Lady is used to wielding her power as such, and that’s why she’s so startled when Briar openly rejects and defies her.I admit that there’s an aspect to this scene that works as a power fantasy for me. IÂ wishÂ I could have had the courage and bravery when I was younger to so plainly oppose the classist assholes who treated me as Zenadia treats both Evvy and Briar. But I also think that what Briar does here is totally within his characterization, you know? He’s fiercely protective of Evvy already, and he despises when those who have coin in their pocket treat others with disrespect and disgust. My only worry at this point? Lady Zenadia is going to beÂ pissed, and that’s a highly motivating factor for her.
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