Mark Reads ‘Cold Fire’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of Cold Fire, Ben Ladradun is the literal worst, his mother is a close second, and Jory makes me laugh so hard. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens. 

Trigger Warning: For talk of parental abuse, and general creepiness around pedophilia and paedosadism.

Well, now I know why Pierce revealed Bennat’s true intentions so early. She wanted to write a book that would unnerve FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. Because the truth is that I cannot unsee what Bennat has done. I can’t read a single thing he says or does without filtering it through his creepy, pedophiliac vibes or his utterly terrifying sense of detachment. Y’all, his conversation with Daja in the opening scenes of this chapter is UNREAL. And what disturbs me so much about it is that it feels like he’s grooming her. It feels like he’s manipulating her to like him just so that he can get close to her.


Maybe she would mention her idea for living metal gloves to him. And she would like to see the home of a true hero. How many of those was she likely to meet?

HOW DID YOU NOT DIE WHILE WRITING THIS SENTENCE, TAMORA PIERCE? JUST READING IT MADE ME WISH I COULD TURN MY SOUL TO DUST SO IT COULD DRIFT AWAY ON THE WINDS OF TIME. I mean, it’s absolutely brilliant to use the ticking time bomb method of building suspense and dread, especially since Pierce has done it so early. So when Daja went to Ladradun House, I was understandably nervous. I knew that Pierce would exploit this because… how could you not? Bennat called Daja to his home for a reason, one we already know thanks to the end of the last chapter. So how was he going to try to get her further into his life?

I wonder, then, if the poor tea service was intentional. I can’t help but question literally everything that Ben says and does. It’s like my own sense of personal safety was activated once I found out he was such a terrifying person. So what if he had them serve Daja rudely all so he could tell her that they didn’t know that she was an important person? What if that is part of his ongoing manipulation of her? I don’t feel like that’s out of the question here, y’all, given what we know about him.

You can see how actively he tries to butter her up here. He references Godsforge, but only to point out that Daja can do something the great smith-mage cannot do. He then asks her what she thought of the fire in the boardinghouse, all so that she can offer up her (correct) theory of arson, which makes her feel like she’s on the same level as him as a peer and a colleague. Plus, that whole section is absurd because of what Ben says:

Ben sighed. “I think you’re right. I noticed each side was going up first, along the length of the building. It just looked wrong.”


Someone’s clever,” Ben reminded her. “Someone arranged that fire like artists arrange paints.”


“What kind of monster would burn a girl to death?”

Ben actually flinched. “Please don’t say that,” he asked.

Yes, Ben goes on to make this sound like he was horrified at the suggestion that the girl might have died, but we all know what this actually meant. He’s upset that Daja called him a monster. BECAUSE HE IS ONE. How much you wanna bet he invoked his wife and kids because he knew it would garner sympathy? LOOK, THIS IS JUST WHAT I’M GOING TO DO FROM NOW ON BECAUSE I CAN’T HELP.

Well, I can’t say that with certainty because I don’t know that every situation fits in. Pierce throws a wrench into my perception of Bennat Ladradun by introducing his mother in this chapter. Morrachane is probably the closest thing I’ve read in a while to a fictional representation of my own mother. Prideful, spiteful, and uninterested in social mores or kindness, Morrachane Ladradun might help explain why Ben is the way he is. Gone is Ben’s arrogance, his confidence, and his self-worth the second Morrachane enters the room. It was chilling to read, despite that I had a moment of empathy with Bennat. I knew what that felt like, to have certainty ripped out of you once someone was in the same room as you. I also knew what it was like to have a parent who cared little for my own shame or embarrassment. My mother was and still is extremely confrontational. Context mattered little to her. She didn’t care where she was when she called me out or scolded me or abused me. In class. On the playground. Grocery stores, family functions, and the one time in the sixteen years I lived at home when I was allowed to have a friend over.

It wasn’t hard for me to remember that time in seventh grade when my best friend Pilar Adams and I paired up to build a model of an element for Mrs. Hall’s science class. It was not possible to work on this project at school, so one afternoon, Pilar’s parents dropped her off at my house. I was mortified at the prospect of anyone seeing what my home was like. I was thirteen, painfully awkward and frequently shy, and I suspected that I wouldn’t be able to do work on this project without interference. Sure enough, it was only minutes later that my mother had us pile into her van so she could take us to Michael’s Crafts so we could get “better” supplies than the ones we had.

She never once left us alone. Every time I tried to contribute to something, my mother told me – loudly and in front of Pilar – that I ruined everything I touched. She told me that she would have given me an F on the spot if she could. Even when she praised Pilar for her work, she’d lace it with passive-aggressive nonsense, turning the kindest sentence into an insult.

Pilar never came back. No one else ever came over to visit me the next three years, and then I finally left myself. So yes, there’s an aspect to this that I relate to, BUT I DIDN’T GO OUT AND COMMIT ARSON TO GET ATTENTION, SO THERE’S THAT.

Anyway, let’s talk about Jory and Nia! I just love how Pierce continues to make this book feel nothing like Magic Steps or Street Magic. Daja’s challenge here seems even greater than that of Sandry’s and Briar’s. While Nia is a lot easier to train than I expected, the pleasantness of that is lost in the challenge of Jory. Well, and the challenge of having to teach two students at once! TWINS, no less!

To say Jory is difficult is an understatement, y’all. She’s easily bored, her attention span is short, she has no concept of perspective, and she complains. A lot. And it amuses me to no end. (It was actually a lot of fun to read her dialogue aloud.) I suspect that with her father’s pressure and Daja’s determination, Jory will learn to meditate properly, but she’s got a lot of obstacles to overcome before she gets there. Namely? She needs to be able to sit in the same spot for more than a few minutes.

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

Mark Links Stuff

Please help book/finalize the Mark Does Stuff European Tour!
– 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.
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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