In the fifth chapter of Cold Fire, Jory and Nia seek out their new teachers. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.
I know I’ve said this plenty of times before. I know I have! But somehow, these books are just the best. And I want to make sure that by complimenting The Circle Opens quartet (so far!) that I’m not saying the Tortall books are awful. I CLEARLY LOVED THEM. I think there is a difference in quality between, say, the Alanna books and these ones, even if they explore similar themes at times. But something clicked with these books and my own taste. They feel better composed. They sting and they hurt and they enrage me and they make me feel like I belong in them. There’s not even a major conflict apparent within this chapter, and it’s still a treat to read.
I know I’m biased because Daja is my favorite character out of the quartet, and I’d be pleased to read her doing practically everything. However, I think that Pierce’s grasp on characterization – specifically for Daja, Nia, and Jory – is what makes this such an enjoyable experience. From Nia’s infectious sense of wonder to Jory’s hilarious need to be difficult about everything to Daja’s dogged pursuit of ice skating, there’s a lot here that I admire.
I suppose there’s another aspect of this that I love, though. I made it through most of my schooling career before I finally landed the right teacher for me, and as much as I despise a ton of my memories from high school, the four English teachers I got changed my life. There’s a beautiful value in that pairing because of the potential it holds. That’s not to devalue my own work as a writer and a reader, of course, but I have no problem admitting that I needed the right educator who could nudge me when I required it. Who could push me in challenging directions not out of cruelty, but because they believed I could succeed in new and exciting ways. Who could encourage me to keep creating while keeping me grounded about how I needed to grow to become better.
I didn’t have that for a long time, and I know that there were a number of reasons for that. Disinterest. Lack of funding and resources in my school district. Homophobia and racism. But when the combination was perfect, it was like someone had finally struck the match and lit me up. That’s precisely what I saw here when Nia made her way through Camoc Oakborn’s workshop:
He led Daja and the twins around the shop, identifying for Nia what was being made. He took a moment to inspect each of his people’s work before he moved on. Nia looked at everything with wide and shining eyes, breathing the scents of paint and wood shavings as if they were perfume. By the time they reached the second floor, her dark and practical gown had acquired a coat of sawdust and a variety of wood shavings. Her creamy brown cheeks were flushed.
She belongs here, Daja realized. Remembering her misgivings when she’d met Camoc, she added, Or someplace like it.
I knew from that moment that Nia had made up her mind. She would not seek out another teacher, and she’d try to convince Daja of that. That was pretty much confirmed once Camoc tested Nia for her knowledge and was shocked to discovered that she really did know her shit. TAKE THAT, CAMOC. Ultimately, though, this was about choice, and Pierce fiercely defends that through the text. Nia insists that she knows what’s best for her, so that’s precisely when Morrachane Ladradun arrives to be THE UTTER WORST AGAIN. You want an example of the kind of person who doesn’t actually help people learn anything but obedience and subservience? There you go, y’all. It’s Morrachane.
Morrachane patted Jory’s arm, but her pale green eyes with their tiny pupils were fixed on Daja. “I know you like freedom, dear one, but adults” – was Daja imagining it, or had Morrachane emphasized the word? – “know more of the world. Surely it is up to your parents to decide.”
Why are you talking? Why are you assuming anyone cares about ANYTHING you have to say? Morrachane is that kind of person who believes everyone is invested in every word coming out of their mouth. Well, newsflash: not only do these characters not really care for your opinion, YOU’RE ACTUALLY WRONG. In a stunning and intensely entertaining passage, Daja channels the best of both Sandry and Tris, shutting down Morrachane’s concern trolling by pointing out that the young mage-in-training has to choose her teacher.
“Then it is done foolishly, without thought for the student’s good,” Morrachane said flatly. “What order is there when children are not guided by the advice of their parents? Family is sacred. To encourage young people to ignore the family’s needs –”
I don’t even know where to start with this trainwreck of an opinion. It’s telling to me that Morrachane puts “family” first, which spells out just how selfish she is as a mother. Given what we’ve seen of her treatment of Bennat, it’s clear that her idea of family revolves entirely around power and control. A child is not an independent person with their own desires and needs. They’re a unit, an arm of another organism, and they must serve the needs of that first. Nevermind that education is a deeply personal thing that requires selfishness on the part of the student. But Morrachane isn’t interested in that. As I said, she wants control, and it infuriates her to see Nia exercising her own.
UGH, I DON’T LIKE HER.
I wasn’t surprised that Jory did not connect with a single cook-mage that she met. Like I mentioned before, Pierce has built up her characterization to the point that I expect her to be difficult and challenging. That’s just who she is, and I like to think that’s because she wants the best for herself. In this case, she waits until the last possible minute to reveal her ideal choice: Olennika Potcracker, the same mage Jory spoke of with wonder and awe in her voice nearly a hundred pages ago. OF COURSE SHE WOULD DO THIS. But lord, what a great little twist. She’s rumored to not take students; she lives in a part of town that Serg balks at; her magic is so legendary that SHE HAD AN ENTIRE PLAY WRITTEN ABOUT HER. How much of that story is true remains to be seen, but I love the mystery to her. Plus, this is one of my favorite tropes in fantasy, y’all: the crotchety, unavailable mentor who resists teaching anyone until someone comes along and wins them over. Isn’t that like the bulk of the dynamic between Rosethorn and Briar?
I’M SO EXCITED.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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