In the ninth chapter of Cold Fire, this book is a million times not okay. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of arson and abuse.
I CAN’T DO THIS, OH MY GOD.
A Day Off
I actually think it’s very necessary that Pierce more or less takes a break within this narrative by focusing almost entirely on Ben Ladradun. Yes, I dislike him. A lot. A GREAT DEAL. But Cold Fire truly feels like a book of juxtapositions. There is a disconnect between how Ben presents himself and who he actually is. There’s a contradiction between Morrachane’s idea of justice and the hatred and negativity she espouses. There’s a clear difference between how the Ladradun household is run and how the Bancanor house operates. Hell, there’s a juxtaposition in the setting, since this is a novel about fire set within one of the coldest places in Emelan.
So how does Pierce create that atmosphere with this section? Well, both Daja and Bennat have days off from their normal routines on this specific Watersday, and each of them uses that time in disparate ways. Daja’s day is so calm and focused as she takes care of lessons with Nia, works on her own project, and interacts with Nia and Morrachane. She’s productive and thoughtful throughout her day, you know? I suppose you could say that Bennat is, too, but the context given to us makes this horrifying. In Daja’s case, she even finds a way to deal with Morrachane’s revolting personality and behavior in a way that’s as positive as one could be in this situation.
Actually, let’s talk about that disaster. As always, Morrachane Ladradun is unable to be kind or considerate to a single person. While Nia certainly feels like her aunt is nice, there’s even a stinging bitterness and condescension in what Morrachane says to Nia:
“So clever!” Morrachane said with approval. She hugged Nia gently around the shoulders. “I’m glad to see that banging away with rough tools hasn’t made you forget womanly interests.”
At no point does Morrachane consider that offering up a compliment or a bit of validation to Nia could be ruined with such jerkiness. She can’t just call Nia clever; no, she’s got to add that extra little insult by mischaracterizing her work with Oakborn and suggesting that Nia isn’t performing her gender correctly. GAHHHHH I DISLIKE HER SO MUCH. And regardless of my feelings for Bennat, who I also find horrifying, Morrachane treats her son with discontent, cruelty, and viciousness. It’s abuse, plain and simple. Hell, we even find out in a later section that she physically abused him up until he got married!
Yet at the end of the day, Daja realizes that she can’t let this woman ruin her time in Namorn. That’s not always an easy thing to do, of course, and I don’t think that Pierce is trying to tell us that we’re supposed to feel this way. In Daja’s case, she’s had to suffer one incident of disrespect and rudeness after another, and she knows that nothing will ever change this woman. So why get upset about her? Why fight her to the detriment of your own mental health? Daja chooses simply to pity her, and I like that.
Of course, every single thing that Daja says or thinks about Ben is utterly destroyed by his actual behavior. This is a nightmare to read, y’all, because Daja is otherwise correct in her view of this man! If he wasn’t an arsonist and a murderer and one of the scariest human beings in the universe, I wouldn’t disagree with a single thing she has to say about Bennat and his relationship with his mother.
But Ben’s methodical arson in this chapter goes from being unfortunate and uncomfortable to downright frightening. On the first page of this chapter alone, there’s a mind-blowing instance of Ben’s morality:
He had not told them that the boardinghouse fire was deliberately set. Just as Ben set fires to test his brigades, he thought of them also as a test of Kugisko’s magistrates’ mages. They had to be vigilant. They thought the penalty of burning alive was enough to stop anyone from committing arson; it made them lazy. Once people discovered fires were set without the mages’ discovering it, their office would have to improve their methods of investigation.
Just to spell it out, Bennat believes he is doing a public service by BURNING DOWN PEOPLE’S HOUSES. A PUBLIC SERVICE!!!
Godsforce had drummed it into his students that fires were unexpected; they should always be prepared. To enforce the lesson, he’d arranged with the locals to use his devices to set fires at all hours, calling his students out to fight them. Ben knew he was simply continuing the great man’s work.
I CANNOT IMAGINE A MORE COLLOSAL MISINTERPRETATION OF GODSFORGE’S WORK THAN THIS. Let me bold this: “…he’d arranged with the locals…” ARRANGED. Meaning HE GOT THEIR CONSENT. You are still committing arson, dude!
At this point, there’d been a close call and a victimless fire set by Ben, so while I hated him for lying and manipulating Daja, I felt like the worst he’d done was the loss of property. He seemed to take great care in setting up these arsons, not just so that he wouldn’t be suspected, but so that no actual people would die. And he was upset that someone nearly died in the boardinghouse fire, right? I don’t think he was upset about the loss of human life, though; I think he was more concerned about being caught.
Despite this, I was still taken off-guard by how far Tamora Pierce took Bennat’s arson in this chapter. Out of desperation for attention for the local council, he sets a confectioner’s shop on fire, certain that it’s the perfect location to test his men and to get more funding from the government. I suspected that eventually, a fire of Ben’s would backfire (ha ha, puns) on him, but this spectacularly? NOPE. Because his firefighters end up putting out their boss’s fire AFTER IT BURNS A HOMELESS WOMAN TO DEATH and kills one brigade men while permanently disabling another. And what’s is Bennat’s reaction to all of this?
As his last breath escaped the man’s lips, Ben felt a joy so intense that it made him weep. The healers, even the fire brigade, looked properly sober and admiring. They think it’s grief, Ben thought, trembling as he fought laughter.
WHAT THE FUCK WHO IS THIS MONSTER. Oh my god AND IT GETS WORSE:
What he’d felt just now was almost too intense to bear. He’d made the rules. He’d told them, they hadn’t listened, and two people had paid the price, this fellow and the beggar woman. The fire had killed them for him. He had turned it loose as mages commanded the winds to rescue becalmed ships, and the fire had given him its greatest gift – the power over human life.
That power is evident because he is already viewing life as a pawn for his own ends. Note that one of the people who “paid the price” – the beggar woman – is somehow deserving of that debt, as if her being there was just part of the test for the brigade. It’s monstrous, plain and simple, and the fact that he treats this all as a means to get the Alakut council to fund him makes him the absolute worst. THE. ABSOLUTE WORSE. And he failed anyway!!! Which means he’s going to give this town the “special lesson,” and I’m sure it’ll be even worse than this.
I can barely fathom how terrible Bennat Ladradun is.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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