In the tenth chapter ofÂ Cold Fire, Frostpine and Daja attend a meeting of the Mages’ Society, only to have their night derailed by a fire. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to readÂ The Circle Opens.
Trigger Warning: For talk ofÂ arson, classism.
Okay, let me talk about how cool the worldbuilding is for the system of magic within Emelan. The opening scene at the Mages’ Society spells out yet another aspect of this world that’s incredibly well-thought out. Classism has always been a part of Emelan, but it’s so fascinating to see how that aspect is built into magic itself. I don’t mean that it’s a naturally-occurring feature; it’s obviously the humans who force magic into a rigid system of value and worth. Yet it’s still there, and you can see how mages place their respect for magic in fragile concepts like education and access to said education. That’s nothing new in theÂ Emelan books, as we’ve come across characters prior to this who thought only specific schools offered respectable educations.
It’s obvious here that mages carry a certain prestige in this culture and that it all requires money. How else could a crowd be described as “gaudy” in the text? TheyÂ haveÂ to have access to this kind of dress in order to be described that way. When Heluda Salt joins the group, she’s also quick to make reference to the economic status that’s associated with the Mages’ Society parties, so it seems easy to claim that this is what these meetings areÂ alwaysÂ like. I think you could also read Frostpine’s comments about the illusionists as a reference to the superficial nature of many of the mages who attend these sort of gatherings.
Yet magic isÂ incrediblyÂ common within Emelan. The vast majority of the practitioners work in the everyday arts, don’t they? Cooking, sewing, building, law work, and the like: they’re all lower-paying jobs that are necessary in this society. Most of these mages don’t get prestige or attention, nor do they end up rich and wealthy. Why is that? Why is magic valued in one group over the other one? I still think it has to do with access. Mages who can attend Lightsbridge earn a cultural worth that other mages don’t get. And what happens to mages who slip through the cracks? Who have to learn the use of magic from family members who have never had education themselves? How does that work? Are there underground magic instruction courses? I can easily see all this shit existing within different cultures of Emelan, all of it reflecting a need for mages of all sorts (but lower class) to have an outlet to use their magic.
Regardless, the culture we see in this specific part is narrow and shallow, concerned with appearance and money more than pretty much everything else. Which is frustrating to think about when you consider what it is that mages like Frostpine and Salt are dealing with! They’re trying to stop an imminent financial collapse, and aside from the confectioner, who else at this party is talking aboutÂ anythingÂ that matters? The conversation shifts to arson, yet another juxtaposition in this book between the different realities of the people in this story. We’ve got the disparity between the superficial nature of the Mages’ Society and what these mages are discussing; we’ve also got these characters’ version of Bennat Ladradun and theÂ actualÂ Bennat; we’ve got Eoban’s imagined superiority and Daja’s actual superiority.
But this dynamic is never more glaring than the moment when Frostpine and Daja rush to help put out the Jossaryk fire. It’s now obvious what Bennat had planned at the end of the last chapter. What’s the easiest way to get the attention of the bureaucratic council than through the plight of the rich? I believe that the Jossaryk fire is another of Bennat’s arsons, one meant to gain the most attention possible. Could the council ignore the cries of the rich and the powerful? Most likely, no, and Bennat knew that.
So I wonder if this moment has another meaning than the one Daja theorizes:
Frostpine and Daja went to Ben. “Where can we help?” asked Frostpine. “Tell us what’s left to be done.”
Ben looked them over. For a moment Daja through he was angry, or perhaps just vexed. She wondered why, trying to put herself in his shoes. He must be thinking about how to put the most people to the best use. Frostpine and Daja were just two more elements to worry about.
Perhaps that’s true, except I’d offer that he’s trying to think how to best use these twoÂ so that they don’t discover what he’s done. They’re a variable he did not count, and now they might mess everything up. Look, it’s only a matter of time before this all comes crashing down, and with Daja on the site of an arsonÂ whileÂ it’s happening, I suspect that this might be that very moment. How is Ben going to hide his device? What if more people die? What happens if his fire harms Daja? THERE ARE TOO MANY POSSIBILITIES HERE. I’m so nervous, y’all.
The original text contains use of the word “idiot.”
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