In the first chapter of Shatterglass, Tris misjudges a couple people, Keth worries about his future, and Dema is perplexed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of mental illness, physical disability, and ableism.
Oh, Trisana, I MISSED YOUR ANGER AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. Let’s get this started, y’all.
One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate about the Emelan books more so than the Tortall ones is Pierce’s willingness to portray her main characters as deeply flawed and misguided, no matter how uncomfortable that might be. I think that’s especially the case with Briar and Tris, since both of these characters have more glaring issues that they’ve got to deal with. That’s not to suggest that Daja and Sandry are perfect, but I think that the prickly nature of both Briar and Tris is a large part of who they are. I don’t think either of them are written without depth, either, so I am fascinated by the ways in which Pierce explores their natures.
That’s certainly the case for Tris, who has had a rather difficult life and has built up a defense mechanism in order to cope with that. Unfortunately, Tris is not as quietly considerable as Daja or as diplomatic as Sandry, so when she believes she’s been wronged? She’s quick to attack first and ask questions later. The opening scene of Shatterglass, which serves to introduce us to a LOT about Tharios, is a perfect example of that.
And like I said, it’s not one-note. Tris messes up spectacularly, which forces her to reconsider her behavior, but we also learn an important way in which Tharian society is divided. This is perhaps the most egregious divide we’ve seen in a Tamora Pierce novel, and I’m curious if we’ll learn how this world came about. For now, though, Tris’s impatience brings about a new understand of Tharios for her, namely in that she discovers the existence of the prathmuni, the “untouchable, degraded, invisible.” It was REMARKABLY easy for me to see a powerful metaphor within this underclass, especially after this section:
“We handle the bodies of the dead,” she told Tris wearily. “We skin and tan animal hides. We make shoes. We take out the night soil. But mostly, we handle the dead, which means we defile whatever we touch.”
Now, it’s clear that Tharios has an issue with death, and I don’t want to ignore that. But it struck me that everything that this young girl who Tris has a row with describes jobs that are necessary. They’re a vital part of any society. So why do the people who use the products and services of the prathmuni for working with what is necessary? Someone has to care for and bury the dead; someone has to skin and tan the animal hides; and someone has to take out the night soil. So why does Tharian culture devalue those things?
I’m fairly positive that these class divisions are meant to make us think about who in our own society is treated the same way, and my brain immediately goes to a number of places concerning America. Chattel slavery. Indentured servitude. Migrant workers. The hatred of immigration of the “wrong” groups. You get the idea! And I believe that Pierce, through the text, tells us that Tris’s quickness to judge in this situation was a miscalculation at best. At worst, Tris walked into a foreign city, barked demands at a stranger, and unknowingly insulted them. Given that I am currently writing this review in the UK and have watched this same scenario unfold countless times, I UNDERSTAND THIS DEEPLY. Seriously, just the other day, I watched a shitty American tourist try to tell a shop owner that American dollars were accepted everywhere. I AM NOT EVEN REMOTELY EXAGGERATING HERE.
Now, granted, I don’t think what Tris does here is the same thing, but there’s a similarity in the fact that she breaks a local custom because she didn’t bother to find out what the local customs were before she came to Tharios. She also learned the hard way, and I imagine that will help her in the future. It stings, you know?
I say that, and now I’m going to talk about Tris prematurely judging someone again and nearly ruining everything.
WELL, HE IS ALREADY A GREAT CHARACTER. Wow, what a surprise, y’all. Even though the pattern had been twisted with Daja – since she had to train two students at once – I figured that one detail would remain: Tris would discover someone with magic who was younger than her. NOPE. After an incredibly written section where Tris makes her way through the markets of Tharios, she has a fateful run-in with Keth. (I’m not skipping over all the worldbuilding concerning the Keepers or the All-Seeing God just for the sake of it; I know it’s very important and I dug it. I just want to focus on characterization more than anything with this review.) I know it’s not going to be a surprise when Niko tells Tris that she’s now responsible for Keth’s instruction, but that doesn’t make this scene uninteresting, repetitive, or boring.
On the contrary, it’s a sequence I love because it’s so ruthlessly uncomfortable. I expected some sort of dark magic or something more sinister when Tris observed all that magic being drained from that part of town. But no, it was Keth, unaware that his magic is as powerful and chaotic as it is. To Tris, Keth is a collection of mistakes, and thus, she has to correct them. It’s why she doesn’t even say hello to him before launching into criticism. As I mentioned at the beginning, she’s a self-righteous character. That manifests in wonderful ways when Tris is fighting for what she believes is right, when she’s defending the people she loves and cares for. But it’s a double-edged sword here, since her willingness to correct Keth and speak to him dismissively is actually harmful to him. I knew that before Pierce switched to his perspective, too, because his body language tells us that. You can see it in his frustration and anger. And I suspected that he had some sort of disability once he began to speak slowly, too, but Tris was oblivious. Well, not entirely oblivious, and I acknowledge that her priority here was saving the glass dragon. (THE COOLEST SHIT EVER, OH MY GOD.)
But once I got to Kethlun Warder’s point of view, I had to re-adjust my perception of the previous scene’s events. Right off the bat, Pierce challenged me:
Slowly he closed the hand that had taken the lightning’s power. It was stiff, but it worked. He moved each finger, then his wrist, forearm, and at last the entire arm. Everything worked. The motion was slow, but at least he wasn’t paralyzed a second time.
What about the rest? he thought as he tried to stand. Last year it had taken weeks, even months, to get all of his body working again.
It’s through this that Pierce reveals that Keth was once struck by lightning. It paralyzed him for months, left him unable to speak, and Tris basically just triggered him. Yes, she had no idea, and yes, she was trying to protect the glass dragon, and those are vital things to consider. But she really does act first and consider later, and that’s why she couldn’t have ever known the full extent of her actions. On top of that, Keth’s backstory is heartbreaking because his disability derailed his promising career as a glassblower, and he never had another path planned for him. This reminded me a bit of Pasco’s story, especially since magic and circumstance affected his possible future so strongly. But in Keth’s case, his disability and his growing magical ability are working in tandem to complicate matters. So how will Tris work through that? Keth cannot be taught without accommodations for his disability, so he’s utterly unlike the other characters who needed instruction in this quartet. He also is going to need a lot of patience from Tris, so I hope that’s something she learns over the course of Shatterglass.
After all this, I think the final section of this chapter proved to be the most surprising for me. I’m used to the dual perspectives provided throughout The Circle Opens, but a third one? And from the perspective of an investigator mage trying to find a serial killer??? THIS BOOK IS NOT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE, and it’s so terribly exciting. Like the previous sections, Pierce does a lot of worldbuilding here, introducing us to the arurim, the bureaucracy of said organization, and Dema’s efforts to catch the killer of the yaskedasi within Tharios. Again, the class divisions here are well-defined, enough that I understood that the city’s performers were not respected or protected by the general public. Actually, it’s much worse than that:
One of the first words of arurim slang he’d learned was “okozou,” which meant “no real people involved.” It was a phrase used to describe crimes among yaskedasi, prathmuni, or the poor of the slum called Hodenekes.
HMMMM I WONDER WHERE TAMORA PIERCE GOT THIS IDEA I WONDER WHERE.
So, within this highly stratified and oppressive culture, we’ve got a murder mystery, one that is seemingly separate from Tris’s story. THUS FAR. Oh god, how will they intertwine? Will Keth play a part in this as well? I’m fascinated by this! I also appreciated the further insight into why there were people considered okozou by people in Tharios: mythology. And perhaps there might have been a reason why the “cleansing” of the city had protected it for so long, but to me, it seems like a superstition more than anything, one that has created an exploitative system. How is that going to affect the novel, too?
THERE’S SO MUCH POTENTIAL HERE, Y’ALL. I’m thrilled already. Goddamn, these books are so good.
The original text contains use of the words “mad” and “crazy.”
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on Patreon!!! MANY SURPRISES ARE IN STORE FOR YOU IF YOU SUPPORT ME.
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!