In the seventh chapter of Shatterglass, Tris visits Khapik for the first time; Dema nearly makes progress on the Ghost, but is stopped by tradition. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Circle Opens.
THIS IS RUINING ME, AND NO ONE IS SURPRISED BY THAT.
I get the sense that there are elements of Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean within Tharios, but I can’t quite name a single influence in the creation of this fictional world. Which I’m fine with! It gives Tharios a unique sensibility as a fictional world, which makes it easier for me to immerse myself in it. But as I read about Tris’s first trip into Khapik, I found myself thinking about how many places I’d been that reminded me of it.
I see bits of Tharios in Amsterdam. The city is full of tourists, and unless you’re on the outskirts of town, you really can’t escape them. I say that as someone who’s always been a tourist himself, so my perspective here is flawed because of that. But I was enamored with Amsterdam because of the thrill it provided me. It was beautiful, so unlike any major city I’d ever been in. I thought of it as Tris described the streams and riverlets of Khapik, since Amsterdam’s water cannot be divorced from its identity as a city. The canals are integral to its charm, but they’re just one aspect that’s kept me coming back to visit. There’s the food, the exuberance of the natives who are eager to show you around, the niche shops and tastes in the Red Light District, the acceptance of sex and debauchery by most of the culture, the appreciation for history and architectural aesthetic in the buildings that line the canals.
But I also saw Chinatown in Khapik. The bright yellow pillars evoked the gates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, all of which possess a stunning and vibrant Chinese population. I thought of the flower market in Oslo when Tris smelled the scents of Khapik. I thought of the theater district in London, the shops of Soho, the quaint pubs and shops on the outskirts of the city. I drifted back to the streets of Paris and the Montmarte district in particular, where “women and men lounged on couches, talked, ate, drank, and gambled.” I was reminded of the sex shops and sex workers near the Moulin Rouge. I was reminded of the buskers spread across the UK, but particularly those in York near the Shambles. I thought of all the performers and musicians and artists who desperately tried to make a living from their art in Glasgow, where it’s sensible to give up on an ordered, dependable life to play in a band and survive off of it.
Khapik feels like it could be everywhere at once.
As brilliant as the Ghost’s methodology is, it’s also desperately frustrating. Whomever this killer is, they’re a genius when it comes to exploiting the native culture that surrounds the All-Seeing God in Tharios. They’re well aware of the low standing of many yaskedasi and equally knowledgable of how to use the fear of death to their own favor. All of this is possible because most of the yaskedasi exist so cleanly within the background of Khapik. There are so many of them that they’re easily forgettable, which is a horrifying thing to state, but Tris comes to the same conclusion. She knows from her time spent there that anyone – herself included! – can “disappear” without anyone being the wiser. At least, that’s how I read her confrontation with the drunk. While I think it also worked to show how street harassment operates in places like Khapik, I saw it more as a reminder that Khapik’s dense concentration of people and yaskedasi made it easier for the Ghost to do his work. Hell, isn’t that basically what Yali warns Tris? That Khapik is full of bad intentions and the means to act out those kind of horrible things?
I appreciate the direct relationship that Tris and Niko have; it reminded me a lot of Briar and Rosethorn, which was yet another moment that made me miss all the other Discipline characters. (That glimpse of Daja and Frostpine when Tris scried was UNFAIR.) It’s been really cool to see each of the foster siblings grow up in this series, and that’s especially the case as each of them grow closer and more honest with their teachers.
Niko and Tris are frank with on another, and it’s just a delight to read, basically. Their banter is entertaining as hell, especially when they joke with one another, but it’s also respectful. They clearly adore one another and care a great deal for their friendship. I also like that Tris is paired with someone who utterly believes in her because that’s exactly what she needed in a mentor. Plus, Niko isn’t one to sugarcoat her. He knows that she is fiercely talented, but he also knows what sort of limitations she has a mage, such as when it comes to scrying. That’s a healthy dynamic, and it’s one I appreciate.
I’m always wary to criticize a culture I’m not a part of because there’s often an unfortunate implication in that act: that I’m in a superior position and therefore, it’s perfectly fine for me to make such judgments. At the same time, I come into this book as an atheist, one who had to be openly critical of the things that I was taught about God and the afterlife. One of the things that eventually turned me away from any sort of deism – but particularly most of Christianity – was the focus on the afterlife over this one. That’s something that was drilled into me at a young age. Whatever I did in this life would affect my forever. Even worse, there were certain things that were wholly unforgivable in God’s eyes, and guess what? I had done many of those things by the time I was a teenager.
Granted, the view of God that my mother gave me was horrifically flawed and abusive, and I know that’s the case. But it still left a bad taste in my mouth for any deity because I could never rectify the thought that what we did in our world mattered less for this existence than for another one. I wanted to change this world, to make it better for people who came after me, not for some possible reward in an afterlife, if there even was one.
So there’s an aspect of Keth’s frustration that I deeply understand because the religion that grips the culture in Tharios values the afterlife of the All-Seeing God over the life given to people in this world. My kneejerk reaction is to despise this, and I don’t mind admitting that. It infuriates me because it’s the same nonsense I heard from my parents and from teachers and from peers and from priests and sisters. The injustices of this world would be judged by God, so why should I concern myself with them? As long as my own life was lived with God’s love in mind, and as long as I guaranteed my own place in Heaven, why should I care what others do?
There was an inherent contradiction in this, of course, and I refer to every iteration of Christianity that was hoisted upon me. My mother’s God and the God of Catholicism shared this hypocrisy because both of them told me not to care about this world while urging me to ruthlessly judge and berate the people living in it. I lost track of how many times my mother told me that no one could judge her aside from God while she lashed out one judgment against me after another. I bored of the fathers in mass who urged me to accept God’s judgment while handing out proclamations about my sexuality in the next breath.
The priests of the All-Seeing God infuriate. I understand that there’s a historical reason for their religion, one that they have every right to exercise. And that’s where this gets sticky for me. Who am I to say that their belief in purity is ridiculous? Who am I to try and convince anyone that their faith is garbage or absurd? To me, it seems a hollow performance, but to these priests, they’re participating in a proven system of cleansing that will guarantee their spiritual goodness. That perspective is a vital thing to understand.
And yet? I get Dema’s frustrations deeply because I know what it is like to feel stuck. I understand what it’s like to be dropped into a culture that feels so unnaturally wrong and bull-headed and lacking in foresight. Add to that the enraging classism that’s intrinsic to this religion – since the yaskedasi are so low on the social ladder that they only get justice once they’re dead – and I think you can understand why Dema hates all of this. And the worst irony of this all? Somehow, in the eyes of these priests, the murderer is not as bad as Dema. Dema is trying to bring justice to these lives and to these people, and he’s somehow more of a blasphemous soul than the person LITERALLY MURDERING PEOPLE.
Lord, this made me so angry.
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