In the second chapter ofÂ Battle Magic, the emperor of Yanjing shows off. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to readÂ Battle Magic.Â
Trigger Warning: For slavery.
Well, this is going to be terrifying, isn’t it? Of course, I know that. I know it is because of the pieces of this nightmare that I got inÂ The Will of the EmpressÂ andÂ Melting Stones. I now think that all ofÂ Battle MagicÂ will cover this story because there’s no reason for Pierce to introduce another timeline or device. Plus, I’m already getting a sense for how this story will stand on its own.
Still, I’m nervous. What happened here in Yanjing traumatized these three people, and what little I know of it seemed almost otherworldly in terms of how violent and severe it was. So what does this chapter do? MAKE ME FEEL A BILLION TIMES MORE FRIGHTENED OF WHAT IS TO COME. I admit that a lot of the first half of this chapter felt a bit repetitious to me, but only because there’s a similarity to much of the court of Berenene. However, this happenedÂ first, and it makes me want to re-readÂ The Will of the Empress, since I’m guessing it would have a completely different context for me. Regardless, it’s not the first time that characters in a Tamora Pierce book have struggled with the challenges of pomp and circumstance. At the same time, this is just so much moreÂ intenseÂ than anything else. Given Evvy’s history with and understanding of emperors, I understood her discomfort. But let’s also not ignore that the entire system is designed to be absurdly ostentatious.
The women are required to wear specific clothes and travel in a palanquin sealed with silk so that “vulgar” people can’t evenÂ seeÂ them. WHICH IS RIDICULOUS! The palanquin is carried by slaves, and when we meet Parahan, it’s clear just how immensely disturbing this empire is. Parahan is, in his own words, “the latest imperial amusement.” What that entails isÂ beyondÂ me, but I don’t like it. In an empire of eunuchs and slaves, it’s not exactly a leap of logic to suggest that Parahan is used for terrible things against his will. Did he get those chains and shackles because he tried to run away, or did Waishu just assume that he would?
THIS IS SO MESSED UP.
But the imperial display that Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn are met with completely overshadows everything else in this chapter. Earlier in this chapter, Evvy reflects on what emperors have meant to her, and I think Pierce did that on purpose. Because the final scene of this chapter is a perfect demonstration of Evvy’s fear: emperors can do whatever they want. They canÂ haveÂ whatever they want. TThe emperor displays that plainly to these Emelan outsiders with Â an elaborate horse-riding performance. There are boom-dust explosions spread about theâ€¦ what? Arena? Plaza? I couldn’t even fathom the size of this space, given what Evvy described to us. It had to be immense and far-reaching.
And then the army arrives. The “army” is a loose definition here, because as we learn later, it’s not theÂ entireÂ Yanjingyi army; it’s just ONE of them. There are mages. Soldiers on horseback. Soldiers on foot. Y’all. Y’ALL:
When at last the drums, gongs, and horns fell silent and there was no more movement on the ground, the army stretched as far as Evvy could see. Her skin was crawling with goose bumps. She had never seen such a large force in her life.
As far as she could see! How do you even picture that many people in your mind??? The whole production is so over-the-top that it’s hard not to be disturbed by it and by all the constant devotion sent towards the emperor. I am guessing we’ll get a better sense for how the Yanjingyi citizens feel about their emperor in later chapters, but for now, I think Parahan’s disinterest speaks volumes to me. So does his final words here, too:
“Our home in Emelan is neither friend nor enemy. Why show them to us?”
Parahan replied, “So you will tell those you meet what you have seen.”
OH GODS, I’M NOT READY.
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