In the fourteenth chapter of Battle Magic, the war arrives, and it has horrifying consequences for Evvy. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Battle Magic.
Trigger Warning: Extensive talk of child abuse and torture, death/murder of pets.
This was rough, but I’m sure that’s not surprising to any of you. Even if this wasn’t a triggering chapter, it’s a brutal piece, deliberately written so in order to demonstrate the monstrous lengths the Yanjingyi army will go in order to “honor” their emperor. In their minds, they are fulfilling a moral right to these lands, and thus, Evvy is merely an obstacle to be conquered and destroyed.
But that’s just one element of this story. As someone who was abused as a child, I see a completely separate narrative existing alongside all of this. Yes, it’s about the hells of warfare, but it’s also about power, and both abuse and torture derive their power from exploitation. Now, I don’t want to ignore the contrast that Pierce puts into the narrative. Even though we know war is coming, and even though the last chapter was a stark reminder of that, Pierce saturates us with images of beauty and love. Evvy is content when she falls asleep with her cats, and she sets out on a peaceful journey through the surrounding wildlife. I think it highlights the ugliness that follows, especially since this land is host to such an awful and horrifying use of violence.
I think that’s a vital element of the plot, but for the sake of this review, I’d rather focus on the power imbalance because I believe it speaks to the whole point of Battle Magic. If we accept that Emperor Weishu and his army are an expression of power, then the victims of the empire are the powerless. Yanjinyi is an imperialistic force here, thus, their actions are interpreted through this lens. So they don’t see themselves as abusers or tormenters, at least in the grand scheme of things. Even if Musheng tries to play the part of a regretful torturer, he still shows no reluctance to thrash the body of a child. That sort of detachment is scary, and that is what nearly triggered me while reading this. The whipping and caning itself was certainly upsetting, but the people involved scared me more.
Why is that? What made that more uncomfortable to me than Pierce’s graphic descriptions of what those men and Jia Jui did to Evvy? I asked myself that because I thought it might help me understand why this happens so frequently and why these characters would do something so heinous without questioning it. In particular, Musheng stuck out to me because he was so vocal about his “distaste” for hurting a child. How could someone be so hypocritical? How could they vocalize shit like this:
“Tell him what he wants to know.” He looked at the other man. “She’s just a girl! Ask your questions – you don’t have to hit her!”
and then do exactly what he decried?
Look, it took a while to realize that all my abusers – both as a child and as an adult – were hypocrites. All of them. They all spoke ill of violence and abuse in other forms, and yet each of them treated me and others to the very thing they criticized. Now, I think Musheng was attempting to play the “good” interrogator in this scenario, only to give it up when ordered so by Jia Jui. Still, this dynamic was familiar to me. I heard it a lot. “Why are you making me do this to?” abusers often say, as if they were forced into a situation that left them with no choices. Abusers always have a choice; the problem is that they want to shift responsibility onto the person they’re exploiting and overpowering.
I come back to power because observing and dismantling power dynamics is so important to me. There’s an undeniable example of one here. These men string up a child while she’s naked and then beat her in a way to maximize the pain she will experience. One berates and insults her repeatedly, while the other tries to sweet talk her into submission. One is a glaring demonstration of power, while the other uses a more insidious method. Musheng feels so much grosser to me because he holds the power of freedom and release over Evvy’s head. Do what we ask, he says, so that I can relish in the thought of setting you free from this pain. How many abusers believe themselves to be saviors of the very people they’re abusing?
And then there’s Jia Jui, who capitalizes on her previous acquaintence with Evvy in order to cause her pain. Honestly, there was a lot here that could have sent me over the edge, but Jia Jui threatening to kill Evvy’s cats? I dunno, there’s just a destructive cruelty in her that comes out through this that made me feel furious and hopeless. It’s a reminder that Jua Jui and these men don’t care if someone is defenseless. I honestly think that’s what it is. They know that they can easily overpower Evvy and the cats, they do it gleefully, and until the end of this chapter, they get away with it. How many times have they gotten away with it? How many thousands upon thousands of people have they abused, tortured, and murdered for glory and for empire?
I feel like Luvo’s introduction is catharsis. It is a sign of hope. He is pure goodness, and he was just what I needed to get through this abysmal chapter. (Emotionally, for the record. It’s not abysmally written!!!) After the worst experience of Evvy’s life, she meets a creature who is caring, supportive, and willing to protect her in an instant. He is the polar opposite to these Yanjingyi terrors, and I appreciate his character even more than I did before.
So deep in her plans was Jia Jui that she didn’t notice the quiver in the ground until it was much too late. Driven by the living heart of Kangri Skad Po, the canyon collapsed on soldiers and mage. None of them would be seen again.
Good. They deserved that and worse, and I can’t wait for the earth to open up and eat all the rest of these monsters.
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