Mark Reads ‘Emperor Mage’: Chapter 2

In the second chapter of Emperor Mage, Daine realizes that the emperor isn’t going to be easy to categorize. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Emperor Mage.

Chapter Two: Imperial Welcome

I suppose I should have expected this, but I came into Emperor Mage anticipating a big villain in Emperor Ozorne, perhaps someone as antagonistic and cartoonish as Duke Roger. And that’s not an insult, by the way. I love that Duke Roger represents evil as a caricature, you know? That series needed him in that capacity.

As I started reading this chapter, I could tell that it would be hard for me to find much to like about Ozorne, or at least that’s what I thought. The opulence of his palace, combined with the outright display of slavery, is simply not my thing. To have such a lavish place built on the backs of forced labor is gross to me. While Daine is certainly impressed by how nice this is, I got the sense that she felt like she didn’t belong. That provided a nice emotional parallel to Alanna in Song of the Lioness, first of all. But it also puts her in a place to be wary of Ozorne from the start. She believes in her heart that Ozorne was responsible for the attack on Pirate’s Swoop, for killing Kitten’s mother, and for opening up the Divine Realms for his own benefit. Like me, she’s (justifiably!) prejudiced against the man.

And then things start making less sense to her. First of all, the emperor has a magnificent taste for the luxurious, and Daine can’t deny how impressed she is. Then Ozorne is kind and respectful to her, contradicting the image she had of the man. It’s just a start, sure, and I would say that his entire person is deconstructed or anything. But it’s the first of quite a few moments that leave Daine bewildered about what she’s doing in Carthak. Well, she’s also bewildered by Varice Kindsford because of her ~super cute crush~ on Numair, but that’s a totally different thing. For a moment, she’s comforted by the presence of Lindhall, who I am coming to enjoy quite a bit. But once he is carted off for socialization, she’s left alone in this massive hall. Again, through this, Tamora Pierce is able to convey how Daine feels about all of this. Obviously, she’s intimidated. As she says:

She felt lost among so many adults and such magnificent surroundings. The rulers of Tortall didn’t have the kind of wealth, or surplus of mages, to create rooms like this for their palace.

Thayet and Jonathan aren’t nearly as garish as Ozorne and his court. But I also feel like Daine doesn’t know her place. All she is supposed to do is heal the emperor’s birds and… keep quiet? Perhaps Daine felt a little bit useless on top of perceiving herself as alone, too.

It’s here that this chapter takes a sharp turn into territory I didn’t expect so soon. Look, eventually, Daine was going to have to hang out with Ozorne in a much more personal setting. She was going to heal his birds, so it was inevitable. I get that. But I honestly expected that he might relegate some of this to his servants. But in hindsight, that makes no sense. Multiple characters have stated that Ozorne’s birds are his most prized possession, so he wouldn’t trust just anyone to take care of them.

THAT DOESN’T MEAN I EXPECTED HIM TO APPEAR NEXT TO DAINE BEHIND MAGICAL INVISIBILITY CLOAKING AND SHIT. Holy fuck, what? Not only that, but Ozorne proves to Daine why he’s called the Emperor Mage when she finds out he can practice an extremely elaborate and detailed form of simulacrum. He can create a living, magical copy of himself that can interact with guests, and no one can tell it’s not the real man. what the fuck WHY CAN’T I DO THIS? Do you know how many awkward social situations I could deal with this way? Oh shit, I could go out and be social and send my copy home to go do all my writing for me. WHY CAN’T I DO THIS YET? This series is just an endless procession of Tamora Pierce teasing me with things I cannot have, I swear.

So, let’s talk about this.

“Why did you pardon Numair and let him come back, if you’re still angry with him?”

S H R I E K I N G. Daine, you can’t just ask people why they pardon their enemies!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? It was such a shocking moment because she didn’t beat around the bush at all. She’s just all HELLO, LET ME ASK ABOUT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM IMMEDIATELY. Lord, I love Daine. Perhaps this is another reason Ozorne is so warm and open with her. I mean, based on Lindhall’s warning, I’m sure the man has some ulterior motive with Daine, but it isn’t unreasonable to propose that he might also respect her honesty. Repeatedly, Daine has to remember to treat Ozorne as royalty, not a common subject, and this might be refreshing to the emperor. She even offers to help his birds that very moment, despite that he expected her to need a day to recover from her travels. I’d say Ozorne is impressed with Daine.

But as Pierce builds up this strange and unexpected characterization of Ozorne, she’s clever enough to never portray him as a good person, necessarily. When Lindhall joins Daine, he gives her a grim warning:

“The emperor.” Lindhall’s pale eyes were troubled. “He shows his best side in regard to his birds, and to animals in general. He possesses – other sides.”

God, this is such a huge moment, and it’s in the second chapter. THE SECOND CHAPTER! Already, Pierce wants the reader to understand something: Just because this man might be kind and sympathetic in this context does not erase or invalidate how he treats other people.

For example, Daine spends hours using her wild magic to make contact with the birds, determining that somehow, the wild magic within them has been poisoned. They aren’t suffering from any known disease. When she tells Lindhall this and wonders if she should tell Ozorne, his response is chilling:

“Please don’t. He would kill the slaves. It wouldn’t matter to him if the poisoning were deliberate or not – only that it happened. He might torture them first, to see if it was deliberate, but it wouldn’t do much good. All his personal slaves are mutes.”

SWEET BABY, WHAT THE HELL. In that moment, Pierce reminds us of how horrible Ozorne is. Plus, we must remember that Ozorne was probably responsible for what happened in the last two books. Pierce is deliberately building a complex characterization of the Emperor Mage, and lord, IT IS SO SATISFYING TO READ.

Things are complicated even more once Daine is praised by her fellow Tortallan delegates. Apparently Daine made quite the impression on the emperor! Which is good for diplomacy, sure, but now Daine is under even more pressure to please the emperor. What if he starts asking her to do things she doesn’t want? What if the birds’ sickness comes back? AND HOW IS DAINE GOING TO SURVIVE HER TOUR THROUGH THE EMPEROR’S MENAGERIE? Oh my god, y’all, the next chapter is going to be pure agony. What kind of immortals does the emperor have caged up in that place? I’M SCARED.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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