In the third chapter of First Test, it is an understatement to say that Kel’s first days as a page are frustrating. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read First Test.
Chapter Three: The Practice Courts
Okay, I knew this would be difficult? I knew Wyldon would be an unholy terror? I knew that Kel wouldn’t have it easy? AND IT STILL DIDN’T MATTER. Pierce is tackling misogyny far more blatantly than she ever has before, as it’s impossible to ignore that this is what First Test is going to focus on. And that’s exciting in and of itself! It’s something I haven’t ever seen in a fantasy novel before, and I love how easy it is to jump into Protector of the Small from The Immortals. The past two quartets inform the world we’re getting here, and yet it’s not quite the same. Alanna hid as a boy for the first novel; Daine had wild magic. Kel has neither of those things, and I think that’s a big reason why she faces such difficulty from the guys around her. She has nothing to hide behind, and she doesn’t want to hide who she is anyway.
Pierce conveys this extremely well by giving us all the tiny things that grate on Kel’s nerves, that test her patience, and that prove that these men are so immature that they cannot handle the idea of a woman doing better at them at anything at all. I’m convinced that Gower, the servant assigned to Kel, is so gloomy because Kel is his assignment. I’ll be genuinely surprised if I’m proved wrong! On Kel’s second day, her first where she must spend time away from Neal in some capacity, the frustrations build up on another.
Initially, things aren’t so bad. Hakuin and Eda seem like fascinating people who also aren’t complete assholes, though Wyldon and company set the bar unbearably high. Not only that, but when Kel demonstrates the benefits of her six years of training by the Yamani, they don’t shame her for it. If anything, Hakuin is impressed despite that she did break with what was being taught. I also understand that while we, as the reader, might view her actions as this SUPER BADASS MOMENT, for Kel, they don’t have the same context. Within the framework of the culture she’s been born into, she knows that her success is a double-edged sword. It is a step in the right direction, since she’ll be able to prove Lord Wyldon wrong. She wants to become a knight, and she should use the skills she has at her disposal. At the same time, she knows she just drew attention to herself in a negative way. Her fellow pages will most certainly view her actions as her showing off, and it’ll enrage them. So how is she supposed to navigate such a complicated situation? Simply put, she has to do the best she can with each thing Wyldon and his bigot army throw at her.
And that’s what makes up the bulk of chapter three. Once again, Pierce has a talent in narrating long sequences of complex action pieces, and I didn’t find myself bored once as she put Kel through one training sequence after another. I knew what was going on, despite that I have no experience in anything that Kel was doing. Instead, I felt a slowly building rage with every example of Wyldon and Ezeko giving Kel special treatment, which was OF COURSE universally negative. They are purposely more harsh and critical of her; they purposely ignore the fact that Joren is a disgusting bully; Wyldon dehumanizes Kel by refusing to use her name, instead calling her “probationer.” Notice how he never does this with any of the other boys.
I know I’m repeating what I said in the video, but I’m SO HAPPY that Pierce upends the trope of pretty, fair-skinned and fair-haired boys being able to get away with anything just because they’re conventionally attractive. Seriously! Granted, I don’t think she was responding to anything in fandom, as this book might pre-date that phenomenon, but it still works as a fascinating critique of how people are willing to justify and excuse the terrible things handsome white men do. Hate made Joren ugly to Kel, AND I LOVE THAT MOMENT.
And then this happens:
“This is Tortall, not the Yamani Islands – you are a noble, not a savage with a pigsticker.”
My only hope is that Wyldon and all his type are banished to the Divine Realms to have the immortals and gods there torment them endlessly for being utter fuckfaces. Holy shit, his racism is SO BLATANT. It took me by surprise! We hadn’t really seen anything this open and disgusting from another character, and then Wyldon goes ahead and says one of the worst things I’ve read in a Tortall book.
I HATE HIM.
Let’s talk positive things, though! LIKE SASSY HORSES. Oh, Pearblossom, you are filling my much-needed sassy animal quota that was met by Faithful, Moonlight, Cloud, and the badger god. I am expecting great things of you. Pearblossom really is the sole bright spot in the chapter. I mean, I did enjoy this! A lot! But it is a relentless depiction of all the terrible things Kel is going to have to deal with in this book (and probably the following ones), so it’s kind of exhausting. Lord, these people are just so awful. I hope word of this gets to Jonathan, though I don’t know if he’ll be able to do anything.
ARRGGGH, LORD WYLDON, I HATE YOU.
Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
– I have announced what the next books I am reading on Mark Reads will be, as well as updated y’all on the events, cons, tour dates, GOING TO EUROPE OH MY GOD, and general shenaniganry going on in my life. I have a similar post up on Mark Watches, detailing the next two shows I’m doing as well as the return of Double Features, and I finally explain what happened with my Vimeo account. Check these posts out!
– Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
– Video commissions are open, and you can commission a Mark Reads/Watches video for just $25!