Mark Reads ‘The Will of the Empress’: Chapter 5

In the fifth chapter of The Will of the Empress, THERE IS ONLY ONE THING THAT MATTERS HERE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Will of the Empress.

Actually, there is a LOT here that matters, and this chapter is BRILLIANTLY written, but do you actually expect me to react to much of anything else? WHAT ELSE MATTERS?

Okay, let’s actually talk about the other things first.

Briar

I just want to point this out before we move on to actual serious-time things.

In Trader-talk she told Briar, “Don’t talk nonsense. These people matter to Sandry, so they should matter to you.”

Briar glared at her. When Daja returned his gaze with her own calm one, he rolled his eyes and shook his head. “They’re only mattering to me for the summer, and then I’ll have nothing more to do with them,” he replied, also in Trader-talk. “I’ve had my fill of nobles.”

Have you, Briar Moss? Because you seem might comfortable with a certain noble at the end of this chapter. JUST SAYING.

Noble Conduct

I don’t think it’s an easy task to write the complicated and nuanced ways in which the Namornese court conduct their meetings. Practically everything said and done in the long middle sequence of this chapter is layered with double meanings. You can say one thing publicly, and it could convey something utterly the opposite privately. I think that these characters largely understand what that entails, but none more so than Sandry, who is tested in a very public manner and totally kills it. It’s just so fascinating to read because I can’t imagine ever trying to abide by such complicated standards. Every time someone new enters the room, Berenene re-introduces the quartet and uses their titles and full names. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

And that’s just the start:

Daja also saw that everyone, however intense their private conversations, kept one eye on Berenene. The empress had made herself the focus of the room.

This is a motif we’ll see over and over and over again. At one point, people stumble over one another just to be near her. A pack of courtiers follows her every move. THIS IS ALMOST NIGHTMARISH, Y’ALL. And it’s all so seamless. No one questions it, no one is awkward about it, it just happens. I mean, it’s absolutely absurd to me that Berenene would test Sandry with something so horrifically dangerous in the manner she does, but that’s just how things are done here. I know that Sandry warned her friends about this, but I was not ready.

And let’s just talk about that testing sequence. I’m so impressed with Sandry because she’s able to discern so much in such little time. She’s able to recognize that the complicated embroidery is hiding a poison, one that latches on to a person once it touches their skin. That might be impressive enough, but Sandry knows that she can’t just openly claim this to be so:

Two tests, Sandry told herself. The first to see if I would find the magic. The second to see how clever I am politically. If I tell her to send it back, she knows I’m silly enough not to know, or care, that I’d be insulting the emperor of Yanjing, who’s her most powerful neighbor and sometimes enemy. The same thing is true if I tell her to destroy it, or lock it away.

In a matter of seconds, she comes up with a solution: gift the cloth to the Yanjing diplomat as a sign of how respected he is. I mean, I’m assuming the diplomat is aware of the assassination attempt and isn’t going to touch the cloth. Still, IT’S SO DISTURBING, Y’ALL. At least Sandry is aware enough of what’s going on that she’s not going to be fooled by these displays of courtship and grandeur.

Berenene

The same cannot be said of Briar, and I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable about the Empress’s courtship of him. Like, at the very least, she knows she’s using her status and her attractiveness to pull Briar in. She’s certainly aware that he’s a giant flirt. Everything she does here is methodical and intentional, and even if Briar does get something positive out of this interaction, it feels tainted to me. She wants Briar for her own needs, not to better his life. She doesn’t have the same fascination for Briar as Quenaill does; it’s all part of a plan, nefarious or not.

Ugh, it’s so complicated, though! What if Briar is happy? What if their relationship never becomes inappropriate? On a base level, I’m uncomfortable that Berenene knows more about Briar than he does about her, and she’s kept that information close. But ultimately, what harm might she cause him? That is what I’m going to worry about.

Daja and Rizuka

OH MY GOD OH MY GOD REMEMBER THAT PART WHERE DAJA SAID SHE KISSED BOYS AND IT WAS DISGUSTING AND I JUST MOVED RIGHT ON PAST IT AND DIDN’T ANALYZE IT AND THEN RIZUKA FA DALACH DRIFTED INTO DAJA’S LIFE AND JUST LOOK HOW SHE DESCRIBES HER.

When she saw that Daja was looking at her, she smiled. Her eyes were filled with so much merriment that Daja simply had to smile back. Who is she? the girl wondered. She has to be the most beautiful woman of the empress’s court.

I DIDN’T WANT TO FREAK OUT BECAUSE WHAT IF DAJA JUST APPRECIATED SOMEONE ELSE’S BEAUTY? THAT’S A THING THAT COULD HAPPEN, RIGHT?

She offered the hand for Rizu’s inspection and turned it over so the other woman could see the brass on her palm. As Rizu inspected her hand, Daja felt warmth start under her skin where Rizu touched her. It fizzed up into her arm, making Daja feel both odd and pleased at the same time.

OH MYH. AKLSDJJKLFJKLFJKLDS FJA; SL ODFH OH

OH MMYG GOD JNO

THIS ISN’T HAPPENING

THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN

Except it is. I know that feeling. I know what that electricity is like. I know how amazing it felt when my boyfriend first touched me last year, when we were just friends and I was still in a relationship, and he put his hand on my back to guide me into a crosswalk, and I felt that spark and warmth. I hid it and buried it because I’m a loyal motherfucker. But months later, when my relationship crumbled and I was in Los Angeles, and we were walking back from a taco stand, the evening air cool quiet, I felt it again. I felt it when his arm grazed mine, a brief slip, and I cherished how it made me feel. I felt giddy for the first time in five years, the butterflies taking flight, and I expected nothing more. It was enough to get me by. And then I felt it when his lips graced mine and his hands swept through my hair.

Warmth. I felt odd and pleased at the same time.

I still do, and I can’t even begin to explain what this means to me. Maybe I don’t have to. Daja’s my favorite character and the one I’ve related to the most, and maybe that’s because I always knew. I knew who she was or who she’d grow into. Maybe not. All I know for certain is that the tears that sprung into my eyes while reading this section were a result of the overwhelming affection I felt for Daja Kisubo. There’s someone else like me in this world. There’s someone else I can look up to and feel like I’m a part of this.

Holy shit.

Mark Links Stuff

I am now on Patreon!!! MANY SURPRISES ARE IN STORE FOR YOU IF YOU SUPPORT ME.
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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