In the eighth chapter of The Will of the Empress, Sandry learns just what’s in store for her. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Will of the Empress.
Trigger Warning: For self-harm (specifically cutting), kidnapping, consent, rape, misogyny.
There are just so many RULES to be followed, y’all! And I’m learning why that matters and why this is clearly going to be an issue for Sandry and her companions. A large part of this chapter is worldbuilding, sure, but it’s deliberate. We need a sense for how rigid this society is and how Berenene places herself on top of it. We need to understand why it’s vital that Sandry return to take care of her lands.
Pierce starts off slow, introducing one complication after another. Initially, that’s Zhegorz, since Ambros is concerned that they don’t have a good enough reason to bring him along. Why does that matter? Sandry’s nobility! Why does she need to give a reason? Oh, it might be because of the SPIES ALONG THE WAY, including the two at the gate, who will inevitably report back to Berenene within the hour. Within minutes of this journey beginning, they already have to factor in the empress.
And it’s just the start. Later into their journey to the Landreg lands, Sandry openly questions the empresses’ influence. As she puts it, no one person can have that much power. (Oh my god, WHAT HAPPENED TO BRIAR. We were all Tris in that moment.) But it’s not about someone being invulnerable. Berenene just appears to be so, and she utilizes this culture in order to protect herself and her interests. That becomes much more clear once Pierce reaches the part of The Will of the Empress set in Sandry’s estate. To me, that is where Berenene holds the most power. The duty that these people have to her isn’t just financial, though that definitely plays a huge part in it.
Let’s use the bridge on the road to the Landreg castle as an example. I personally thought it was brilliant of Pierce to use it as a visual metaphor of sorts because it helped me to understand Ambros’s role as a steward better than I did before. To Sandry, it seems absolutely ludicrous that no one repaired the bridge, especially since she’s never had any trouble with money after leaving home a decade earlier. But from Ambros’s perspective, it was simply one of a number of things he had to pay for. With taxes going up each year, as well as the loan he had to take out to cover the cost of them, Ambros had to prioritize other things before the bridge. Sandry’s had to learn the hard way that things are not as they seem.
And then we’ve got to talk about all the spectacle and pomp that surrounds Sandry. It’s just absurd to me that people should have to salute and bow and curtsy in Sandry’s presence, but we’re supposed to feel that way. It’s Sandry! We all know her well and we know that she’s been raised well by Vedris. This isn’t what she’s used to, and it’s not what she’s like. But that contrast is important because… well, I’ll let Rizu explain it:
“Lady Sandry, custom isn’t just enforced by the landholders. Rebellion in one village is seen as a threat to all nobility. They would have imperial lawkeepers here in a few days, and then they’d pay with one life in ten.”
WELL, THERE YOU GO. That’s the risk that Sandry poses by not doing as she’s expected to as a noble. It’s so normal to these people that Fin makes a horrific joke about the peasants. To him, it’s common enough to be humorous.
Even the other foster-siblings get a dose of noble shock. Tris is first mistaken for a servant, then treated bizarrely once it’s revealed that she’s a mage. I mean, it’s a perfect representation of how status in this society means everything. Look how differently Tris is treated in just a matter of seconds! And I don’t want to blame the servants for this; it’s not like they know anything else. That servant woman was just doing her job, and if she hadn’t? Well, I’m sure there’s something built into this complicated system that would punish her for not trying to assist Tris. It’s a perpetual cycle, isn’t it? That’s what it seems like to me.
Right in the middle of all of this, though, Pierce drops a whopper. I’ve actually given this some more thought, and I truly cannot think of another fantasy book I’ve ever read with a character who cuts. At all. Not a single one. And I’ve only read two non-genre books that even mentioned it. While I think that Tris is a bit rough with Zhegorz when she should be more sympathetic, I did appreciate that this was included because it makes it harder to conflate magic with mental illness. It means that Zhegorz is disabled, and even though it’s due to his massive mistreatment over the years, it’s a separate issue that’ll need care aside from his continued education in magic. I’ve often said that I’m wary about metaphorical representations of marginalizations, and I think this is a great way to avoid that. His magic powers could be read as a disability, but then he’s also an actual disabled person. I appreciate that.
The final part of this chapter, though… lord. I don’t know if this is part of a larger part of this book, but I am fucked up because of it. I don’t feel like go over every detail of Gudruny’s captivity, but I felt compelled to ask whether or not Gudruny’s the only woman in this same predicament. How widespread is this practice in western Namorn? From Gudruny’s story, it seems like it’s been around at least a few decades, since Berenene was subjected to it twice in her youth. And jesus, can we please discuss this victim-blaming garbage?
“She said, when a noblewoman came to her, that any woman foolish enough to be caught was a caged bird by nature, and must content herself with a keeper.”
I honestly had a friend – we’ve since drifted away from one another – who believed this kind of nonsense. They literally thought that all people who stayed in abusive relationships deserved it because they could just “leave” any time they wanted, so when they didn’t, they must have desired it in the first place. Interestingly enough, they revealed this to me while I was in an abusive relationship, and it never really hit me until years later how terrible it was. I knew they were utterly wrong, but it didn’t sting at first. It’s just… that’s not how abuse and rape work? At all???
I am glad, though, that Sandry said this:
When she felt she could speak without her voice betraying her, she said very quietly, “I beg your forgiveness for… my family. For our not doing our duty by you. You deserved better.”
It’s a start. That’s something I’ve said a lot in these eight reviews because things are always so daunting and complicated for these characters, but it’s true. Sandry knows that Gudruny has been wronged, and she knows she needs to rectify that. I worry, then, that this is how Sandry will discover what the will of the empress really means.
The original text contains use of the words “mad” and “crazy.”
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