Last time, we met Mare Barrow and the Technicolor-blooded Silvers. This time, another italicized opening line because this book hates me.
Or, at least, that’s my first thought – but a cursory flip-through of the rest of the book makes it clear that this ‘chapters opening with italics’ thing is just a matter of poor formatting rather than a matter of the author loving italics too much. So henceforth I won’t count the italics that open the chapters for Italic Abuse.
Mare tells us about her house. It is small, and her father built it high up so the family would have a view beyond the river. That’s sweet of him. Mare describes this view: there are deforested areas and pretty hills. “There is so much more out there.”
Italic Abuse: 11
While climbing the ladder to the house, Mare also notices some boats on the river, flying their flags. “Silvers. They’re the only ones rich enough to use private transportation.” The Reds’ form of transportation is usually their feet or a “push cycle”, which according to Google Images is a scooter.
Italic Abuse: 12
The boats are heading towards Summerton, which is where Gisa worked today and where the king’s summer residence, the Hall of the Sun, is located. Mare wonders why anyone would need a second palace, then brushes it off with ‘greedy Silvers just want and want and want.’
There’s a flag outside the Barrow home that prompts some worldbuilding: Red families in the Stilts hang these flags outside to commemorate their family members gone to war. The Barrows’ is yellow with three red stars, one for each son, but some families have black stripes in lieu of stars to represent dead family members. There is plenty of room on the Barrows’ flag, “Room for [Mare].”
Italic Abuse: 13
Mare’s mother is cooking and her father glares either at the stove or the pot that Mare’s mother is stirring – the antecedent isn’t clear. Gisa is embroidering, making something “entirely beyond [Mare’s] comprehension.” Why would fancy fabrics be beyond your grasp, Mare? You were just talking about the sewn-on stars outside. Do Silvers wear thought-defying clothes?
Mare announces that she’s home, and no one cares. But she drops her bounty by Gisa, saying that “‘I think I’ve got enough to get a proper cake for Dad’s birthday. And more batteries, enough to last the month.’” Your supply might have lasted even longer if you had gotten the electricity rations and could diversify your energy sources, Mare.
“‘One day people are going to come and take everything you have[,]’” Gisa says in reply, a statement that comes completely out of nowhere and had me rereading this section to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. (I hadn’t. It’s just bad.) Mare ruffles Gisa’s red hair and tells her that she shouldn’t be jealous (…what?) and then tells us she’s envious of Gisa’s hair. She then describes her own hair: “river brown” roots, greying toward the ends because of stress, a common trait of the citizens of the Stilts. I’m positive that getting ombré hair isn’t how greying works ever. Mare tells us that “[m]ost keep their hair short to hide their grey ends but I don’t. I like the reminder that even my hair knows life shouldn’t be this way.”
Mare, the Super Rare: 4
Gisa says she’s not jealous then goes back to embroidering, only now she’s stitching, a completely different thing. She’s making flowers. Why this was beyond Mare’s comprehension before but not now, I don’t know. Mare compliments Gisa (calling her the hideous nickname “‘Gee’” why god) and the two share a smile, then Mare ruins the good feeling that that gave me by italicizing her thoughts: “And everyone knows I’m the jealous one, Gisa. I can’t do anything but steal from people who can actually do things.”
Italic Abuse: 15
Two points because it was really long. Also, wow that was repetitive.
Mare tells us that once Gisa finishes her apprenticeship she can open her own shop and provide for the family “with nothing more than needle and thread” okay so what was up with your contempt earlier, Mare? Was that supposed to be you showing your jealousy? It really didn’t come off that way.
Momma Mare randomly compares the girls, calling them “‘[n]ight and day,’” and Mare elaborates: Gisa is “skilled, pretty, and sweet” while Mare is “a bit rougher”. Their point of commonality is the cute earring/memorial thing, which continues to be something I genuinely like.
Pappy Mare wheezes and Mare tells us about his metal lung and the black market of bionics the Reds utilize in lieu of healers. This is cool! She pulls out the word “foolish” again to describe some of the tech and I am absolutely going to tear my hair out.
Pappy Mare is all ungrateful and whiny about Mare’s stealing, then is all ungrateful and disgusted with the food Momma Mare serves up. I dislike him. Momma Mare’s cooking is apparently terrible most of the time, but today the stew’s ameliorated by some pepper Mare stole and “[i]t’s not as bad as usual, to my pleasant surprise.” Despite the fact that she did in fact use the pepper to help feed her poor, struggling family, Momma Mare also disapproves of Mare’s thievery, which makes Mare feel bad and me feel bad for her. It’s not like Mare can do much else, Momma Mare – try to be more thankful.
Momma Mare says, “‘Mare, you know I appreciate” – do you? You certainly aren’t acting like it – “‘–I just wish –’”
“‘That I was like Gisa?’”
Mare is bitterly bitter, then mentions her upcoming conscription to guilt her parents into silence. It works and Momma Mare flushes angrily while Gisa, bless her, takes Mare’s hand. Surprisingly, pleasantly, Momma Mare quietly admits that “‘I know you’re doing everything you can, for the right reasons[,]’” which takes a lot for her to say and comforts Mare.
Gisa breaks the tension by mentioning that Shade wrote a letter. The Barrow parents can’t read and I’m annoyed and confused – why can Shade? Why can Mare? Anyway, since they can’t read, the Barrow parents “glean whatever they can from the paper itself.” Apparently, Pappy Mare has super-smelling powers and can discern by the scents – pine rather than smoke – that Shade’s semi-safe, away from “the Choke.”
The Choke (what is up with these names???) is where most battles are fought and most bombs are dropped. Pappy Mare was injured there, but it isn’t specified whether or not this injury is the lung thing or the wheelchair-confining injury.
Pappy Mare stops sniffing the letter and Mare, who can read but hasn’t taught her parents or Gisa for some reason, reads it. Shade opens with “Dear family, I am alive. Obviously[,]” a line that makes me chuckle.
Shade clearly describes his movement away from the front — for someone who had a crappy education, no books in his home, and can supposedly write not well, just “worth a lick[…]”, Shade sure writes well — and relays news on Tramy he got from a medic. Tramy apparently took some shrapnel, but has “no permanent damage.” Momma Mare scoffs at this, implying that there is permanent non-physical damage, which makes me wonder why no one seems to have PTSD. Pappy Mare is whiny and missing a lung and confined to a wheelchair, but seems mentally untroubled by the war he fought in.
Shade has no news on Bree, but isn’t concerned, then writes some orders for/critiques of his female family members: Momma Mare should “stop her worrying”, Gisa shouldn’t “be too much of a show-off”, Mare shouldn’t “be such a brat all the time, and stop beating up that Warren boy” MARE WHY ARE YOU STILL BEATING HIM UP
To his dad, Shade writes, “I’m proud of you.” Why the disparity? Everyone else gets a critique of their character, but Pappy Mare is praised? For what, being in the war? Surviving it? Being whiny? This makes no sense.
Shade signs off with “Your favorite son and brother, Shade.” Between the letter’s opening and its ending, Shade has become my favourite character, despite his shortcomings.
The remaining Barrow family members forgot to “‘put in the ration papers [Mare] got yesterday’”, so the lights go off, supporting my assumption in chapter one that electric lights were something Mare has and thus shouldn’t whine that they’re unobtainable. Gisa senses this will spark an argument and goes to bed.
There’s no argument, though: Mare and her parents are “too tired to fight.”
Italic Abuse: 16
So tired, in fact, they all go to bed. Gisa’s apparently suffered a narcoleptic fit, and Mare, who has more trouble with instantaneous REM, is “content to simply lie there and hold Shade’s letter. Like Dad said, it smells strongly of pine.” What did Shade do, rub it against a tree? Also, I guess this renders Pappy Mare’s super-smelling powers void if the scent is that obvious. That, or it tells me that Mare also has super-smelling powers in addition to her ears. I hope not.
Mare’s peace is interrupted by a bird call. “Kilorn.”
Italic Abuse: 17
“No. Go away[,]” Mare thinks.
Italic Abuse: 18
My thoughts exactly, Mare.
Kilorn whistles again and Mare grudgingly gets up and slides down the ladder. “Anyone else would have tripped over the clutter in the main room, but I have great footing thanks to years of running from officers.”
- Your footing when running over the ground in broad daylight improves your footing in dodging clutter in the dark how, exactly? The terrain’s not even remotely the same.
2. Mare, the Super Rare: 5
Mare begins to threaten Kilorn with bodily harm (so she DOES still beat him up! Please get new friends, Kilorn) until she notices he’s crying. “Kilorn does not cry.”
Italic Abuse: 19
His knuckles are bleeding from what Mare guesses is an attack on a wall. “In spite of myself, in spite of the late hour, I can’t help but feel concerned, even scared for him.” Mare, you described him as your only real friend and just told us that Kilorn crying is something that just doesn’t happen. How is feeling concern for your crying only friend something that’s “in spite of [yourself]”? Yikes. (Please get new friends, Kilorn.)
Mare holds his bloody hand, asking what’s wrong. Kilorn says, “‘My master – he fell. He died. I’m not an apprentice anymore.’”
Presumably the apprentice-masters are their fellow Reds, since Silvers wouldn’t stoop to blue-collar work, so Kilorn’s lack of care that this master died and his immediate focus on himself is jarring and detestable, as is Mare’s. I understand the Kilorn-centric worry but also: a person died! A person – and a Red person, someone Mare should care about – who had family, friends, dreams, a life. I get that the immediate concern is on the person still living and now put in danger of conscription, I do, but neither character shows a moment’s grief or concern or even a R.I.P. for the fisherman.
Kilorn can’t get work and wasn’t finished with his training, and the chapter ends with him saying, “‘They’re going to send me to the war.’”
ITALIC ABUSE: 19
MARE, THE SUPER RARE: 5