Last time, the Princess Plot is already falling apart. This time, Lessons.
Lessons are held in a private study with a ton of books, and “[d]espite [Mare’s] aversion to school and books of any kind, [she] feel[s] a pull to them.”
That seems a little contradictory. ‘Despite the fact that I dislike *thing*, I want to get closer to *thing* – not because *thing* is mesmerizing or anything, just because’ is basically what’s being said. It’s not like watching a car crash because it’s horrible but you have to know what happens so you can’t look away. It’s not like being afraid of insects but being morbidly fascinated. Why is Mare pulled to the books? She doesn’t give a reason.
Interestingly, the books’ titles seem to be in another language. There’s an old map of the old world on the wall whose letters are also not in a language Mare can read. While Mare’s looking at it, her instructor comes out. “His yellow robes, stained and faded by age, make him look like a human piece of paper.” I really like this description – it’s setting the stage for the bookworm instructor’s characterization, it’s a cool ‘clothes make the man’ thing, it connects him with his setting. Nice work, book.
Paperman asks if Mare can find where they are on the map. After some deduction, Mare finds Summerton, and “[Paperman] nods, happy to know I’m not a total fool.”
God this count hasn’t been updated in awhile, I was kinda hoping it’d die out. C’est la vie.
Fooling Around: 14
Also hello cheating at narration, I haven’t missed you. Would it kill you, book, to put a ‘probably’ in there? You’re making Mare come off as a whisper, and for her to have two abilities would be a bit too Super Rare for me.
Paperman asks if Mare recognizes anything else, and Mare says she can’t read the map.
Words are liars, you must look beyond, Paperman says mysteriously. Okay so he’s the oh-so-wise instructor, I see.
Mare, to her surprise, enjoys trying to find landmarks and cities. She identifies Harbor Bay and Paperman points out two cities, Delphie and Archeon. Guess the book used up all its pretty names on its locales. Mare notes that the map shows “The Ruins” –
Italic Abuse: 162
– which is the pre-apocalyptic world. This book’s flavour of the end-of-times is a war. Other names for the Ruins are ‘The Ash City’ and ‘The Wreckage’.
Mare’s pretty discomfited by this and makes an immediate connection: “Will this world ever be like that, if our war doesn’t end?”
Italic Abuse: 163
Mare stops thinking about that soon, though, because she’s just noticed that the buzz of the cameras is gone.
Italic Abuse: 164
She asks Paperman why no one’s watching them and he vagues around, then tells Mare what he’s here to do: teach her history, how to be useful, find out how her abilities work, and chillingly, “‘to teach [her] how to be Silver[…]’”
Mare puts up some unconvincing protests but Paperman says her real name Mary Mary the Bitter™ and Mare is struck speechless by fear. But Paperman reassures her (could’ve done that earlier, you ass, instead of dragging out how much you know about her), informing her that he’s curious about her and that the reason there’s no cameras in here is because he has the power to turn them off.
Mare asks Paperman what his power is, hoping that “Maybe he’s like [her].”
Italic Abuse: 165
But Paperman says, “‘Mare, when a Silver says ‘power,’ they mean might, strength. ‘Ability,’ on the other hand, refers to all the silly little things we can do.[…]I mean that my sister was queen once, and that still counts for something around here.’”
I think the reason he draws things out so damn much is because he really loves explaining and hearing the sound of his own voice, not because he wants to actually inform Mare.
Anyway, Paperman takes a dig at Lady B. the Ugly (Paperman: “‘[…]Lady Blonos is teaching you nonsense. I will never do that.’”) which, wow. First of all, that’s factually incorrect, Paperman, and for all your booksmarts I’d think you’d be interested in the facts. Lady Blonos is teaching Mare etiquette, which will keep Mare from offending her noble cohorts, which will hopefully lead to them liking/accepting her and feeling less of a need to investigate her, sending her to death. Nonsense? Only if Mare living is nonsensical.
Jesus, what an ass.
Paperman’s real name is Julian Jacos, brother to the late Queen Coriane and Cal’s uncle. More praising of Cal by proxy: “Now that he says it, I can see the resemblance. Cal’s coloring is his father’s, but the easy expression, the warmth behind his eyes – those must come from his mother.”
Mare, bless her, is still wary of Paperman, asking him if he’s going to turn her into an experiment for the queen. Paperman says no, I hate the queen, I just want to learn about you! Also I have to follow orders in prepping you for stopping the rebellion.
Italic Abuse: 166
Paperman is super pandery to Mare’s wants: he hates the royals but the queen most of all, he reflects the best of Cal, he wants to help her find out about herself, and he condemns the Silver-raised-Red propaganda and the lack of change it will enable.
Mare is confused by this last one: “‘And you don’t want that? You’re a Silver, you should hate the Scarlet Guard – and me.’”
‘Thinking all Silvers are evil is just as wrong as thinking all Reds are inferior,’ he says, his voice grave.”
Yeah except no not really, because where the ‘all Silvers are evil’ is a false generalization that does nothing (even the Scarlet Guard’s terror attacks aren’t based solely on that, but also on retaliation), the ‘all Reds are inferior’ mindset is used as grounds for corporal punishment, conscription, and keeping Reds as second-class citizens at best and cannon fodder at worst. It’s not ‘just as wrong’ at all, Paperman. Apparently he’s not just an ass but a dumbass, too.
He goes on to contradict what he just said, saying “‘Oppressing you, trapping you in an endless cycle of poverty and death, just because we think you are different from us? That is not right. And as any student of history can tell you, it will end poorly.’”
That last bit’s interesting. How much history does he have to go off of? Looks like there’s the pre-apocalyptic world and it’s been about three-hundred years since then, so…I wonder if there were coups that have happened between the apocalypse and Mare’s time? Or if there are just still accounts of the past?
Also, while it seems as though that paragraph means I have to drop the ‘dumbass’ judgment and just go with ‘inconsistent’: never fear, Mare is here to prove Paperman wrong.
She informs him that Reds and Silvers are different, they are inequal. Paperman stoops, as though talking to a child (god he’s condescending), and tells Mare “‘I’m looking at proof you are wrong.’”
Paperman. Paperman, please. Are you truly actually for real citing a single anomaly as evidence that on the whole, Reds and Silvers are equal? Mare proves that they can be equal, through some freak accident (or whatever is making Mare so super rare), not that they all are. I don’t mean socially: Silvers have powers, which means that yes, Reds are inequal to them in that Reds – surprise! – do not have powers. Reds have red blood, so if a Red and a Silver were painting a poppy field but ran out of red paint, look! Inequality!
…That was a weird metaphor, but you see my point.
Mare agrees with me, unfortunately in a way that flares up her low self-esteem: “You’re looking at a freak, Julian.”
Italic Abuse: 167
Paperman asks if Mare will let him prove her wrong (meh) and Mare says what does it matter, nothing will change. Paperman points out that her existence is a change (true! Good job, Paperman, didn’t know you had facts in ya).
“He can help me survive. Better yet, he might even help me live.”
Italic Abuse: 168
Next scene, Mare is falling into a routine. Protocol in the morning, Lessons in the afternoon, lunches and dinners with the queen candidates and Elara. The Panther and Sonya leave Mare alone, but still seem suspicious. Quelle surprise.
Mare always is seated next to Evangeline, which makes her tense and nervous, and Elara knows what she’s thinking and is just thrilled at Mare’s unhappiness. A girl (Atara of House Viper) asks how Mare’s finding the Hall of the Sun, throwing in a jab at the Stilts for kicks. Mare is trying very hard to be diplomatic even as the women “laugh with her, a few whispering in scandalized voices” and the barrage of insults about Reds and the Stilts continues. There’s a rant to come of this. Mare is about to explode, but has to instead affirm what the women are saying. But she manages one punch: “‘Of course,[…] being forced to live such lives, with no respite, no reprieve, and no escape, would make servants of anyone.’”
Elara quickly changes the subject to Mare’s schooling, with which the women are impressed, then SUDDENLY COLONEL MACANTHOS: “‘What does His Royal Highness intend to do about the rebels?’ a woman asks, her gruff voice sending a shock of silence over lunch, drawing focus away from [Mare].”
She has a scar down her freckled face and possibly PTSD: “Here in the palace, it’s easy to forget there’s a war going on, but the haunted look in her eye says she will not, she cannot, forget.” I kinda like her, except she’s on the Silvers’ side so I also don’t.
Elara points out Macanthos’ interesting choice of words (‘rebels’). Foreshadowing? Is Macanthos a sympathizer? Hope so.
Macanthos goes on about other attacks – an explosion in Harbor Bay and one at the airfield in Delphie, from where planes were actually stolen. Mare is secretly thrilled: “Farley has been busy.”
Italic Abuse: 169
Elara shuts Colonel Macanthos right down, tearing her apart with cute rhetorical questions and the ‘true story’ – she says it was a gas leak that caused the explosion at Harbor Bay, and that the incident at Delphie was a training exercise. She adds saying that attributing every mishap in the kingdom to the Scarlet Guard just gives them more power, and do you want to do that, darling Colonel Macanthos?
Everyone applauds the speech, and Mare has to join in, even though she agrees with Macanthos: the queen’s lying.
So with Macanthos, we now have a whopping…one (possibly-)sympathetic female character since the onset of Princess Mare. Astounding! What will you do next, book, I can’t possibly predict with how often you’ve bucked the trend up to this point!!!
Sarcasm aside, I read somewhere that in a lot of novels, the female protagonist gets female sycophants, female family members, female competitors, but never any female friends. This is true of Twilight, but it’s also a pervasive trope in other, oft-lauded works of YA fiction – Kristin Cashore’s Graceling has this problem, The Fault in Our Stars has this and many other problems, so many books have this problem and I don’t get it. Even if there is a female friendship, it’s often a toxic relationship (see: Cassie and Lia in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, Hannah and Lacey in Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire). That Red Queen seems to be following the trend is disappointing.
Okay but of course the other girls would hate Mare, you’re saying, she swept in out of nowhere and got be-princessed and stole their chance. Of course they’d be racist towards Reds and so Mare’d dislike them, they’re bigoted Silvers.
Sure. Okay. A fair Watsonian reason. But the author has power over this; it’s not like these events are unfolding of their own will. There could’ve been a queen candidate who’s uninterested in the power and participated because of her family’s expectations, or one who’s vying for power but considers there to be better avenues than marrying some manchild, or a candidate that, even if she loves power and Prince CAL (Creeps-A–Lot), is curious about Mare and this curiosity might offset any jealousy, or a gay candidate who’s secretly relieved she doesn’t have to marry a prince. There are so many options, and the book takes none of them. Mare has neither female friends nor female non-familial guidance. Outside of Gisa and Momma Mare, almost every single female character we’ve met is portrayed as some flavour of antagonistic, ranging from Farley of the Ridiculous Prices, to Elara the “‘[S]nake’” (interestingly, her husband remains free of any similar monikers), to Evangeline the BITCHIEST BITCH TO EVER BITCH THROUGH THE BITCH-O-SPHERE, to Lady Arbitrarily Hateful Blonos, to pissy Sonya, to pissy Sonya’s suspicious grandmother Ara, to the unnamed background racists…
In contrast, let’s look at the male characters. We’ve got Prince C.A.L. of the inexplicably sympathetic narrative framing, Prince Younger Prince from the Kingdom of ‘Ohhhhh He’s so Nice to Me! But He’s Elara’s Son so I Can’t Trust Him No Matter How Much I Want To!’, Lucas the Lovely, Shady AF the Eternally Beloved, Kilorn Who Needs New Friends, Paperman the partner in crime and ‘good’ teacher…and the racism in the palace thus far, save the king, is reserved for the female characters, delivered as bitchy gossiping to strengthen that connection. Charming.
I’m not saying that a female lead can’t have enemies or people who dislike her who share her gender, or that the female Silvers should all be shining beacons of social justice – that’d be unrealistic and lecturey. I’m just saying that this is excessively unequal, and the cartoonishly mean-girl timbre of so many of Mare’s girl-to-girl interactions is just…lazy. It’s lazy, and I’m tired of it. Why is it that the only non-Red haters are guys? Why is it relegated to the girls?
ITALIC ABUSE: 169
MARE, THE SUPER RARE: 14
FOOLING AROUND: 14