Last time, Maven’s gonna get Mare out of the palace because he’s decided she’s homesick! This time, the young couple is strolling through the halls, and no one stops them.
The chapter kicks off with a couple of these –
Italic Abuse: 174
– which doesn’t bode well.
Maven stops earlier than Mare was expecting in front of a door. The omens were correct because “[the door] swings open after a moment, revealing Cal.”
“His appearance takes me back a step.”
Unless she’s stepping on out of his line of vision, NO THANKS.
“His chest is bare, while the rest of his strange amor armor hangs off him.[…]I don’t miss the purple bruise above his heart, or the faint stubble on his cheeks.[…]He doesn’t notice me at first; he’s focused on removing more of his armor. It makes me gulp.”
So on the one hand, no thanks! On the other hand, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING STARED AT, C.A.L.? FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE??? HMM???????????
C.A.L. notices them and startles (GOOD), saying “‘Mare, how can I, uh, what can I do for you?’ He stumbles over his words, at a loss for once.’”
I’ve said it a hundred times and I will say it a hundred more: stop handholding us, book. C.A.L.’s dialogue shows us that he’s stumbling over his words. To say so after is redundant.
Anyway, Mare is unsure of what C.A.L. can do for her (he can leave) but Maven is all, um did you not want to go home, and Mare realizes Maven’s plan. “Cal can get me out of the palace. Cal was at the tavern….He got himself out of here, so he can do the same for me.”
Italic Abuse: 175
A four-dotted ellipsis? Where were the copy-editors?
C.A.L, having come to the same realization, is not down for the plan, saying it’s a bad idea. Mare calls him a liar and an intense staring match commences, interrupted by Maven saying “‘We’ve taken everything from her, brother[…]Surely we can give her this?’”
Book, you cannot possibly think you’ll get away with telling me how “surprisingly playful” and carefree Maven is around C.A.L. and then have him talk like he’s in a Lord of the Rings fanfic. It rings false (pun intended, as always) (sorry) especially because C.A.L. calls Maven by that sickening but informal nickname Mavey.
C.A.L. acquiesces and waves Mare in. Mare is giddy: “I’m going home.”
Italic Abuse: 176
“Maven lingers at the door, his smile fading a little when I leave his side. ‘You’re not coming.’ It isn’t a question.”
- So it wasn’t just the copy-editors who were sleeping on the job on this page, huh. Good job, formatting team – even though additional context leads me to assume that Mare’s the one saying this, the dialogue’s positioning, i.e. right fricking beside Maven’s actions, makes it seem like he’s the speaker. Yay needless ambiguity!
- This isn’t a Red Queen-exclusive problem – I’ve seen it in fiction both original and derivative, literary and genre – but it ties in with a problem of Red Queen’s: the audience knows that *statement* is not a question, because in print that’s usually indicated with question marks or speaker uncertainty. This doesn’t need to be said.
Maven affirms that he’s staying behind to avoid extra complications, and Mare hugs him in thanks for the ticket home. Maven takes a moment to respond and does so timidly, and when they pull away from each other they’re both blushing. How cute.
Maven tells C.A.L. not to take too long and C.A.L. is all, pfft, I’ve done this eleventy-billion times, son, and the two laugh. This reminds Mare of her brothers, and she feels warmer toward both princes. Then we launch into a description of C.A.L.’s room: it’s big and messy, and suits of armor are everywhere, some lightweight training armor, some heavier. “What it means, what the uniforms are for, what Cal has done in them, I don’t want to think about.”
Oh, so you’re A-OK with distrusting Maven for being related to Elara, but you’ll just brush off C.A.L.-as-a-general-who-leads-Reds-to-death? This discrepancy will not die, so neither will my annoyance.
Possible Murderer C.A.L. is a bookworm, like Paperman. His books, unlike Paperman’s, are fancy and new, and written in “Common, the language of Norta, the Lakelands, and Piedmont.” Wonder what language this is, or if it’s supposed to be descended from any of our modern day languages…
The books are primarily about the art of war, and C.A.L. has made notes and strategies in the margins, “outlining the tactics he favors, which ones are worth the cost of life. In the pictures, tiny squares represent soldiers, but I see my brothers and Kilorn and everyone like them.” And yet Mare doesn’t care! No seed of distrust takes root in her heart, not even a token acknowledgment of ‘huh, this guy barely sees us as people, just as pawns to be thrown away at will! Weird!’. Nope, we just get more description: there’s a game set up on a table by the window, which Mare assumes was meant for Maven: “[t]hey must meet nightly, to play and laugh as brothers do.”
Even this obvious connection fails to take hold for long, because C.A.L. tells Mare they won’t have long to visit and Mare, her attention drawn, ogles him for a bit: “I glance at the closet, catching sight of his tall, muscled back as he pulls a shirt on. There are more bruises, and scars as well, even though I’m sure he has access to an army of healers if he wants them. For some reason, he’s chosen to keep the scars.”
I feel that the book is trying to say something positive about C.A.L.’s character through his physical appearance, maybe that he’s not vain (in contrast to Lady B. the Ugly). But it could just as easily be seen as C.A.L. being proud of the battles he’s fought and commanded Reds to their deaths in. This is a natural extension of his war-heavy culture, so it’d be a sensible characterization if a disagreeable one. That Mare still doesn’t seem to make any connection boggles the mind, though.
Mare manages to stop staring at C.A.L. long enough to say it’s fine, she just wants to be able to see her family – it doesn’t have to be for long. C.A.L. finishes dressing, and he’s wearing the same outfit he wore when Mare first met him. “I can’t believe I didn’t see him for what he was for the beginning: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And now I’m the sheep pretending to be a wolf.”
I really like this metaphor/symbolism throwback. You might remember it from Chapter Four, where Mare first plays the role of the wolf, then of the sheep. It gets stronger with every repetition, especially because here Mare again takes on dual roles but in a wholly different context, and does more to add to the theme of exterior≠interior than basically anything else in the book. Interestingly, Mare doesn’t realize that she’s actually more wolf now, at least externally. So she’s a sheep with why-grandmother-what-big-teeth-you-have fangs, she just doesn’t know it, or doesn’t want to admit it.
C.A.L. and Mare go to the garage. There is some weirdly chunky dialogue, the gist of which being that Mare thinks C.A.L should suit up so if her brothers dislike him the beatdown won’t be too brutal (no no go ahead Barrow brothers! Don’t hold back!).
Italic Abuse: 177
C.A.L., however, thinks he’ll be okay without the armor and besides, doesn’t want to raise any alarms. Mare asks how she’s supposed to introduce him and C.A.L. says “‘I work with you, we got a leave pass for the night. Simple[.]’”, which prompts Mare to observe that “Lying comes so easily to these people” –
Italic Abuse: 178
– but not, of course, to register that people who are lie with such speed and ease, LIKE C.A.L. JUST DID WHAT A COINCIDENCE!!!, are people you shouldn’t trust, certainly not more than those who are just related to terrible people.
C.A.L. dazzles Mare with his “cycle” (of course he’d ride a motorcycle) and there’s some tell-not-showing I don’t want to transcribe, and we learn that C.A.L. is super rare, too, because “‘[t]hey won’t mass produce’” the cycle yet. Mare is less than thrilled about having to ride the cycle, calling it a “metal beast” and a “death trap” in her head. Ever the supportive love interest, C.A.L. tosses Mare a helmet, laughs at her trepidation, smirks when Mare backs away from the motorcycle, and yells “‘It’s perfectly safe, I promise[,]’” without doing anything to prove it.
Italic Abuse: 179
Of course, after the scene break Mare’s shown to be enjoying it, so that makes it all okay, I guess. C.A.L. and Mare dismount, Mare a bit shaky after the ride, and C.A.L. disguises his bike with some leaves. Mare observes that C.A.L. has obviously done this often, and C.A.L. says that “‘Palaces can get…stuffy.’”
To which Mare responds, “‘And crowded bars, Red bars, aren’t?’”
C.A.L. is evasive, and Mare presses the issue, saying “‘So, what, you just catch pickpockets and hand out jobs willy-nilly?’”
There is some teasing about Mare’s use of the word ‘willy-nilly’ and Mare gives C.A.L. a little shove, and then: “Very inappropriate, my mind chides.” Wow that is…very reminiscent of Ana’s subconscious/Inner Goddess/etc. from Fifty Shades of Grey.
Italic Abuse: 180
Did not need to be reminded of that, thanks.
C.A.L. rattles off a spiel about how he doesn’t sneak out for himself but to see the people he’ll govern one day, because he doesn’t have the luxury of selfishness. When Mare replies that that’s exactly one of the many luxuries a king-to-be has, C.A.L. “shakes his head, his eyes forlorn as they run over [Mare]”
STOP IT RIGHT THIS GODDAMN INSTANT, C.A.L.
YOUR STARING ISN’T CUTE AND IDK WHY THE HECK THE BOOK THINKS SO BUT IDC, IT’S CREEPY AND YOU NEED TO STOP
My ship for this novel is Mare + Getting the Hell Away from this Creeper 5ever. Have I mentioned that before? I’ll mention it again.
Anyway, the Creeping Tom becomes pissy (not at Mare, though), clenching his fists and getting all heated, literally. He says he sneaks out not just at the summer palace but at the front and at the other palace, that a king should know his people rather than have advisers let him know what’s happening, because “‘That’s what a good king would do.’”
I mean, is there really such a thing as a good king? Can one person having all the power to do basically whatever they want, to keep said power to whoever they want, without checks and balances, ever be good, even if the king is ‘benevolent’? Nah. But leaving that aside, Mare reacts with “He acts like he should be ashamed for wanting to be a good leader. Maybe, in the eyes of his father and all those other fools, that’s the way it should be.”
Fooling Around: 15
Mare gestures at the Stilts and asks C.A.L. what he sees.
“‘I see a world on the edge of a blade. Without balance, it will fall,’ he sighs, knowing it’s not the answer I want to hear.”
How do you know he knows that. Oh, wait, you don’t – or wouldn’t if this book weren’t so keen on cheating at narration.
“‘You don’t know how precarious things are, how close this world is to falling back into ruin. My father does everything he can to keep us all safe, and so will I.’”
This statement, while incorrect (‘all’? Only if you completely discount the Reds, who are the majority of the population) is in-character. C.A.L.’s been fed propaganda all his life, and he’s the second most powerful person in the country – in his position, even all his sneaking out won’t offset his upbringing as much as it could. At best, when talking to Reds (or Mare, presumed Red), we’ve seen him be condescending and pitying and generous in giving out jobs that’d save Reds, but not really understanding. Which is a character flaw that arises naturally from his backstory. It makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is how Mare can hardly care less. C.A.L. spews the same bullshit that his father uses to oppress Mare’s people, and Mare isn’t even angry: “‘My world is already in ruin,’ I say, kicking at the dirt road beneath us. All around us, the trees seem to open (what the hell kinda description is that. Trees opening? Book, please.), revealing the muddy place I call home. Compared to the Hall, it must look like a slum, like a hell. Why can’t he see that?”
Italic Abuse: 181
“‘Your father keeps your people safe, not mine.’”
She argues this pretty calmly and briefly for someone who’s so directly affected. She doesn’t mention how her brothers were sent to the front to die and she hasn’t seen them in years, or her father’s injurious term of service. She doesn’t think once about what she saw just earlier this chapter: C.A.L.’s war armor, C.A.L.’s battle plans with Reds as pawns rather than people.
C.A.L. condescends to her about how she just doesn’t get it: “‘Changing the world has costs, Mare[…]Many would die, Reds most of all.[…]You don’t know the bigger picture.’” Mare manages to dredge up a spark of mild irritation and demands he explain, and so we get some ‘valid’ excuses for inequality, as well as worldbuilding. All the other countries (including “Prairie” – did the book choose its names out of a hat???) on the continent are Silver-headed, so if Norta were to grant the Reds equality, the other countries would retaliate.
Mare’s all, but hey C.A.L. what if Norta paves the way for change, instead of smugly frolicking in its inaction because you and your fellow oppressor buddies think you know best? C.A.L. has no answer. Mare has no anger, or at least none she lets C.A.L. know about. Reminds me of back in Chapter Ten when Mare chewed Maven out for wanting to choose who he’d marry (a fair criticism, considering Mare’s comparably bigger hardships!) and I complained about the disparity, only now it’s worse. Mare has so much more knowledge now of C.A.L.’s actions (warring, using Reds as pawns in strategy!!!) and his ideas (Red inequality is what keeps us safe!!!) and his position (heir to the throne of Norta, a boy truly his father’s son!!!) that it’s gone from bizarre to infuriating. It’s bad writing on every front. I honestly can’t tell if the book is just unaware of this or is outright ignoring it for some reason.
Anyway. They get to Mare’s house, and Mare pictures C.A.L. sending the house up in flames (you know you’ve written a damn good love interest when your protagonist imagines him burning down her home!!!). C.A.L., to his credit, picks up on Mare’s unease and says he’ll wait below – no need to risk Mare’s brothers recognizing him. Mare says it’s all right if he comes in, though.
“‘They won’t [recognize you]. Even though my brothers served, they probably wouldn’t know you from a bedpost.’ Shade would, I thought, but Shade is smart enough to keep his mouth shut.”
Italic Abuse: 182
Wow, wouldja look at that tense-shifting with that ‘thought’. Did the editors lose a bet, or did they just entirely skip this chapter?
Mare opens the door to see her whole family sleeping. Mostly: Shade’s absent, and Mare guesses he’s out looking up old girlfriends. I feel like that’d be more an appropriate action for Bree – the one bit of characterization for him was that he was a ladies’ man.
Mare wakes everyone up and Pappy Mare gets all capslocky, yelling “‘ALL OF YOU, QUIET!’” Bree and Tramy hug Mare, and Momma Mare claps her hands at the sight of her. It’s a cute scene. Only Gisa seems unenthused – she pokes her head out of the covers but doesn’t come down.
Mare’s brothers joke about her getting a job and about how the army wouldn’t take her because “she’d rob her legion blind”, and Mare teases them back about being discharged. Pappy Mare gives the crappy explanation the royals cooked up: the Barrow boys won a lottery and got honorable discharge with a full pension. He doesn’t believe it, but Momma Mare doesn’t really care, she’s too busy bursting with pride over Mare’s job. It surprises Mare: “[…]usually [Momma Mare] saves all of it [her pride] for Gisa. She’s proud of a lie.”
Italic Abuse: 183
I love the Barrows’ family dynamic. Everyone has or had conflicting emotions over things – Mare was proud of and jealous of Gisa, Momma Mare hated how Mare was a thief but also appreciated the fruits of her labor (and hated having to appreciate them), Bree and Tramy show sparks of personality, Shade’s letter and how his letters kept the family both hopeful and scared of said hope was such a good push and pull, Gisa’s desire to defend Mare while keeping her parents happy is the same, Pappy Mare…well, he’s kinda whatever, but you see my point.
And not only do the Barrows have a lot of conflicting emotions towards one another, these emotions evolve. Momma Mare doesn’t even question the sudden burst of luck, just becomes wildly proud of Mare; Gisa, despite desperately trying to hold onto Mare the last time she saw her, now seems unfazed by her arrival, possibly an effect of blaming her for the crushing of her hand. The personal conflicts, internal and external, depicted with the Barrows are far more interesting than those of Mare and her princes.
Sad thing is that Mare’s relationships with Maven and C.A.L. could be just as complex, if not more. You might have an element of Mare feeling traitorous to her people for falling for a Silver (or even befriending one) in addition to how she feels her biology is some sort of self-betrayal; obviously the whole ‘your people have been oppressing mine since forever’ inequality in the balance of power is a thing, as mentioned this chapter; Maven and C.A.L.’s insidious racism could be a factor instead of racism being the province of ‘bitches being bitches’; Maven could be more resentful and/or regretful of his loss of choosing his bae-to-be, but Mare’s speech at the banquet could have opened his eyes – but the resentment could still persist in conflict with this enlightenment; the threat of the Scarlet Guard could have the brothers be even warier of Mare, which might push her to actually join the Guard; and so on and so on.
Instead, Maven’s relationship with Mare is half typical YA lit style ~*romance*~ and half Mare distrusting him not for who he is (which makes sense) but who his mother is, while her relationship with C.A.L. is based on creepy staring/invasion of personal space and late-night motorcycle rides.
ITALIC ABUSE: 184
MARE, THE SUPER RARE: 15
FOOLING AROUND: 15