(by Silver Adept)
When we last left our band of protagonists, everyone was converging on Ruatha Hold, ostensibly to look for a candidate to ride a soon-to-be-hatched dragon, even though just about everyone is sure or trying to make sure no suitable candidates are available. Except one woman.
Dragonflight, Part II: Content Notes: Misogyny, murder most foul, classism in spades, abuse, animal abuse, childbirth
This part opens with Lessa doing her drudge work as everyone around her flat-out panics – Fax is coming, and he has dragonriders with him. This perks Lessa’s ears, because, unlike the poor superstitious [Oh la la!] around her, she knows the truth about dragonriders, and intends to use them to retake her rightful lands.
We’re going to sacrifice a story about a talented woman making a meteoric rise in favor of a hidden princess story, with the Unfortunate Implications that come along with it? So that nobody has to feel uncomfortable about how a member of the untouchable class had exactly what they were looking for, but was able to successfully hide in plain sight because nobody believed that talent could come from such lower-class almost non-humans? How, for all their veneration of Tradition (Traditioooooon!) and of Might Makes Right, neither Fax nor F’lar has been able to conceive that Lessa could exist?
Oh, fine. Onward, then.
Apparently, even though Lessa doesn’t believe any of the more fanciful stories about dragonriders, she does believe that they are somehow incorruptible, unable to be provoked or manipulated in obvious ways, and otherwise Inherently Superior to others. In short, she believes what F’lar believes about himself (although F’lar doesn’t extend that courtesy to other riders, since his ego gets in the way of his compassion). This dragonrider-veneration seems…out of place for Lessa, especially because we are then treated to a rundown of how easily corruptible and manipulatable all the people who have been in charge of her have been to this point – greedy, vain, looking out for their own profits, and incompetent – except for the first one, who showed too much intelligence and ability, so Lessa murdered him. And regrets his death, even though she can’t recall his name.
Onward, though, to Ruatha, where Lessa, revenge-obsessed sociopath, is already adept at guerilla warfare and sabotage. Lessa has apparently been aiding the growing of grass in the Hold, a big no-no for reasons that have yet to be revealed, although we finally get the first mention of Thread, the deadly organism that consumes all organic matter that it touches in single-minded devotion, here. In addition to her high crimes, such as murder and sabotage, we get the impression, and then a litany of proof, that Lessa has a long list of drudgery misdemeanors to her credit as well, starting a lack of fire in the hearth to warm Fax and company and continuing through the complete sabotage of the kitchen, apparently unnoticed by no less than three assistant cooks through the whole sequence, one of which Lessa sabotages directly by picking the wrong spice for him. Then again, considering an assistant cook sets her to a task by beating her and kicking her, perhaps we should be less surprised that things fall apart and people mysteriously end up dead.
Lessa’s sabotage, however, is too good to be real. At least, in a world where the drudges are supposedly only good for menial labor, and apparently require beatings to get them to their tasks, that is. I can’t imagine any cook that beats the kitchen staff would trust them to do something correctly unsupervised. The cook she sabotages with the wrong spice should know immediately that it’s wrong. The other cooks in charge of the bread and the meat should be able to spot or feel too hot of a fire, or notice the spit turning improperly (especially since they use tied-up dogs to turn the spit) or smell things burning and salvage them. Lessa should not be able to do this in this close of quarters, unless everyone around her is spectacularly unobservant. Or there’s something else going in her favor, like allies or friendly folk who see her doing things and turn a blind eye because they hate Fax as much as she does.
As this segment draws to a close, we hear of a few other acts of Lessa’s, where good linens are eaten by bugs, soiled by dogs, and the bedrooms are dirty because someone left the windows open just enough. Those acts I can believe, because they can happen out of sight or be just wrong enough to look right. And it’d not like they can run out to a department store for replacements.
The next segment opens with a suspicious F’lar, who doesn’t buy the story that the watch-wher [orig: watch-wehr] (from Part One) is an old creature and prone to nonsense, because with his special dragon-augmented mental powers, he sees the signs of manipulation, and because he’s certain that Ruatha couldn’t have fallen this far apart in ten Turns of the planet. F’lar has met Fax and seen what kind of asshole he is, and has already been asked by someone to kill Fax, because Fax is that big of an ass to dragonrider traditions, and presumably can see the decay around him. F’lar can’t accept that institutions can crumble rapidly, or that his traditions were probably swiftly superceded by the immediate reality of Fax’s tyrannical rule, because Fax is still both hidebound and possessed of an inflated ego. Since he can’t accept nature, it must be sabotage!
…or that would be the case, if the narrative wasn’t invested in making F’lar out to be always right, and giving him the special “I saw what nobody else does!” badge to burnish said ego with. This scene would work so much better if F’lar believed this [Ay carumba!] happened because of the traditions not being followed and F’nor is the one to notice Lessa’s Jaegermonster-subtle acts of sabotage and start following up on it, leaving F’lar to look for any good-enough excuse to kill Fax in a duel of honor. Instead, F’lar gets to look good and promote his theory that someone in Ruatha survived Fax’s genocide to his brother’s more skeptical and realistic position.
And then there is food. Lessa-sabotaged food, unpalatable to everyone, which only aggravates Fax more and more until he slips and gives F’lar an opening.
The day one of my Holds cannot support itself or the visit of its rightful overlord, I shall renounce it.
And just in case we missed that this is a Very Important Thing, the dragons spontaneously roar, prompted by a flash of whatever special power F’lar has…and with a feminine touch, too. Lessa most likely thought she gave a subtle indication of her unvarnished joy as such a slip-up.
F’lar tries to find whichever woman did such a thing, concluding (surprisingly logically) that the drudges are the most likely people to have that power surge he just felt, but not before some solid misogyny about how all of Fax’s women are vapid airheads, except his dinner partner, Lady Gemma, whom Fax hopes dies by childbirth. Fax continues to lose his temper, until F’lar finds himself calling out Fax on his earlier statement, not entirely sure why he’s picking a fight over this. Despite having been asked to find any excuse possible to kill Fax two chapters earlier. But F’lar can’t admit he’s going to murder Fax, so he assumes it must be this outside force compelling him to be confrontational. Because F’lar’s ego won’t allow him to believe that he has emotions, too.
In the middle of this stand-off, Lady Gemma goes into labor. Fax is delighted by this, proving again that he’s a contemptible ass, and Fax thinks he has a solution to his problem of careless words.
“Aye, renounce it, in favor of her issue, if it is male…and lives!”
“Heard and witnessed!” F’lar snapped, jumping to his feet and pointing at his riders…”Heard and witnessed!” they averred in the traditional manner.
And now, F’lar is in his element. He can enforce tradition on Fax and probably kill him, and nobody who witnesses such a murder will say anything about whether it was just, or even justified. The reader isn’t supposed to, either, because we already know that Fax is several unprintable things, and that Lessa is waiting in the wings to snap up her rightful territory once Fax dies. Except for one tiny issue: the child. Who has to be a boy to set this plot in motion, and whom, based on Lessa’s past, probably doesn’t stand a chance to live to see its first birthday, once it has done the work of getting Fax killed.
That poor kid is [Crikey!]ed.
So now everyone waits while the midwife is fetched and Gemma goes through a painful childbirthing. Apparently, only the midwife has a clue what to do and starts barking orders at the “silly gaggle” of women just watching. Lessa is seething with fury that her plan to provoke F’lar into fighting Fax was derailed by Gemma, and tells Gemma to her face quietly about all of this, while Gemma is racked by the pains of labor.
I think Lessa more than qualifies as a sociopath at this point.
Gemma dies in childbirth, and for a moment, Lessa considers the possibility that she might have had allies in fighting Fax, before burying any feelings from that revelation as she hatches a last, desperate plan. And we’re going to stop there, not because I love cliffhangers, but there’s’s a lot of [Ay carumba!] that has to get sorted out in the next few pages, and I’d rather do that at the beginning of a post instead of the end.