(by Silver Adept)
When we last left our protagonists, the fundamental constants of the Pernese universe had just been reconfirmed:
- Lessa is smarter than everyone.
- The narrative ensures F’lar gets what he wants.
- Lessa is clearly a Sith.
Dragonquest, Chapter IV: Content Notes: Misogyny, Domestic Abuse, Abuse Apologia
Chapter IV opens with the first chance to see the world from Kylara’s perspective. Kylara, the queen rider that Lessa is intensely jealous of, F’nor cannot stand after prolonged exposure to her intense vanity, and that F’lar would secretly enjoy having sex with, if he could somehow make it work with Lessa. Kylara is supposed to be vain and indiscriminate with her sexual favors – the latter half I would assume comes from Weyr culture, but we’re supposed to view her as slutty because she has a queen, I guess? Mardra is also described as being indiscriminate as a bad thing, so there’s probably a double standard here that hasn’t been explained. Anyway, the narrative wastes no time at all telling us that everyone’s assessment is spot-on, through Kylara staring at herself in a mirror in a red dress (hellooooo cultural sexuality marker!) and getting quite cross about bad hand stitching with Rannely, her Weyr matron, whom Kylara dismisses as being old and stupid based on the banalities that she talks about, like the appreciation of nature and the lack of care in clothing work. Just in case we were unsure about Kylara having redeeming qualities, we are then treated to a disdainful “I go where I please” in response to Rannely’s quite valid concern about the Weyrwoman disappearing without telling anyone where she’s gone. And a point-counterpoint of Kylara complaining about the ignominy of it all, being sent to the Southern Continent to start a new Weyr, when someone of her bloodline should be somewhere else, and Rannely doing her very best to yes-man all of those complaints, collect the offending dress, and get out. The way the scene reads, we might be expected to infer that Kylara also has a temper and will throw fits if she doesn’t get what she wants.
So now that we’re clear that Kylara is a horrible person and F’lar and Lessa were totally right to get rid of her…right up until we see that Kylara’s body is covered in bruises, and not the kind that one receives by accident. Rannely makes concerned noises, and wants to know if he did that to her. He is a person in a Hold, apparently. The conversation suggests that T’bor, one of the riders sent from Benden to found Southern, and its current Weyrleader [orig: time-skipped riders], might also be abusing her when he gets stinking drunk. Rannely offers the practical idea of staying away from him, but Kylara dismisses that idea with the same reasoning about how being Weyrwoman gives her unchecked freedom, and she doesn’t need advice from Rannely, anyway, which produces a fairly acid retort, confirming my suspicions that bronze and gold dragonriders not named Lessa seem to have issues with practical solutions to problems.
Also, however, that means that two of the three named gold dragonrider players in these stories so far are victims of domestic abuse (Mardra is still an unknown at this point). And that both of them have apparently responded to this abuse by entrenching themselves more firmly into the patriarchal systems that abuse them, give cover to their abusers, and encourage them to see each other as rivals and competitors, instead of as allies to fight the system. Since their queens are the only fertile dragons due to greens becoming sterile by eating firestone, they potentially have tremendous leverage – a queen that allowed no bronze to fly her would be seen as scandalous, but if all the queens refused to let the bronzes fly any of them, the negotiating table would eventually open up for them. That said, being strong against an abusive culture is peril-fraught. The problem usually gets worse for a long time before it gets better, so significant mental and physical fortitude would be needed to outlast the men working against them. It’s really difficult to achieve. So, ultimately, it’s Kylara, Lessa, and Madra’s choice about whether to fight or give in. The narrative, however, will constantly remind us that we’re supposed to think of the system as natural, and any excesses that system produces are the results of bad actors. Like our own culture does. The narrative is wrong.
Kylara continues looking at herself, whereupon we discover she has apparently had five children in her seventeen Turns at Southern and is proud of her still-flat belly. Or that she’s gotten pregnant five times and used the cold of hyperspace to abort them all – it’s not completely clear. We also get a hint as to who he may be – Lord Meron, who enjoys increasing his personal wealth by forcing his subjects to buy expensive coal for heating. Kylara believes she is looking for someone who appreciates her right, like F’lar. Prideth, her queen dragon, cuts off that line of inquiry with more pragmatism – she’s not going to contend with Ramoth over Mnementh. We learn that Kylara’s mother suffered from being used, abused, and discarded from the bed of a Lord Holder at Telgar, and that she was likely destined for the same if she hadn’t been diverted to the Weyr for the opportunity to stand for Prideth. (Also, Pride-th? Unsubtle hinting there about another of what Kylara’s flaws is.) So the cycle of abuse started before Kylara.
This is also a potential hint as to why Hold women might be throwing themselves at any dragonrider they can find – the possibility that they might get knocked up, abort, and then be left alone to help run the Weyr could be seen as a better life than being married off to an abuser that will expect her to be perpetually pregnant, raise the kids, and run the household. The calculus of abuse is never easy, but a lot of women will probably take the chance of “a little abuse and then a normal life” over “constant abuse and an early death”. Of course, it would be worlds better if, say, the men didn’t abuse, but that is most likely a lost cause.
Lest we garner empathy or sympathy for her, however, Kylara is sure to let us know that she wants to rule the world with Meron, and is categorically rude to T’bor, despite Prideth saying that he is devoted to her and wants to treat her well. She snaps at him, tells him to go find Brekke, one of the junior queenriders, to answer his questions, expresses her annoyance at Southern being the convalescence facility for Thread-injured riders, and digs at him that he’s only a second fiddle lover for Brekke, who apparently desperately wants F’nor in the same way T’bor desperately wants her (well, a nicer, more civilized version of her, anyway). She’s pleased at how well she can manipulate him…
…and that’s an uncomfortable parallel to what Lessa just did last chapter. I think we’re supposed to see Kylara as the person that wants to be Lessa, but is much more overt, brash, and clumsy in her manipulation attempts. As such, she also suffers the more obvious signs of her physical abuse. F’lar shakes, Meron strikes. We’re supposed to pity Kylara for reaching for what she can’t get and pretending to sophistication above her reality, but we’re not supposed to notice that Lessa did not escape unscathed from her own attempts to be direct, either.
We’re fucked, aren’t we? We’re not going to see a woman in this series who isn’t going to suffer horrible abuse at the hands of a (supposedly) loved one, are we?
So, Kylara dismisses Brekke as unsuitable for anyone based on being flat-chested and non-curvy, and believes that Lessa is far too much of a Stepford Wife now to notice that Kylara is planning to take over the world with Meron right out from under her. Regarding that opinion, see Constants of The Pernese Universe, #1 and #3. There’s no way Lessa doesn’t know, but being a Lady of the Sith, she’ll wait to see whether Kylara can actually pull off the plan before sending F’lar in to crush it. No sense revealing her hand too much.
We pick up with Brekke, who is a clearly gifted nurse and healer, tending F’nor’s knife wound as T’bor arrives, asking how many spots they have for the wounded. F’nor is concerned about Brekke spreading herself too thin by being both the de facto Weyrwoman, chief nurse, and adoptive foster to Mirrim. F’nor teases Brekke about how “men sent to Southern heal faster”, with a potentially lascivious undertone, which T’bor picks up on and responds to testily, having been wound up by Kylara before. F’nor suggests that perhaps Southern should stop being the hospital Weyr, which prompts Brekke, unbidden, to complain about Mardra’s leadership qualities in flying a wing, which is news to both of the other riders – apparently, ever since a wingleader was downed by Thread, Mardra’s been flying the upper realms with a flamethrower, which changes the dragon formation to protect her queen, resulting in quite a few serious injuries. Another case of female ambition being shown to have bad consequence. Kind of a running theme here, too, to the story’s detriment.
T’bor and F’nor discuss Kylara’s plan to make trouble at a wedding, her alliance with Meron, and the Threadfall pattern shift, to which F’nor is understandably distressed. After T’bor storms out, complaining that the precious timetables don’t include Southern, F’nor correctly-and-incorrectly reads Brekke’s interest in T’bor, gets upbraided by Brekke for even thinking about charging back into battle, and discovers that Brekke can do what Lessa does – hear other dragons, when Brekke asks him why he hasn’t responded to Canth, his brown. He also learns that Canth refers to Brekke by name, which indicates familiarity not normally accorded by dragons to humans, and rather than be scolded about withholding the variant Thread information from F’nor, Canth insists on a bath.
Which turns out to have far-ranging implications. So we’ll leave off here and pick up next time.