Dragonquest: She’s Not So Different

(By Silver Adept)

Last time, we took a break from our grimdark fantasy novel to experience a short boys’ adventure story, including discovery of some ancient technology. It was a nice comedic scene to break up the tragic. Regrettably, even Shakespeare could only get one funny scene in, and usually right before things really fall apart.

Dragonquest, Chapter VI: Content Notes: Animal Abuse, Domestic Abuse

Chapter VI returns to Kylara, who has just found herself a clutch of fire-lizard eggs, and she intends to Impress them all. With maybe one for Lord Meron, and one each for his men, so she can exploit the mating influences of dragons to keep him under her control. Anyway, having collected her clutch, Kylara heads straight for Meron’s Hold to rouse him and have the eggs finish cooking. Meron, like all the villainous men so far, has been sleeping around when Kylara comes to him.

I’d mention something about not making villains so cartoonish, but, Fax. And the Lords Holder. So, yeah.

Kylara, born to a high degree in one Hold, knew exactly the tone to take with lesser beings, and was, in fact, so much the female counterpart to her own irascible Lord that the woman scurried to her bidding without waiting for Meron’s consent.

Meron, also like the villainous men so far, is not particularly bright and has to have the significance of fire-lizards explained to him. After he gets it, he’s on board. Until he gets bored, which allows Kylara to continue to feel superior to all the sweaty men and their rough manners, as she eats daintily and counsels patience. And mentions that you can’t beat dragons or fire-lizards, unlike landbeasts. Here we are again, with the abuse as a casual thought.

Meron asks Kylara about how one Impresses, and that allows the narrative to show us more about what a shallow woman Kylara is supposed to be. She doesn’t know why the beautiful women get passed over for the plain, and why “commoners” seem to always get chosen over the Weyrbred for queens, even though Weyrbred men usually (eventually) Impress. Considering “that brat of Brekke’s Impressed three”, Kylara’s certain that “anyone on two legs” will do fine for this. Which could have been parlayed into a Groucho-like comment about never joining groups that would have her as a member, if the narrative wasn’t insistent that she stay one-dimensional. So instead it just comes off as mean.

Meron fares no better, threatening Consequences for those who can’t Impress. Which sets Kylara off laughing.

She laughed at the black look on Meron’s face until the Lord Holder, angered beyond caution, shook her arm roughly…”Laughter is better than threats, Lord Meron. Even you can’t order the preference of dragonkind. And tell me, good Lord Meron, will you be subjected to the same unspeakable punishment if you fail?”

Meron grabbed her arm in a painful grip…

And, completely unsurprisingly, we have Meron filling in for the F’lar role from Dragonflight. The eggs rocking and cracking is probably the only thing keeping Kylara from another set of bruises. And that’s really not okay for anyone, character or reader. The narrative, though, wants us to focus on Kylara’s inadequacies at this point, showing her to be avaricious of the power and freedom a Weyrwoman has, and wanting to dominate and control the miniature dragon in the ways that she can’t with regard to Prideth.

And in presenting these fire-lizard eggs to a Holder, particularly the most despised Holder of all, Meron of Nabol, Kylara struck back at all the ignominies and imagined slights she had endured at the hands of dragonmen and Pernese. The most recent insult – that the dishfaced fosterling of Brekke’s had Impressed three, rejecting Kylara – would be completely avenged.

And then there is hatching, and some of the fire-lizards attack each other, but Kylara gets her gold queen and all is well, much to Prideth’s annoyance. At least, we assume that’s the case, even though the chapter ends before we get complete confirmation. It’s really a rather short chapter.

Which gives us an opportunity, with the lack of major action, to talk about Kylara and her relationship to Lessa, Brekke, and the other Weyrwomen. We’re supposed to believe that Kylara is nothing like Lessa. Kylara is a Hold-born noblewoman seeking to take back what she believes is rightfully hers, a quest that has taken her at least ten years. She has very few issues with using anyone and everyone to achieve her goal, and she hopes to goad men into fighting each other so that she can stand atop their rubble. Also, she was saved from the normal fate of women in Holds through being selected to ride a queen dragon. She’s nothing like Lessa at all, is she?

Really, though, the difference between Lessa and Kylara is that Kylara continues to openly pursue her ambitions, while Lessa has decided to cloak her ambitions in the clothing of acceptably-female behavior, so as to disguise her machinations from the men. So the narrative, which robbed Lessa of her revenge by giving us Jaxom, continues to punish Kylara for her ambition – Lessa got rid of her from Benden because she was too openly ambitious toward F’lar. The entire patriarchal culture Kylara has to fight against thinks beating women that get too uppity is a normal thing to do, wants women barefoot and pregnant, and has no qualms about kidnapping noble women to become slaves and servants to dragonriders.

Kylara is portrayed as petty, mercurial, and jealous by the narrative, believing that being a Weyrwoman means unprecedented freedom to do what she wants to achieve her ends. Rather than that being petty shirking of responsibilities, what if it meant that Kylara was refusing to play the game and leveraging her position as immunity against consequences, openly advocating, though her very being, that it was possible to live a life differently than what the Weyrleaders said was their life? The narrative didn’t believe in those values, so Kylara gets regularly punished by the narrative. By comparison, Lessa turned her overt strife into covert strife by adopting methods that pass Patriarchy – flirting, insinuation, influence, child-rearing (dragons, not humans) – and is rewarded by being able to manipulate others and having a seat at the table when the Big Plans come out to play. Lessa won’t be able to take credit for anything that the men don’t want her to, but she is better able to accomplish her goals. Mardra might be working on the same principle, but we’ve only heard of her, instead of seen her at work. Or Mardra might be more on Kylara’s end, openly and actively trying to achieve equality for women on Pern.

Which brings us to Brekke. Brekke has opinions on things, but she stays quiet because Kylara wants to be in charge. Brekke runs the Weyr and nurses the injured and raises a child. She’s the paragon of womanly virtue, according to the society, so if she’s on the list of main characters, she will likely be rewarded by the narrative, probably by ascending when Kylara is inevitably knocked out of power. If she doesn’t get that designation, though, there’s a good chance Brekke will be used to indicate how evil an antagonist is, probably through violence done to her. Which is a lazy shortcut, if it happens, and will prove the inherently hypocritical nature of the Patriarchy of Pern, as well.

I really hope I’m wrong about that, and that the narrative at least reaches the bar of consistency in rewarding those who play by its rules. Otherwise, the cursing will likely continue until the narrative improves.


6 thoughts on “Dragonquest: She’s Not So Different

  1. genesistrine August 31, 2014 at 4:20 am

    Much as I like the idea of reinterpreting Kylara as a freedom-fighting feminist heroine just because I’m annoyed at the narrative never shutting up about how evil and vicious and spiteful and bitchy and power-hungry and MEEEAAANNN she is, it falls down for me on the grounds that she never does anything for any other women. There’s nothing for any of the vast majority of women who won’t Impress queen dragons to aspire to.

    Kylara is Privilege Incarnate. She’s spectacle, something the average Pernese woman can fantasise about being*, but can’t actually work towards being.

    [*well, assuming they’ve ever heard of her – any news that isn’t Harper-approved is going to have to work its way through gossip, with all the concomitant chinese-whispers…]

  2. Only Some Stardust August 31, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    I would assume the holders would know who the top dragonriders are; if they’re the pinnacle of society to such a degree they suck up all other creative thought, and if the weyrleaders are the ones who your lord holder is going to be having disputes with from time to time over tithes and so on and pretty much top dog of everything, it’d have to be a very ignorant and self absorbed person who didn’t pay attention to such things. It’d be like not knowing Michele Obama’s name for someone who lives in the US. Humans pay deep attention to those in power.

  3. Silver Adept August 31, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Fair point – Kylara may be a funhouse mirror of feminism compared to the actual thing, but in dragonrider culture, she’s probably leading the way toward some semblance of feminism. Her treatment of Brekke and Rannely does make it less effective, though.

    I’d love to have a less-reliable narrator about things, so that there was less “Kylara IS.” and more “Everyone, including the narrative thinks Kylara is, but what she does suggests she isn’t.”

    And that does assume anyone has heard of her, because she was sent South on a secret mission many Turns ago to get out of Lessa’s hair.

    The actual feminist may be Brekke, but I doubt the narrative is going to show us that.

  4. genesistrine September 1, 2014 at 6:12 am

    @ Only Some Stardust: just because someone knows Michelle Obama’s name doesn’t mean they’d know if she did a scandalous thing at a relative’s wedding, though.

    And the average Pernese has very few sources of information anyway – bear in mind that most Pernese pretty much have to be dirt-farmers (or herders, fruit-pickers etc) to produce the food to support the society.

    Harpers regularly recite the names of queen and bronze riders*, but (AFAIK) we’re never told how large or populous a Hold has to be to merit a Harper; a lot of the smaller farmholds presumably have to do without. (This raises the question of how the children are educated – it’s a given on Pern that they have to learn the Teaching Ballads at least. Given the prevalence of fostering among the Lord Holders is there a similar arrangement to board farm children in Holds for some period of their lives? Or are there circulating Harpers for given areas?)

    But either way the sources of information for most of the populace are either Harpers broadcasting the approved party line of the nobility of dragonriders, not bad behaviour by Weyrwomen, or gossip passed along by someone whose best friend’s cousin’s daughter knows this bloke whose brother was at a Gather and heard from the dad of this woman who works in the kitchens at Lord Meron’s hold and she said the upstairs serving women told her that Kylara demanded a fried fire lizard egg for breakfast every morning.

    They’re going to be gossiping at least as much about that thieving steward that got caught falsifying the yield or the lad who got 3 girls from different farms pregnant in the same month or the Holder’s wife getting caught in bed with that fosterling half her age.

    *and dear god that must be tedious to listen to. Apostrophe-orama. Presumably it’s used to clear the room when everyone’s thoroughly drunk and needs to be persuaded to go to bed….

  5. genesistrine September 1, 2014 at 6:21 am

    @ Silver Adept: Brekke. Definitely Brekke. Coming up in a couple of chapters, she reveals herself as the Great Freethinking Hope for feminism on Pern. (And astonished me; I hadn’t remembered that bit at all.)

    Whether she’ll get to fulfil that promise, though….

  6. emmy September 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    re: harpers – I have the dim impression from my memories of the Harper Hall books that the smaller holds are visited on rotation by journeymen, that being part of where the name comes from. I would expect a hold/hall to be fairly important to rate a permanent Harper, especially one of master status, but everyone’s supposed to have somebody with harper training come by eventually.

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