Dragonsong: Ninety-Nine Problems

When we last left Menolly, she ran away from her Hold to live with the fire lizards, and successfully used the power of SCIENCE! and some fortuitous preparation to prevent mass casualties among a clutch of newly-hatched lizards until the Threadfall they would have flown into had passed.

Dragonsong: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Ableism, Sexism

Chapter Six returns to Half-Circle Hold, where Menolly’s prediction about not being missed is completely true – her absence is only noted because Sella has had to attend Old Uncle after his seizure, and she does not want to deal with this particular misery all alone.

“That’s about all she’s good for now, anyway,” Sella told Mavi and then hastily demurred at her mother’s stern look. “Well, all she does is drag about, cradling that hands of hers as if it were precious. She gets off all the real work…” Sella let out a heavy sigh.
“We’ve enough trouble this morning what with someone leaving the Hold doors unfastened and Thread falling…” Mavi shuddered at the thought of that brace of horrors, the mere notion of Thread cascading down, able to wriggle within the Hold, turned her stomach.

This is a more convincing portrayal of the uncaring nature of teenagers and siblings – Sella sees Menolly’s injury only in how it relates to her own workload, and understands that it isn’t particularly fair. Mavi is more concerned about the Adult Fear of a devouring parasite invading the Hold. Which is a nice way of showing the reader why the doors get barred at night. It’s a little disconcerting that Menolly wouldn’t have deduced this, but she was understandably pissed about not being able to enjoy music, so we’ll give her a pass.

Sella tries to find Menolly in all the usual haunts, but she’s not there. Which only annoys Sella more, until she considers the prospect that Menolly went out in the Threadfall. Which is enough to jar her out of her jealousy and into straight-up fear. So she goes to see Alemi, Menolly and Sella’s brother, who is also chief of the flamethrower crews.

“You think Menolly left the Hold early?” Alemi realized a strong, tall girl like Menolly could very easily have managed the door bars.
“You know how she’s been since she hurt her hand: creeping away every chance she gets.”
Alemi did know, for he was find of his gawky sister, and he particularly missed her singing. He didn’t share Yanus’s reservations about Menolly’s ability. And he didn’t honestly agree with Yanus’s decision to keep knowledge of it from the Harper, now that there was a Harper in the Hold to keep her in line.

gaw-ky. adj. Awkward, ungainly, clumsy.

Of the woman who was until recently playing complex melody and singing to fosterlings. Exactly where is “clumsy” coming from, unless it’s a recent thing brought on by the injury and having to relearn things with a different hand. And not a few sentences earlier, Alemi says that the heavy doors would be no problem at all for Menolly. Which is it, Alemi? Tall, strong, oops-I-don’t-know-my-own-strength Menolly, or tall, strong, can play complex melodies and gut fish equally well Menolly?

Second, Great Fucking Maker, the sexism is ingrained here in this Hold. Oh, sure, now we’re okay with Menolly developing her musical talent, but only if there’s a man there to make sure she doesn’t get any ideas. I really hope by the end of this book, Robinton shows us that he’s always been okay with equality and has been trying to get his Crafthall to change, too.

Third, what is it with this family showing affection and care for Menolly only when she’s not around? Is it because Yanus isn’t around, either, so everyone feels like they can voice their true opinions without it resulting in abuse? At some point, I would hope that everyone who has affection for Menolly will realize they have allies and band together against Yanus. Because that’s what it will take to break his power.

So Sella reports back, apparently taking some pleasure in it and in adding her theory that it was Menolly who left the doors open. (Apparently, whatever fear or empathy Sella had for Menolly is gone, and she’s back to her teenage self) Mavi assigns Sella to continue talking care of Old Uncle, snarking that it’s well-suited to her temperament, even if it isn’t “real work”, and goes to tell Yanus of the news.

Yanus is relieved at the solution to the mystery of the unbarred doors, and mentally blames Mavi as the cause for not keeping Menolly busy enough. Because it couldn’t possibly be his fault for beating Menolly and restricting her musical enjoyment and trying to generally make her miserable so that she’ll be pliable and obedient. No abuser would ever admit their own culpability, because that would mean they would have to change, instead of blaming everyone else. We also note that Yanus has not expressed any empathy, fear, or sympathy, or any caring at all that Menolly potentially went out in a Threadfall. When Elgion suggests that Menolly may have holed up in a cave, Yanus nods and assumes she’ll be back, finding “relief in this theory” and moving on to something else. Relief about what? Not having to expand the effort to find his daughter?

Time passes, and Menolly doesn’t return, provoking anxious speculation and directives to the children looking for shellfish to keep an eye out for Menolly, her knife, or her body washing up. Mavi’s constructed facade of not caring is crumbling in the face of Menolly’s continued absence, and Alemi shows a continued interest in Menolly staying alive. Yanus can feel control slipping from his hands, and so makes a declaration about what to do.

“If she [Menolly] were able and of a mind to return, she’d have done so. Everyone who is able is to keep a sharp eye for any sign of her. This includes sea as well as land. As Sea Holder, I cannot in conscience do more than that, under the circumstances.
[…]
Mavi, even, accepted it, almost as if she were glad if an excuse, as if the girl were an embarrassment. Only Alemi betrayed resentment.
[…]
“I’ve some time. Where would you suggest I look?” [said Elgion.]
Hope flashed in Alemi’s eyes, then as suddenly wariness clouded them.
“I’d say it’s better if Menolly remains where she is…”
“Dead or hurt?”
“Aye.” Alemi sighed deeply. “And I wish her luck and long life.”
“Then you think she’s alive and chooses to be without Hold?”
Alemi regarded the Harper quietly. “I think she’s alive and better off wherever she is than she would be in Half-Circle.”

Which leaves Elgion with the realization that he’s been really bad at his secret missions to change hearts and minds and grab the mystery songwriter for Harper training as soon as possible. Which is complicated more by his realization that he hasn’t actually seen Menolly much, despite supposedly getting to know everyone in the Hold. And his attempts to get information about Menolly and where she might have gone only widens the distance between him and the others, with a discernible fear from the kids that Elgion might find Menolly and bring her home.

At this point in time, I would hope every alarm bell Elgion has is ringing a deafening klaxon about the relationship between Menolly and Yanus and the need for discretion in his efforts, should they prove fruitful. Alemi had all but said Yanus is responsible for the problems at the Hold, and the distance of the children and their fear should reinforce that idea that Yanus is the problem at Half-Circle Hold. Plus, Yanus had basically abandoned his child to her fate. That should probably ring a warning bell or two about Yanus’s capacity for empathy and love. (Also, fuck you, Yanus, you abusive asshole, for making no effort to find your daughter, even though your wife is clearly stressing out about it.) The isolation of this Hold compared to others allows Yanus to be abusive without it really getting out – there’s only a Harper here, so no drum-communications or dragonrider assigned that could also keep an eye out for things going wrong. (It is debatable, though, based on the ethics that we have seen in action from Holders and dragonriders, whether they would object to the familial abuse, or whether they would solely object to the behavior of Yanus toward non-family members.)

The arrival of N’ton asking about fire lizards provides a connecting point to Dragonquest – the Brown Rider Rapist has impressed his fire-lizard at this point, and N’ton is asking for eyes to be kept out for eggs. No problems for the children, says Elgion, and would the sweep riders please keep an eye out for Menolly? Elgion mentions the lack of effort in searching for her, but he hasn’t quite put two and four together as to the why.

N’ton leaves, and that’s the end of chapter six.

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6 thoughts on “Dragonsong: Ninety-Nine Problems

  1. boutet December 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I found it aggravating that Alemi only showed up after Menolly had already gone. I experienced parental abuse, I had two brothers, one of them would throw me under the bus if he could and the other would help me if he could. I knew who my ally was and I took comfort in thinking about him. If Alemi has done anything in the past to support Menolly she would be aware of it and he would come up in her thoughts at some point. She might go to him for emotional support even if he can’t actually do anything to improve her situation.
    So Alemi gets the credit for being supportive brother, good guy, he who stands against Yanus without ever actually doing anything to earn it. And McCafferey gets a sympathetic character to POV hold activities from without having to make the effort of managing the interactions between him and Menolly/Yanus/whoever.
    He’s the laziest ally. The ally that -thinks- about how much he is against abuse but never moves so much as an inch to leverage his power against it.

  2. Only Some Stardust December 7, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Maybe that’s the thing though – who says he’s got any power to leverage? But yeah, he could draw Yanus’s ire himself or at least try.

    (the following is a bit triggery… or I triggered myself, I guess)

    Yanus makes me want to scream; I freak out if my cat goes missing for a day, I can’t imagine not freaking out of my mind if a family member disappeared. I’d probably burst into tears (heck, my eyes are watering now), and I’m normally the reserved type.

    Of course, one of my family members was once almost kidnapped by a murdering child-snatcher, so, my fears may be rather greater than other people’s (I had a vivid nightmare about it just last night 😛 probably always will get nightmares about it off and on, but had one today for some reason so it feels a little too real), but on the other hand I also don’t have man eating noodles falling from the sky. I don’t know how I’d react to man eating noodles.

  3. boutet December 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

    @only some stardust I don’t mean that he has any power to change Menolly’s situation with Yanus, but he could say something sympathetic to her (secretly if necessary), hell, he could give her an unambiguously sympathetic look. He could do some small kind thing for her at some point in the entire first 5 chapters of the book, something that would show that he actually existed prior to this moment when McCafferey realized she didn’t want to show all the hold scenes from Sella’s perspective.
    Instead we get “oh right she has a nice brother, really he’s very nice, I promise” after being shown that she has zero nice people of any kind in her life.

  4. depizan December 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    This whole bit actually reads worse to me as an adult than it did when I read it ages ago. See, fourteen year old me was more willing to assume that Pern was a place that was just really super dangerous and while Yanus and co were kind of assholes for not looking for Menolly, people probably died to Thread all the time, so their reaction wasn’t that surprising.

    Adult me, however, is going What the shit is this!? I mean, I get it from the standpoint of the story McCaffrey wants to tell – if Menolly’s family was upset about her “death” then Menolly would look like a jerk for staying away. But it makes the fact that Yanus is a Karma Houdini that much worse. But one of the positives we’re given about Yanus (and I so hate how much the narrative keeps talking him up) is that the Hold hasn’t lost anyone in several years. The statement is regarding the fishing end of things, but it would be kind of hollow praise if the Hold had lost no one to the sea but had lost people to the Thread. The Hold should be more upset about this and it should look bad on Yanus and his leadership that she snuck out and died. But nope!

    Also, it’s not shameful that his crippled teenage daughter snuck out and died, but it would’ve been shameful for her to go be a Harper? This book really seems determined to kill off every possible non-evil reason for Yanus’s actions toward Menolly – while all the while reassuring us that he’s (and I shit you not, at one point one of the “good” people actually thinks this) a good man. Yanus would rather have a dead daughter than one who stepped even the tiniest bit outside of his (and they really do seem to be just his) ideas of what a girl should be. Death by Thread would be too good for him.

  5. Silver Adept December 7, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Alemi’s appearance is suspiciously timed to Menolly’s absence – it’s probably making the story worse, but it seems like it took Menolly disappearing and Yanus not caring before Alemi woke up to the abuse going on. He’s still the laziest ally at this point, not actually doing anything.

    Yanus’s behavior makes me wonder whether he’s lying about having no fosterlings, because I really can’t bring myself to believe that he would not care about his daughter that much. Unless Yanus has strong sociopathy (quite possible here), he should care, either about his daughter or about the distress his daughter’s absence is causing. He’s really quick to ĺ oh, well, she’s probably dead, everyone carry on.”

    There’s really no reason Yanus should be in charge of the Sea Hold, based on who he is.

  6. Only Some Stardust December 8, 2014 at 1:20 am

    yeah, this is an adult fear situation that wouldn’t really stand out to kids nearly as much, if at all; frankly the whole thing comes off a bit as a goofy kid’s story, except the good ones of those don’t hesitate to call out sucky people as suck-people. Kid me, from what I remember, didn’t really think about Yanus’s point of view or even Menolly’s, I was all ‘cool, firelizards; man, her folks are lame’ and that was it.

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