This chapter primarily focuses on and builds up to one pivotal event for Alanna – a fight in which she defeats her bully, a boy several years her senior, one Ralon of Malven. The chapter opens with Ralon beating her up one day after class and ends with her beating him so badly that he leaves Court forever, because she’s trained so hard and learned so much and he’s just a stupid asshole and oh my god it’s so gratifying.
Most of the chapter is centered around Alanna’s reaction to being bullied (to seriously dedicate herself to learning to beat the hell out of someone), her friends’ reaction to her being bullied (general concern, plus a demonstrated willingness to beat the shit out of him for her), and Alanna’s preparations for this showdown. I don’t think I necessarily realized it in early reads, but the thing that’s truly being set up here – not just the fight, which is only important really to this chapter, but something that’s key for the entire series – how goddamn hard Alanna works for what she wants. This is something I’ve always appreciated about her, and it starts paying off for her here.
Detailed here are sessions with Coram, who teaches her more traditional fighting, and George, who teaches her some down and dirty tricks to win. I like the contrast of the different influences on her – Alanna is someone who knows when to play by the rules and when to fight dirty, and it’s very much Coram and George who exert that balance over her early on. Also shown here are a few quite heartfelt discussions with Myles of Olau, who assuages Alanna’s concerns that she’s doing the wrong thing, or becoming a bully herself.
I like the various bonding moments in all of these – Coram helps Alanna treat her injuries, George treats her to her first ale, Myles teaches her a lesson on how “men aren’t born to stand alone.” I want to assume it’s merely coincidence that that last one became a core part of my personal philosophy buuuuut I don’t know if that’s safe to say at all.
The big thing that I take away from this is that Alanna has friends. She has allies. She has numerous people on her side, and she needs these people. This book very much defies the idea of the “chosen one”, the solitary hero. Alanna has a veritable army of allies behind her, and she wasn’t “chosen” for much of anything (…at least not yet). She’s a hero because she says “I want to help people and I want to be the best at it that I can be” and she works hard every day to make that come true and she has supporters on all sides.
We see it with Coram and George and Myles, but we also see it with Alanna’s fellow pages Jon and Raoul and Gary and Alex. They, quite frankly, beat the hell out of Ralon. Multiple times! Raoul is a punching machine and I love him. “Alanna had become quite the favorite of Raoul,” the narration says; well, Raoul has become quite the favorite of me. But even though they beat the snot out of Ralon, there’s still very much the notion that Alanna has to fight her own battles. They all point out how she’d be mortified if she knew they were doing this on her behalf, so they resolve to never let her find out. (I should note: textually, no one but Coram knows Alanna is female yet, but I’m guessing at least two figure it out during this chapter – George and maybe Myles)
We do see just a bit of the world outside the palace in this chapter, when Alanna goes to visit George to learn from him. We meet Rispah, “the queen of the ladies who follow the rogue.” So, uh, when I was 10, I definitely just thought “oh like lady thieves, there’s a king of the rogue so of course there is also a queen.” It’s uh, not quite like that. Rispah is the leader of Corus’ sex workers, a nuance I would not have understood back then. I obviously got it on subsequent rereads, but it’s funny to look back now.
There’s a great moment between Alanna and George here where George thinks “Alan” wants to take advantage of their friendship – to use George’s resources to have Ralon killed off, or something along those lines. He’s kind of harsh with her until he realizes that isn’t what she wants. She agrees that he needs a beating, but “I want to be the one to beat him,” she says. I think George very much gains a newfound respect for Alanna here, that aforementioned “you’re not like other nobles” moment.
I think we get a lot of good focus on Alanna’s character in this chapter, both how others perceive her and how she perceives herself. “Th’ lad’s got guts. Not much sense, but guts,” one character notes. “You’re not like other nobles,” George all but says. Both Myles and Jon express their doubts that Alanna would ever become a bully – she’s not the type to beat someone up for fun (she throws up after her fight with Ralon and is overcome by guilt that she shouldn’t have fought him), nor does she enjoy lording power over others. Not to mention the fact that the people reasonably afraid they’ll become something are the least likely to become that thing.
But the last note of the chapter, even after the fight, is something I’d never really identified in Alanna before: imposter syndrome. “No matter what Myles said,” it reads, “she had used fancy tricks to beat Ralon, that was all. She was still a girl masquerading as a boy, and she sometimes doubted that she would ever believe herself to be as good as the stupidest, clumsiest male.” …Same, girl. I relate. Fortunately for Alanna, she grows up to become the most renowned, legendary, skilled fighter her nation has ever seen. She wasn’t born with that power or skill, it doesn’t necessarily come easily to her, but she works for it and that’s why I love her.
- We learn about George’s ear collection for the first time! George is such a badass.
- “You don’t believe me, and I know you don’t believe me, but pride is satisfied all around.”
- Alanna almost accidentally telling Myles that she’s a girl and twisting it to be about being short instead.
- Alanna working to become ambidextrous after breaking her dominant arm (for the record, Alanna has literal healing magic and could have healed her broken arm in about 5 minutes)