This chapter serves as a big turning point for Alanna in this book. Dire circumstances rock her world and force her to accept a part of herself that she’d previously rejected. It’s a pretty classic escalation, and this one introduces several elements that play key roles both later in this book and later in the series. It’s really only in this read-through that I’m beginning to appreciate how much of the later storylines were set up right here in book one.
The chapter starts with Alanna being scolded by Duke Gareth for her actions in the previous chapter, in which she beats the absolute hell out of her bully, Ralon. But Alanna knows that even though she broke the rules, he’s also proud of her for sticking up for herself, and that he’s not truly mad at her. In the narration, she observes, “Once you know the rules, life is pretty simple.” Of course, Alanna is not in any way, shape, or form a good rule follower, nor does she at any point have a simple life, so I found that pretty funny.
Gary, Alex, and Raoul – a good chunk of Alanna’s social circle – become squires, which is the first paradigm shift in this chapter. It leaves only Jon and Alanna (…and Francis) as pages, which brings them closer together. I think it’s interesting how squire training is described here and how that changes in future books (especially, for obvious reasons, Keladry’s books). It seems a lot more… easygoing here? You don’t have to wait for a knight to choose you; you just get assigned to one. You don’t have to travel the kingdom; you just stay at the palace. I assume that the reason squire training becomes significantly more vigorous between series is because of the Immortals War, which happens in Daine’s books, in between Alanna and Keladry.
And then suddenly… plague! The Sweating Fever strikes the palace and the city of Corus, and uh, nowhere else. Throughout this chapter, multiple characters express the suspicion that this illness is not natural, and was sent by magic, which – assuming that’s a thing that’s possible – seems pretty obvious when it only hits one place and never spreads or seems to have come from anywhere, and when it specifically drains the magical healers of their powers. Quite a few people close to Alanna fall ill, including Raoul and Francis, Duke Gareth, even the Queen herself.
Francis, taken badly by the fever, dies of it less than a day after falling ill. Alanna begins to feel a tremendous remorse for not using her healing magic to save him. This marks the beginning of a serious change in thinking for her. Up until this point – and even still here, for a while – Alanna is petrified of using her magic. Its power and strength terrifies her. She discusses it obliquely with Sir Myles, who gives her a speech roughly equivalent to “with great power comes great responsibility.” And then Jon gets sick, too.
Jon very nearly dies, but Alanna uses incredibly drastic magic, calling on the Mother Goddess to save him. She channels the Goddess and is able to pull him back from the brink of death. During this ritual, I’m now certain, is where Myles puts the pieces together – both Jon and Alanna speak in the voices of their adult selves, and Alanna’s voice is indisputably female. But who can blame him for not saying anything? After all, he just saw an 11-year-old channel impossibly powerful magic that no one has seen in decades, if ever.
Also shown during this ritual is a vision that Alanna has – a vision of a black city, carved in stone, with beautiful towers and shining streets. The same vision that she had in Maude’s fireplace, in fact. This, uh, will come up again, needless to say. We’re introduced here to several characters who are important to future plotlines (some of them not even in this series, but in the next and beyond). Duke Baird, the royal healer, is shown here helping to treat Prince Jonathan. His son, who isn’t mentioned here, is Nealan of Queenscove, Keladry’s best friend about twenty years from now. King Roald and Queen Lianne, Jon’s parents, are introduced here – a loving couple, devoted parents, benevolent rulers, everyone likes them.
And while he doesn’t arrive this chapter, he is first mentioned here – Duke Roger of Conte, the King’s brother, Jon’s uncle, and should Jon die before having children, the heir to the throne. He’s indicated to be a powerful sorcerer – it’s suggested that he could track the source of the plague, but he’s too far away at the time. He’s also noted to have recommended to the king that the pages and squires with the Gift be trained in its use, a suggestion the king disregarded. You’d never know from what’s mentioned here that he’s to become Alanna’s archfoe and an enormous threat to the royal family!
One of the things I really like about this chapter, and one of the things I’m coming to define as a big part of romantic fantasy (something I hadn’t categorized as a separate genre until recently, after reading the Blue Rose RPG rulebook), is the portrayal of the nobility. It’s noted that as servants fall ill, the pages and squires take up many of their responsibilities. “Alanna made beds, washed dishes, cleaned the stables. She’d been taught from birth that no job was too dirty for a true noble. Now the theory was put into practice.” I don’t know why, but I just like that. It’s not snobby, it’s not making a big deal out of blue blood, it’s just rolling your sleeves up and doing the work that needs to be done.
As I said, this chapter serves as a huge turning point for the book – nothing is the same, after this point. Alanna faces several paradigm shifts all at once, which is somewhat overwhelming for her, but it’s portrayed very well by Pierce. It gives you a good sense of the possibly tumultuous outcomes of the changes that happen hereafter.
- Myles: “There’s too much wine in me to get sick, so will you stop nagging me to drink less?”
- “She clenched her fists and fought the pain. … She would ride this tiger.” And a little later, “Now she ruled the power she had pulled from the flames. She rode the tiger. She was a warrior!” It’s just… it’s so cheesy, oh my god. Even when I was 11, I thought that bit was cheesy.
- Alanna, speaking to Death itself: “Excuse me, but you can’t have him.”