Here it is, the last chapter of the book! The climactic action, what it’s all been building to (except for the stuff that’s building to other books). Alanna and the squires travel with their teachers to the Great Southern Desert, to make a diplomatic visit to the Bazhir and to learn desert survival tactics (and also to rid the world of a very nasty, child-abducting family of demons, but they didn’t know that at first).
After a week or so of travel, they arrive in Persopolis, the only city the Bazhir have ever built, because uh… reasons? Alanna meets Ali Mukhtab, who is the governor of Persopolis (and a much bigger role that we don’t really see until book 3 I think) – a kindly man who explains many of the Bazhir legends surrounding the Black City. He also loves cats, which puts him right up there in my list of favorite characters. Apparently the city – or whatever lives there – “calls to” their young people, making them obsessed with going there. They never return.
Obviously Jon and Alanna see this and say “uh, we can fix that”. Or more accurately, Jon thinks that and Alanna goes with him to stop him from getting killed. They ride out to the Black City – a strange, alien place. It’s covered completely with strange carvings, and devoid of any sign of life. Not even skeletons, which they’d assumed would be there from the young people that have been called from the Bazhir for centuries. I like how all of this is described and how it’s so much at odds with the rest of the world as we’ve seen it so far. It’s very much apart, and it gives the feeling of distinctly not belonging here.
The Nameless Ones, or the Ysandir (because they absolutely do have names, as it happens), arrive to eat Jon and Alanna and steal their life force. Alanna and Jon fight them off with magic and divine intervention and absolutely bitchin’ sword skills, because of course they do, they are the heroes of this book. The magic they use is cool as hell, though it is distinctly at odds with how magic seems to be used in later books. Here it uses a lot of incantations, which very rarely appear again in later series. Then again, none of the other protagonists have traditional magic. Daine has wild magic, Aly and Beka have the Sight, and Keladry has no magic.
At any rate, the fight is not the best thing about this chapter, even though it is technically the climax of the book. No, the best part is the revelation to Jon that Alanna is female, and her coming into her own and finding a new confidence in herself. During the fight, the Ysandir realize that Alanna is female masquerading as male… and they use magic to remove her clothes. Suuuuper awkward, right? Jon – after he finishes staring for a second – gives her his shirt, and because he’s tall, it goes almost to her knees. Convenient, and I approve.
They kind of delay talking about it until they’re out of life-threatening danger, which is fair, but then Alanna has to explain everything. She’s fully expecting that Jon will hate her and never be friends with her again and maybe even report her to Duke Gareth and get her kicked out. …He does none of those things. He’s surprised, and he’s a little confused, but he accepts it and he accepts her and their friendship is even more affirmed than ever. And uh, I’m just gonna throw this out there – from this point on, there is sexual tension. Not in this book, but for sure in the next one. I’m looking forward to it, because I love sexual tension.
But the best of all is when Jon asks Alanna who he should pick as his squire. She considers for a moment, remembered that literally yesterday she would’ve said one of the other pages – Geoffrey or Douglass maybe. But today, she very confidently says, “Me. You should pick me.” She gives a list of her merits and qualifications – with an honest admission of her weaknesses, even – and basically says that she’s the best page and that’s why he should pick her, despite the fact that she’s female. You tell him, girl. Recognize your strengths. Work on your weaknesses. Go for the gold.
But really, so much of this book has been about Alanna denying her own specialness and her own skills and talents. She insists that she’s not a better fighter than others because she had to work so hard for it. When on the contrary, she’s better because she had to fight for it. She denies that everything that happened at the ruins, when Lightning came to her rescue, was any indication of her own specialness. She insists that others couldn’t possibly love her as much as they do. And here she accepts at least some of it. She has always said that she wants to be a hero and do great deeds and have adventures, and by god is she going to.
The icing on the cake here? Instead of saying “The End” as many books do at their conclusion, this one says, “The Beginning”. Because not only is it the beginning of Alanna’s adventures, it’s the beginning of so much more in the world of Tortall. And I can’t wait to share it with you.
- Jon’s entirely inappropriate “wait, boobs?” moment
- Jon knowing that Alanna was the only one of his friends insane enough to go with him
- Alanna force-choking a demigod
- Alanna taking a solemn oath of fealty to Jon and him ruining the moment by ruffling her hair