Woo, the first chapter of book two! The stakes get higher, the friendships get deeper, the going gets tougher. This chapter establishes the new status quo for Alanna since the events of the last book – a few months have passed since Alanna and Jon’s experience at the Black City. He’s passed his Ordeal of Knighthood, she’s his squire, her fifteenth birthday comes and goes. Oh, and she also meets the Goddess, the Great Mother, the primary archetypal female deity in this world.
Alanna is traveling back to Corus after being sent on an errand by Sir Myles of Olau, and she’s caught in a storm, forced to take shelter under an especially large willow tree. No sooner does she have her fire built than she’s intruded upon by a small, underfed black cat. If this wasn’t enough of a sign, this cat has purple eyes the exact same shade as Alanna’s (did I mention before that Alanna has purple eyes? She does!). This is Faithful, a cat who very quickly becomes Alanna’s companion and familiar, and a huge character in this series (and in the Beka Cooper books!). Faithful is… well, at this point it’s not defined, but he’s definitely magic and he’s definitely a representative of the Goddess. He’s also a snarky little asshole, in the best traditions of cat familiars.
Shortly thereafter, a stranger approaches, asking to warm herself by the fire. Alanna permits this, trying to figure out where she knows her from, and this scene kind of baffles me. She’s the Goddess! She’s superhumanly beautiful, she changes the very aura of space around her, she moves and speaks like no mortal woman ever has or will! Who else would she be? At any rate, Alanna eventually puts the pieces together after the stranger starts talking about her dead mom and calling her “my daughter”.
The Goddess shows up here to drop a couple of bombshells on Alanna. One of her messages basically amounts to “don’t disappoint me” or “don’t fuck this up”, which must be fairly terrifying to receive from a god. One of them is to bluntly inform Alanna, “Surely you know by know that you are one of my Chosen,” because she wasn’t going to put the pieces together on her own – also terrifying. And the third is to confront Alanna about the three fears in her life she hasn’t learned to accept, and what she’s going to do about them.
I love this very succinct assessment of Alanna’s character: her three remaining fears are the Ordeal of Knighthood, Duke Roger of Conte, and… love. The Ordeal she knows will come in time no matter what; there’s not a lot she can do about it. Everyone loves Duke Roger, so for now she is forced to watch and wait and see if anyone else suspects him. But love… the Goddess confronts Alanna about not accepting the love of the people in her life: the friendship of the other squires and knights, the paternal love of Sir Myles, the potentially-romantic love of Jon and George. And uh, here’s where some of that sexual tension begins, right?
Alanna basically says “No, I don’t want to think about any of this right now.” Upon her return to the palace, we get to see more of that new status quo – Jon knows about her real gender, their rooms are adjoining, none of their friends know, and there is extraordinary potential for scandal. I love it. Faithful is introduced to the various facets of Alanna’s life – he observes during weapon practice, and sneaks his way into the classrooms where their academic classes take place. Sir Myles notes that cats have as much a right to learn history as anyone else, which is charming and delightful.
That is, until Faithful meets Duke Roger for the first time. The cat basically has a meltdown, spitting, hissing, biting, clawing, in a way that he never does up until that point. Everyone chalks it up to Duke Roger smelling like his hunting dogs, who he’d just been with, but Alanna knows it’s something more, and she thinks Duke Roger knows it’s something more.
This is something that’s answered later in this book, and I know that, but seriously… why does no one else think he’s evil? Alanna lists out (to herself, as she doesn’t wish to reveal her suspicions) all the reasons why he’s super obviously evil, but no one else sees it. At least, not in her close circle at the palace. The commoners among the cast – Coram, George, Stefan the hostler – they all seem significantly more suspicious of him than the nobles of the cast. Again, there is a reason for this that’s revealed in the last bit of the book, but for now it just seems like nobles are kind of dumb.
Speaking of Coram, he’s a large part of Alanna’s new status quo – namely that he’s no longer there at the palace with her. Alanna’s father has passed away, and Coram has returned to Trebond to manage the fief while Alanna and Thom complete their studies. Given in the last book everyone made a big deal of all the trouble Alanna would get into without Coram there to keep her in check, that gives you some kind of idea of what might happen here. As for the death of Alanna’s father… well, it’s basically a footnote. It’s barely mentioned, it seems to have no emotional impact on Alanna, and it was literally only six weeks ago. I know he was a distant father, but this still seems weird to me.
There’s a lot of great stuff in this book, some of which is set up here and some of which isn’t, but I am impatient to get to the really good stuff. This chapter is all well and good, but I know that what’s coming up is even better.
- Faithful only ever sitting on Alanna’s shoulder, no one else’s, leading to the joke that Faithful is afraid of heights
- Alanna’s absolute failure to take hints
- Being around magic makes Alanna sneeze, much like an allergy