So, I ended up loving this chapter a whole lot. Despite including a war on the horizon, a wild boar attack, and a nearly-lethal duel, it’s still primarily about Alanna’s relationships with her friends. That’s romantic fantasy for you! The potential war with a neighboring country is given pretty much equal importance to the main character’s growing feelings for her best friend. Stories about people.
This chapter starts with Alanna going into the city alone to hang out with George and to pick up a birthday present for Jon that she’s had shipped to the city. They have a fun time talking, gossiping, doing a little carousing. Jon’s present is revealed to be a stunning silver chainmail shirt inlaid with diamonds and sapphires. I mean, it’s hugely impractical, but it’s pretty (in my imagination, anyway). Thom has also sent Alanna another letter warning her about Duke Roger. George, too, seems more suspicious of Roger than Alanna is – she insists that she can’t do anything without proof, which is reasonable to say the least.
And then… George asks Alanna how old she is. He starts making… overtures. “We marry as young as 15 in the city, lass.” The sexual tension is REAL. But, uh, I can’t ignore this… George is about 22 (he’s confirmed to be 7 years older than her). They share a kiss, which leaves Alanna confused and interested and she says afterwards, “I should’ve stabbed you!” which is hilarious to me. I mean, yeah, you should have girl, but also… you’re gonna marry him. Like, seven or eight years from this scene.
Anyway, I love best friends with sexual tension, and I am so fortunate that this series provides me with not one, but two examples of it. You see, it’s… an especially cold and often lonely winter. Alanna despises the cold; winter is shown throughout the series to be one of her worst fears. And every so often she thinks “What if I got into bed with Jon?” She also hates thinking this and then uses her magic to warm herself up. She would literally rather drain her own life force than think about sex or deal with her emotions surrounding it, which is pretty relatable sometimes.
Of course, it’s not that simple (is it ever?). You see, that winter is the winter that one Delia of Eldorne comes to court. She is beautiful, she is flirtatious, she wants all the boys, and Alanna despises her at first sight (almost). She both hates her and is jealous of her, which um… yeah that’s fair. I have felt that many a time about the pretty girls that all my friends suddenly fall in love with. I get you, Alanna, I do. Everyone loves Delia and all the guys are idiots and fight over her, which pisses off Alanna and leads her to spend more time with Alex, who seems to be the only one who isn’t losing his mind over her.
They get to talking about what’s like to be good, or to be the best. Naturally, two people who both know they’re really good at something competitive are going to end up challenging each other. They go down to the practice arenas, grab a couple of wooden practice swords (intended to prevent serious injury, not super effective at that), and face off. It starts off as a reasonably friendly challenge. Then Alex gets a little… crazy. He won’t stop when Alanna gets injured, he’s grinning maniacally, he very clearly tries to kill her (which would be slow and painful, as noted by the narration). Luckily, Faithful fetches Myles, who scares Alex off.
Alanna’s repeated mantra against accusing Roger (and Alex) is that she has no proof. Except… she has a witness that Alex tried to kill her; Myles saw what happened. She has proof that Roger has been investigating her brother. Magic (in this world) leaves physical traces and auras; it shouldn’t be hard to test that there’s Roger’s magic all over. But… she won’t make an accusation. Not yet. She isn’t sure enough to make that call. I’m pretty sure everyone outside her palace social circle – Coram, George, Thom, Stefan, etc. – all think she’s crazy for not making an accusation yet, though.
Oh and also, the squires get some winter survival training, including spending a night alone out in the open in the royal forest. Alanna gets attacked by a wild boar and I just want to point something out: I didn’t know until recently how large wild boars can be. They routinely grow between 6 and 7 feet long and 4 feet tall, weighing over 200 pounds. And also they have tusks, also known as face-knives. I had been picturing maybe something the size of a labrador (with tusks)? So yeah, that was probably pretty scary. After she kills the boar she sees a demonic red glow fading from its eyes, which is definitely some kind of bad omen, right? You don’t get attacked by demon boars every day, at least.
There’s a great, very small bit that I love – it’s really blink and you miss it, but it’s mentioned that when Alanna is struggling with the managing of Trebond, she is able to count on Duke Gareth and Sir Myles to give her good, practical advice, and that they give it without judgment, knowing that Trebond was mismanaged by Alanna’s father. It’s just… it’s good to have reasonable authority figures that you can rely on to help you when you need it, and I just appreciate that a whole lot.
At any rate, this chapter gets a 10/10 from me – it’s got everything I love. Sword duels, kissing, spooky magic, interpersonal drama, impractical luxury, and the power of friendship.
- Gary’s terrible facial hair strikes again! Add to the hilarity when he tries to be all smooth like “You’re never too young for girls.”
- “I SHOULD HAVE STABBED YOU!” is a great reaction to your first kiss.
- Alanna is terrible at wrestling and no one will let her live it down (because she’s so good at everything else).