The succeeding chapter, “Judgment,” begins with Keffria fuming to Ronica about Althea’s conduct, Malta looking on. The girl pipes up, complaining of the quiet in the wake of the Rain Wild Traders’ departure and of Ronica’s quiet rebukes. She complains of Reyn’s assertions, and, after a few more quips, the three lapse into silence.
Elsewhere in town, Althea eats with Amber and continues to relate her tale. She lays out her greater purposes–ending slavery, effecting Bingtown’s independence–and presses Althea for more information. They drink together, heavily, and talk turns to Althea’s intimate liaisons, then to the Paragon, liveships, and the Rain Wilds.
After a bit of tension, Amber goes on to explicate the situation of the Satrap. Something lodges in Althea’s mind, and she excuses herself back to her family home–where Malta indulges fantasies of being fought over as she waits with Keffria and Ronica for her return. Said return startles the three, and bickering ensues until Ronica quashes it with an overt explication of the Vestrits’ financial situation. After, however, discord reemerges. Ronica brokers peace again, and Malta seethes at her perceived exclusion and the seeming threat to her father.
Despite the sneering, conniving tone Malta’s perspective takes, she is not wrong in noting that Althea seems to be self-serving. Nor yet is Keffria wrong to note the dismissal of her husband by her family. Nor still is Ronica wrong in working to secure and stabilize her family. Nor, indeed, is Althea wrong to assert herself and seek to hold others to their sworn word.
But neither are they all in the right–which makes for no small part of the fun of reading. Malta approaches her situation as a game, trusting that her father will make things right for her even as he would likely readily agree to marry her off for the wealth of the Rain Wilds. Keffria fails to recognize her husband’s failures and shortcomings, as well as to assert herself and take up her rightful place. Althea is more concerned with herself than with the greater good of the family. And Ronica erred in not teaching her daughters better earlier.
One of the things that Hobb does well is to move away from the stereotypical depiction of characters; hers are nuanced, flawed, humane (even when they are not necessarily human), and that makes them more “real” than many. I would venture to say more so than in her lauded-as-realistic contemporaries, although I might be expected to be biased in such matters due to my own academic history. Still, it is the nuance and integration of things that allows for so much to take place in the novels, giving those who would carry out interpretive work more to do, and I appreciate it greatly.