A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 144: Mad Ship, Chapter 6

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The following chapter, “Satrap Cosgo,” begins with the titular monarch whining at the Companion Serilla, who does not accept the pleading well. She rebuffs his bumbling advances and rebukes him; her doing so has the effect of altering his behavior in the moment, and she briefs him on her understanding of relations with Bingtown. His conduct has worsened them, and he offers to put a Chalcedean in charge of the territory. Serilla expresses revulsion at the idea, pleading her case to handle matters in a way that might well work.

Not quite so dignified as this…
Image from Wikipedia, used for commentary

Cosgo is unmoved by her arguments, however, and Serilla reflects on her experience with the present Satrap. She also reflects on the just and now subverted role of the Companions, and she is surprised when Cosgo purposes to take her to Bingtown–rather than sending her, as she had proposed–and to Chalced afterward.

I have elsewhere discussed the worship of Sa and its focus on the sacral monarch, the Satrap. The initial appearance of that monarch in the present chapter is far from impressive (although it does correspond to some presentations of similar figures in history; Julius Excluded from Heaven comes to mind as one such presentation, and Popes Benedict IX, John XII, and Stephen VI offer other examples). There is some small mitigation in the institution of the Companions–Jamaillian Satraps are not expected to be celibate, evidently–but a markedly power-unequal polygyny is not exactly poised to read as “moral” and “upright” to Hobb’s presumed audiences, nor yet is a dissolute ruler. (Indeed, Cosgo seems somewhat in the model of Regal, and I am certain something could be made of the connection.)

And it is certain that the power-relationship between the Satrap and his Heart Companions is markedly unequal. Aside from civic control, the incumbent Satrap has arrangements with a foreign power that has a demonstrated disdain for human life; the Liveship Traders novels reinforce the assertions in the Farseer books that Chalced makes use of and relies upon slave labor, and the rampant misogyny of the region has also received overt and oblique comment–such as that which concludes the chapter. It is not a good place, a clear (and, surprisingly in Hobb, not-nuanced) evil. Taking a subordinate there and noting “There is much you can learn” to that subordinate is a threat, and threats do not make for equal relationships.

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A Birthday Rumination

Thirty-eight years ago today, I was pulled screaming into the world. I am told–and I have to rely on what I have been told, since memory does not serve me quite so well at that remove–that I was a forceps delivery, and the image of sterile salad tongs cupping my head and yanking me out into light and cold seems apt enough. I wonder if I am the tomato or the carrot in such a salad, or if I am the olive or the cucumber or what.

Chamberlen forceps (Malden found 1813) in K. DAS after Kilian.jpg
Found on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chamberlen_forceps_(Malden_found_1813)_in_K._DAS_after_Kilian.jpg. Presumably public domain.
Something like one of these, perhaps?
Image from Wikimedia Commons; I am told it’s public domain.

Whatever salad-fixin’ I might have been or might still be, though, marking another circuit of Sol is something that often prompts reflection and consideration. There’s been enough to consider, certainly, and not all of it has been a comfort. Occupying the position of privilege that I do, I know I am insulated from the direct effects of much of the unpleasantness and outright evil that has been at work in the world, and I am neither unappreciative of that ease nor unmindful of those who do not have it. I work with no few of the latter, and I do sometimes pay attention at work.

I am more or less comfortable at this point, as I sit and type out this post (well ahead of time, I have to admit; I mean to be at work on the NaNoWriMo project when this goes live). And that is a dangerous thing. It breeds complacency, laziness. I already do not do enough. But I also grow more and more accustomed to comfort, easing into it and succumbing to the inertia of my own indolence. I’d imagine I can get more than a few more years out of myself in such circumstances, but whether or not that’s advisable…

As it is, I have more writing to do and different. I also have a new year of me starting, and I had probably ought to see if I can’t enjoy some of it.

It’s my birthday, precious. Give us a gift?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 143: Mad Ship, Chapter 5

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “The Liveship Ophelia,” opens with Althea coming off watch to confer with the figurehead of the titular ship. The latter chides Althea for longing after things that cannot be corrected and presses her about Grag Tenira, for whom she is standing in as mate. The ship also teases Althea about Brashen, and Althea excuses herself to call on Grag. When she does, she is reminded of her father, painfully, and the two confer about Althea’s situation with the Vivacia.

The Adventurous Seafaring Women of the Age of Sail, in Their Own Words -  Atlas Obscura
A possible antecedent for Althea?
Image taken from
Atlas Obscura, used for commentary.

Grag also notes some of Brashen’s history, being old enough to remember more of it than Althea does. His reports of Brashen’s earlier dissolution leave Althea pondering, and Grag comments that her behavior is atypical of the women of her status in Bingtown anymore. Their talk turns toward his attraction to and appreciation for her, although he maintains a level head as they talk. Althea recognizes that, while she likes the man, she would not marry him.

Their discussion is interrupted by a summons to the deck. Chalcedean mercenaries are demanding to be allowed to board the Ophelia to inspect her; the captain refuses. The galley begins boarding action, and the liveship herself responds decisively; her crew scrambles to defend her, as well, but there is little need. Though she sustains injury, she inflicts far more on the mercenary galley as she makes her escape.

A couple of interesting points occur as I reread the chapter. One is the narrative turn at work; the escalation between the Ophelia and the Chalcedeans who are supposedly in the employ of the Satrap to which Bingtown owes at least nominal loyalty signals a sharp increase of antagonism in the colonial relationship at work between the Traders and Jamaillia. It would seem to mark the rising action on Freytag’s Pyramid, at least for one of the narrative threads at work in the series; there are more, of course.

Another point returns to the feminist critique that can be seen at work in the series. Much is made in the present chapter of the divergence between former and current expectations of Bingtown femininity, with the current the clearly inferior. And it is not only on the part of Althea, either; Grag expresses dissatisfaction with the current gender roles, although he still frames his perspective in the sense of the traditional gender roles presumed to be at work among the readership. While he clearly does not devalue the typically feminine sphere as so often happens, he still clearly regards it as a separate space–and seems to expect that Althea would conform to it, despite her earlier assertion of her sailcraft instead of her domesticity. So that remains an issue…

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