A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 172: Mad Ship, Chapter 34

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

The next chapter, “Oracle,” begins with the Vivacia expressing her dislike of the situation as Wintrow lies upon her foredeck, recovering further from his earlier injuries and recalling the current state of affairs. He affirms the ship’s dislike of being moored at Others Island, with the Marietta not far off, and he comments regarding his ambivalence towards prophecy. The ship voices some recollection of the place, and they posit that Kennit’s earlier visits have entered her memory from his blood soaking into her wizardwood planking. They are further discussing the matter when interrupted by Etta summoning Wintrow to board a ship’s boat and go ashore.

creature from the black lagoon
I always imagined the Others looking like this, or close enough.
Image from this page on Universal Monsters Universe, used for commentary.

As the ship’s boat makes for shore, Kennit observes Wintrow and muses over the disposition of his crew and followers, focusing on his provisions for Divvytown. Sorcor’s surprising depths and reaffirmed tie to the place receive attention, and, as they make landfall and Kennit orders those other than Wintrow and Etta to remain with the boat, he reflects on Wintrow’s similarities to his earlier self. The pirate realizes that the Others do not want him present, and he sends Wintrow ahead to collect an item, noting that he and Etta will be present for the revelation. After a brief hesitation, Wintrow obeys, and Kennit and Etta follow after, Kennit puzzling over why the charm at his wrist had insisted he bring her with him.

As Wintrow obeys Kennit, he muses over his earlier instructions and the events surrounding Divvytown and its reconstruction. As he presses on across the island, he comes across detritus that he rejects as unimportant before happening upon a treacherous path that leads him to a barred cave. A stunted serpent is constrained within it, and Wintrow finds himself examining its confines, looking for a way to free it, working against the stone that has been built up around it.

Etta and Kennit continue across the island, trailing him; neither can see him for a time, and Kennit grows impatient. He demands Etta help him hurry along, and she does. Meanwhile, Wintrow continues working against the serpent’s cage, making some progress as the tide begins to come up. The serpent surges against the incomplete opening, sharing the experience of pain with him, and he struggles to complete his work of opening the serpent’s enclosure. He frees the serpent, sustaining substantial injury in the process, and remains in mental communion with the serpent as she makes it to the water–“The Plenty”–and purposes to rejoin her kind.

Etta and Kennit are summoned by the screams of pain and proceed towards their source. The Others seek to interdict them, and the pair press on as rain begins to fall. Kennit and Etta reach the gravely injured Wintrow as the Others attack, and melee is joined. The serpent flees, as do Kennit, Etta, and Wintrow, who make for the Vivacia, scrambling aboard the ship’s boat. The crew begins to tend to Wintrow in awe as he drifts in his mind and worries about what the ship will learn from him. Kennit defies the storm, and the freed serpent pushes the ship’s boat swiftly towards the liveship; the Vivacia calls out to her kindred serpent, recognizing herself and her in the same moment. And in the aftermath, as Wintrow rests and begins to recover from the new exertions, Etta and Kennit realize that she is pregnant.

If “The Storm” is the climax of one narrative thread in the book, this chapter is for the pirates and serpents. If nothing else, the revelation of Etta’s pregnancy denotes a major change; becoming a parent certainly changed my life enough, and if Kennit purports to be a king, he has a decided interest in ensuring the continuation of his dynasty. That there is an apparent heir serves to secure his ambitions–at least to some degree; the perils of pregnancy, childbirth, and youth still wait, of course. More, Etta seems herself to undergo something of a transformation in the chapter, although there is some critique to be read into her reliance upon Kennit’s urging and Wintrow’s exigency to enact it; increasingly removed from academe as I am, I am not positioned to do the work myself, but I can see that it needs to be done. Too, a looked-for messianic figure (noted here and here, among others) has emerged, which seems pretty solidly climactic.

If there have been climaxes, though, and ones into which some lewd humor might be read, what Freytag calls falling action is soon to follow–and falling down is not always or even necessarily often a pleasant thing.

Your kind contribution to my ongoing efforts is greatly appreciated.

Untitled Poem

Damn, but I do get tired
Of having to be on the run all the time
Heavy legs pumping
Axes swinging to bite into the rough bark over which
I tread
Since I cannot tread water long
At all
Dragged down by the heavy legs
Even with a life jacket strapped
Secure around me
Better than a blanket in the idea
Worse than the execution
Because I felt safe with my softy
As I know I am not in bright orange or yellow
Bobbing briefly on the waves before
Going under once again

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

If I can but stay where
My footing is sure
I will avoid sinking in where
I cannot get out
But I cannot afford to stop even here
I may not drown
But laying down
I will be trampled
And that is not any better

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 171: Mad Ship, Chapter 33

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

A content warning regarding sexual assault is in order.

A chapter titled “Proofs” follows and opens with Etta entering Kennit’s cabin. The pirate reflects on recent events and his work drafting a plan for Divvytown, thinking back to his childhood; amid his reverie, the charm at Kennit’s writs upbraids him for his desire for control over others, and he retires. When Etta joins him in bed, Kennit chides her; she reports that Wintrow had taken more injury ashore than had been thought, and that she had tended to him while asking him about her continued readings. She professes her faithfulness to Kennit, which takes him aback and prompts him to urge her toward him; she notes that Wintrow professes a belief that he is divinely ordained to follow Kennit, and the pirate exults in the revelation. He purposes to take Wintrow to Others Island for soothsaying before engaging Etta intimately.

I can see this going badly, yeah.
Source in image, used for commentary.

Aboard the Paragon, Althea sees to the completion of a task–finding and treating a soiled cask of salt pork–she had assigned to crewmen Lop and Artu. When she rebukes them for lazing about rather than doing their work, Artu attempts to rape her, and a melee ensues. Althea prevails, if narrowly, and drags Artu above deck, where Brashen is incredulous and Lavoy almost smug as Althea reports. Lop emerges from below decks with the rotten meat and begins to put it overboard when a serpent attacks. Defying Brashen’s orders and Althea’s urgings, Haff rushes forward to fight the creature and is badly injured. A more general melee breaks out against the serpent, and it is driven off injured, although several of the crew are also harmed; the Paragon exults in memories suddenly returning.

Back at the Vestrit estate, Ronica ponders over changes as she prepares herself and her family for flight. Their return to the estate after the attack is glossed, and Malta’s note that the attackers had sought Cosgo and the Companions recalled. Reyn arrives, and Ronica realizes that he has been involved in the ongoing upset; she bids him leave, but he instead makes to abduct Malta. Ronica relents and sends Keffria, Malta, and Selden with Reyn, who says he can get them to the Rain Wilds and safety. Ronica remains behind with Rache as the rest of them depart.

Later, aboard the Paragon, Brashen summons Althea from her cabin. As she makes to report, she considers events since the attack, and when she reports, she is taken aback at the injuries Brashen has sustained. As she eases herself, he briefs her on crew and ship status, including injuries to Haff and reassignment of Artu–who has pled for it in abject fear of her. Brashen makes to examine her injuries and kisses her, which gesture she returns before leaving his cabin to a wry comment from Clef, who has been peeping in on them.

If the previous chapter was the narrative climax, this chapter is decidedly part of the falling action. Matters move forward from the climactic encounter, certainly, and in response to the changes occasioned by that encounter–although the effects of it have yet to be felt aboard either the Vivacia or the Paragon. That the liveships are not concerned with that climax (yet, perhaps) might be taken to indicate that the narrative threads centering on them are not the main ones, as such–although such a reading necessarily assumes a hierarchical relationship among the narratives in play and thus among the characters upon which they center. How accurate that assumption is is subject to question, however, certainly now if not necessarily at the time and in the circumstances of the novel’s composition and initial publication. But that is one of the things about good writing that marks it as good: it sustains multiple readings, multiple interpretations that can and do change over time.

Even the North Star moves, in time.

Assistance is still appreciated.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 170: Mad Ship, Chapter 32

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

The succeeding chapter, “The Storm,” opens with Keffria retrieving Malta and Delo for their formal presentations; the girls had been gossiping amiably as more of the preliminaries of the ball went on. Malta purposes to reflect well on her absent and elided father as she is announced and formally presented to the Bingtown Traders. She does well enough until Restart ostentatiously signals her over as the music, set to begin, waits, and Malta finds herself being presented by Restart to Satrap Cosgo–and she is humiliated to be associated with him thus.

Perhaps something like this?
Image is Wilhelm Gause’s Hofball in Wien, which I am told is in the public domain and which I get from here

After a brief, somewhat barbed exchange, the Satrap descends from his dais to dance with Malta; she is struck by his differences from her and from what she has known, and she is taken aback by the innuendo he voices as they dance together. But as he withdraws and she casts about afterward, Reyn encounters her; after a brief query, he escorts her back to Keffria at her own insistence. As they confer about what has just happened, Reyn threatens to kill Cosgo, and Malta rebukes him sharply. After a moment, Reyn offers a considered apology for his overreach; it is not accepted, and Malta finds herself in mind of her father again, thinking about the lapsing opportunities before her. As attention accrues to them, they spin off into the next dance, and they are almost at accord when Reyn offers what Malta recognizes as “patronizing words”; she extricates herself from him and fumes briefly before Delo’s brother, Cerwin, sweeps her into another dance.

Cerwin suffers in comparison to Reyn, and Malta continues to fume internally about the affair as she pays compliment to her dance partner, watching Reyn confer closely with his own–Serilla. She accepts a glass of wine and finds a seat.

Reyn, for his part, had been advised by the disguised Grag Tenira that a conspiracy brews against Cosgo, one in which the Chalcedean mercenaries are complicit and which will be used as a pretext to assail Bingtown and bring it under not just its current economic colonization, but under overt dominion. As Reyn dances with Serilla, he is briefed on such details as she has puzzled out; she suggests that he take Cosgo, herself, and the other Companion hostage as a way to thwart the coup. After, Reyn tries to convince Malta to leave the ball as he begins to make his way out to see to the abduction; she refuses, not understanding the reason for his urgency, and he departs, not without effort.

Malta continues on at the ball, dancing repeatedly with Cerwin before Keffria recalls her. Keffria presses for departure, noting that many of the Bingtown and all of the Rain Wild Traders have left. Restart hinders their departure, in part by requiring a formal farewell to the Satrap, which leads to the Satrap inviting himself to depart along with the Vestrit family. The ensuing departure is cramped and awkward, with Cosgo treading the line of boorishness all too closely until the party is beset by attackers.

In the fracas, Restart is killed, and Ronica struggles for her family. Keffria is injured but present and alive; Selden is in shock at the event. Malta is alive, as well, though others have died; the carriage in which they had been riding had rolled at least twice as a result of the attack.

It is only as I look back to compose this entry that I recall the title of the preceding chapter and the joke embedded therein; it was the calm before the storm. I delight in such things, of course, but I am somewhat annoyed not to have recognized or recalled the joke sooner. Then again, it has been an interesting few days, so…

Far less humorously, the promise of the previous chapter that the narrative climax was coming is fulfilled–and emphatically. The outbreak of violence, begun and not hindered, is a clear marker of the shift in power going on. The fallout therefrom cannot help but be severe; how much it will be, and for whom, will be seen.

I should note that I write this as more-than-winter conditions prevail across the part of the world where I live; the Hill Country is far, far from accustomed to such snowfall as I see from my window today, and I even had to abandon a car. (“Don’t go out unless you have to” still leaves “have to,” after all.) I hope to have another post up as scheduled on Monday, 22 February 2021, but I cannot make such a promise…it’s a hell of a way to mark my daughter’s seventh birthday, to be sure.

Anything you can put towards helping recovery will be appreciated.

A Rumination on the Cold

I have made no secret these past years of living in the Texas Hill Country. I’ve no reason to, really; there are problems with the place, as there are with all places, but there’s a lot of good here, and a lot of it is natural (or based in nature with a bit of help; the wildflowers are encouraged, which I think is a good thing). Part of the nature of the Hill Country is that it is a warmer part of the world; I could rattle off almanac data, and that might be helpful for some folks, but that’s not really the point here. What is the point is that the people here–myself among them–are habituated to high temperatures. We have high highs in the summer and high lows most of the rest of the time, and we tend to like it that way, even with the problems that we know we face because of it.

One such problem manifested over the past weekend, as a hell of a winter storm system came through here. Temperatures plummeted as rain fell and froze into ice. Snow blanketed the whole of it, and the few road-crews set up to handle such things went to work as rolling power outages chilled down the many, many poorly insulated or uninsulated homes in the area. Pipes froze despite faucets being left open, the pumps that pushed water to them shut down by power losses–and we may not be done yet. I know what the forecasts say, but I also know that the weather here can be ornery and stubborn, and there are no few who come down from northern climes and decide they’ll stick around a while.

For my part, my family has been in reasonably good shape. We’ve lost power once or twice, as shown by the clocks on my coffee pot and microwave, but we’ve stayed warm. We did lose water, and I’m not sure where we lost it; I’ve talked with some of the neighbors, and they’ve told me they didn’t lose water, so it’s either at my meter or on my side of it, and I’m not a good enough plumber to figure it out on my own. But we’re also able to get to places–if with some difficulty; folks here aren’t practiced at driving on ice-sheathed roads–that have water, so we’re doing well enough. It’s inconvenient, but that’s been all so far; I know it’s been worse for a lot of people, and I appreciate that it hasn’t been worse on my end.

All I can do, all any of us can do, is hunker down and endure, knowing that the kindly Hill Country sun will come again.

Heating’s expensive, as are plumbing repairs. Lend a hand?

About Today


I’ve not made any secret of living in the Texas Hill Country these past years, and I see no reason to do so. There are problems, of course, as there are anywhere, but I usually enjoy it.

Photo from where I live, taken by me.
Photo from where I live, taken by me.

This is not a normal day, of course, with weather that might be common in many places but that is very much not so here. As I write this, not only do we have the snow on the ground that is in the pictures, but I have no internet; I’m posting this from my phone. Too, water service is out in much of my area–including to my house.

Things I had planned to do today are therefore necessarily not happening. I’ll get back to normal as soon as I can, of course, but it might well be a bit before I can.

Until then…

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 169: Mad Ship, Chapter 31

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

The following chapter, “The Calm,” opens with Keffria confronting Malta and musing on her own thwarted expectations for Malta’s first formal event as an acknowledged woman. The two confer, Keffria remarking on what appears to be a bruise on the back of Malta’s neck, Malta considering questions of identity. Keffria attempts to set her concerns aside in favor of the larger events facing Bingtown with the Satrap’s presence. After conversation on that point, the two resume their preparations to attend the coming formal ball.

For some perspective…
Robin Hobb Map by Crooty on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Serilla stews as her machinations with Cosgo are undone by events. She also muses on the strange status of Bingtown, the sole known surviving settlement on the Cursed Shores. The Rain Wilds receive some attention from her as she plots to relocate permanently to Bingtown, and Serilla continues to muse on the political situation in place in the region. Steadying herself against the recollection of her traumas, she makes ready to join the day’s festivities.

Reyn and Grag, veiled, confer. They are informed of the present situation–Grag is still wanted, with a price on his head–and make their own preparations for the ball.

At length, the Vestrit women and Selden make their way to the ball, the scene for which is described in detail. As matters get underway, Malta confers with her childhood friend, Delo, and the two take a turn about the venue, gossiping almost idly as they do. Meanwhile, Restart considers his situation and his plans to see Malta engaged to Cosgo; he offers what he thinks are kind words toward Serilla, offering insult that is returned with more aplomb.

It is clear from the structure of the chapter that the Summer Ball will be a major turning point in the narrative–perhaps the climax in Freytag’s pyramidal narrative structure or the vertex in Frye’s parabolic narrative structure. With such focus accorded to the lead-up to the Ball, it has to be important. Has to. And given the usual trilogy structure in which the Liveship Traders novels operate, the turning point is likely to be the primary such point for the series as a whole.

The chapter, too, serves as another commentary on gender norms. Keffira and Malta, Serilla, and even Reyn and Grag all act in ways that highlight the disparities in “traditional” gender roles–those present in Bingtown and its contexts as well as in the Anglophone world that is the clear primary audience for the books. (I am aware that translations exist, and that many of them are well considered, thank you. But.) The women, capable as they are and are becoming, are constrained by expectations placed upon them; the men, however admirable in some ways, act with blithe disdain of the women in their lives–because they have been allowed to learn to do so. There are lessons therein that might well be applied by a great many readers–but that likely will not be by many of those who most need to learn them.

My daughter’s birthday is coming up; send her a present?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 168: Mad Ship, Chapter 30

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

The next chapter, “Shakedown,” begins with Amber grousing about the cramped quarters she shares with Jek and Althea aboard the Paragon. Althea offers some wry counsel before lapsing into musings on her own difficulties. The ship is sailing well enough, but the crewman Haff is presenting her problems. Althea and Amber confer about their respective problems–Amber’s are less prosaic than Althea’s–finding little ease therein.

Image result for sailing ship bunks
This kind of cozy thing…
Source in image, used for commentary.

Aboard the Vivacia, Gankis reports to Kennit that there is trouble in Divvytown; Kennit realizes the town has been raided. As he makes for the deck, he is harangues by the wizardwood charm at his wrist, which reminds him that such events have happened for him before. He surveys the damage and, somewhat reluctantly, puts in at the ravaged town, Sorcor and the Marietta joining him. The survivors begin to show their displeasure with Kennit, and matters grow quite tense; both Etta and Wintrow position themselves to defend him from them. Surprisingly, Wintrow speak up in Kennit’s defense, rebuking the survivors who want only to hide from the next depredation. The crowd begins to rally to Kennit–for the most part; one of the leaders attacks Wintrow, who responds with lethal force, provoking a brief melee that leaves the pirate crews victorious.

As Kennit begins to take his crew away, they survivors plead with them–and Wintrow again rebukes them. Compelled by his voice and words, the survivors agree to follow his and Kennit’s direction–and Kennit ensures that it is forthcoming as he begins to cement his nascent kingly status.

The present chapter seems to present a change in Wintrow–not so much in his use of violence, really, as in his adoption of Kennit’s ideas. Whether this is Kennit corrupting the boy, Wintrow growing further into adolescence–with its absolute certainties of how to make the world better–or perhaps some legacy of his religious training bidding him believe that he is better than the ragged survivors of a ruined shantytown is unclear to me as I read the chapter again. Perhaps it is some combination of the three; certainly, it serves Kennit’s plans, redeeming his failures in the situation–failure the pirate himself acknowledges–and helping him to secure yet more renown for himself as he works toward putative kingship. But at least his ideas range past those of hereditary monarchs Regal and Cosgo, whose ideas about rule seem to center on self-gratification…

Send a little love my way?

A Rumination on Insurance

I do not have health insurance at this time, and I have not had for some years. The job I have now, working to administer a small nonprofit, does not offer insurance as a benefit, and I some time ago realized that the possible penalty for not having insurance would be less than the price of insurance for me. Said price, given that exactly two practitioners in my county accepted the insurance I had at the time (and my own nonprofit was one of them), was not worth paying when I had the insurance, and it was damned well not going to be when my expected premium was set to go up while both my copay and deductible also rose. No, I am on the “don’t get sick” plan that I had back before the Affordable Care Act was passed, and I’ve been lucky enough so far that that’s been all I have needed.

Image result for insurance card
Ah, yes. This. Yay.
Image from the Texas Department of Insurance, which I think makes it public domain.

I’ve been lucky, too, that my wife works a job that does have health insurance as a benefit. Indeed, her tenure with her employer and her consistent performance in her position have led to her insurance being paid for by the company–along with our daughter’s. Knowing how much such premiums are, I am aware of just how large a benefit it is, and I appreciate it greatly, even if I am not so sanguine about the system that makes it so–or, at times, about the specifics of the benefit itself. Because, even with the substantial outlay from the employer, the insurer through which my wife and daughter are covered seem unable to get their act together. More, even when they give consistent information–which is not always–that information does not necessarily work to our good. Medical care in the United States is the price it is, and our paychecks are only what they are; I’ve been able to save some money up, and I’ve been able to pay some debts down, but a surgery that runs to tens of thousands of dollars before insurance pays and is still close to ten thousand after it does is not something we can easily absorb.

I am happy to have the option to pay, truly; the alternative, the procedure not happening, is not one I would have preferred to entertain. But I know that I cannot ever be in need of procedures of my own; with as much a blow as it is to have it done on someone who is “insured,” it would be far, far worse for me. And I am not willing to have my family suffer such a blow–or the smaller series of them that it would take to offset the single large one.

Help with the out-of-pocket maximum?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 167: Mad Ship, Chapter 29

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

The following chapter, “Bingtown Convergence,” begins with Serilla considering the Satrap’s situation and her own among the Chalcedean fleet. She has managed to gather a fair bit of power to herself, although she yet feels the trauma of her experiences with the Chalcedean captain. She does, however, exult in being in position to command the Satrap.

No disco in Bingtown…
Source in image, used for commentary

In Bingtown, the ringing of the town bell occasions tumult as Traders’ families rush to answer its summons. One Trader reports having seen an incoming Chalcedean fleet, and the town begins to prepare against attack; Selden and Malta make to report to the bucket brigades that begin to form, and Malta muses sourly on the wasted opportunities and missed chances of her life.

Aboard the liveship Kendry, Reyn Khuprus and Grag Tenira confer. They commiserate regarding the Vestrit women they love before turning to politics. Grag voices the thought of leaving the Traders’ life behind, earning some rebuke from Reyn. Grag goes forward to confer with the liveship, and Reyn muses on his circumstances. The dragon continues to trouble him, aggravated by his having violated his agreement with his mother, and works to overwhelm his being with visions of crafted memory. The liveship on which he sails as he mulls over ancestral wrongs also regards him differently, and the crew marks the change.

Serilla greets the Bingtown fleet in the Satrap’s name and is taken aboard a liveship. After she voices her concerns for the Satrap, Restart offers her the hospitality of his home, and Serilla begins to plot against him for his assumption about her helplessness.

I am struck in the present chapter, as I perhaps ought to have been previously in the reread, by the parallels to the United States that Bingtown and the Rain Wilds offer. Both colonies long exploited for economic gain that begin to chafe under the changing terms of remote rule, both with troubled settlement and immigration histories, both based on genocide of which a great many people remain ignorant–and with other strong North American parallels, to boot–they offer an (inexact) coincidence I really ought to have noticed or remembered noticing before. And I’m sure that someone more up on colonial history than I am would have a fair bit more to say about the matter; I think it’d be an interesting read.

It’s coming up on my daughter’s birthday. Send her a present?