A content warning regarding sexual assault is in order here, and there may be some homophobia present, as well.
The following chapter, “Courtship,” begins with Althea attempting to argue for her release aboard the Vivacia; Kennit refuses, citing her injuries and the danger posed to her by Bolt. He regards her lasciviously, musing on the effects of the drugs he has administered to her and noting the similarities between his situation with regards to her and his former abuser’s situation with regards to him. He continues to press upon her, and her ability to resist fades.
Althea asks after Brashen and the Paragon, and Kennit tells her that the ship has been sunk by serpents attacking it. The news rocks her, and, in her emotionally and physically weakened state, drugged, she cannot effectively resist his raping her; she recalls Keffira upbraiding her for her first tryst years before, and loses consciousness.
Having concluded his assault, Kennit considers its implications for the ship. The charm on his wrist rebukes him harshly, and as Kennit considers quietly killing a crewman who might have overheard, the charm tells him that he has become the monster his former abuser was.
Elsewhere, Etta and Wintrow confer, and they take stock of what they know about Althea and Jek. Some of the information is conflicting. Jek is reticent. Etta notes that Bolt rejects Althea, railing against her. She also notes Wintrow’s foolishness, and Wintrow apologizes for his lack of understanding. He also kisses her, leaving both of them uncertain of where they stand in relationship to one another.
Unconscious, Althea finds the “original” personality of the Vivacia, suppressed by Bolt but still present. For an interval both seek death, but Althea presses the ship to endure; she is convinced to lead the ship back to waking life, and the Vivacia floods her with life as she returns to consciousness and awareness–but Althea loses her sense of the vessel.
The big thing in the present chapter is, of course, the rape. I…hesitate to discuss it in detail, for several reasons. I will note, though, that I am struck by the connection to internalized victim-blaming depicted, as well as the implication that the homoeroticism Kennit displays in his comparisons of Althea to Wintrow derive from his own rape. Neither sits entirely well with me, although I do not recall either evoking that reaction from me in several earlier readings of the series. Then again, I am not the same person now as I was then; I hope I’m better, but I don’t take that for granted.
I am struck, if less forcefully, by Wintrow in the present chapter. His affection towards Etta is not new, certainly; his boldness is, and I am not sure there’s enough lead-up to be believed. Yes, adolescent boys are mercurial; I remember that much of it well. But such–dare I use the term?–nerdy boys as Wintrow…I have noted before my tendency to (over-) identify with the character, problematic as it is, and I don’t think I’d’ve had the nerve to do such a thing. Hell, I’m not sure I have the nerve now–not that it’d do me any good (or that I’d need it, being happily married).
It’s strange to go back to reading done often and enjoyed, only to find it…uncomfortable. It seems to happen to me more and more often, anymore. Whether that’s for good or ill, though, I hardly know.