The following chapter, “An Advantageous Offer,” starts after another exchange of formal and informal missives between bird-messengers. Alise is summoned by her mother to answer the call of her lone suitor, Hest Finbok; she reluctantly complies, musing over the contrast between her desire for adventure and exploration and the sedate circumstances to which she is confined. The current situation of Bingtown, still rebuilding after the conflict with Chalced and the realignment of relations with Jamaillia, is glossed, as is the dashing of Alise’s dream to observe the emergence of a new generation of dragons in Cassarick.
Alise works to accommodate herself to her situation, which she acknowledges exceeds her social station, and rehearses her various hobbies and skills–including amassing a substantial store of knowledge regarding dragons and Elderlings. She also glosses her suitor, noting his elevated social status and excellent deportment–and considering with some confusion his interest in her, expressed through the usual social channels. Joining Hest, she considers his lack of amorous attention amid his courtship, and the two begin to confer somewhat awkwardly. Alise’s disappointments are voiced, and Hest apologizes for his part in contributing to them, offering in some atonement a recently uncovered scroll from Elderling holdings.
Talk continues, Hest making a formal proposal of marriage to Alise, albeit one openly and avowedly of convenience and social necessity. Alise acknowledges the truth of the proposed arrangement bluntly–“You would buy me, in the hopes of a simpler life for yourself. You would buy me, with scrolls and time for scholarship”–and accepts it.
Hest leaves the Kincarron residence, where he is greeted by his servant, Sedric Medlar, with whom he confers about his imminent engagement and the economic prospects associated therewith. Sedric notes some misgivings, having been Alise’s friend for many years, but Hest laughs off his concerns and exults in his victory.
I note here, as I perhaps ought to have earlier, the dating systems in place, as evidenced by the missives that precede the chapters. It makes sense, of course, that official correspondence would note its dating, particularly among the contract-happy Traders; timing bears in on payment and delivery, and it is clear from early on in depictions of the Traders that they care about such things. But including such information also opens a writer to problems of chronology–namely, getting things wrong. Given how much many of us get dates mixed up in daily life, it can only be imagined that a writer working in a fictional world would get some things off, as well. It is the kind of thing that attracts unfavorable readerly attention, as has been demonstrated (for example). But, handled well, it not only adds authentic verisimilitude to the work, which is desirable, but helps orient the reader to the ways in which the narrative is interleaved and interlaced. And that’s a good thing.
I note, too, the evidence of continuity with the Liveship Traders books, not only in the explicit reference to events within them, but also to the broader social currents that had been at work within them–namely the restrictions on feminine behavior that had chafed at Althea and been so much a source of tension surrounding Keffria’s late husband. That Alise is constrained to marry well for her fortunes, rather than to pursue her honest interests, shows that the burgeoning problems that had been growing up–that had been something of a dominant thread of consideration in the Liveship Traders novels–are not yet resolved as the Rain Wilds Chronicles get underway. There’s more for Hobb to do, it seems…and I look forward to reading it again!