A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 161: Mad Ship, Chapter 23

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

A content warning regarding sexual assault is in order here.

The following chapter, “Consequences,” opens with Serilla rehearsing her recent circumstances. Her efforts to resist the depredations inflicted upon her had been futile, and she had been abused with seeming nonchalance by the Chalcedean captain upon whose vessel she and the Satrap had embarked.

Maybe it’s worth the paper it’s written on…
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At length, Serilla is returned to the Satrap. He is filthy and ill, and Serilla upbraids him bitterly. She contemplates killing him before he opines that his death will only occasion her total surrender to the ship’s crew. She also notes that his current political position is fragile; he is away from his seat of power, and others doubtlessly plot to place themselves upon it in his absence. When he comments that he assumes she will have to be bribed, she agrees and begins to lay out some means of securing her independence and future security, holding the Satrap’s care against his agreement to do as she bids him.

The blithe disdain Serilla reports of her Chalcedean rapist and abuser is telling, speaking to a theme present in the Liveship Traders novels and elsewhere in Hobb’s Elderlings corpus: the idea of people as property dehumanizes those who presume to hold the “property” more than those who are held. That is, those who are enslaved may be dehumanized by their conditions, but those who enslave are made even worse; the former may be pitied and should be aided, but the latter deserve no such consideration, save only (and not necessarily even) in extreme circumstances. Serilla responds to her assaults in ways that those better informed regarding trauma theory than I might more meaningfully address, but those responses are not to be scoffed at or rebuked; what should be, and in the context of the novels is, is the (largely patriarchal and misogynistic) attitude that allows for such assaults to take place. It manifests to some degree in the Haven household, as depicted in Ship of Magic, with Keffria’s husband expecting deference even in error and physically enforcing his will–only on those who could not resist the physical attack. And it is evidenced in the deplorable words of the Satrap that claim rape is no crime, since what is infinitely supplied cannot be stolen. Ultimately, it is a cowardly practice, rightly abjured even as it is still entirely too prevalent in the readers’ world–but it deserves no less rebuke and opposition outside the novel than inside.

We’ve had some medical expenses pop up; care to help with them?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 160: Mad Ship, Chapter 22

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

The next chapter, “A Change of Heart,” opens with Wintrow weathering the aggravated defiance of the liveship Vivacia. The ship has focused its attentions on Kennit, who has focused his on Etta, drawing the envious attention of and provoking pride in all aboard. Wintrow rehearses recent events, marking the ways in which Kennit continues to assess him. He also notes the revelation of Etta’s illiteracy and finds himself tasked with teaching Etta to read. Lessons are set to begin but are interrupted by the sight of a slaveship and the ensuing pursuit.

Vivacia design front
Something like this, perhaps, though the gun-ports are wrong…
Vivacia design front by 8Dimat8 on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

The Vivacia springs to the pursuit with a will, nearly subsuming Wintrow in her bloodlust. The Marietta joins her to take the slaver, and one of the crew of the slaver–the cook–attempts to bargain for his life with information about the hidden treasure of Igrot the Bold. Kennit takes charge of that particular situation, directing his own crew to see about cementing their hold on the ship and the disposition of the now-freed slaves. Kennit dispatches the cook, asserting repeatedly that Igrot’s crew had had no survivors, before ordering dispositions and scuttling the taken slaver.

Elsewhere, Althea meets with Grag Tenira, who seems to be comfortable in temporary exile. Althea’s path to him is noted, as are the concerns some have about her travel thither. Developments concerning Grag are also discussed; he is a wanted man with a substantial price on his head. Despite his need to depart soon, he states his love for Althea, and he asks her if she will marry him; she demurs, citing the need to reclaim the Vivacia before she can make any other major decisions. He acknowledges her choice and affirms that he will wait for her. The matter of Brashen Trell comes up between them, occasioning painful discussion that bespeaks a certain disregard by Grag for Althea’s agency. It dashes any thought she had had of a life with him, and she takes her leave.

Good Guy Greg
This guy…
Image from Know Your Meme, used for commentary.

The last passage is perhaps the most interesting. Until this point, Grag has been presented as a “good” character, and even with his failure to recognize Althea as being valid outside his understanding of gender roles, he comes across as more a benighted character than a “bad” one (such as Althea’s brother-in-law). And it is not out of line for him to want to find happiness on his own terms; the problem is that he expects Althea to defer to his views and his understandings, rather than that they will both have to accommodate each other’s. That, and the comment that because Brashen is a man, he is responsible and therefore to blame for Althea’s sexual expression, rather than Althea being in possession of her faculties and able to make her own decisions about sharing herself in such a way. As much a “good” guy as Grag might be–and “good guy Grag” does evoke some memes, even if likely unintentionally, but I read from who and what I am and where and when I have been–he suggests some problems inherent in even the “best” iterations of such systems as emerge from and reinforce strict gender dynamics. Saga Bokne has more to say on the matter, of course, and Goran Katavić’s work addresses similar concerns elsewhere in Hobb; Julia Hallgren Sanderson’s work also illuminates, and I would be happy to hear of others.

My anniversary was this past weekend; help me celebrate it?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 159: Mad Ship, Chapter 21

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

A chapter titled “Salvage” follows, beginning with work to refit the Paragon ongoing under Brashen’s watch and with his help. Progress is noted, as is the difficulty the work faces of returning the long-beached ship to the sea. So is his continued difficulty addressing his addiction to cindin. And trouble emerges as the ship lashes out, frightening the work crews such that Brashen has to resort to threats to get work to continue. They extend to the ship, itself, despite the disapproval of both Amber and Althea, who look on. The three return to work, Clef joining them, and the sullen work crew resumes its own efforts.

We’re a ways past this…
Image from electropeach’s Tumblr, here, and used for commentary.

At the Vestrit home, Malta entertains her friend, Delo Trell. The latter passes along a missive from her brother, Cerwin, and Malta muses ruefully on her current situation. The contents of Cerwin’s missive are paltry, Malta contrasting them with what she has had to learn about the family finances. She asks about how the Trells stand and gets little useful information from it; Delo reports the argument between her father and Cerwin had echoed that between him and Brashen, frightening her. Malta mulls over what her friend says, recalling more of the events of intervening days and the sacrifices the Vestrits have been making, thinking on the increasing separation between herself and her peers. Malta retires to her chamber and considers her situation further. The room grows oppressive, and she finds herself ensnared in a dream. During it, the dragon speaks to her, demanding she help persuade Reyn to help her.

As night begins to fall, Brashen calls a halt to work on the Paragon as he wrestles with his longing for Althea, considering their strained relationship. As the work crews filter away, he pores over ledgers, tallying costs ruefully. He approaches her where she confers with Amber at the aft of the ship, and the three discuss the next day’s prospects. Althea notes updates from Grag; the Teniras’ situation is not improving. Brashen’s temper gets the better of him for a bit, and he is rebuked for it. He continues, confronting Althea with what he has intuited about her truth; Althea makes a perfunctory denial, and Brashen stalks off to where Clef has a cook fire going. He and the boy speak briefly about luck.

After Brashen leaves, Althea makes to depart. She rails against Brashen to Amber, who defends the man to her, in turn. Althea admits to the woodcarver that she would like more of a relationship with Brashen, and Amber encourages her in that desire.

Brashen’s addiction to cindin has been noted at several earlier points in the Liveship Traders books, and it joins with the problems identified in carris seed and elfbark in the Farseer novels to suggest a theme in Hobb’s novels addressing the perils of substance use. (From the vantage of a rereading, I can also note that others of the Elderlings novels speak to the issue, as well.) My own perspective, coming from administering a substance abuse treatment facility, predisposes me to look for such things, as might be expected, but even without that admitted bias, the inclusion of such things–not only the drugs and their intoxicating effects, but also their sometimes lingering aftereffects –does a fair bit to reinforce the verisimilitude of Hobb’s milieu. The drugs with mystical properties have all too mundane ones, as well, or else the mystical is only an extension of the mundane; they have the same narrative effect, really.

I shall appreciate your continued support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 158: Mad Ship, Chapter 20

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

The next chapter, “Piracy,” opens with Wintrow observing from the deck of the Vivacia as Kennit coordinates with Sorcor aboard the Marietta to seize another passing ship. Kennit exhorts the ship to the pursuit, and Wintrow considers the lead-up to it; the ship being pursued, the Crosspatch, had boasted of being able to evade Kennit and continue working as an elite slaver, and Kennit could not resist the open challenge.

Mr. Crosspatch | Mr. Men Wiki | Fandom
It’s an odd namesake…
Image taken from the Mr. Men Fandom,
used for commentary.

Action to seize the Crosspatch ensues, with most of the work done by the crew of the Marietta, Wintrow having warned of the peril of spilling more blood on the liveship’s decks. The former priest frets somewhat about the carnage he watches alongside Kennit, but the pirate captain replies with strangely philosophical musings that give Wintrow pause. The pirates take the slaver, and Kennit commands Wintrow to accompany him to survey the takings.

In Bingtown, Althea makes for the Paragon, considering the liveship in a new way after seeing the gifts Amber had provided. She takes in the alterations to and maintenance on the craft as she joins Brashen and Amber–and the freed slave, Clef–aboard. Once all are gathered and the parts others have played are noted, they confer with the ship about the possibility of undertaking the mission to recover the Vivacia. The ship is hesitant, but Amis Ludluck, the ostensible owner of the ship, accompanies them in the discussion, as does Restart. She affirms the sale of him to them, explaining herself bitterly. Restart receives his fee, and he and Amis withdraw. Clef moves to comfort the sullen ship.

Aboard the Crosspatch, Sorcor reports to Kennit as the latter boards and surveys the taken ship. Wintrow accompanies him on his slow tour of the seized vessel. Some of the slaves aboard aver a desire to be delivered to their intended purchaser, and Kennit opines on the evils of slavery. He and Wintrow also confer briefly about the latter’s future; Wintrow affirms his bond to the Vivacia.

That night, as the three ships sail off for Divvytown, Kennit rehearses the aftermath of the day’s actions. Etta prepares herself for Kennit and approaches Wintrow, where he sits with an injured crewman near the Vivacia‘s figurehead. They confer briefly, and Etta moves to Kennit, who confers with the ship about their plans. Shortly after, Kennit and Etta retire to his cabin for an intimate interlude.

Later, Wintrow reports to Kennit the death of the injured crewman. After dismissing the boy, Kennit confers with the charm on his wrist, which rebukes him for how he uses those around him. It is a bitter, unpleasant conversation, and it bodes ill for Wintrow.

The chapter does much to reaffirm Kennit’s manipulative nature, reminding the reader that Kennit is not a good person by any standard. It also does somewhat to highlight the problems with attempting to use intellectual argument to prevail upon a corrupt person; Wintrow searches for a flaw in Kennit’s arguments, only to have more piled upon him before he can adequately refute the points made–and it is not because Wintrow cannot make the argument, but because Kennit does not care about the flaws in his own reasoning. He is, rather, interested in having his will prevail–and in a way that leads Wintrow along, rather than occasioning overt resistance. It is the kind of thin veneer of intellectualism that is often prized among the disingenuous and discriminatory, a papering-over of vileness that more people would do far better to attend to than currently do.

Help me start this year off right?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 157: Mad Ship, Chapter 19

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

A chapter titled “Aftermath” follows, opening with Althea delivering Restart back to his home. It is a pleasant experience for neither of them, with Althea having to take charge of the situation while Restart fumbles about ineptly. He makes some noises of gratitude, provoking sharp rebuke from Althea for his trafficking in slaves; Restart begrudgingly releases one from his service.

Frans Hals 092 WGA version.jpg
Not unlike this, perhaps?
Frans Hals’s The Fisher Boy, which I am told is public domain

Meanwhile, Keffria considers a portrait she had had made of her husband, as well as the relationship she had had with him. She realizes she does not love the man, if she ever had, and muses on the parallels between him and Althea before making to join Ronica in what had been her father’s study. They are interrupted by Brashen calling on the house, accompanied by Amber; they purpose to speak about reclaiming the Vivacia. Keffria is uncomfortable at their arrival, but Ronica sees them in just as Althea arrives back at the Vestrit house.

Althea is accompanied by Restart’s former slave, a stable boy, as she mulls over her situation and her failures. Her physical condition is remarked upon, and she upbraids Brashen before moving off to bathe. Ronica overrules her dismissal of Trell, however, and discussion ensues after Althea washes and re-dresses in haste. Brashen and Amber voice a plan to purchase the Paragon, crew the ship, and sail off to reclaim the Vivacia. Althea opposes the plan, but the newly-arrived Malta asks about it. Objections to and concerns about the plan are voiced and addressed. Many center on expenses, with Malta pleasantly surprising Ronica by asking about them–and surprising the lot of them similarly by affirming her willingness to wed Reyn in the interest of staving off the debts owed to the Khuprus family.

Amid the planning, Brashen also notes the unrest at the Bingtown waterfront that the Vestrits had missed. Grag Tenira had been involved and has vanished, though not unhappily. And planning to retrieve the Vivacia continues, with the former slave volunteering to sail on the mission. Others begin to accept roles in the plan, and people begin to retire for the evening.

Althea delivering Restart home and taking command of his household when she arrives rings of a misogynistic trope that has received no small amount of attention: masculine domestic ineptitude. Also called creative incompetence or strategic incompetence, and related to learned helplessness, the pattern speaks to the perceived infantilization of men when it comes to doing domestic tasks such as are involved in maintaining a household. (Notably, Althea “suddenly felt [Restart] needed to be treated like a child” as she sees about directing his household.) That is, men are depicted–and, per no few comments, enact the depiction–as having no ability to manage household chores (unless, of course, there is some overt gain in it). The pattern obliges others to “take care” of them, in effect subordinating them–and while it is certainly the case that some people are truly unable to care for themselves, and others may negotiate divisions of labor within committed reciprocal relationships, the pattern often extends outside such sensible bounds–as is the case with Restart.

Help me move more confidently into the new year?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 156: Mad Ship, Chapter 18

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

The next chapter, “Wishes Fulfilled,” opens aboard the Vivacia, with Wintrow grilling Kennit regarding the fate of the ship’s previous captain. Kennit deflects the inquiries, reminding Wintrow that he had asked his father be spared and put out of the way, before sharply returning to a voice of command. As Wintrow serves him at table, Kennit reflects upon his condition and recent exertions before dismissing Wintrow to commune with the ship.

Not quite this bad, but moving that way.
Image from Jean Léon Gérôme’s The Death of Caesar, which I am told is public domain; it’s used for commentary.

Wintrow confronts the Vivacia regarding her silence as her former captain was spirited away. The ship replies that she is glad to be free of him–and that Wintrow should be similarly glad. They turn their discussion to their relationships with one another and with Kennit, the ship urging Wintrow to draw closer to the pirate captain. As she is doing.

In Bingtown, Althea retrieves and considers her formal Trader’s clothing. She also rehearses the events of the day, and she muses on Brashen and Grag, both. Not long after, she and Malta confer, surprisingly amicably, regarding their conveyance to the coming meeting; Davad Restart is not entirely pleasing to either of them. When he arrives, Althea and Malta join Ronica and Keffria in swiftly entering his carriage and getting underway. Talk along the way is distractedly polite, in the main, and Restart reports the rumor that the Satrap is himself bound for Bingtown.

There is some tumult as they arrive at the Traders’ Concourse, and Althea is rocked by her brief conversation with Grag. She is similarly unsettled to find Brashen and Amber present. Being seated with the Teniras and welcomed openly by them does not help matters amid the pre-meeting politicking. The meeting is called to order and business conducted, eventually reaching the Teniras’ concerns regarding tariffs. Discussion is heated, and Althea interjects herself into it forcefully; not all are pleased at it, though some are, and Althea is ejected from the meeting.

Outside the meeting, Althea finds Restart’s carriage vandalized. Other Traders emerge from the now-recessed meeting, seeing the vandalization and isolating Restart; Althea pleads to help the man, though others argue against it, and she ends up driving him home.

Of note in the present chapter is the Vestrit women’s travel to the Traders’ meeting with Restart. There is much in the passage that rings of quiet toleration of repugnance because of long practice and familiarity; it reads to me of the “Oh, that’s just his way; he doesn’t mean any harm by it” that is too often used to cover over speech and behavior that should be rebuked in the old no less than the young, and perhaps more in the beloved and befriended than in the stranger. And it does highlight the tension inherent in confronting those who have been and still are helpful and friendly when they do and say things that bespeak inattention and disregard for human dignity. Is it cowardly not to make an open confrontation from a position of disadvantage?

Send a holiday present my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 155: Mad Ship, Chapter 17

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

The following chapter, “Marooned,” begins with Kennit moving to follow through on a promise. The progress of his recovery and adaptation to his amputation is noted, as is the status of the crew of the captured Vivacia. The ship itself quizzes Kennit on his intentions, and he deflects the conversation as he goes about his intention, collecting Sa’Adar, the former captain, and a few others of those freed from enslavement aboard the Vivacia.

Good bye, priest.
Drowning by Pretty-Angel on DeviantArt, image used for commentary.

The group takes the captain’s gig out to a hidden bay on a nearby island. The former captain attempts escape after making landfall, but he is quickly subdued and restrained. Kennit leads the group with some difficulty up a path to a small settlement where Kennit announces himself–to his mother. He surveys her situation and briefs her on what he has brought along–harshly. And when his announcements report that he is leaving the former captain–imprisoned, but alive–in the settlement as part of a promise to Wintrow, the boy’s father rages against his son. Kennit rebukes him sharply and tours the small settlement again, beset by memories. Some of his past–ruined by the pirate Igrot–emerges as he considers what was his childhood home.

As Kennit orders the former captain’s restraint, the latter asks for the pirate’s demands. Kennit reports that he has none, although he muses on possibilities as the other man is shackled and shut away. And he finds himself pleased when he returns to his mother, sitting to a brief meal before making to head out again. Sa’Adar resists being left behind, although he accedes to Kennit’s request for a blessing on his mother. When the two rejoin at the gig, Kennit is able to convince the priest to help him launch the boat; the pirate does not, however, help the priest into the craft, though Sa’Adar does heave himself in. After a tense conversation, Kennit pitches the priest into the sea and kills him. The charm on his wrist speaks wryly to him after, but Kennit sets it aside.

The nods towards Kennit’s past in the present chapter might smack of the kind of sympathy-building exercise I’ve noted elsewhere but for the fact that Kennit remains an asshole even with his mother–something for which he is rebuked, to no avail, in the text. The pirate, though clearly wronged, is not in the right, and he seems to acknowledge his error unapologetically; the Freduian excuse is not.

In truth, I am not certain how to feel about the chapter. I enjoyed rereading it, of course; there is a reason I keep coming back to Hobb, after all. And I appreciate the character development accorded to Kennit; while it does not excuse or justify his actions, the glimpse of his personal past provided does deepen and enrich the character, thus the milieu in which he exists. But, again, the man is clearly evil, and following him so closely is…not entirely comfortable. Then again, comfort is never guaranteed, and it is not always good…and there is hope in that I remain (at least) uneasy against the presentation of what is wrong…

There’s a week left; help out?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 154: Mad Ship, Chapter 16

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

The next chapter, “Taking Charge,” begins with Althea retreating from Brashen’s exit from the Vestrit home. She muses on their shared circumstances and the paths that have led Brashen back to his home port, noting the changes that have occurred in herself and positing that similar amounts of change are likely to have befallen the Vivacia. And she watches from a window as Brashen departs.

Dragon Portrait
Something like this, perhaps?
Dragon Portrait by kaseykmay on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

In the middle of that night, Malta sneaks from her room to meet with Brashen’s younger siblings, Cerwin and Delo. She mulls over the family’s situation and purposes, filled with romantic ideas, to enlist the aid of others, beginning with Cerwin. She rehearses to them the situation of the captured Vivacia, even as her opinion of Cerwin falls against what she has learned of his brother, and as she blatantly manipulates him (above Delo’s objections, it must be noted) towards aligning with her family in the coming Traders’ Council meeting. He agrees, but the form of his agreement surprises Malta, to the disappointment of her romantic ideas. As the three return to their homes, Malta considers what she perceives as Cerwin’s deficiencies against Brashen–and Brashen’s evident interest in Althea.

For his own part, Brashen exits the tavern where he had found dinner and considers his situation. He decides to abandon the Springeve, and he mulls over his experience with the Vestrit women–including Malta. His thoughts, predictably, are most on Althea, and his feet take him back to the Paragon, where Amber stands ready to the ship’s defense. The ship recognizes Brashen, though, and introduces the sailor and carver to each other. After a brief argument, Amber informs Brashen of changes that have occurred in his absence, and Brashen rehearses his news of the Vivacia. The talk sends the Paragon into a strange, painful episode, and Brashen and Amber withdraw to continue conversing. Amber waxes philosophical, and Brashen retreats–toward Bingtown and away from the ship.

When she returns to her room, Malta seeks to reach out to Reyn again. The effort is futile, and she longs for her father’s return. Reyn, however, struggles in his own dreams against a voice in his mind that pleads for release. He considers what he knows of wizardwood and its origins as cocoons for strange beings: dragons. His thoughts turn at length to Malta, and they join in dream at last. She relates the news about her father and the Vivacia, imploring his help; he demurs, and the dragon that has harangued Reyn interjects, prompting Reyn to explain much, but not all, before the dream fades–and the dragon’s voice in Reyn’s mind does not.

One thing that the chapter points out–and there are other things to take from the text–is that the expectations a person may have of people from attending to tales are not apt to be fulfilled. This is something of an interesting message to receive from an author who focuses on verisimilitude in her fantastic writing; the in-text and out-of-text comments seem to be at odds with one another. That does not mean it the in-text message is without precedent, however; Don Quixote, for example, is a warning against overindulgence in genre fiction and romantic ideas, and there are many others to be found. And it must be remembered that Malta, despite her protestations of womanhood, remains an adolescent, and one who has led a relatively sheltered, certainly upper-class life; inexperience in the young is excusable, particularly as it falls away.

Friend, can you spare a dime? A nickel? Hell, even a penny?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 153: Mad Ship, Chapter 15

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

The chapter that follows, “Tidings,” begins with the Vestrit women at work in the household. Althea excuses herself to go into town; Malta asks if she is going to see Amber, which Althea notes she is, and the issue of them being lovers is brought up. Althea denies it vehemently and storms off; Malta delights in having occasioned the reaction, while Ronica stalks off in disgust. With them gone, Malta mulls over her situation and purposes to be in control and command of herself before considering a meeting with another potential suitor.

The carver at work.
Image from noodlerface’s tumblr, used for commentary.

Elsewhere, Althea confers with Grag Tenira about Malta. He reports progress on the matter of the tariffs, as well as on the Ophelia; the latter goes well, with Amber being remarkably flexible and proficient in the work of repairing and restoring the figurehead. He also notes there’s been no word of the Vivacia, though he continues to ask. Local politics also get some attention in their conversation, and Althea finds herself thinking of Brashen Trell.

Brashen, dressed well and clean, reports to the Vestrit home. Malta greets him, sneeringly, and a tense exchange ensues before he recognizes her and notes that he has news to deliver. As she stalks off to get a runner to her mother and grandmother, Brashen mulls over the changes he sees and considers Althea’s likely disposition.

Following her conversation with Grag, Althea calls on Amber. The two confer, and Amber repeats back to Althea some of her own words from the conversation with Grag. The two confer about Althea’s desires, and Amber notes the gender dynamics that inhibit Althea’s achieving them. Sexual ethics also receive some comment.

Malta returns to Brashen, treating him with better manners, and Brashen begins to feel uncomfortable with her as they discuss his siblings. His addiction to cindin tells upon him; he is distracted, and not only by Malta’s coquettishness. When he tries to excuse himself, realizing somewhat belatedly what she is doing, he almost runs into Ronica and Keffria, who have returned. He reports to them the capture of the Vivacia by Kennit, offering what information he has available. It does not do the Vestrit women any good, nor yet does Althea’s brash entrance with Malta rebuked for eavesdropping. A fracas ensues, although it is soon quelled, and the family confers as to how to proceed.

The chapter is an excellent one for the feminist critique that pervades the Liveship Traders novels; the discussion between Althea and Amber is a frank and largely open treatment of one of the major concerns of such discourse. It also works as a striking counterpoint to the issue of the previous chapter; Althea is not nearly so constrained in her choices as Serilla is, and without the overt threats that the latter faces, but she is still very much confined by prevailing gender dynamics. One message to take away is that even the more genteel restrictions are just that; they force people to be other than they are, diminishing them all–and all of us.

I’d still love your help!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 152: Mad Ship, Chapter 14

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

A content warning (sexual violence) is in order for the present chapter.

The next chapter, “Serilla’s Choice,” begins with the titular Serilla confined below decks on a refitted barge, seasick as she and the barge proceed with the Satrap towards Bingtown. She muses on her circumstances and situation, as well as those of the Satrap and his preferred Companion–a concubine, rather than an advisor, as Serilla is. The Satrap fares particularly poorly in the assessment, and not only Serilla’s.

One image of Serilla.
Image taken from badgerlock’s tumblr, used for commentary

Serilla also considers the retinue that accompanies the Satrap; it is extensive and seems calculated to inflame tensions. It also seems to be a means for getting the Satrap away from power, so others might take it. And it gives the Satrap permission to indulge himself and his baser desires without having to be concerned about appearances. This becomes apparent when he threatens to have her raped by the crew of the barge if she will not sate his desires; she refuses the Satrap and is cast to the crew.

The Satrap has not been a sympathetic character prior to this point, certainly; he follows the model Hobb establishes in Regal, exchanging fratricide for satyriasis but otherwise being very much in the line of rulership as doing what he wants. The present chapter, though, pushes Cosgo from being unsympathetic into irredeemable. It will not matter what he does henceforth; the stain of his actions will no more clean from him than the spot from Lady Macbeth’s hands (and there is, at times, a motion to reclaim such characters, as I have noted elsewhere). And it is easy to read a commentary into the chapter, as has been the case with many other such; Serilla’s choice echoes what many see a learned woman faces amid the restrictions of toxic masculinities at work in the world.

It is not her work to right the wrong or to prevent it. And the rest of us need to do better about that work. Far, far better.

Care to support your local struggling scholar?