[Sorry again for the long break, guys. There have been Things happening, and some of the Things are still happening, and they are largely shitty, but whatevs, let’s get to the gay squire sex.]
Alanna goes into the City to visit George’s mom. Remember her? Yeah, I didn’t either until this chapter, but apparently Alanna visits her often enough that they are able to have a cozy little chat over tea about her still-healing arm and George’s awkward Alanna-based boners. She then launches into a rant about Jon, who, in full dickhead form, has taken to yelling at Alanna both for “leading on” women at Court social functions and having a crush on every boy in her secret life as a vagina-haver. Oh, honey, I hate Dan Savage but this is a clear case of DTMFA. Alanna then asks, very abruptly, if Mistress Cooper can teach her how to dress like a girl.
Mistress Cooper raised her eyebrows. “Now, this is odd,” she said calmly. “Why such a request?”
Alanna made a face. “I don’t know. I just—I see all the Queen’s ladies wearing pretty things, and I’ve been thinking lately that I like pretty things. I’m going to have to be a girl someday. Why shouldn’t I start practicing now?”
Mistress Cooper very wisely does not ask if this newfound desire for chickwear is born of Jonathan being a cockwattle, and instead agrees to help Alanna, buying her clothes, teaching her how to use makeup, and even doing her hair. It’s kind of like the makeover scene in Mrs. Doubtfire, which means that Mistress Cooper will forever sound like Harvey Fierstein in my head (and now in yours too).
Here’s a secret: I really love this subplot, and the fact that Alanna is pretty frequently described as enjoying “feminine” clothing and pretty things. Partly this is because it reminds me of my own secretive forays into girls’ clothes as a young genderqueer—half eager, half defensive, one hundred percent awkward—but it’s also because in a lot of books a character like Alanna would be written as absolutely hating anything “girly,” as though because she’s good at what she does and is in a male-dominated field she isn’t allowed to like dresses or makeup or perfume. How many times have you read a book in which you know you’re supposed to admire and identify with the tomboyish heroine because she doesn’t like any of that—yech!—GIRL STUFF, like, I dunno, fashion, or sewing, or having feelings, or whatever? It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re consciously writing a feminist character, because things that are seen as feminine are also seen as inherently frivolous and silly by the world at large. TPierce doesn’t fall into that here. Alanna is fantastic at killing people and also likes to wear pretty dresses, and there is no fucking contradiction there.
Anyway, there comes a day when Mistress Cooper is dressing Alanna up and does a big prom-style reveal in front of the mirror, and Alanna’s like “daaaaang, I’m fine.” Naturally, that is the moment in which Jon and George both show up for a visit, and they are both like:
This may get complicated.
That winter turns out to be another hard one for Tortall, a kingdom that never seems to see any nice, mild winters that pass entirely without mishap. The wolves get so hungry and pissy they start to eat people, and one particularly sizeable beast, name of Demon Grey, eats people the most. The entire Court goes hunting for him, including our hero and our mustachioed villain. Predictably, the gigantic man-eating beast tries to kill Alanna; she tries to kill it right back* and succeeds. Gripping her ember stone with one hand, she is shocked—SHOCKED—to see traces of orange fire flickering around the body. But! But the Duke’s Gift is orange! WHAT COULD IT MEAN. I’d tell you, but I am busy choking myself with frustration over how stupid this fucking kid is.
Also, how long it’s taken her to figure out how to actually use that ember stone. The Goddess’s gifts should come with written instructions, unless they are Faithful, in which case they are too useless to exist in the fist place.
The winter goes by, and Alanna’s seventeenth birthday happens. She is having some feelings that night, on account of her gay squiredom and the upcoming Ordeal of Knighthood and bitches getting all up in her grill with their magic wolves and so on, so she decides to relax by dressing in women’s clothes and taking a leisurely stroll through a garden full of people who have always known her as a boy and can easily recognize her. It’s okay, though, she’s got a wig on so she’s totally stealth.**
Jonathan meets her there and says he clocked her because she doesn’t know how to not walk like a dudely lumberjack. I feel those feels, Alanna. Jon notices her pregnancy charm—which, actually, is it couth for young Court ladies to just go around wearing their pregnancy charms out in the open? I know commoners are allowed, but noblewomen are supposed to be all into the chaste-before-marriage-because-oh!-my-lord’s-succession scene. Is wearing a pregnancy charm to a Court function the Tortallan equivalent of wandering into a really classy party and screaming “JUST GONNA TAKE MY BIRTH CONTROL NOW, IN CASE ANYBODY’S INTERESTED”? Is Alanna committing one of those awkward faux pas you wouldn’t know about if you weren’t raised in a convent school with a dozen other noble chicks? I am seriously curious.
… My undue interest in Tortallan sexual conventions aside, Alanna tells him what it is*** and he’s all “ohohoho we should try it out” and lays a big ol’ smoocharoo on our stalwart heroine. Aaaaand then starts trying to take her clothes off. In the fucking garden in front of the palace full of people they both know. Everyone in this book makes fantastic choices and should be proud of them! Alanna says no and Jonathan makes it weird, as all Tortallan men are apparently wont to do:
“You’re fighting what has to be,” he said, “and you know it as well as I.”
“I—I know no such thing,” she stammered. “I promised myself once that I’d never love a man! Maybe I almost broke that promise just now because of moonlight and silliness-“
“Stop it,” he told her sternly. He made her look up at him. “We belong to each other. Is that silliness? Surely you’ve realized all along this had to happen.” When she did not answer he sighed. “Go away, before I change my mind.”
EW. EW. EW.
Where to fucking start with this, honestly? The refusal of her “no”? His insistence that he knows what she wants and needs way better than she ever could? That charming little “before I change my mind”? (Change your mind to WHAT, Jon? Are we catching the train to Rapeytown?) This whole bullshit relationship is so, so gross, and I fail to understand why anyone ships it.
I also fail to understand why Alanna immediately goes to his rooms and has sex with him after this. Must be because they belong together.
Will Jon ever stop being a dickhead? No, never ever, but you should still come back for CHAPTER EIGHT: FEARS, OR, ALANNA NEARLY DIES AGAIN, A ROAD TRIP HAPPENS, AND GEORGE GETS SHOT HOLY GODDAMN.
* Because she’s got the right to live and try to kill gigantic man-eating beasts. And people.
** The wig in question, by the by? It’s black. I know this is hopelessly shallow and irrelevant, but I just can’t help cringing over how that must clash with her colouring, not to mention her eyebrows.
*** Okay, yeah, I have another question about sex in Tortall, WHATEVER. Jonathan has been tapping Delia for, like, YEARS at this point. Why does he not know what a pregnancy charm looks like? Has she just been freebirdin’ it the whole time? How is she not already the mother to ten thousand cranky asshole babies????