As I said in the last post, this chapter covers a lot. I already mentioned Alanna hitting puberty, but Alanna also fights with her friends about her privacy, meets Duke Roger for the first time, buys her first and most important horse, and struggles to learn the sword.
Yeah. A lot. Listing it all out like that makes it sound like there's no connective tissue, but one thread runs through everything: Alanna's complete lack of faith in herself. In the last update, I talked about how Alanna deals with internalized misogyny that tells her a girl could never possibly be a knight and other nasty stuff like that. When she's forced to hide her gender, she assumes that everyone must hate her because it's so hard for her to like herself.
Anyway, let's break it down, following Alanna's state of mind as she deals with all the things that happen in this chapter. First, Alanna gets into a fight with her friends over swimming naked with the rest of them. Alanna snaps at all of them and then has to go back and apologize. When she does, both Gary and Raoul say that they should have treated her with more respect, and that they value Alanna's differences. Alanna thinks this in response:
Between Gary and Raoul, Alanna had much to think about. The idea that she might be liked because she was different was poppycock, of course. Being squires certainly made Gary and Raoul say strange things.
Alanna presumably likes all of her friends for different reasons. Jonathan is the sexy, sexy prince and also the staunch defender of the Code of Chivalry. Gary is a stick in the mud, but he still knows how to have fun. And Raoul is basically a big puppy dog that his friends pretend is human. But Alanna is too busy hating herself to imagine that her friends might apply the same logic to her. She spends most of her teenage years counting down the days until she reveals her secret and all her friends abandon her.
Yeah, that's depressing, so let's move on to the scene where Alanna meets Duke Roger, the evilest dude ever to evil. When he and Alanna first speak alone, he bewitches her with a magic crystal to get her to answer private questions. Luckily, he doesn't ask anything about her identity, but he nevertheless strikes her soft parts when we get this exchange:
"My uncle-in-law, Duke Gareth, also speaks highly of you. You are a most worthy young man by all accounts."
Alanna blushed with shame. If they knew the truth, they wouldn't speak well of her.
I wrote about 2K words about how Duke Gareth only fawns over Alanna when she falls in line with patriarchal values, so I won't go on another rant about that here. Instead, we'll pretend that Duke Gareth is impressed with Alanna for good reasons. That means we can acknowledge the good part: Duke Gareth has noticed Alanna, and he likes her. Duke Gareth is not free with compliments, since he's hard on his own son, so Alanna should be ecstatic. But, again, she can only concentrate on her own sense of shame.
THAT'S ALSO SAD. LET'S TRY AGAIN.
Surely nothing can depress us about the scene where Alanna buys her first horse. I already mentioned a couple of cute moments from that scene, and overall it is probably the cutest scene in the whole first book. But even here, Alanna feels badly about herself, going so far as to ask George:
"I--I don't understand... why do this for me? You went to a lot of trouble. Why?"
George looked at her for a long moment. Finally, he replied, "And why do you find it so hard to think someone might like you and want to do things for you? That's the way of friendship, lad."
Alanna shook her head. "But I haven't done anything for you."
"That's not how it works," the thief said dryly.
This was confusing, and Alanna said so.
Because the book brushes over it, I haven't dug too deeply into how Alanna's isolated upbringing informs her character. But here it's on full display. Alanna was raised by servants and ignored by her father her entire life. She had no peers, since she was still a nobleman's daughter and Trebond is a mountain fief, difficult to get to even in pleasant weather. Her only real companion was her brother, and, again, Alanna and Thom are foils. The two of them never had a chance to see healthy relationships or even make friends their own age as they grew up. So let's take a moment and think about how these characters approach the world thanks to that.
Thom gets a lot of flack for being fractious and hard to get along with. He views all his fellow students and even his teachers in magic as potential rivals who envy his great power. He rejects all offers of help until it's too late and never learns how to relate to other people. He's greedy for knowledge and strength and assumes that everyone else approaches power the same way. In the end, the only person he ever truly trusts is Alanna, and he dies bitter and angry.
Alanna actually starts this story much the same way. She's suspicious of any attempt to befriend her, mostly because of her secret but also because she comes from a poor fief without much to recommend her. She doesn't let her friends help her deal with Ralon, nor does she seek their assistance when she initially struggles with sword work. The only person she confides in at first isn't even one of her peers: it's Sir Myles, a man around the same age as Coram and Maude, the people who mentored Alanna in place of parents or peers. She constantly asks her friends why they are friends with her and doesn't accept or understand their answers. And Alanna also lusts after knowledge in her own way. Whenever she finds a problem she can't solve, whether it's beating Ralon on her own terms or the mysterious crystal sword she finds in Woman Who Rides Like a Man, she seeks out some new form of learning and won't rest until she masters it.
The difference between the twins, of course, is that Alanna learns to trust other people. It takes time, but the men in her life refuse to let her stop being friends with them until Alanna figures out that they really do like her for who she is, woman or no. Thom never gets that chance, which is why is his story is so damn sad.
I'll end with a bit of levity, because dang that was sad. A user on Tumblr pointed out that there is no way Jon and George didn't have more than a little friendly fun in the Dancing Dove. I am of course on board with Actual Bisexual George Cooper, but I'd never included Jonathan before. But somehow, in years and years of reading these books, I'd missed this line that Jon says to George:
"I'm Jonathan--to my friends. Kings and princes should be friendly, don't you agree?"
The king of thieves and the king of Tortall totally did it. You heard it here.