This week’s review is going up a little earlier in the week than I would usually post, because I’m going to be out of town for the (U.S.) holiday weekend. I know you’re all devastated at the prospect of having more dragons, more quickly, but I’m sure you’ll just push through the pain with dignity. Again, I’m borrowing this review style from Mark Oshiro of MarkReads. Please check out his site and consider supporting him and his work.
When we finished the first chapter last week, Illustrious Daverak and his family had eaten the majority of Bon Agornin’s body, in direct violation of the old dragon’s wishes. This left Avan (Bon’s son from the second clutch) and Selendra and Haner (Bon’s daughters from the third clutch) at a grave disadvantage in size and power, because dragonflesh is able to strengthen and give growth to the dragons who consume it.
Avan, rightfully furious at Daverak’s actions, complains bitterly with his sisters Selendra and Haner while watching Berend and Daverak fly home to their own establishment. The gold is poor comfort to the three of them, as it must be split three ways and doesn’t offer much in the way of long-term security. Selendra and Haner should use it as their dowries, and at 8,000 crowns each those dowries are not likely to attract rich and/or high-status husbands. It’s mentioned in the text that Bon Agornin paid a handsome dowry for Berend’s marriage to Daverak. So in dragon culture, it seems that fathers must pay their prospective son-in-laws to take their daughters off of their, um, claws.
None of the three youngest Agornin dragons are in a good position, however, as Avan still has to make his own way in the world. Being a male dragon and not a parson like his brother Penn, he has to deal with physical challenges from other males, on top of doing his work for the Office in Irieth. There’s nothing he can do at present to help his sisters, though they are heartbroken at having to live apart from each other.
But Avan comes up with the idea of filing a lawsuit – he has a letter from Bon Agornin stating how he wished his inheritance to be distributed. It’s unlikely that this misunderstanding about Bon’s body is an offense for which Daverak would be executed, but it is the custom of the court to give the bodies of executed criminals as restitution in cases like these. He’s so excited about this prospect that initially he forgets that he cannot spend all of Bon’s gold on it – it must be divided between him and his sisters equally. They are concerned about the expense, and innocently remind him of their need for dowries. Avan doesn’t let go of the idea, but without their shares of the gold it will be that much more difficult to challenge Daverak in a court of law.
Hoooo boy. Frelt. Frelt, Frelt, Frelt, Frelt, Frelt. That was a nice little internal thought process we were treated to, wasn’t it? Holy entitlement, Batman! For not only do we see what a massive, classist snob this dragon is, we see his powers of self-delusion as well. He doesn’t mind having his wings bound because he thinks it makes him pious and superior to everyone else, even other parsons. He is so hung up on his cross that he must be pulling splinters out of his sphincter.
Frelt decides that he needs a wife, and because he’s not impressed with the other local dragon maidens, briefly considers going to Irieth in the Season so that he can see all of the maidens of marriageable age. He feels as though it would be beneath him to take a wife that was ugly or old, and so he’s set his sights on the maidens who would be presented to society that year. The fact that he offered to take Berend in marriage has raised his standards even higher, because she eventually became the wife of an Illustrious. Though Frelt himself doesn’t hold that rank, he feels now like he can’t accept any maiden who would not be worthy of being considered by an Illustrious. So he decides on Selendra, after briefly considering Haner, because Selendra is lively and can fly around to run errands for him, and seems less likely to die after laying her clutches.
I know. It’s so fucked up.
This is where we start to hear some really worrisome things about Illustrious Daverak and how he runs things in his demense. When the long-time Agornin family servant, Amer, asks Selendra to take her with her to live with Penn at Benandi, instead of going with Haner as planned, she relates some of the gossip she heard from the servants that Berend and Daverak had brought with them.
Amer tells Selendra what she heard about Daverak killing and eating older servants, as though they were weakling dragonets needing to be culled. Selendra is shocked at this, and recites scripture that outlines how such cullings ought to be conducted:
There must be no killing of dragons except after a challenge or in the presence of a parson, for the improvement of dragonkind.
This means that male dragons have the right to challenge each other and fight to the death. Parsons, being of the church, are immune. The color green is a sign of weakness in dragonets, and according to this such dragonets must be killed and eaten to improve dragonkind.
And yet Daverak crosses this boundary according to gossip, taking it upon himself to end the lives of older, lower-class dragons as well as potentially healthy dragonets, all under the guise of doing his duty as an Illustrious. And he were see how this class and power structure remains in place. Dragons only become the biggest and strongest according to the availability of dragonflesh. The law and the church say that high-ranking dragons have the right to consume the weaklings of their demenses. Thus, those dragons already in power keep getting bigger and stronger, passing down the demense to their children, who also grow big and strong, and the cycle continues. The lower-class dragons stay small and vulnerable because they do not have the right or access to dragonflesh, which would give them a similar advantage.
Indeed, we can see the classism in the custom of binding the wings of servants – the narration of the book says that the assumption is that servants will fly off and run away if they are allowed to use their wings. We see that Amer is a loyal servant to the Agornins, since she was allowed to fly when Bon Agornin was ill, and she returned with the herbs he needed. Strict masters and mistresses will insist on servants’ wings being bound very tightly, while Amer is so trusted that her bindings are largely ceremonial, like Penn’s.
And again I say, hoooo boy. Poor Selendra. She goes down to meet Frelt after Avan tells her that the parson is coming to visit, and she has absolutely no idea what he could possibly want. But we know, and we cringe as Frelt goes overboard into manipulative proposal mode, trying to flatter her and ignoring every single protest she makes after she understands what’s going on. Frelt pulls a Mr. Collins on poor Selendra and refuses to take her “No” for an answer, falling into that same old belief that maidens must refuse at first, lest they seem too eager. If you watch the videos you’ll see the face I pull at that section.
In fact, Frelt presses his attention, literally, getting very physical and leaning over Selendra. Remember that when he was cooking this whole thing up he thought about carrying her off and sorting out the details later – Selendra is in real danger here. She literally runs away from him, heading up the corridor as fast as she can. Frelt is in hot pursuit, but once she gets a little breathing room she tells him in no uncertain terms to bugger off and never speak of this proposal shit again.
Frelt is furious, of course, but when Selendra reminds him that her brothers are here at the establishment and that she’s under their protection, he has no choice but to go, resenting her for thinking the worst of him (which is actually her thinking the truth of him).
Tune in next week for the fall-out of this ill-fated proposal attempt.
Chapter 2, Video 1
Chapter 2, Video 2
Chapter 2, Video 3