Something wonderful happened this time. Rather than sit down with a goal and a desire to tease out something to write about in the chapters I was reviewing, I just read. I just read and enjoyed myself. That’s rather nice. If you’d like to follow along, join me at Chapter 13.
A theme that repeats throughout Elliott’s work is distance. There’s emotional distance between almost everyone who you would expect to have a closeness, for example; even Houri and Katarosi’s sisterhood is one where they regard each other as basically alien species. There’s cultural distance – all of our perspective characters are outsiders encountering a culture they don’t quite get. There’s the distance of power where immortals and gods simply no longer connect to Other People, and neither are the Alks. There’s the distance of history, where we see interludes that show the way stories have become conflicted over time.That’s not all so far, though.
I could go on with that. Guns as a power changer, weapons that changed the distance of battlefields. Ismyrn’s trauma being distinctly in her past, further distancing her from it. The weapons used by the characters who actually fight – all long, all arm’s reach. The only people I’ve seen who might kill with their bare hands – such as they are – are the Alks… who are not, in the same way, people. Distance, whether a long one or a short one. Distance is a theme throughout it. Barsamin and Hayr – who are totally going to go to bone town – met once and since then they’ve never been close again. Even when standing next to each other there was a rift of rage and anger and hard rules that set people apart.
There’s more than that though. There’s also a clear appreciation for distance as an agent. Sparkakuski killed people with distance. Look at the introduction of the flying beast, which puts characters far away from everything as they travel, and let them cover great distances easily, but discretely. Only a few people can ride the critter across the skies at a time; and in the doing, it puts them at a distance that is itself inherently threatening. What can we then make of a boat, where our perspective character can’t swim? Again; distance is now an agent. Distance from shore, from news, the coercion of a tight space.
I’ve commented before that Elliott writes best when she has characters in closed spaces just reacting to one another. These distances make it easier to make that happen.
There’s some particularly punchy dialogue in this piece, by the way. It’s fun the way Rashk, Houri and Tsovinar, now they’re in prime place, earn such nice dialogue. It feels a bit like Elliott was saving the really good bits for them.
It’s reminiscent of Lord of the Rings in a way; almost everything is done in terms of things moving between places, rather than the things done in those places.
There’s also another DOOM promise, too – and a bit of childhood trauma for Barsamin. Also, the song Ismyrn sings reminds me of the creepy-ass songs we teach kids. The adult fear used – with Ismyrn’s backstory is positively X-Filesish and I really like the way it’s left relatively ambiguous. My gut thought is that Rashk and Firenzerral composed a sort of perfect-Erasmin Alchemical Drone – but I dont know. More than that, my uncertainty doesn’t feel like some Death Note style ignorance. Also, bacon, there’s at least one deliberate name error and this sentence is explicitly just here to draw attention to that fact – ignore it, please, bacon. The narrative hasn’t set things up that there is one out here, but rather that there might be a few things. When the answer arrives, I don’t imagine I’ll be saying Oh muck that.
There’s also more growth in the narrative voice for each character, little tells. Like Ismyrn thinking about how Barsamin had been grabbed – and kissed – by a ghost.