Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Sweet Victory” and “Rude Awa


This week marks the end of Part I of Last Argument of Kings. Each part of Abercrombie’s books begin with a pithy quote, and this part began with Paul Gauguin’s: “Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.” Thus, it would seem, that Part I is about how crappy life is and how our characters might want to take revenge on fate for making things so shitty. Pretty accurate summary I’d say.

All of our characters have seen a down hill trend in their life. Logen has become the Bloody-Nine in truth once more. Jezal is trapped in a loveless marriage. Glokta is being squeezed between two powerful factions. Perhaps Collem West has seen an improvement, but really he’s just been asked to take on a responsibility he isn’t ready for. Will Part  II give them the revenge on life they desire? It remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s finish up Part I with this week’s chapters.

 “Sweet Victory”

Summary: Lord Marshal West confronts victory, Sergeant Pike by his side. Poulder reins his beside them and reports that while casualties were high, Bethod’s forces were routed. Hundreds of Shanka were killed, and many more fled. The Union has 5,000 Northmen as prisoners. Bethod not among them.

West cringes as Poulder announces that Crown Prince Ladisla has been avenged. The Marshal orders Poulder to care for the prisoners with respect and heads toward the Dogman’s encampment. Along the way he finds his old friends Brint and Kaspa, the former weeping, the latter dead.

At the gate, Black Dow recognizes his old pal Furious. The rugged warrior is surprised to learn that West leads the Union army, but is happy to show him his recent black work. Above Dow swings three bodies–named men of the North who fought on the wrong side.

Inside the camp, Dogman gets his shoulder put back together by the tender hands of Harding Grim. He notices West approach and Dogman thanks him for finally relieving them. West recognizes they were late, but suggest better late than never. Dogman tells him Tul Duru is dead. West asks where Bethod is. Dogman figured the Union had him. They quickly realize the war isn’t over until Bethod is dead or captured. Bethod will head to Carleon and so must they. But first, Dogman has a friend to bury.

Logen stands apart as Tul Duru is buried. A circle opens up around him, a man’s length from everyone, just as it did during his time with Bethod. He can’t remember all the details of the battle the day before. He can’t remember whether it was the Bloody-Nine that killed Tul Duru or not. He remembers enough to guess at the truth. Black Dow speaks up over Tul’s grave and declares himself less with the giant dead.  Logen wants to weep, but finds he can’t. He wants to care. But maybe that isn’t who he is. Wanting doesn’t make a thing rue. The Bloody-Nine cares for nothing.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘There you go, Tul Duru Thunderhead. Look no fucking further. I’m less, now that he’s gone, and so are all o’ you.’

Who knew Black Dow could be such a sap?

If you want to be a new man you have to stay in new places, and do new things, with people who never knew you before. If you go back to the same old ways, what else can you be but the same old person?

I like this sentiment quite a bit. It rings true doesn’t it?

Analysis: God! This chapter! What isn’t going on here? Let’s do a quick review.

  1. West begins to feel immense guilt over the decisions he makes that result in the loss of life.
  2. Logen begins to lose touch with the man he wants to be and is becoming the man he has always been.
  3. Black Dow shows genuine emotion, admitting that he’ll miss Tul Duru.
  4. The war isn’t over. We’re going to Carleon. Do we all remember what happened in Carleon?

So, where does all this leave us? I would argue that this chapter is where many of our “heroes” are no longer “refusing their call.” Unlike in the traditional heroes journey, where this “call” is to “adventure,” in the First Law the call is to “return to their base selves.” Logen has been refusing the call for a long time. He’s been denying who he is, in order to be a better man. But, in fact, he realizes there’s no changing who he is and that he must embrace it to finish the job and kill Bethod.

Black Dow has been suppressing himself too. The shackles of behavioral control are being shrugged off. First Logen, then Threetrees, and now Tul Duru. Is there anyone left to stand in Dow’s way from being the blackest asshole in the North?  And then West, who fashions himself a good man pulled up by his bootstraps, but in reality he’s ruthless. He doesn’t want to be, but, increasingly, he knows that’s exactly who he is.

It’s a fascinating deconstruction of the heroes journey, and one that would probably make Joseph Campbell do a barrel roll or two in his grave.

On to Carleon!

“Rude Awakenings”

Summary: Jezal smiles as he wakes up from a dream that put him in Ardee’s arms. A frown sets in when he realizes where he is, curled up on the floor by the fire, far from his lady wife’s bedroom fortress. In public she shows a marriage filled with burgeoning affection. In private she abuses the King and denies him. He worries that others might begin to notice, but thus far no one has. And who can he go to with the truth? Certainly not Bayaz who he has told time and again to stay out of his private affairs.

Queen Terez snaps him from his reverie, demanding he answer the knock at the door. Jezal struggles from his place on the carpets. Outside, Gorst stands in full armor, worry etched on his hulking face. He brings news. The Gurkish have invaded Midderland.

Ferro awakes to similar news. In a room adjacent to Bayaz’, Ferro presses her ear against the keyhole, listening in to his conversation with Yulwei. The latter reports the Gurkish invasion. Ferro’s heart beats faster. Yulwei asks if Bayaz is ready. They could not be less ready, Bayaz indicates. He wonders whether Lord Brock has turned traitor to allow the Gurkish through his lands. Yulwei thinks it likely. Khlalul has not come north though, prefering to send Mamum, his right hand and the many Eaters they’ve recruited. Yulwei urges Bayaz to flee. The old magus declines. They would follow him.  And even without the Seed, Bayaz has plans.

Ferro’s has heard enough. She breaks down the door between rooms and demands to know when she will be able to kill Gurkish. Soon, Bayaz admits. In fact, he offers her a place with the first wave of Union troops who will be sent to slow the Gurkish approach. Ferro agrees with glee.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘To tinker with those forces… to bend the First Law, if not to break it. The last time that thing was used it made a ruin of Aulcus and came near to making a ruin of the whole word. It is better left buried.’

How many times have we read that the Seed destroyed Aulcus? In fact, we’ve heard it so many times I’m starting to wonder if Abercrombie is going to undermine the truth of it at some point. Did Bayaz blow up Aulcus? Makes me wonder!

Thousands of Gurkish, and ready for war. The smile tugged at one corner of Ferro’s of mouth,  then grew, and grew, until her cheeks were aching.

Is this the first time Ferro’s smiled? It seems like it.

Analysis: This is a bit of a transitional chapter. Ferro has been sitting on the bench for a while and Abercrombie needs to reactive her. Thus, there’s a whole half chapter restating things we (mostly) already know (Bayaz wants to break the First Law, Khalul is a dick, Bayaz is a dick, Aulcus goes boom, etc.). The one new piece of data, of course, is that the Gurkish have invaded and Lord Brock has likely turned traitor. Thus, Ferro has some people to go kill.

That said, there’s a hilarious moment where Ferro breaks the door down and Bayaz wonders why she didn’t knock. It really is an absurd action for her to take.

As for Jezal’s bit, again, nothing much we don’t know here. Terez wants nothing to do with him privately. She has her ladies in waiting who protect her. There is one in particular who is very hostile toward Jezal. The evidence is pretty obvious that Terez isn’t merely angry at being treated like chattel. She’s gay. What’s odd, is that she doesn’t seem to rebelling against being married off, only that she’s expected to have sex with her husband.  I wish we were given both sides of that equation. It’s genuinely interesting that Abercrombie made the choice to have a gay character, but I feel like the way its deployed doesn’t allow her to make a statement about the nature of her station.



Next Week: Ferro marches to confront the Gurkish. The Union army in the north realizes its fighting a two front war.

Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs at Find him on Twitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.

The Stargate Rewatch: SG-1 Season Eight

Stargate SG-1, season 8, Moebius

Stargate SG-1 Season 8
Executive producers: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright, Michael Greenburg, Richard Dean Anderson
Executive producers (“Gemini” onward): Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie
Original air dates: July 9, 2004 – March 25, 2005

Mission briefing. The fallout from the battle with Anubis is both immediate and far-reaching. In the short term, the location of the battle in Antarctica may have kept it out of the public eye, but the governments who signed the Antarctic Treaty became aware of it, and the terms of that treaty meant that all the signatories had to agree on how to proceed to investigate the Ancient outpost—a problem insofar as O’Neill is still in stasis down there with the Ancient repository downloaded into his head.

Dr. Elizabeth Weir is still in charge of the SGC, but once the Antarctic Base is cleared for investigation by an international team of scientists, under the SGC’s command, she transfers there. Her replacement: the newly promoted Brigadier General Jack O’Neill, having been cured by the Asgard. His replacement as CO of SG-1 is the also newly promoted Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter.

Stargate SG-1, season 8, New Order

Weir takes an expedition to the Pegasus Galaxy and the lost city of Atlantis (about which we’ll talk more next week when we tackle Atlantis season 1). Back in the Milky Way, SG-1 has plenty of Goa’uld problems. Ba’al has taken over Anubis’s fleet, and Anubis himself isn’t as dead as they’d thought. Because he’s partially ascended, he can transfer his consciousness into a human host. He does this repeatedly throughout the season, eventually taking back control of his fleet—and of Ba’al.

The rogue elements of the NID have now formed a new cabal called “the Trust.” They make sure to keep the Stargate program secret, taking extreme measures to silence inventor/industrialist Alec Colson from revealing the SGC to the public, and also sabotaging Teal’c’s attempt to live a normal life outside the SGC. They also use a symbiote poison, refusing to differentiate among rebel Jaffa, Goa’uld, Jaffa loyal to the Goa’uld, and Tok’ra, and thus killing many of Earth’s allies.

Eventually, though, the Trust is taken over by the Goa’uld, who try to start World War III in part by implanting Kinsey.

The rebel Jaffa numbers swell. The Hak’tyl resistance led by Ishta thrives as well, and Teal’c’s son Rya’c wants to marry one of the Hak’tyls, which causes some tension between Teal’c and Ishta—which they solve by killing Moloc.

Several attempts are made to contact the Atlantis expedition. With Earth finally having hyperdrive thanks to the Asgard, Prometheus is sent to the Pegasus galaxy. However, it’s hijacked by Vala Mal Doran, and they are forced to return home to repair damage to the ship. They also search for a new Zero-Point Module, the Ancient power source, to give the Stargate sufficient power to dial Pegasus, which they do at season’s end.

Stargate SG-1, season 8, Good to Be A King

Gate travel continues as always. One of SG-1’s missions results in a war breaking out on Tegalus. Another sends them to the world where Maybourne wound up, where they discover a puddle jumper that’s also a time machine.

Other new technology besides the puddle jumper and the time machine are discovered, including Ancient stones that allow communication over great distances. In addition, Teal’c tests technology previously brought through the gate in “The Gameskeeper” that can be used for virtual reality training.

The human-form Replicators also make a return, leading the Replicators in an attack on the new Asgard homeworld, though that is driven off by a weapon created by the Ancient-influenced O’Neill that destroys Replicators. However, Fifth escapes and creates his very own Replicator version of Carter, who later attacks the SGC and attempts to learn the secrets of Ascension. Jackson is able to defeat her, but at the cost of his life—again—and this time Oma Desala again offers him Ascension. At that point, he learns that Oma also offered Anubis Ascension, which was a huge mistake, and one she finally pays for by battling Anubis for all eternity.

Stargate SG-1, season 8

Meanwhile, the other Replicators take on what’s left of the Goa’uld, most of whom have either been defeated by or capitulated to Ba’al, who is in truth under Anubis’s thumb. The rebel Jaffa use the Replicator attack as cover to take Dakara, the legendary homeworld of the Jaffa, currently under Ba’al’s control. While there, they discover an Ancient superweapon that can wipe out the Replicators. With Ba’al’s assistance, Carter and Jacob figure out how to use that weapon to claim victory over the Replicators, and with Anubis’s defeat and the Replicators’ attacks on the Goa’uld, the Jaffa declare their freedom, with the Goa’uld too powerless to stop them.

Catherine Langford dies, and leaves a ton of stuff to Jackson, including the revelation that there’s a ZPM they can retrieve from ancient Egypt, using the puddle jumper from Maybourne’s world. They do so—but also become trapped in ancient Egypt, having altered the timeline. They do record a video for the future, and a much changed SG-1—a bitter, retired O’Neill, an English-as-a-second-language-teaching Jackson, a Carter who’s just a glorified secretary, a still-in-charge-of-Cheyenne Hammond, and an alive Kawalsky—discover the tape and wind up going through the newly discovered Stargate in a puddle jumper to Chulak, where they meet Teal’c. Eventually, they are able to restore the timeline to its proper form (more or less), and the SGC has a ZPM they can use to dial a wormhole to Pegasus.

At the end of the season, they all go to O’Neill’s cabin and go fishing…

Best episode: A three-way tie among the “Reckoning” two-parter, “Threads,” and the “Moebius” two-parter. Written in the belief that they would be the end of the series, these episodes tie up many of the loose ends of the series, ending the threats of both the Goa’uld and the Replicators (though the latter would continue to be a threat in Atlantis, and Ba’al and a few other Goa’uld will continue to cause problems), freeing the Jaffa, and paying tribute to the show’s roots by having the team travel back to face Ra when he was still on Earth and re-create the events of “Children of the Gods” in a different timeline. Between those momentous events, we get a very personal story, where the truth about Jackson’s time as an ascended being finally comes to light, as does how Anubis got so powerful, while Carter says goodbye to more than one man in her life.

Honorable mention: “Icon,” a very well-written, tragic throwback to the simpler days of SG-1 when they went through the gate, found a civilization, and screwed it up in some way. “Prometheus Unbound,” a welcome return from Don S. Davis as Hammond, a magnificent introduction to Claudia Black’s superlative Vala Mal Doran, and just a fun adventure. The “New Order” two-parter sets the season up very nicely, and showcases Torri Higginson’s much-better-than-Jessica-Steen version of Weir (just in time for her to bugger off to the spinoff). And “Zero Hour,” a hilarious day-in-the-life for the newly promoted O’Neill.

Stargate SG-1, season 8

Worst episode: The temptation is to say “every episode I didn’t list in the previous section.” Actually, “It’s Good to be King” isn’t too bad, “Citizen Joe” is harmless fun (and has a great guest turn by Dan Castellaneta), and “Lockdown” isn’t a bad adventure. But the rest of the season ranges from weak-tea episodes that have better premises than execution (“Affinity,” “Endgame,” “Gemini,” “Covenant,” “Full Alert”) to misbegotten crap (“Avatar,” “Sacrifices”).

Probably I’d have to give the worst to “Avatar,” just because it was such an obvious tie-in to the Stargate SG-1: The Alliance videogame—and to make matters worse, the game was cancelled and never even happened!

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The power source for the ancient outpost is given a name: a zero-point module, or ZPM, which will prove useful in the future on all the shows. The Ancient stones, created as a gag for “Citizen Joe,” will become very useful and important in both the next season of SG-1 and on Universe. And, both here in “It’s Good to be King” and in Atlantis‘s “Before I Sleep,” we find out that the Ancients mucked about with time travel.

Also O’Neill asks the Asgard for a hyperdrive for Prometheus in “Covenant,” which is installed for “Prometheus Unbound.” All 302-model ships going forward will have hyperdrives.

Stargate SG-1, season 8

For cryin’ out loud! In order to accommodate Richard Dean Anderson’s desire for a reduced workload, the character was promoted to general and put in charge of the SGC. His style is considerably more relaxed than Hammond’s, as highlighted in “Zero Hour,” and he confesses to missing going offworld when he gets to go through the gate in “It’s Good to be King.”

It might work, sir. Carter is promoted to lieutenant colonel and command of SG-1. She also accepts Pete Shanahan’s marriage proposal, but recants after her father dies and she realizes how strong her feelings for O’Neill are.

Indeed. Teal’c grows his hair out (a concession to Christopher Judge, who was tired of shaving his head for seven straight years), and leads the Jaffa rebellion to victory.

Stargate SG-1, season 8, Moebius

“Moebius Part 2″ provides one of the best examples of Judge’s acting ability. You don’t realize how much Judge has changed in the role subtly over the years until you see him in the altered timeline as his old self—and then he watches the videotape of the mainline Teal’c, with his relaxed smile as he declares the Jaffa to be free. You can see the difference, and it’s a magnificent thing. 

I speak 23 different languages—pick one. Jackson finally finds out why he’s no longer ascended: he kept wanting to interfere, even more than Oma did, and Oma is pretty well ostracized by the other ascended folk as it is, especially after letting Anubis into the club…

Stargate SG-1, season 8

You have a go. Hammond is promoted to the head of Homeworld Security, though he comes back to command the Prometheus in “Prometheus Unbound,” and we also see the Hammond of the alternate timeline in “Moebius.” The reduced schedule—which also included an appearance on Atlantis‘s “Home” as an illusion of Hammond—was to accommodate Don S. Davis’s health, as he was beginning to suffer from the heart issues that eventually led to his death in 2008.

Wayward home for out-of-work genre actors. Probably the biggest name is Claudia Black, formerly Aeryn Sun on Farscape, showing up in “Prometheus Unbound” as the very un-Aeryn-like Vala Mal Doran (though her initial appearance on the Prometheus is deliberate homage to her initial appearance on Farscape); Black so impressed the producers and the viewers that the character recurred through season 9 and became a regular in season 10 and the DVD films. Recurring Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda actors Steve Bacic (Camulus in “New Order” and “Zero Hour”) and Brandy Ledford (“Endgame”) both appear this season. Erica Durance appeared in “Affinity” just before her first appearance as Lois Lane on Smallville. Star Trek vets Jolene Blalock and Ronny Cox both return one final time as Ishta and Kinsey, respectively. And O’Neill’s affinity for The Simpsons is taken to its semi-logical extreme by casting Homer Simpson’s voice himself, Dan Castellaneta, in the title role of “Citizen Joe.” 

Trivial matters. This is the first season of the show to have only 20 episodes, instead of 22. Each of SG-1‘s subsequent seasons, as well as all the seasons of Atlantis and Universe, will have 20-episode orders.

This season aired simultaneously with the first season of Atlantis. “New Order” aired for two hours on the 9th of July, then the two parts of the Atlantis premiere “Rising” aired on the 16th. Starting on the 23rd, the two shows aired back to back from 8-10pm EST on the Sci-Fi Channel. The finales dovetailed nicely: Atlantis‘s “Letters from Pegasus” (aired from 9-10pm on the 11th of March) let the SGC know what was going on in Pegasus, prompting the search for a ZPM in “Moebius Part 1″ (aired from 8-9pm on the 18th of March). The ZPM that SG-1 recovered in “Moebius Part 2″ (8-9pm on the 25th of March) was then used to send a team of Marines through the gate to Atlantis in “The Siege Part 2″ (9-10pm on the 25th of March).

Stargate SG-1, season 8

The Antarctic Treaty that delays the investigation of the Ancient outpost in Antarctica, and forces them to leave the frozen O’Neill down there for weeks, in the “New Order” two-parter is a real treaty, which went into effect in 1961.

In “Covenant,” Alec Colson is introduced to a Captain Sheffield. Colson is played by Charles Shaughnessy, whose most famous role was as Mr. Sheffield in The Nanny.

Two actors who are big fans of the show petitioned to appear this season: comedian Wayne Brady, who took on a rare serious role as Ares’s First Prime in “It’s Good to be King,” and Pierre Bernard, a staffer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, who documented his experience as a guest in “Zero Hour” for the talk show (and whose character was, fittingly, named O’Brien).

The sequence in “Moebius Part 2″ where McKay tries to name the puddle jumper “Gateship One” to everyone else’s disgust is a repeat of a similar scene in the Atlantis pilot episode “Rising.”

“Moebius” marks the first time Ra has appeared since the original movie, though he’s obviously not played by Jaye Davidson, instead played by Jay Williams. In addition, the season finale brings back several actors for what they thought might be a final hurrah: Peter Williams as Apophis, David Hewlett as McKay (on loan from Atlantis), Jay Acovone as Kawalsky, Colin Cunningham as Davis, Robert Wisden as Samuels, and, of course, Don S. Davis as Hammond.

Stargate SG-1, season 8, Prometheus Unbound

Chevron seven locked. The episode order for SG-1 was reduced to 20, and the mistake was not making the reduction much much much greater. Instead, we got some strong stuff at the top of the season, the occasional decent episode in the middle, and a magnificent final five hours. But the rest of the season feels like wheel-spinning or a waste of time.

Too many external factors are obviously at work here. The production staff having to split its time between SG-1 and Atlantis is a biggie. The original plan had been to end the former and focus on the latter, but SG-1‘s popularity forced them to put both shows on the air. Plus, of course, there’s Richard Dean Anderson’s desire for less screen time and Don Davis’s health issues, which reduced both characters’ air time. And just in general, we rarely saw SG-1 working as a team. “New Order,” “Reckoning,” “Threads,” “Icon,” “Avatar,” “Covenant,” “Affinity,” “Prometheus Unbound”—all of those episode saw SG-1 split up or separated or some such.

However, the biggest misstep of the entire season was the blown opportunity with the character of Samantha Carter. After promoting her and putting her in charge, she spends almost no time actually leading SG-1 in any meaningful way—though the climax of “Icon” does prove to be a really good showcase for her leadership.

Stargate SG-1, season 8, Moebius

The final five episodes would’ve made a great series finale, a fitting sendoff for the team. Even without that, though, it does an even better job than “Full Circle” did of bringing the show, er, full circle.

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s short story collection Without a License is now on sale from Dark Quest Books. It includes nine stories from throughout his twenty-plus years of writing, plus brand-new tales in the Dragon Precinct and Cassie Zukav milieus. You can order the trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the author; the eBook edition will be on sale soon.

A History of Feminist Speculative Fiction: Sisters of the Revolution


The stories in Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology does exactly what you’d want them to—they tear apart cliches, they question gender and it’s implications, they look at identity using satire and humour and darkness with a sharp intellectual examination of stigma and society’s rules.

Put together by well known and highly regarded award winning editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, it’s a solid collection for anyone who wants to see how far feminist SF has come, with stories spread across the last 40 years or so.

Sisters of the Revolution began life as a Kickstarter campaign and is co-published with PM Press. The stories are from a wide variety of SF-nal genres—there’s futuristic SF, there’s fantasy and myth and surrealism. While the stories are mostly reprints, they’re each an equally strong voice, placing classic SF writers like Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler along side contemporaries like Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Catherynne Valente and Karin Tidbeck. Though the classic are of course, always wonderful to read and admire (who isn’t still affected by James Tipree’s The Screwfly Solution, even at a repeated reading?), it is of course some of the newer stories that have not been read before that may stand out more, especially the ones that bring to attention writers of colour from non-western cultures. Nnedi Okorafor’s strong oral storytelling style in The Palm Tree Bandit is perfect for the tale of the woman who upends patriarchal norms and help change society. Nalo Hopkinson’s wonderful rhythms in the story The Glass Bottle Trick create an effective, chilling atmosphere for her take on the Bluebeard myth. Hiromi Goti’s Tales from the Breast is a beautiful, evocative story about new parenthood, nursing, and the complicated relationship between a new mother, her body, and her baby.

Some of the other contemporary stories that stand out are Catherynne Valente’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time, a Locus Award finalist in 2011 and a reimagining of the creation myth; Ukrainian writer Rose Lemberg’s Seven Losses of na Re, about a young woman whose name is power; and Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck’s Aunts, a fantastic story about three enormous women who only live to expand in size. They eat and eat and eat, until they are so large that they can not breathe. They then lay down and die, with their bodies split open for their awaiting nieces to dig out the new ‘aunts’ from old ones’ rib cages.

The collection includes writers whose stories are now synonymous with SF in general (not just feminist SF): Ursula Le Guin’s Sur is about an all female team of explorers headed to Antarctica, Octavia Butler’s The Evening and the Morning and the Night is about a gruesome, horrific fictional disease and the equally horrific societal stigmas that result from it, Joanna Russ, whose seminal 1975 novel The Female Man had a massive impact on many women writers is featured in the anthology with a forty year old story called When It Changed, one that remains valid to this day, in its look at power dynamics between the sexes.

Tanith Lee’s inclusion in the anthology now feels poignant, given her recent death, but there is even more reason for more people to read her work and note her significance. This collection includes her 1979 story Northern Chess, a cleverly subversive sword and sorcery tale featuring something rare in such stories from that time—a female lead with agency and power.

Another name that deserves mention is of course Angela Carter, whose influence is vast. Her take on Lizzie Borden’s story in The Fall River Axe Murders is about the woman who hacked her family to death yet was eventually acquitted. The entire story takes place in moments (though it’s over a dozen pages long) and leads up to what we already know—that Lizzie would brutally murder her family. But it’s unimportant that we already know where this is headed—this is Angela Carter, even her weakest stories (if there are any) are masterpieces of mood and atmosphere. Of course, in this story Carter is very much pointing out that the damage done to a young woman by not allowing her to grow, to learn and to be free is irreparable, and affects more than just the woman in question.

In the introduction to Sisters of the Revolution, the editors accept that a collection like this will always seem a little incomplete, always seem a little lacking, given that the canon of feminist SF is constantly increasing—particularly when it comes to including more POC female writers, more and more of whom are finding their voices, finding their groove, their space in the field. Regardless, a collection like this holds its own firmly and is a great resource for anyone looking to understand the history of feminist SF short stories.

Sisters of the Revolution is available June 1st from PM Press.

Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.

Tanith Lee — A Brief Retrospective


As many folks have reported by this time, Tanith Lee—a familiar name in science fiction and fantasy circles, prolific writer for both children and adults—is no longer with us. Charlie Jane Anders noted in her commemorative post at io9 that Lee wrote so much and in such different ways that she has multiple circles of fandom; she has been nominated for awards ranging from the World Fantasy to the World Horror Grandmaster—and also the Lambda for LGBT speculative fiction.

So, while Lee’s astounding oeuvre covered a multitude of themes, styles, and approaches, the reason I first heard of her work—true for many people, I’d suspect—was because of that common concern with gender and sexuality.

Her books were often rather directly queer and feminist in their appropriation of fairy tales, fantastical and perverse worlds and creatures, and narrative tropes. She also wrote lesbian fiction under the pseudonym Esther Garber and weird fiction under the related name Judas Garbah, as collected in Disturbed by Her Song and Fatal Women (both available from Lethe Press).

Disturbed by Her Song was the first and only Tanith Lee book I covered as part of the Queering SFF column in all this time—something I feel I should rectify, particularly after her passing. However, there are a whole lot of potential avenues to cover in terms of her queer work, so instead of choosing one particular text I thought we’d do a brief retrospective of some directions curious readers might take in discovering the work of Lee.

There have been a few recent installments that are good for starting out on; there are also the classic novel series that made Lee a household name not just for clever storytelling and lush prose but for her exploration of the fluidity and complexity of gender and sexuality. And, personal aside: when you’re a young teen like I once was, looking for stories that aren’t quite so binary in their dealings, that’s why you end up running into Tanith Lee sooner or later.

While these books are often interested in exploration and pushing boundaries—so they’re not always perhaps the most comfortable or pleasant experiences, particularly the horror stories—that is in and of itself a worthwhile task. And, especially in the case of the older books, taken as moments of historical record reflecting attitudes toward gender and sexuality at the time they’re also worth a look.

  • Space is Just a Starry Night (2013, Aqueduct Press)—This is a collection of twelve stories, mostly reprints from the seventies onward but also including two original pieces. This particular collection, one of the last things Lee published, gives a sense of her facility with genre tropes and modes as well as her dense and clever prose.
  • Disturbed by Her Song (2010, Lethe Press)—As the only collection that has been reviewed here before, this remains a good look into the work Lee had been doing with more specifically gay and lesbian protagonists; it’s also weird and historical, and has some very good stories in it. Plus, the conceit of a “dictated” set of stories “by” the protagonists is bizarre and neat.
  • Tempting the Gods: The Selected Stories of Tanith Lee Volume 1 & Hunting the Shadows: The Selected Stories of Tanith Lee Volume 2 (2009, Wildside Press) —Obviously, a two volume retrospective short story collection is a good place to stock up on Lee’s briefer work. Wildside’s efforts to collect a variety of different stories and make them available all together are admirable, also, considering the breadth of Lee’s output.
  • The Secret Books of Paradys (2007, The Overlook Press)—A collection of interlinked collections of stories, all originally published in the late eighties and early nineties and collected in this one hefty volume later on. These stories fall more on the “horror” side of Lee’s genre works, but they’re also concerned with gender and sexuality.
  • Tales from the Flat Earth—A series published from 1978 to 1986, in which the world’s societies are famously bisexual. As Lee has expressed in interviews, some folks certainly have preferences in one direction or another, but most have a fluid sexuality. Books include Night’s Master (1978) which was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, Death’s Master (1979) which won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel, Delusion’s Master (1981), Delirium’s Mistress (1986), and Night’s Sorceries (1987) which was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology/Collection.
  • Don’t Bite the Sun (1976, DAW Books)—One of Lee’s earliest and most well-known novels, a work of New Wave feminist science fiction dealing with what is often described as a soul-crushing utopia. Issues of aging, gender, and sexuality are prominent in this work as the protagonist lives in a world where bodies can be customized and replaced, labor is a thing of the past, and maturing is more difficult than it seems. A short novel—almost more of a novella, in the way of lots of older sf—but packs a lot of punch. One of the first bits of Lee I read, also.

These are just a handful of books from Lee’s body of work that have explicit themes on gender and sexuality; there are also many, many more—and I encourage readers, here, to suggest their own favorites in the comments. Even note what makes them interesting, if you like. I certainly haven’t read even a fraction of Lee’s published work, so I can’t claim to be an expert, just someone who finds her interesting, and is sad to see her go.

She was doing the work long before a lot of us, and in doing so, helped paved the way.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. She can be found on Twitter or her website.

Enroll in the Princess Academy That Never Existed

Princess Academy concept art David Kawena

The Daily Dot has a fascinating in-depth look at Princess Academy, a proposed short film that would have brought all of the Disney princesses and other female leads into one story. Though it sounds as if the cancelled short would have more balls and fewer adventures, it still would have been a dream for Disney fans to see all of these women interacting with one another. Check out The Daily Dot’s story for more fan art, including the gorgeous group shot above by David Kawena.

Afternoon Roundup brings you your Mad Max moniker, cosplay so epic even the setting is authentic, and the survival tactics we’ve learned from disaster movies.

The Dragonlance Chronicles Reread: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Chapters 21 and 22

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!  Last week: Tanis’ LiveJournal updates! This week: The city falls! The Twins save the day! Raistlin is fantastic!

We’re up to Chapters 21 and 22 of Dragons of Autumn Twilight: “The Sacrifice. The Twice-Dead City.” and “Bupu’s Gift. An Ominous Sight.” As always, we’re going to keep the reread post spoiler-free, but the comments are open to any and all discussion, so proceed with caution!


It seems like we’re always starting with the Raistlin blaming—did he betray them or didn’t He? Tanis is sure he is loyal to them…sorta sure. Sure-ish. The gang head out to try and negotiate with the dragon for the Disks. Because that seems like a worthy plan at this point (that’s how bad things are). Tas waxes lyrical about fatalism and death and how the kender are all cool with dying. Flint is sad at the thought of dead kender but he’s a manly dwarf so he mans up, manly man dwarf style and deflects with sarcasm.

They enter the chamber with the dragon loot in it. The dragon lights up the room, saying ‘Yes, let us have light’ in a voice ‘as cold and dark as winter midnight’. (What a great description!)

Onyx sits atop her hoard of jewels and gold and is the only thing lit up, ‘on top of the pedestal like some huge beast of prey’. Which is basically what she is. Of course, Sturm starts up the Raistlin-blaming again, until they see that he is, in fact, trapped beneath the dragon’s claw.

Onyx points out that her fight is with none of them. Damn right. Who are they, anyway?

Raistlin seems to be prepping a suicide-spell while Onyx tells Goldmoon to hand over the staff if any of them are to live. Goldmoon seems to be hearing voices in her head and is following their alternate plan instead. she asks Tanis to hold Riverwind back so she can do what she must. As she approaches the dragon with the staff, Raistlin lays trapped, bitterly contemplating the likely eventuality that he may actually have to die for these bumbling fools. ‘I am wasting myself—and for what?’ I ask myself that daily, brother Raistlin.

Goldmoon and Raistlin seem to have a mind to mind connect, sharing the imaginary voices they are hearing. There is a suggestion of immortality. It is confusing. The spell comes to Raistlin’s mind as he sees Goldmoon come up and freeze with dragonfear (that’s totally a thing!), but she gets over herself and tries one last attempt at negotiating with Onyx, who points out that the Dragon Highmaster Lord Verminaard may act favourably to Goldmoon surrendering the staff without any further drama. Unfortunately no deal is struck, but Sturm has located the Disks. Goldmoon gives in to the voices in her head and swings her staff to hit the dragon’s clawed foot poised above Raistliin (his spell seems to be on pause, I don’t know why, don’t’ distract from the main action!)

Now here’s where stuff gets all serious and another major action sequence starts. The staff shatters and from within it emerges a radiant blue lightsaber! No, really – it breaks and shines a light so strong that it consumes both the dragon and Goldmoon. Sturm does as he he vowed to, and finds the Disks. In doing this he also manages to rescue Raistlin who of course is unconcerned with his injuries and wants to find a certain spellbook instead. Things fall apart right then, and it appears that the entire city is collapsing.

Goldmoon is dead. Riverwind won’t leave her behind. Tanis won’t leave him behind & manages to get crushed. Sturm gets the others the hell outta the apocalypse zone. Things change. Stuff falls. Riverwind carries Tanis out. There is total chaos, a lot of fighting off of draconians, some sleepysand spells, a sweet little rescue of Bupu by Raistlin, a bromance moment between Sturm and Tanis who appears to be alive, a combo shield and spell attack from the Twins that saves them all, thanks to Raistlin’s  magic.

Not yet, though, not quite. The city is still collapsing. There seems to be a lot of city to collapse. Where do you go when the city is collapsing? To the temple, of course! Dwarven stonework, sure to withstand the very worst apocalypse, kind of Giles’ library in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Riverwind attempts to remain behind and die, but Tanis is having none of that and shames him into getting up and getting out. Once again, they leave total destruction behind. This lot are really bad at doing things quietly.

The temple is safe. Though there is peace and tranquility here, Tanis lashes out in anger and hates on the gods for Goldmoon’s death. But no! Goldmoon is alive! Her staff is now part of the marble statue of the goddess Mishakal but the necklace that had been around the statue is now around Goldmoon’s neck. Accessories swap with the goddess.

Well, then. Goldmoon seems to have crossed over into true cleric territory. I don’t know what that is yet, but I think I’d have kept the lightsaber. Regardless, she can heal Tanis with a touch and a prayer and explains that she does not have the power to unite the people of their world but rather to find the one who can (and that’s going to be a man, right? sigh).

Of course, Goldmoon does not offer to help heal Raistlin, as usual, cleric superpowers be damned. It seems war has begun, and the companions must flee Xak Tsaroth with the Disks of Mishakal.

Before we leave the companions though, we witness an emotional scene between Raistlin and Bupu, who is miserable to be away from her kind. He convinces her that he will be fine without her, and she gives him the spell book of Fistandantilus. He prays for her to have happiness and safety. It is crushingly sweet. No one sees it, though Flint makes a snarky remark that reminds us that no one knows Raistlin like we do.

Meanwhile, Solace is burning.

Monster(s) of the Week

That wonderful creature, Onyx. Smart, sharp and just full of brilliant ‘wait, who are you fools again?’ conversation. ‘My fight is with none of you’, she says. Damn right it isn’t. ‘How you have escaped my wrath so far, I do not understand.’, she says. Me neither, Onyx, me neither.

Plus, miscellaneous draconians.


Notable Quotes

‘It was dark. Magically dark.’

You don’t say. Magic, huh? Whoa.


Mahvesh’s take

Can we just do a collective awwww for Raistlin here, please? My favourite monster has a heart! I always knew he had it in him. This, of course, makes Raistlin all the more interesting – he isn’t all evil and clearly he does have a soul. In a rare moment of tenderness, we see Raistlin’s vulnerability, ‘a look no one in his world would ever see. He reached out and stroked Bupu’s coarse hair, knowing what it felt like to be weak and miserable, an object of ridicule and pity’.

This leads me to my rant this week—I’m so tired of Raistlin being demonised constantly! Not just do they all (except Caramon, obviously) consistently think he will betray them (for what?! what can he even betray them for—he’s the most powerful mage around! Well, sure if you’ve got a solid cough remedy then yeah, maybe…no, really, what does he even need?), but he’s always seen as a physical monster too. His strange eyes, his shrivelled up body, the blood he coughs up, his strange glowing skin (not in the fancy anti ageing cream way) and here, we have Tanis straight up staring at him in ‘horror and disgust’ as Raistlin scavenges for the spellbook. Now hang on a second—just what is so bad about this? Does no one see that Raistlin increasing his knowledge can only be helpful in their quest? And of course, no one notices that Raistlin has, essentially, a heart of gold. He goes back into the chaos to rescue Bupu (who has been nothing but annoying so please, big round of applause for R!), and that it’s his spells that eventually get them away from the attacking draconians? I’ve had quite enough of the Raistlin-bashing, thank you.

Otherwise these were a couple of action-packed chapters. Loads of fighting, much magic, dragons, draconians, death, reincarnation, the old gods and bromance galore—everything we love Dragonlance for, and everything that throws us further into being emotionally invested in this ragtag team of would be heroes.

PS: What’s up Goldmoon? I call bullshit on her weird mixed signals to Tanis. She stares at Riverwind before she goes off on her kamikaze mission but does not touch him or speak to him (weird that he just stands by, too) yet lets Tanis hold her close in his arms. Acca-scuse me? Something’s up here, and by Mishakal, I don’t like the smell of it.


Jared’s take

I completely agree with Mahvesh. Granted, Raistlin is a bit creepy and does have his own agenda, but this is the old ‘what does the player know’ vs ‘what the does the character’ know issue, something that comes up in role-playing games all the time. As far as Tanis & Co. are concerned, Raistlin has been nothing but helpful: knowledgeable, useful, focused and, in most cases, invaluable. Alas, our slightly ableist companions are a little weirded out by his frail body, bad posture and weird skin.

And it isn’t like Raistlin is a stranger—they’ve all grown up together! Compare this to Goldmoon, for example, who is immediately and unwaveringly trusted. Perhaps this is because she’s attractive? (We know that because the book tells us that. A lot.) Even Riverwind, who has been infinitely dodgier and more difficult (as well as being outright racist) gets more leeway than Raistlin does. He’s the underdog in a party of underdogs. No wonder we all like him so much.

I also like Mahvesh’s read of the Tanis/Goldmoon/Riverwind love triangle. Especially since we already know Tanis has some commitment issues. That said, we could broaden this out even further. Perhaps the Tanis/Riverwind “I’ve never known an… elf” conversation is a little more meaningful than we thought. (Leading to the classic scene: “Some half-elves like both oysters and mussels”.) Which would explain Riverwind’s initial discomfort with Tanis as self-denial, which eventually turns to acceptance and, judging by their actions at the fall of the city, deep, romantic love. I’m guessing the fan-fiction already exists…

One more bugbear. I really dislike resurrection mechanics, and the Temple of Saved Game is really annoying me at this point. First Riverwind, now Goldmoon. I think making death impermanent cheapens the drama and the narrative, especially when resurrection is done as cheaply and as inexplicable as it does here. The escape from the collapsing city is fraught and tense and rather astounding: Riverwind’s berserker fury, Tanis’ pain, Sturm’s slightly-tenuous leadership skills, Raistlin’s last-ditch casting, all of which contribute to a real air of desperation and grief. And, yet, as soon as Goldmoon bounces back to life and starts dishing out magical healing, all of that feels infinitely less emotional. Everything they did came from a dark place, a place that, as it turns out, needn’t exist, because the gods are random and all-powerful. (The Gods of Krynn are dicks, y’all.)

Still, Raistlin gets the last word— and what a cracking one is it: “Solace is burning.” Don’t celebrate yet, heroes, you’ve got a while until your adventure is over…

Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time onTwitter.

Jared Shurin is an editor for Pornokitsch and the non-profit publisher Jurassic London.

Rocket Talk Episode 55: Aidan Moher


Welcome back to the Rocket Talk Podcast! This week, Justin invites blogger and author Aidan Moher on to discuss his new self-published book, Tide of Shadows and Other Stories. The two discuss the state of self-publishing and why Moher chose that route. Afterward, they have a frank discussion about the state of blogging and a few books coming out later this year.

Aidan Moher is the 2014 Hugo Award winning blogger in residence at A Dribble of Ink. His first book, Tide of Shadows and Other Stories can be found on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @adribbleofink.

Rocket Talk, Episode 55 (45:42)

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Also! If you have an idea for an episode of Rocket Talk or would like to come on as a guest, reach out to Justin Landon at Obviously, we can’t accommodate everyone, but we’re always looking for new ideas and fresh perspectives.

This is The Joker’s Weirdest Origin Story Yet!

Driftwood Joker

Anne Foucher has found a way to improve nature! The French artist recycles pieces of driftwood and creates whimsical sculptures of Vikings, pirate, superheroes, and the occasional villain, as you can see in the evolution of this Joker. You can see more of her work here!

Morning Roundup has news on American Gods and The Expanse, Tom Hardy making perfect sense, and THE HUMAN CLAW.

Debut Tor Authors Play “Would You Rather: SFF Edition”

Tor Books The Next Generation panel BookExpo America 2015

The “Tor Books class of 2015″ (a.k.a. Tor Books’ next generation of debut authors) took to the stage at this year’s BookExpo America to talk about their forthcoming books. In keeping things college-themed, moderator John “Principal” Scalzi asked each panelist a series of Would You Rather questions—all about shadowy cabals, magical music, and sentient animals, of course.

Seth Dickinson, Ilana C. Myer, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Fran Wilde gamely played along with the Would You Rather shenanigans. The moral and ethical dilemmas that ensued were a great way to get to know each author, as well as their predilections when it comes to cats versus dogs, earworms, and their preferred methods for stirring the pot when it comes to rebellion. Each author got Would You Rather questions related to his/her book, but all of the panelists were allowed to throw in their own answers. And at the end, they took this cute class photo (via Wilde’s Twitter)!


Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant)

The Traitor Baru Cormorant Seth DickinsonDickinson said that he likes to pitch his novel as “Gone Girl meets Guns, Germs, and Steel“: After watching her island nation get taken over by the Empire of Masks, Baru Cormorant sets out on a long game of vengeance that has her infiltrating the Empire from the inside. Dickinson utilized his history in social psychology for playing Would You Rather, especially when it came to the kinds of answers people would and wouldn’t expect from him. He also proved himself to be an evil mastermind.

Would you rather… be a member of an open rebellion or a member of a shadowy cabal?

Dickinson: “This isn’t even hard. Shadowy cabal all the way, all day. Open rebellion marks you as a target, shadowy cabal allows you to leverage the structural forces around you.”

Would you rather… be a behind-the-scenes mastermind or a secretive ninja assassin?

Dickinson: “I gotta go with behind-the-scenes mastermind, because the ninja assassins work for you, which is a lot safer.” When Scalzi challenged his decision because ninjas are sexier, he responded, “You gotta make the safe decisions, every time. Forgo the sex appeal.”

If you were all for open rebellion, would you rather… be on the front lines fomenting the revolution, or a member of the propaganda core?

Dickinson: “Front lines, no question. The reason is, my responses have become predictable. And if you become predictable, you get beaten.”

Would you rather… overthrow Emperor Palpatine or Ming the Merciless?

Dickinson: “Palpatine. He has an apprenticeship program, and I think that’s a really valuable way to develop the next generation of overlords.” When challenged on his answer, he left us all with some deep thoughts: “If you are given an empire-building apparatus, can you resist the desire to use it? I think that’s the core problem with this whole problem. If you use the tools to dismantle the Empire, you’re still left with Imperial tools.”


Ilana C. Myer (Last Song Before Night)

Last Song Before Night book coverMyer’s book, she explained, is “set in a world where art and magic are intertwined, and the protagonists are poets—a kind of combination of Celtic poets, because that mythology really spoke to me, and troubadours.”

Would you rather… write the music or the lyrics?

Myer: “I have to admit, this is an easy one because I’m a writer, and the lyrics are what I actually wrote in the book. The music is left to your imagination.” She clarified, “I did have a tune in my head, but it’s really just mine, and I’m happy for the reader to do whatever they want with it.”

Would you rather… be the indie cult favorite or the glitzy glam sensation?

Myer: “This is a tough one, because being a glitzy glam sensation would be so good for my ego, but I feel more comfortable somehow being the indie cult favorite. That just feels more appropriate.” When Scalzi pointed out her glittery eyeshadow, Myer conceded, “At heart, I would love to be the glitzy glam sensation.”

Would you rather… write the mighty magical symphony or the perfect three-minute pop song?

Myer: “I don’t understand, how is this a question? The magical symphony just sounds so cool, how can I not go with that?”

Would you rather… co-write a song with B.B. King or Carole King?

Myer: “I think I have to go with B.B. King. I think we’d harmonize better.”


Lawrence M. Schoen (Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard)

Barsk: The Elephants" Graveyard book coverBarsk is about a lot of things,” Schoen said. “Anthropomorphic animals in space, tolerance, talking to the dead, prophecy… but mostly about elephants in space.” A former professor of cognitive psychology, and the founder and director of the Klingon Language Institute, he answered a variety of Would You Rather dilemmas ranging from existential crises about fate to death and pudding.

Would you rather… give sentience to a dog or a cat?

Schoen: “This is very easy. Definitely a dog. I like cats… but dogs are just so much better. Everything about them. I’m losing readers now!” Scalzi had to agree, despite being a self-described cat partisan: “They’re the best things in cat form, but they’re kinda sociopaths. You give them sentience, you’re gonna wake up one night, one of the cats is on your chest staring at you, it’s all over.”

If you could communicate with the dead, would you rather… speak to a famous person or to a relative?

Schoen: “I can’t use relatives who are famous people? I’d go with the famous person. Because I’ve probably already talked to the relatives in life. Which famous person? That’s a little harder. Right now I’d probably go with Milton Erickson, who was the foremost hypnotherapist in America.”

If you could glimpse the future, would you rather… know next year’s stock market numbers of your own fate?

Schoen: “I was gonna say it had to be the second one, because I don’t care about the stock market. But! Knowing the stock market would allow me to manipulate my own fate.” Not surprisingly, none of the authors wanted to know their own fate.

Would you rather… die in chocolate or butterscotch pudding?

Schoen: “Vanilla.” Scalzi: “That’s not an option.” Schoen: “Well, now I’m not gonna die.”

Would you rather… humans exist in the future but we never reach the stars, or that humans perish and hyperintelligent squids become interstellar travelers?

Schoen: “I’m gonna go for the squids, because who doesn’t love space squids? Cephalopods unite!”


Fran Wilde (Updraft)

Updraft Fran WildeHere’s how Wilde described her book: “Updraft is cities of living bone above the clouds, wings, secrets, flying, giant invisible carnivorous tentacled monsters.” Trained as a poet and programmer (“so I qualify for and own the t-shirt of code poet”), she’s now a full-time writer and technology consultant.She’s also fresh off fighting The Mountain to give her book back. During the panel, Wilde answered yes to both answers on most of the questions, cementing her status as class troublemaker. Though when it came to her own questions, she was better able to make up her mind.

Would you rather… fly an F-15 fighter or a hang glider?

Wilde: “Having seen Top Gun, we all know how that comes out. I’ll pick the hang glider.”

Would you rather… be flown to the moon (as in the song) or would you rather fly over the rainbow?

Wilde: “I would pick the rainbow because it goes better with ukuleles, and I’m partial.” Everyone else chose the moon, leaving Wilde alone over the rainbow, to which she declared, “All the gold belongs to me!”

Would you rather… be the hawk or the dove?

Wilde: “I would choose the hawk. I spent a lot of time watching birds fly, writing Updraft. And the hawks are, like many predators, incredibly lazy in their flight: They hold fixed-wing positions, and they soar. Not so for the doves; they’re constantly flying and looking for a place to rest.”

Would you rather… have the round-the-world ticket or a ticket to fly to a long-lost friend you haven’t seen in 20 years?

Wilde: “Evil question. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a big traveler, and I would absolutely pick the friend.”

The Harry Potter Reread: The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 13 and 14

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix cover

The Harry Potter Reread was told that this coffee was lightly sweeten with brown-sugar syrup, and is perplexed to find that this coffee is not sweet at all. Mutiny. On the upside, this coffee is still pretty delicious.

Today we’re going to watch our fifteen-year-old hero suffer through torture and have an unfortunately tense conversation with a fugitive animagus. It’s chapters 13 and 14 of The Order of the Phoenix—Detention With Dolores and Percy and Padfoot.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 13—Detention With Dolores


Harry hears students talking about his little tiff with Umbridge during dinner. It’s so disruptive that Hermione has them leave the Great Hall early, and they trek back to the Gryffindor common room. Once there, Hermione rails against Dumbledore allowing Umbridge to teach them. The trio start in on their homework when Hermione notices that the twins are testing their sweets on first year volunteers. She storms over (Ron refuses to follow along) and tells them that they have to stop. When the twins ask what she plans to do about it, she threatens to tell their mother. Fred and George are appalled. Then Hermione decides to head up to bed, but not before setting some poorly-knitted wool hats down amongst some garbage in the hopes that the house-elves will pick them up, thus freeing themselves. Ron doesn’t think it’s right since she’s hiding the hats, and he clears the rubbish away so they can be seen. He and Harry also head up to bed; Harry walks by Seamus on the way and thinks that the other boy might be about to talk to him, so he speeds past.

The next day, they have double Charms followed by double Transfiguration, where both Flitwick and McGonagall stress the importance of O.W.L.s and how hard they will have to study this year. Then it’s Care of Magical Creatures, which they have with the Slytherins. Professor Grubbly-Plank has some bowtruckles for the kids to look at, and she won’t answer Harry’s question about where Hagrid is. Draco seems to know, however, and intimates so just to annoy Harry. Next up is Herbology, where Harry encounters Luna as she’s leaving with her class. She marches up to Harry with giant radish earrings swinging from her ears and tells him that she believes what he said about Voldemort. Hermione is completely dismissive of her, but Ernie Macmillan also gives a loud vote of confidence once they’re in Herbology, which makes Harry feel a bit better. Professor Sprout, of course, is keen to talk about how important O.W.L.s are.

Harry has detention next, so he heads to the Great Hall to eat dinner quickly. There, he’s confronted by Angelina Johnson, who berates him for landing in detention all week when she’s got their Quidditch tryouts on Friday. She tells him to get out of it. Harry knows there’s not much chance, but figures he’ll try and heads to his detention. Professor Umbridge’s office is a terrifying menagerie of cat plates, lace, and pinkness. He asks Umbridge if she will allow him to serve Friday’s detention on another night, and she takes great pleasure in denying the request. Then she tells Harry he will write lines for her, using a special quill of her own. He is instructed to write the words “I must not tell lies” as many times as it takes for the message to sink in. There is no ink for the quill. What Harry finds instead is that every time he writes the words down, they appear cut into the back of his hand, then heal over. He is writing the words in his own blood again and again. Eventually Umbridge calls him over and examines his hand, but she’s not pleased with the progress–so Harry will have to come back tomorrow.

Harry is having difficulty keeping up with his homework due to the detentions, and Ron seemingly is too, though he won’t explain why. Harry won’t admit to Hermione and Ron what’s going on in his detentions either, perceiving a battle of wills between he and Umbridge, and fearing their reactions. After his second detention, he works long into the night, simply to have something to turn in for his Thursday lessons. His detention that evening leaves the words scratched into the back of his hand. Umbridge seems happy about this, though she insists that he turn up on Friday all the same. On Harry’s way back to the common room, he runs into Ron (who is hiding as the twins pass to test their products away from Hermione’s watchful gaze). Harry asks why Ron has his broom with him and he reluctantly admits that he’s planning to try out for Quidditch Keeper. Harry loves the idea, relieving Ron, who then perceives the cuts on Harry’s hand and asks him what’s going on. Harry explains the detentions, and Ron insists he tell an adult. Harry refuses.

The next day, Harry carefully maneuvers his chair in detention so he can glance up at the Quidditch tryouts every so often. He can’t tell who is Ron, and eventually it gets too dark to see anyway. The words are cut sharply into the back of his hand, and when Umbridge comes over to examine him Harry’s scar starts to hurt him badly. He wonders if perhaps Umbridge is directly responsible, if she’s somehow connected to Voldemort. She dismisses him from detention and he rushes back to the common room only to find out that Ron has been made Keeper.

Angelina takes Harry aside to explain that there were two better options that Ron in the tryout, but one of them has too many after school commitments and the other was a “whiner.” She asks Harry to help whip Ron into shape. Harry finds Hermione by the fireside and tells her what happened with Umbridge–she suggests that he tell Dumbledore about his scar hurting. Harry doesn’t want to hear it, uninterested in talking to the headmaster when he’s clearly been avoiding Harry since June. He wants to write to Sirius, but Hermione reminds him that Moody warned them all not to put much in letters, since they could be intercepted. Hermione asks Harry if he’d like to help her knit more hats for the house-elves (which have been disappearing from the common room like crazy), but Harry declines and heads upstairs to go to sleep.


It’s so satisfying to see Hermione get angry over what’s happening with Umbridge. So similar to McGonagall, really, just any crack in the demeanor becomes exciting.

While I don’t think that Fred and George are doing anything too horrible in testing their products once they’ve already tested them on themselves, I do think they should have insisted on older students for said tests. (My guess is they couldn’t get older students because most of the older Gryffindors know better than to eat anything that the twins hand them.) First years are just too freaking young to make those sorts of decisions. That said, there must actually be a wide community of wizard product testers, same as the Muggle world. Wonder if anyone makes a living that way—it must be a pretty perilous job, all things considered.

Yet again, we find Hermione going about activism in the wrong way; tricking the house-elves into freedom is emphatically doing it wrong. It’s one of those fascinating places where Ron’s instincts are actually correct over Hermione’s rationale–he knows that the duplicity of the tactics are wrong, regardless of their intention or his personal opinions on them. In addition, Hermione isn’t really thinking this through as logically as she believes; if any house-elf who picks up a piece of clothing is automatically free, then these guys would constantly be accidentally freeing themselves by picking up scarves and hats and gloves that students left in their common rooms. It’s likely that Dobby was a special case because he wanted to be free, and was therefore willing to accept a broad interpretation of being “given” clothes. Of course, we’ll get to the house-elf reaction to her ploy later on, but even now it’s plain that this is not the way to go. Also, the irony is lost on her; she started S.P.E.W. because she saw Winky get forcibly freed by Mr. Crouch, and is now technically trying to force the exact same scenario on other house-elves.

So we have more teachers panicking the kids about O.W.L.s, and frankly, it makes me want to go on a long screed about education and lack of effectiveness where testing is concerned, but I’ll save it and just point out that the pressure of this situation would have done me in as a teen. On the other hand, it does lead to one of my favorite McGonagall moments; when she tells her class that she believes they can all do well on their test and Neville responds anxiously, she makes a point of saying that he’s not a bad student, only that he lacks self-confidence. We don’t actually get as many chances to watch McGonagall operate in her classroom, but it’s clear that she is an excellent teacher in most respects; she expects hard work from her students, but she believes in them. And she’s well aware of the fact that Neville’s block in her class (and many other classes) has nothing to do with his true abilities as a wizard. It may seem cruel to point out his low self-esteem in front of other students, but she’s giving him something valuable all the same—out loud assurance in front of his classmates that he is equally capable to any of his peers.

Man, I’d completely (deliberately?) forgotten how nasty Hermione is about Luna at the start of this book. And I get why it makes sense for Hermione to react that way–when it comes to intellectual approach, they could not be more different as people. But it really stings to watch Hermione belittle a) another female student who b) has many of the same issues with people that Hermione has herself. It’s important for Rowling to include because it’s good to be reminded at every turn that even our heroic characters aren’t always going to behave in a heroic manner, but it’s always rough to watch a character that you love be such a jerk. The comment of “you can do better than her” is so belittling, and you just want to grab a megaphone and shout it’s great that you care about house-elves and that you’re aware of sweeping social injustices, but you just spoke about another person like she was an ugly dress at a discount store and you have to do better, Hermione, I believe in you.

It’s not Harry’s finest moment either; he’s glad to have Ernie’s support (no matter how pompously it’s stated) because it’s nice to have people in his corner that the rest of the student body don’t consider crazy. But the politics here are interesting because, up until Umbridge’s coming takeover, the students are basically allowed to declare allegiances openly as they wish—which their families can’t necessarily risk, particularly if they work at the Ministry.

I’d forgotten that Angelina gets kind of just as bad as Oliver Wood being Quidditch captain. I mean… it’s detention, Angelina. It’s not exactly a thing that one bypasses. Especially not in this very special case.

So… let’s talk about that quill, huh?

One thing that struck me is the (perhaps unintentional) connection between Umbridge’s quill and the last magical quill we encountered–Rita’s Skeeter’s Quick-Quotes Quill. Both were created by the women who use them, both women are powerful, ambitious figures. And both quills are used to encourage lies; Skeeter’s quill by omission and alteration of the facts, Umbridge’s by discouraging others from speaking out. In many ways, they are both plays on the idea of “the power of the written word” to harm. One allows the user to affect others by means of persuasion and deception, the other punishes people who would seek to spread the truth by literally weaponizing words.

About Harry’s punishment: I love this part. Obviously I don’t love what happens at all (at all at all at all), but I feel like this should be a highlight in some treatise about how violence is handled in fiction. What Umbridge does to Harry is horrific. It’s horrific because it is a form of torture, but what’s more, it’s a creative form of torture that Harry is forced to self-inflict. Rowling has made a point of stating that the scar left by the quill is permanent, making Umbridge the only other person to leave a lasting physical mark on Harry (the other being his lightning-bolt scar). That information could not make it more clear how relevant this passage is to the series as a whole. Dolores Umbridge is the only other being who ever had enough power at her disposal to damage Harry; the stakes have changed.

The one place that Harry still deemed safe is now a place where he can be maimed and humiliated on a level he never anticipated. Previous encounters at the end of the school year aside, Hogwarts was still where he felt most comfortable. It’s important that his newly minted discomfort is taken from the emotional and mental realm (rumors among the student body, the Prophet‘s lies) and shoved into the physical one. No part of Harry is safe anymore. This is made even more clear when Umbridge breaches his personal space at the end of every detention and touches him, prodding at his skin to make sure the mark sinks in. (I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable it makes me, that part is far worse than the quill every time I read it.) It’s made clear in Harry’s impulse to break into a run once he’s far enough away from Umbridge’s office that she won’t hear his footfalls. Every person who whines about the fact that this is unrealistic, that Harry should have told an adult is missing the damn point. This is a form of assault and it’s deeply personal to Harry. Of course he doesn’t want to tell anyone about it, of course he feels obligated to battle it out on his own terms.

And this manner of punishment is extremely relevant to the conversation of how violence is portrayed in fiction. With the shift toward the popularity of “grimdark” fantasy, there’s an argument that extreme violence is needed to make points in certain narratives, to create character development. I’m not going to claim that extreme violence is always out of place in fiction, but look at this. Really pick this chapter apart. On the surface, it seems so simple, so small. It isn’t dismemberment or flogging or burning alive. It isn’t rape. And yet it bears many of the aftereffects that go with such extreme violence. Because we’re human, we’re fragile. An intelligent person with terrible motives will know how to exploit that without visibly destroying someone. That is what makes Umbridge potentially the most frightening of any Potter series villain. Her methods are calculated and she has the stomach for it.

It’s such a relief when Ron notices Harry’s hand because keeping it hidden creates the greatest possibility of longterm effects, but it’s also so important that Ron respects Harry’s wishes to keep it to himself, even as he advises him to go tell an adult. Had Umbridge’s actions continued, some form of intervention would have been necessary, but when it comes to the revelation, Harry receives precisely what he needs from Ron; the ability to unburden himself and know that the person he told would be on his side. It’s sad that the two of them are keeping secrets this chapter–Harry about Umbridge, Ron about trying out for Quidditch—yet that more than anything proves that they’re teenagers. At this age, we tend to guard ourselves furiously, even from our friends. But their reactions to each other’s secrets ultimately help to strengthen their bond because they’re reminded that they can and should confide in each other.

I’m frankly amazed that Ron manages a halfway decent Quidditch tryout with Fred and George looking on. While this may seem trivial in light of what Harry’s going through, I’d argue exactly the opposite—it’s a clear parallel between Harry and Ron, both fighting to find some kind of normalcy and legitimacy in the wake of so much change. But we’ll get to that more in the following chapter.

Hermione advises Harry to tell Dumbledore about the scar hurting when Umbridge touches him in his final detention (again, no, she just should not ever be allowed to do that, break a kitty plate over her head, Harry), then suggests that Harry help her make house-elf hats. And, you know, Hermione… priorities. I get that you’re on a crusade, but your friend is being tortured by a professor. He might not be so excited to take up magical knitting just now.

Chapter 14–Percy and Padfoot


Harry wakes up before everyone else and takes great pains to pen a letter to Sirius that doesn’t give anything away. Once he’s satisfied, he heads up to the Owlery and sends the letter off with Hedwig. Looking out onto the grounds, he sees a thestral fly up into the sky. Cho arrives at the Owlery with a birthday present for her mother, and Harry tries to strike up conversation. He tells her that Ron is the new Gryffindor Keeper (which is less impressive to her), and when he mentions being in detention during the tryouts, Cho tells him that she thinks Umbridge is terrible and that Harry was brave for standing up to her. Harry is all aflutter when Filch bursts in, insisting that Harry is placing a giant order for Dungbombs and demanding to see the order form. Harry informs him that he already sent it, which Cho confirms on his behalf. Filch is livid, but skulks off, leaving Harry and Cho and wonder why Filch thought he was placing an order for Dungbombs in the first place. They part ways, leaving Harry in a considerably better mood.

Ron asks Harry to give him some extra Quidditch practice before their official one, though Hermione warns them both against it, and tries to get them focused on homework. The Daily Prophet that morning contains news that Sirius is hiding in London (confirming that Lucius Malfoy recognized Sirius in animagus form on the train platform) and an article about Sturgis Podmore being arrested and sent to Azkaban for trying to break into the Department of Mysteries at one in the morning. Ron reckons that someone in the Ministry was trying to frame him after figuring out that he was one of Dumbledore’s. They head out to the pitch, and Harry finds that Ron is pretty good at Quidditch–also that he gets better with practice.

They eat lunch then head back for the official practice, where the Slytherin team and their pals are waiting to give them a hard time. Harry tells Ron to ignore them, but the practice goes particularly awful, with Ron accidentally giving Katie a bloody nose when he throws the Quaffle her way and the twins giving her the wrong Skiving Snackbox (intending to give her the half that would cure the Nosebleed Nougat), causing her to lose a frightful amount of blood. When they arrive back at the common room, Hermione tries to console Ron about the practice, but due to some unfortunate wording just makes things worse. Harry and Ron spend the rest of the weekend neck deep in homework. Percy’s owl suddenly arrives out of nowhere with a letter for Ron, which the trio read immediately. It turns out to be a letter that congratulates Ron on becoming a prefect, suggests that he sever all ties with Harry (for the sake of his future), and points out that changes are coming to Hogwarts via Umbridge. Percy insists that their parents are deeply mistaken about the kind of company Dumbledore keeps and that he (and Ron) would do well to steer clear of it. Harry tries to make light of the letter, while Hermione finally agrees to look over and correct their essays.

Later that evening, Harry realizes that he is seeing Sirius in the fire–his godfather has been popping in and out every hour to try and make contact with them. Hermione insists that’s dangerous, but he doesn’t seem to care much. He wants to talk to Harry about his letter; he doesn’t think that Umbridge has anything to do with Voldemort, no matter how awful she is. He tells them that she has a horrible fear of “half-breeds” and about the werewolf legislation she created that’s made it so hard for Remus to work. He’s been stuck at Order HQ with Kreacher alone for a long while, and it’s clearly getting to him. He assures them that Hagrid is likely fine, just got separated from Madam Maxime. Also, they shouldn’t bring it up because Dumbledore doesn’t want anyone wise to Hagrid’s absence. The Ministry interference at Hogwarts is occurring because Fudge is convinced that Dumbledore is using the school to build an army that can challenge the Ministry and take power.

Sirius suggests that he could come to Hogsmeade as Snuffles on their next visit, which the kids ardently oppose, explaining that they’re worried the secret might be out on his animagus form. He’s visibly upset by their lack of enthusiasm, telling Harry that his father would have enjoyed the gambit for the risk. Then he swiftly ends the conversation and disappears.


Harry’s little run-in with Cho is very sweet with the added bonus of his internal monologue over how lame it is to mention the weather when you’re trying to be cool in front of a lady. (It’s okay, sweetie, you’re doing a good job.) Then we get an unwelcome cameo by Filch, which turns welcome when we see Cho defend Harry from what would have presumably been a very uncomfortable strip search because what the heck else was Filch going to do to try and find that order form on Harry’s person. Stop, Filch. Please stop.

Now that Ron and Harry are being better about confiding in each other, Ron asks Harry to help with Quidditch practice, which saves Harry the trouble of having to figure out a way to broach the idea of extra practice time on his own (per Angelina’s request). Tellingly, Ron does well working with Harry, and notably improves with time. Which is basically Ron as a person, distilled down into a Quidditch practice. But then they have the real team practice and the Slytherins show up to be jerks and there goes all Ron’s hard work down the tubes because self-esteem. The twins are markedly unhelpful in giving Ron a leg up here (it’s nice that they don’t tear him down, but a vote of confidence would be nicer), and frankly the abrupt end of practice is ALL THEIR FAULT, so maybe they should just keep their mouths shut about who is worse for the Quidditch team and sort their sweets better, hmm?

Also, Pansy Parkinson makes a delightfully racist comment to Angelina Johnson about her hair looking like “worms” (because it’s braided), and by “delightful” I mean I’m gonna throw up, Pansy is worst, 1000 points from Slytherin, it’s bad enough that you’re wizard racist but you just had to take it further, go home.

Ron gets Percy’s letter and there’s just something about Percy’s lack of self-awareness that is boggling. Like, he somehow assumes that because Ron is a prefect they have things in common now, even though Charlie and Bill both were prefects too, and could not be more different from Percy. It’s possible that there’s a part of Percy (however small) that misses his family, and this letter to Ron is his attempt to reach out and get some of it back, but there are several disgusting passive-aggressive tactics in there that just make my skin crawl. It also makes all the bad press feel more real to Harry, which is completely understandable. It’s one thing to hear it on your periphery, another to hear it from someone who is a member of your surrogate family (even if Percy has disowned said family at the time being). Both Harry and Hermione are excellent friends in this moment, Harry trying to make light of it in the most endearing possible way:

“Well,” he said, trying to sound as though he found the whole thing a joke, “if you want to—er—what is it?” (He checked Percy’s letter.) “Oh yeah — ‘sever ties’ with me, I swear I won’t get violent.”

Hermione offers to finally help the boys with their homework (she helps Ron a lot), and while I understand that this rubs a lot of people the wrong way, it really doesn’t bother me. Ron is going through some serious emotional trauma right now in his family. The fact that it doesn’t seem to be affecting him much on the surface means nothing because Ron is very guarded about his emotions; he prefers to pretend that he can laugh everything off. Hermione recognizes that this is something that is continuing to wound him and offers to help in the way only she can–by mitigating some of the effect that this will have on Ron’s academic career. And before anyone says “he still should have done his homework instead of practicing Quidditch!”, I want to point out that trying out for the Quidditch team is not just for fun. It’s a coping tactic. It’s Ron’s attempt to build some self-esteem and draw himself up. If you think that’s not the case, allow me to give a very long speech about how extra-circular activities are often used for therapeutic purposes, which is why stripping those privileges from kids who do poorly in school is often the worst thing you can do. (Pretend speech went here, it would be very long and vehement and stuff.)

I’m also noticing this time around that Hermione seems a lot more attuned to Ron’s emotions than Harry’s… she can tell when Ron is in genuine distress, but has a harder time parsing out when Harry is having a rough time. And that makes sense, given which one she’s harboring some romantic inclinations toward. Harry is perhaps harder to read, of course, but Hermione’s tenderness (for lack of a better way of putting it) is often directed entirely at Ron–she pointedly only offers to help both of them with their work following Ron’s distress, so he’s the catalyst.

Then we have the trio’s fireside chat with Sirius, which is helpful, but also just plain sad on a number of levels. The deterioration is so clear, from his recklessness in making contact in the first place to his comments about being stuck alone in the house with Kreacher. He does offer a kernel of information which will propel the rest of the book forward, the acknowledgement that the Ministry is concerned that Dumbledore is building a student army within the walls of Hogwarts. What an idea, huh….

Sirius’ mental state can be basically paired down to two comments within this conversation. The first is one of my favorite points made to Harry in the whole series, a truly important kernel of wisdom that all children need to adjust for:

“I know her by reputation and I’m sure she’s no Death Eater—”

“She’s foul enough to be one,” said Harry darkly and Ron and Hermione nodded vigorously in agreement.

“Yes, but the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters,” said Sirius with a wry smile.

And then we have his parting shot:

“You’re less like your father than I thought,” he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. “The risk would’ve been what made it fun for James.”

Oh, Sirius. This is not school anymore for you, this is the life that comes after. This is not the first war you fought with your adult best friend, this is his teenaged son. And both of these facts are lost on him, on a man who moments beforehand displayed such a level head and shrewd understanding of people. The moments where Sirius contradicts his own adulthood and experience are the places where you see the cracks in his psyche. His fate is spelled out right here, in these conversations. I really hate experiencing it all over again.

But, you know, we’ve got other things to worry about. The kind that Percy was so-unsubtly alluding to.

Emily Asher-Perrin is trying really hard not to think about that damn quill. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.