Chapter seven was included in last week’s reread, but I’m looping back to it this week because it’s the point where Talia begins to take a more active role in events around her. And because it’s interesting. Between chapters 7 and 10, the backstory about the Queen’s inability to fire her nanny comes into the foreground.
As you may recall, Talia has been thrown in a river and nearly drowned, and she’s been fished out of the river and gotten to see the inside of the boys’ bathroom as treatment for hypothermia, and her friends have been acting as her bodyguards. Talia feels much less insecure because isn’t alone, so now she can start work on the major project she needs to take care of, which is firing Hulda, Elspeth’s nanny.
Since Talia has friends now, they can tell her everything that wasn’t revealed about Hulda before we learned how the boys’ bathroom is different from the girls’. Talia’s adult friends fill her in on how Selenay’s husband, the prince, got involved in an assassination plot against the Queen to try to take power for himself and got killed. And then, after he died, his nanny from when he was a kid showed up, and rather than saying something like “Wow, bad timing” the queen gave her a job. Which she still has.
Talia starts offering the queen supportive advice on a variety of problems in this section, but none of that advice is “Sometimes you just need to fire people.” Talia’s approach to the nanny problem is Skif. In case you’ve forgotten, he’s a former thief and current Herald Trainee with a penchant for mild juvenile delinquency. He’s dreamy. He climbs walls and follows Hulda around, which is both informative and adventurous.
Even though everyone knows she’s a bad nanny, Hulda isn’t fired until Skif and Talia scale the Palace walls in the dark of night and overhear her talking to someone mysterious about her plan to continue being a bad nanny so that Elspeth will never be Chosen. And then, suddenly, Hulda is fired.
Actually, she would be fired, but instead she flees the country, which I guess looks better on a resume.
Despite the revelations of a dastardly plot to prevent Elspeth from taking the throne, Valdemar remains committed to never protecting anyone from assassination. It’s like bodyguards are against the state religion they don’t have. So when we meet Elspeth for the second time, she’s in the palace gardens all by herself. Which I’m sure is fine. No one important has been nearly killed there for over a month.
Elspeth is a pretty unpleasant person at this point, a not-very-surprising result of being neglected by her mother and abused by her nanny. Talia takes on the massive undertaking of reforming her, and through the magic of consistency, caring, and (possibly) Talia’s apparent-but-yet-unidentified psychic Gift, achieves striking results with lightning speed. With Elspeth’s improving behavior now providing the action, what has moved in to the backstory?
Talia’s emerging gifts make her aware of the lifebond between Keren, one of Talia’s teachers, and Ylsa. Lifebonds are the best kind of love Valdemar has to offer—It’s not a relationship that can be formed voluntarily. Most people never experience anything like it. Keren and Ylsa are the first lifebonded couple Talia actually meets. Keren asks if she’s disturbed that they’re lesbian.
Since the beginning of this story, it’s been made clear that, by Valdemaran standards, Talia has spent her first 13 years living under a rock. She didn’t know that Companions chose Heralds. She didn’t know how to defend herself. We shared her first thoughts on the insulation of the Palace’s ovens, and her sense of awe and wonder at its hot-water heaters. But Talia is absolutely not disturbed that her friends are lesbians. She knew lots of lesbians.
Lackey sometimes spends time on unbelievably trivial details. Her advocacy for her chosen causes sometimes crosses a line into the utterly ridiculous. But this is where I appreciate her convictions. Lackey has drawn these characters as warm, caring, ordinary people. And in 1987, that was a really big deal.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.