In the second part of Crucible of Gold, things get hairy as Laurence and company are forcibly marooned and have to figure out how to save themselves. Then things get hairier when Iskerkia is left unsupervised…
This review is brought to you by a lot of God Damn It Iskerkia.
Last week I got to welcome the return of this series’ winning formula, after the mostly inexplicable dip it took with Tongues of Serpents. This week, things are escalating quickly – perhaps more quickly than ever? Given that we have about two and a half books left in the series, that makes a kind of sense. It’s laid a lot of groundwork, and now it’s got less page time to resolve it all in. All hands on deck!
After being somewhat callously dumped on a tiny island by their French ‘rescuers’ in order to prevent strategic information about their comings and goings being handed to British agents, Will and company have to figure out a way to get themselves to safety and back on course to carry out their own mission before that ship returns for them. And, to complicate matters, they have to first survive an attempt by mutinous ex-convicts suffering alcohol withdrawal to ‘overthrow’ them. It all gets a bit Lord of the Flies, and the sheer intensity of the ugly attack on Team Laurence – in which even Emily Roland, bless her fearless heart, takes a beating and Demane is almost thrown on a fire only to be saved by a furious Kulingile – was impressive enough that I had to take a break from reading and make myself a cup of tea to recover.
But despite this harrowing pit stop, the story is soon back on track, and in glorious fashion – this time around we’re visiting the land of the Incas and getting a wonderful faceful of their culture, and it is not at all what anybody expected. Once again, Will’s (relatively mild) prejudices get a bit of an airing, though interestingly (thankfully) he is, at this point, having far less trouble taking the perspectives and beliefs of others in stride.
Good thing too, because they might be in a far more interesting predicament than ever, but that predicament is still pretty real. Thanks to Iskerkia’s infuriating lack of patience, forethought and subtlety, it doesn’t take long before a potential diplomatic incident is caused. Short version: lacking any maps of the area, she essentially kidnaps a solitary old man, sparing absolutely no thought for whether or not this was right, wise or even bloody polite. It all makes sense in Iskerkia’s mind, though, so hang everything else. *Sigh*
Of course this treads on some legal toes as well as upon the toes of propriety – Iskerkia has in fact committed a theft, given that the old man ‘belongs’ to someone else. Despite his natural inclination to disagree on the moral aspects of the matter (whether or not the old man has the right to say what ought to be done with him), Laurence must and eventually does bow to the Incan laws and customs, and Iskerkia finds herself having to face one of the local dragons in a duel.
INCA DRAGONS HAVE FEATHERS AND BRIGHT GLORIOUS COLOURING, YOU GUYS. THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL AND I WANT TO PET ONE very carefully because I bet those feathers are still pretty sharp.
Oh, and in an absolutely delightful inversion of ‘norms’ and of everybody’s expectations, the Governor that they have to work this whole incident out with is a dragon. A DRAGON.
(I need Governor Hualpa fan art and I need it now.)
While Will is gobsmacked over having to deal in such a way with dragons directly for once, I am personally gobsmacked over how absolutely amazing and overdue this development is. They’ve landed in a place where DRAGONS GOVERN THEMSELVES oh, and they technically own humans and not the other way around. There are some intricate cultural technicalities that take a lot of the distasteful slavery connotations that we’re used to out of the equation; owned humans are not treated as slaves but rather as family members, of a sort. The old man whom Iskerkia snatched was nonetheless not free to decide where he ought to be, so there’s no question of simply releasing him or of taking him somewhere else he’d like to be. They’ve inadvertently made a claim to him in the eyes of the local law, and since Iskerkia is the one who committed the theft, she’s the one who must answer for it.
Iskerkia must learn a lesson … by getting into a fight.
Yeah, only one of those things is actually going to happen, isn’t it.
Guys, I am just about completely done with Iskerkia. Her temperament and her attitude were a source of delightful amusement when she was fresh out of the shell and still a dragonet with everything to learn, but enough time has passed that her stubborn refusal to ever admit she’s wrong, or to learn that fighting and hoarding are not the most important things in life, are really starting to grate on my nerves. I’m down to my last one by the time she has to face the consequences of her rash actions here, and when she starts to show off during a duel that might well decide the fate of everybody else in her company? Yeah. I am done. By this point I hope something does happen to finally drive the point home that she needs to start checking herself, but it’s just too likely to be driven home by way of bad things happening to somebody else and I am not here for that.
I am, however, absolutely here for Will Laurence taking the lessons that this particular draconian culture has to teach him and letting them sink in, taking them with him wherever he ends up going next and just maybe, finally making good on some of the early promise of this series, with regards to dragon emancipation. By now he has little to no excuse for not knowing damned well that the way the British government treats their dragons is inexcusable, and now he has ample evidence that legally freeing them will not mean the end of the world.
I’m not sure I would advocate letting all dragons everywhere claim power over people, though. One look at Lien is enough proof that dragonkind is as flawed as humanity in many ways. But their time spent among the Inca dragons is bound to be a big, brightly coloured eye-opener, right? There are other ways of doing things that might benefit EVERYONE.
But first they’ve got to finally end this pesky war with Napoleon, so whatever happens next here, I doubt they’ll be staying put for long. But with more seeds of this moral lesson planted, I’ve got fresh hope for bigger changes coming.
If Iskerkia will just stop fucking everything up and start acting like the grown dragon she is.