In the third part of Crucible of Gold … I don’t know what to make of any of this.
This review covers chapters 9-12, and will contain major spoilers.
Content note: for discussion of queerbaiting.
OK, so. This is going to be less the usual recap/review than a criticism, because this book went very suddenly to a place I had not expected its canon to go. And the ways in which it went there did not please me.
To sum it quickly up, the team is granted an audience with the Empress and sent on their way. Once there, they find out she’ll only speak with Iskerkia, given that her reputation now precedes her thanks to the duel. Iskerkia’s happy, Hammond is not. Everyone else is concerned, and rightly so – Iskerkia is not known for her diplomacy. After a lot of impatient hand-wringing over the urgent need to out-politic Napoleon and cut him off from an alliance with the Incas, the news emerges that Iskerkia’s done the deed, and all it’ll cost is marrying Granby off to the Empress.
Naturally nobody is happy about this (except Iskerkia because she gets a temple full of treasure out of the deal), least of all Granby. The problem for me arose when he cornered Laurence in private to explain why he’s not happy, and ended up confiding to him that he’s gay.
Guys. This SHOULD have been a dream come true, and I will admit that for a precious few minutes (in which I had to stop reading and just sit and let this sink in) it was. If you’ve followed these reviews or the livetweeting, or both, then you’re probably well aware of how dearly I (and my co-reading friends) have cherished our Will/Granby ship. This should have been (could have been, damn it) a moment for nothing but wide-eyed WE HAVE A CANON GAY CHARACTER delight.
Then this happened.
“Laurence,” Granby cried, with a look of reproach, “I should not have said a word to you of any of this, if I had been set on fire and dragged by wild horses, except that I hadn’t the least notion how to get out of the thing without help; and now you are as much as telling me you think I ought to go through with it.”
…In truth, he could not claim Granby’s confession had successfully overcome his uncomfortable consciousness of the advantages of the match – or more to the point the deadly disadvantages of the alternative. It only increased in great measure the pitiability of Granby’s situation, without making Laurence able to feel in earnest that it was not Granby’s duty to allow the arrangement to go forward, if it might be achieved.
To be fair here, Will isn’t the only one who takes the side of “better to agree” over showing any sort of real moral support for what Granby’s struggling with. Hammond, who is now officially the world’s worst diplomat and a despicable man to boot, is shown in no uncertain terms to be in selfish favour of throwing Granby to the political wolves for a feather in his cap. Iskerkia may not care one way or another about Granby’s sexuality, but again, it’s made painfully clear when he appeals to her that she cares more for the treasure she’ll inherit if he marries the Empress than she does about being considerate of someone else’s feelings – even her Captain’s.
Hammond I could not give a flying fuck about, at this point. Iskerkia can piss right off as well; I’m done with her, after this. But it’s Will’s reaction that breaks my heart. His reaction to this is by far not the worst that it could have been, but I am sorely disappointed in him all the same. No one, not even Granby, is denying that the match has its advantages. That isn’t what Granby wanted confirmation of when he came to him. Granby wanted the reassurance that somebody else might NOT think this marriage is a good idea BECAUSE GRANBY IS GAY.
So instead of getting a scene that deepened and reaffirmed the friendship between these two men, if nothing else, we get the one character development bombshell I’ve been wishing for … and it’s used against Granby in a moment that seemed perfectly timed to achieve the opposite. Of all the ways this could have gone, this is the worst way.
And it makes absolutely no sense to me. Granby was objecting to the engagement before he ever made this confession to Will, and it’s clearly changed nothing about the political situation, never mind between Granby and Laurence, personally. Now to be fair, this could still change the landscape of their friendship – just not for the better, and whether or not it will remains to be seen. But I’ve got the awful feeling that at this point in the book, no such difference is going to be made. And it should be. Because otherwise John Granby has been outed as gay for absolutely no reason other than to oppress him among his closest friends, and from a reader perspective, to queerbait Novik’s fans.
That last point is the one that hurts the most. The Will/Granby shipping that’s been going on throughout this series reading, for me and the others reading along with me, was not conjured up out of nothing. I’ve always, always, felt that there were enough sly little author-to-reader nods and teasing references to keep that spark alive. It’s always felt as though Novik understood exactly what we’d make of them, and was encouraging it. Then to come to this point and have it play out this way – it’s going to sound dramatic, but it feels like being stabbed in the back.
And it doesn’t make any sense. Why out Granby at all if this is all that Novik intended to do with the development? And given how chapter twelve ends – with Lien turning up out of the blue, flying French flags – it’s looking worryingly likely that this particular subplot might get swept back under the rug in order to handle the main plot. I hope it doesn’t, and I’ll read on to find that out (we’re finishing the book this weekend), but …
But. Right now, I just can’t say with any confidence that this will be handled in a way that will smooth things over. And that kills me, because this could have been a twist to sing and dance about. IT COULD HAVE BEEN AMAZING. Instead, I’m left debating with myself over whether or not I want to continue with the series after this.
I have always been here for this series premise. I’ve always been here for that ship. I am not here to be baited like this. If this turn of events isn’t dealt with more respectfully, or God forbid if it’s forgotten entirely in all the rest of the drama, then I hate to say it but I might be done with it all.