In this review for A Conjuring of Light (as the title might suggest), I HAVE SO MANY HOLLAND RELATED FEELINGS. Let me tell you about them.
This review will cover Parts 4 to 9, after I missed last week’s review window (apologies!) and will contain spoilers.
So we’ve come as far as the Ferase Stras, and while I’m excited to see what trouble’s afoot and who causes it, I need to spend some time right now talking about Holland, who has completely sidetracked all my feelings for this book lately.
First off, I’m not entirely sure what sort of character type to call him. He’s not a hero, but he’s not quite a villain anymore either. He was an antagonist, and sort of still is, but now he’s on the White Hat team…? He is certainly not just an innocent victim, but at the same time he’s been pretty thoroughly victimised.
Complicated. Holland is complicated as hell, not to mention painfully broken – sometimes by others, and sometimes by his own choices. By those measurements, he is by far the most interesting character this story has produced, and what is most interesting about him is that, compared to the others, he hasn’t really changed much from his first appearance back in A Darker Shade of Magic, to now. The others all have their own motives and stories too, but as you would expect, their adventures and their interactions with each other, their growing relationships, are changing them in some way or another. With Holland, the opposite is true. There doesn’t appear to be any redemption arc here for this particular antagonist, and that’s what’s truly intriguing about what Ms. Schwab appears to be doing with him. Holland has gained agency now that he didn’t have before the deaths of Athos and Astrid Dane, and circumstances have driven him to work with Kell and Lila instead of against them – but Holland himself, as a person with his own issues, beliefs and goals, hasn’t changed. Those issues haven’t changed, though they are being explored in more depth, and that’s what fascinates me so much.
It shouldn’t be possible for a character who doesn’t change to continue to be so interesting, but with Holland, Schwab pulls it off, and then some. The path that Holland has set himself on now probably isn’t going to lead to redemption, because Holland has no interest in it. He doesn’t have a care for saving himself; he only wants to save White London. This is what has driven him to make the decisions he’s made, since becoming capable of making them. But Holland was broken long before he got to this point, and it is damned difficult to put someone as broken as he is back together again. It certainly doesn’t happen in the time we’ve spent with him so far, and given how much of this book is left, I don’t think it’s going to happen before the end either. That breaks my heart, but it doesn’t put me off either. We may not be getting the usual character arc where he’s concerned, but nonetheless I am here for it.
Instead of a villain-turns-hero story, what we’re getting with Holland is an examination of what happens to someone who has, until now, lived like an abused animal – and now, suddenly, is facing the kind of life where he doesn’t have to be that way anymore. The most obvious response is basically the one we’ve gotten – he has no idea how to deal with it. The Holland we see now is deeply distrusting of any sort of act of … not kindness, I suppose, because none of the others like him enough to really show him kindness. But they are showing leniency, to a point, and this is what Holland doesn’t trust. It results in some of the most engaging and fascinating interactions he has being with Lila Bard, because of all of them, Lila trusts Holland the least, and has absolutely no problem with making this clear. She would rather stick a knife in him and have done with it, but what I suspect Lila wasn’t ready for was the fact that Holland is entirely unmoved by that threat. He doesn’t regret the actions that led Lila to despise him so much, and he isn’t sorry that she hates him because everybody hates him. This is the way Holland’s world works; he is down, and everyone kicks him anyway. He’s been there and done that, and it’s not an obstacle to his goal, so of course Lila’s snarling and threats don’t move him at all. Why would they?
And that, in turn, is possibly baffling to Lila, whose method of survival so far has been to talk herself into a mindset in which she is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Fake it till you make it, and she’s starting to make it – especially now, post-Essen Tasch. Lila’s had to be threatening enough to give others pause because no one else has ever come to her defense before. This approach to life being the double-edged sword that it is, though, she’s left a bit flatfooted when Holland doesn’t respond to her open hatred of him the way she expects. It honestly does not matter to Holland that Lila wants to hurt him, and I want this to make her see that she needs to have different cards to play sometimes.
TRY EMPATHY, LILA, IT’LL ONLY HURT FOR A MINUTE.
I mean, I don’t think Holland would bother attacking Lila without cause – we’ve already seen that he will in fact help her, even if only out of necessity – but this is what the world has made of Lila’s viewpoint. Those who have seen her as smaller or weaker than them have tried to use force to get what they want out of her. Why should Holland, who is clearly so powerful that her threats don’t even rattle his cage, be any different?
These two characters, and the ways in which they each highlight and reinforce the other’s strengths and weaknesses – without ever even coming to blows, I mean all we’ve really had for a while now is dialogue between them – are what really make this story special for me. It works for the rest of the cast, as well – this emphasis on relationships, personal flaws, emotional damage, internal conflict … it’s making something really special out of a story that would otherwise simply be trope-filled popcorn entertainment.
I mean, it still is. Don’t get me wrong; it’s scoring those points too, and I don’t begrudge it for a moment. But this whole story is going to stick with me for a long time after I finish, and it’s all because of this ragtag messed up bunch of fictional heartbreakers.
Seriously. My heart. I don’t know how I can keep taking this, but I can’t quit now and I am totally going to buy the paperbacks when I’m done reading so I can actually finally HUG THEM.
Hugs may not be enough for Holland at this point, but damn it, they’ve been earned regardless.