In the third part of The Voyage of the Basilisk, Isabella ends up in some curious company. But has she found a kindred spirit?
A few unexpected things happened in this part of the book, and it’s left me with a lot to think – and talk – about!
First, the Basilisk is run aground off-course after a storm, and so Isabella and company end up spending time in Keonga, on an island that’s part of a chain of them run by various chiefs, under a king. (If my understanding is correct.) They’re offered hospitality, and what aid the local customs will allow, but one of the conditions of their stay is that they may not leave the island until the ship is repaired and they’re ready to leave for good – and once they’ve done so, they may not return.
Suspicious? Yes. Yes, it is.
Isabella then does her best to explain her purpose on the voyage to the locals, which leads to the revelation that she’s currently unmarried and thus not beholden to anyone. This rings alarm bells and leads to Isabella having to submit herself to a rather sneaky means of getting around this taboo safely, because otherwise she’ll be stuck on a faraway island and unable to conduct her research. And there are fire-lizards on these islands! WHAT TO DO.
… What to do is, apparently, to get married for convenience’s sake to one of the island’s young people. But here’s where it gets interesting/kind of hilarious/a bit thought-provoking. Isabella’s social status, such as it is, might be shocking to them, but it isn’t exactly unheard of. They believe her to be ke’anaka’i, which apparently translates to “dragon-spirited” – put very bluntly, they think Isabella (or at least her soul) is inhuman.
My first instinct had been to assume that “dragon-spirited” was her way of saying that I had a strong interest in the creatures. This, however, sounded rather more literal. “Do you think I am,” I began, and then foundered on my lack of vocabulary. I could not think of a way to say “possessed”.
Heali’i nodded, grinning from ear to ear. Because I had not finished my sentence, however, what she was agreeing to was not what I had meant. She took my head in her hands and brought us together so that our foreheads and noses touched, then inhaled deeply, as if taking in my scent. “I felt it in you,” she said, still with her head against mine. “I, too, am not human.”
Now there’s a bit more to this to unpack, and it’s getting away from the marriage issue a bit, but I wanted to get my thoughts about it down, because Heali’i is revealed in this scene to be of non-binary gender. We know by now that this isn’t the case with Isabella, so I doubt that Brennan is implying that “non-binary” is synonymous with ke’anaka’i, but nonetheless that connotation is there, and it’s fairly easy to pick up on whether it was intended or not. Now this issue isn’t personal to me any more than it is to Isabella, but I’m not sure it’s entirely tactful to fold a connotation like this into one’s worldbuilding…?
To be fair, though, this situation is a rather complex and definitely nuanced one, which is why it’s provoking thought instead of outrage or offense, at least for me. People like Heali’i are ‘labeled’ somewhat matter-of-factly by Puian society, but they aren’t outcast for their natures. They’re accepted, generally speaking, and left to their own devices – they are even allowed to marry and conduct their lives as they please, though from Heali’i’s example it seems they tend to live rather solitary lives, even within their tribes. This would also appear to be the attitude that permits Isabella to get around the taboo regarding her unmarried status – to them, Isabella is ke’anaka’i, and since to their mind she presents herself as a man (her choice of clothing, and the fact that she keeps unchaperoned company with other men), what she must do while the crew of the Basilisk is stuck on Keonga is take a wife among their people.
Yep. Isabella’s getting married again, and this actually confirms something I’d wondered about ever since Narrator Isabella’s hints that her various states of married life were unconventional first began – it isn’t just husbands she’s had in her lifetime. Now I know that she’s straight (sexual preference is, thankfully, not a factor here) and that this particular marriage is one of necessity, at least among Puians – and the blunt and laid-back attitude of her prospective wife, especially, is a delight to read – but it still tickles me that Isabella has to play husband during this leg of her voyage. I’m intrigued to see what lessons she might learn from all this!
I’m also intrigued to see what it might mean for her ‘friendship’ (ahem) with Suhail. He takes the news of her marriage gracefully, all told, but there’s definitely a sense that it’s also given Suhail much to think about. Particularly given that his questions involve Isabella’s own gender status, as it relates to being ke’anaka’i. As already noted, she is given to question the state of her soul rather than any physical aspect of such an identity – Isabella herself has wondered more than once if there isn’t something draconic in her spirit, if not her DNA. But I think it’s telling that Suhail chooses to ask (tactfully!) about her sense of her own identity, when the subject of marriage comes up. What will this mean for my new favourite ship? Who knows! But I hope it means good things. Suhail never indicates anger or revulsion, or anything like it, so hopefully all is still well between them.
And then there’s that Part 3 ending. SWIMMING WITH SEA SERPENTS. And OH NO THERE’S A CAVE WHERE IS IT TAKING THEM?!
Damn it, Brennan.
Is it Sunday yet?