16 – 45

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“Miss Juniper! A moment, if you would?”

Juniper sighed and came to a stop. She’d barely made it into the alley. Ahead of her, the three Purists stopped also, clustering together like frightened sheep, a habit which in her opinion revealed a lot about their character when they didn’t have swords and a lot of backup; in any case, Sniff immediately circled around in front of them to bar their escape while the dryad turned to deal with whatever this fresh nuisance was.

She recognized the woman who approached from the broken gates, wearing a kind smile and a clearly expensive fur-trimmed winter gown. Also, she recognized the four younger people who had taken up a formation around their leader and were all staring at Juniper with much more visible unease. Or at least, one of them.

“Rasha,” she said, pointing at the young woman in question. “Which would make you… Glory, right? And Trissiny’s other friends.”

“Yep, that’s us,” said the only male in the group. “Trissiny’s other friends, that’s our identity.” The two other girls aside from Rasha both smacked him in the chest.

Juniper ignored that byplay, focusing on Glory, who had one of the most interesting scents she’d encountered on a human. Her sexuality was something avid, even fierce, and remarkably unconstrained; she didn’t seem to have an orientation so much as a hunger for new experiences. And yet, it was a controlled ferocity, smoothly integrated into the rest of her personality and harmonious in expression. It was strange. Most humans who smelled of that kind of sexual fervor were deviants of some sort, but this woman had firm self-control and a seemingly perfect serenity in her carnality. Actually, she smelled rather like an Izarite, except more… For once, Juniper found herself at a loss to define the extra element she was sensing. It was rather inspiring, really; she had long been of the opinion that humans in general needed to be more in touch with their sexual natures and less hung up about it.

The dryad couldn’t help feeling a bit sad at the awareness that what she was sensing meant this woman was probably more intellectually dangerous than any human she’d ever met. It was disappointing that the world had to be that way. People deserved better.

As always, she perceived these details without betraying any awareness, out of respect for everyone’s privacy. There wasn’t much of interest about the other four, anyway, save that Rasha smelled of fairly recent self-acceptance and the younger girl was going to be firmly bisexual when she finished grappling with a hangup about her attraction to women, something Juniper had noticed wasn’t uncommon in Tiraan teenagers. Glory replied before she had the opportunity to consider any of it in more detail.

“I am Glory, yes. Thank you for interceding in that…mess. Surprisingly, I think you created the least disastrous possible outcome.”

“Right, well…you’re welcome. Now, I gotta deliver three idiots to the Temple of Avei, so if you’ll ‘scuze me…”

Glory stepped forward, her four apprentices surging less smoothly to keep up their protective ring around her. “Wait, please. Before you go, there is some outstanding business regarding those three we need to settle.”

“I’m gonna give you the credit of assuming you know you’re not about to finish what your Boss tried to start,” Juniper warned. Rasha narrowed her eyes, but it was a pensive expression rather than a hostile one, as if Juniper were a puzzle she was trying to solve. The other three looked various degrees of nervous and angry at the implied threat, however.

“Please.” Glory shook her head. “Your action was the right one. To say nothing of the catastrophe that could have unfolded from those baggages being harmed by the Guild, Eserites of all people respect a show of force toward a noble cause. When we are the abusive parties forced to back down, we more than anyone should accept it as earned. No, I’m fully behind Trissiny on this matter—and thus, I infer, behind you. My intent is to help address the political situation here, not make it worse.”

Juniper glanced behind her at the open gateway. Somewhat to her surprise, no other thieves were emerging to involve themselves, though she’d be amazed if several weren’t lurking just on the other side of the wall to listen. Well, Glory was undoubtedly savvy enough to expect that, too, which meant she didn’t intend this to be a completely private conversation.

“What’s on your mind, then?”

Glory shifted her own eyes to the prisoners. “Just a simple question. How did you three get from the custody of the Church-aligned Huntsmen to that of the Church-opposed Thieves’ Guild in the space of one night?”

“W-we don’t answer to you,” the Purist with the most remaining spine (for whatever that was worth) stammered, trying to lift her chin. “We’re going back to the Sisterhood to be judged by our own—”

All Juniper had to do to silence her was turn and meet her eyes. She added some verbal encouragement anyway.

“Do you really think you’re in a position to get shirty, here? Give me any more backtalk and either Sniff’s gonna bite you, or I am.” Sniff obligingly hissed, spreading his wings and flattening down his head crest in a universal avian warning; two of the Purists squeaked in a manner any Avenist would have found shameful. “Answer the woman.”

After three seconds she began to be concerned she would have to back up that threat as the three just clustered together again; really, they were like traumatized pigeons. What had the thieves done to these women?

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, as one of them burst out in a rush as if she needed to answer just to vent the building pressure.

“They just handed us over! We were separated from our sisters and, and herded here like sheep, we didn’t even know where we were going until—” She broke off and made a gulping noise.

“The Huntsmen did this?” Glory asked quietly. One of them, not the one who’d spoken, nodded jerkily. Juniper pondered whether she should find out their names. On reflection, she didn’t really want to; these women had been bullying assholes when they had power and were sniveling cowards now that they didn’t, and she preferred the comfortable distance of not thinking of them as individuals.

“Just Huntsmen?” the older girl who wasn’t Rasha piped up. “Not Church priests?” Juniper wondered whether the apprentice was speaking out of turn, but Glory just shifted to give her a nod of clear approval.

“The—yes,” the previous speaker said, nodding. “Huntsmen. We didn’t—we never actually saw any parsons. They never took us to the Cathedral.”

“Sisters,” Rasha murmured. “That’s right, Glory, there were more of them than this.”

“I see,” Glory said almost as softly, then raised her voice, turning back to Juniper. “Well! Thank you, that was what I needed to know. Now then, Juniper, please don’t take this amiss, but before you try to carry them off to the Temple of Avei I must critique your strategy.”

“Oh?” the dryad replied irritably.

Glory inclined her head with an apologetic smile that actually did ease the sting of criticism; Juniper had met grove Elders who didn’t have that degree of facial control. Yeah, this woman was not to be underestimated. “Do forgive the presumption, but this is, after all, an acknowledged area of Eserite expertise. You are planning to chivy three reluctant prisoners across a crowded city, using only your own two hands and an exotic animal helper, and relying on the power of fear to keep them under control. That, I’m afraid, simply will not work. Trust me, we employ fear as a matter of course, and are required to know both its uses and limitations. Fear makes people stupid, jumpy, and impulsive. At the first opportunity they will bolt in three directions and get lost in the crowds; in the best case scenario you will be able to secure two. That’s if the sight of you trying to bodily restrain a priestess of Avei doesn’t set the military police on your own head. I trust I needn’t explain the can of worms that would open?”

“You have a point,” Juniper said grudgingly, turning a sour stare on the quailing Avenists. “Well, that’s a big old nuisance.”

“We won’t be any trouble,” one said tremulously, “we only want—”

“Oh, shut up,” the dryad interrupted in disgust. “Do you really think anybody’s going to listen to you? I assume,” she added to Glory, “that you’re about to offer your own help in handling this.”

“But of course,” the Eserite replied with a warm smile. “Perhaps not in the way you’re thinking; more force isn’t the best solution here. Rasha! Would you be so good as to do the honors?”

“Gladly,” the younger woman replied, stepping forward with a grim stare fixed on the prisoners. “All right, you three, I am going to recite several obvious facts. If this seems at all belittling, you’ll just have to forgive me on the grounds that you have not presented yourselves as intellectually noteworthy thus far. Right now, nearly everyone wants you dead. To the Huntsmen and the Church, you are inconvenient witnesses who need to be silenced. Most of the Thieves’ Guild wants your asses in retaliation both for what you tried to do to me, and the humiliation they just suffered. No, that second part wasn’t your fault, but do you really think that’s going to matter?” She actually paused, planting her hands on her hips to give them a long, skeptical stare. “Most of those people back there have a very similar approach to life as yourselves. Do you imagine they’re going to try to start shit with a dryad when they could just take it out on you? You wouldn’t.”

All three of her fellow apprentices grinned, the older girl braying a derisive laugh.

“Furthermore,” Rasha continued her lecture, “no one else into whose hands you’re likely to fall will be able or willing to protect you. The Church and the Guild can both get at you in Imperial custody, one way or another. None of the other cults are going to want anything to do with you; they’ll likely send you right back to the Church, where you will be silenced as the inconvenient political leftovers that, to Justinian, you are. You could try to flee the city, I suppose, but do you really think you can escape either of those networks of influence? To say nothing of the Huntsmen, who—well, it’s right there in their name. No, ladies, the Sisterhood of Avei is your only hope. After the way you’ve been behaving, High Commander Rouvad is not going to be gentle with you, let’s not pretend otherwise. But she will be fair, and she will not under any circumstances hand you over to any rival power.

“So!” Rasha folded her arms and lifted her chin superciliously, managing to look down her nose at the three cowed priestesses despite being a head shorter than any of them. “You will go with Juniper to the Temple. Not because she is scary and powerful enough to tear you limb from limb if you don’t cooperate. No, you will go with her because she is scary and powerful enough to protect you from anybody who might try to snatch you off the street, as you just saw. She is your best chance of still being alive in an hour, and you should thank Avei at the earliest opportunity that she happened along. I have to say, I didn’t see that coming, either,” she added, giving Juniper a speculative look.

“Wow,” the dryad said, looking back with much the same expression. “Triss was not kidding, you’re one to watch.”

Rasha’s face broke into a pleased smile. It made her latent attractiveness, which seemed to be at least half cosmetics, suddenly blossom into real beauty. Juniper might have been sexually interested, not having had the opportunity to have sex with a trans person yet, but the girl smelled of burgeoning infatuation with someone not present and she didn’t want to risk damaging that. Just because she wasn’t inclined toward long-term romantic attachments herself didn’t mean she valued them less in those who cherished such bonds. Love was too important to treat lightly.

“Our sisters,” one of the three said in a very small voice. “The…others. They’re still…”

Glory’s shoulders shifted in a quiet sigh, and her expression, for a wonder, was sympathetic. “The prospects are not good. Right now, you need to accept the reality that there’s nothing you can do for them from your position. Your paladin, as well as the other two, are working as we speak to break through the Archpope’s corruption. It may already be too late to help your comrades, but if you want to have any hope of helping General Avelea penetrate the Church’s secrecy, go to Rouvad and tell her everything you know.”

She stared intently at them until all three had nodded in acknowledgment. One began to silently weep again, scrubbing tears from her eyes before they could freeze.

“And Juniper.” Glory stepped forward, looking up at the dryad, who found herself surprised to notice up close that she was notably taller. The woman had a presence that made her seem bigger, somehow. “This is not a criticism of your own abilities, but I’d like to send two of my apprentices with you.”

“To do what, exactly?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Not fight off attackers,” the Eserite replied with a grin. “In fact, if it comes to that, I must respectfully ask that you try not to involve my students. No, the Avenists, to their credit, are very particular about the procedures of justice. Rasha is a firsthand witness to the crimes of these three, and her testimony will be immediately useful to the High Commander.”

“They already have Zafi,” Rasha pointed out. “She was there, too.”

“But you were the intended victim,” Glory replied. “And the more witness corroboration, the better.”

“Oh, don’t even pretend you’re not dying to go see Zafi anyway,” the young man added, grinning broadly.

“And Darius,” Glory said, shooting him a look, “please accompany them. I would ordinarily come myself, for something as important as this,” she added to Juniper, “but politics are my area of expertise, and on that field there is a large battle about to unfold which demands all the attention it can be spared. I’m sure you will have your own business to return to afterward, and I’ll feel better if Rasha has someone to walk her home, given how frequently she has been the target of various ne’er-do-wells recently.”

“I am an excellent meatshield,” Dariues vowed, placing one hand over his heart and holding up the other. “Top marks in my class.”

“All the pastry he eats certainly helps,” his little sister added primly, poking him in the side.

“Sure,” Juniper said, a little bemused. “That all makes sense, and I guess some company I don’t automatically hate would be welcome.”

“Juniper…thank you.” Glory’s expression was solemn, almost grave. “For this, your intervention, the way you are supporting Trissiny. All of it. We owe you a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “But nah, I don’t consider myself owed for anything. A person has to do what’s right. Don’t you think?”

“I very much do,” the older woman agreed with a pleased little smile. “It pains me more than you know that we must meet under such…annoying circumstances. You have my standing invitation to visit me at my home, at any time of your convenience. I would dearly love to show you proper hospitality. Not as thanks, if you’d rather not think of it that way! Simply because I want to. Entertaining guests is my great joy in life.”

She gazed up at Juniper, proud and serene, smiling warmly. The dryad tilted her head, studying Glory’s expression, taking in her scent, considering implications. Then, after several long seconds, she nodded and smiled in return.

“I don’t know when that will be convenient, but… Yeah, I’ll take you up on it. That’s very kind of you.”

They both nodded in unison, eyes fixed on one another, and Juniper was quite struck by the experience of being so in sync with someone she knew so little. The two women had just mutually decided and communicated, without any outward sign that any of the onlookers could have called flirtatious, that they would be making love at the earliest opportunity, and that both, despite being each more experienced than the average person, expected it to be a very memorable occasion indeed. Juniper found herself looking forward to that meeting almost as much to satisfy her curiosity as anything else. It was so strange to find such an instinctive harmony with a non-fae, non-Izarite, non-witch human, of all people. Glory didn’t seem one whit less dangerous to her, but… Trissiny trusted her. And respected her. That counted for a great deal. Plus, she was so intriguing.

“Until then,” Glory said, stepping back. “Tallie, Layla, I will need you back at the house; come, let’s not waste any more time. Rasha, don’t pout. I know you don’t need a minder, but with all that’s happening this is no time to take risks. You are a lightning rod for exactly the trouble that’s wracking this city. All of you, please be safe.”

“Don’t you worry, boss lady,” Darius promised. “I plan to live forever or die trying.”

Rasha rolled her eyes and started moving up the alley, which proved to be the impetus for both groups to separate. Glory retreated back into the Casino grounds with her two remaining apprentices, and the others herded their prisoners off toward the opening onto the street in the near distance ahead. The three Avenists were still subdued, but they seemed less panicky than previously, which Juniper had to think would help make this trip easier.

“So! I’m Darius, as you heard,” he said, falling into step alongside Juniper with an easy grin. “Lemme just apologize in advance for anything stupid I say; you’re my first dryad. Actually, I heard you were at Puna Dara that one time, but I didn’t see you. Pretty sure I’d have remembered that.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly, “I had…a lot on my mind that day. It wasn’t a good day.”

“Really wasn’t, was it,” he agreed, his own voice dropping. “That was… Well, it wasn’t boring, was it?”

She turned her head to study him thoughtfully as they walked. The young man put on a very convincing nonchalant expression and idly ambling gait, but she could tell from his scent alone that it was entirely an act. A really good act, something the Guild probably trained its apprentices to do. Outward attitude notwithstanding, he was terrified of her. And, of course, he desired her. Badly. The inner conflict was probably confusing enough that he preferred to bury himself in the pretense of feeling nothing. It was a complex tangle of scents and might have been tricky to puzzle out, but Juniper had encountered this exact reaction from numerous humans since coming to Last Rock. Fortunately, she knew a reliable way to put them at ease.

“Okay, then,” she decided with a smile, shifting closer to bump him very gently with her shoulder. “You, too, I guess. When the opportunity permits.”

“Uh…” Darius shot her a sidelong look, fear spiking in his scent. “Me, too…what, exactly?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you when we get there.”

Rasha snorted.

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37 thoughts on “16 – 45

    1. There’s gotta be limits to what the Azure corps is willing to pretend not to notice. Even if she’s behaving relatively harmlessly, a dryad gangbang in Tiraas itself is probably too terrifying a thought for them to stomach: The threat that one of the strangers coming to meet her might try to hurt her to destroy the city indirectly would make anyone with enough imagination quite jumpy.

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    2. It’s not a matter of encouragement. She’s much more casual about sex than any human, but she does have her own interests and purposes, and we saw early on that she does not, in fact, simply “take all comers”.

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  1. Hi. I’m a long-time reader, but this is my first post. I do want to get out in front of this post by saying I enjoy this serial greatly. The releases of new chapters are a genuine bright spot in any day where they come out, and, as corny as this is to say, it’s helped me get through a pretty rough spot in my life. So, before anything else, please take care of yourself, Webb!

    That said, the Eserite behavior in the last couple of chapters has really crystallized, for me, something of an issue I’ve been noticing for a while, and that’s what seems to me to be a complete lack of systemic criticism. For instance, Basra. She’s a rapist and abuser who used her position in the military/church to shield herself for the longest time. And she’s obviously very bad, yes, and the person who knowingly shielded her is also bad, but there’s really not much questioning of maybe the system wherein someone can get that kind of unaccountable power isn’t a good thing. In The Audit and in 16-27, we learn that there’s plenty of union-busting going around, and that’s bad, but there are good capitalists(which is itself a problem, I think) who don’t, so the problem is in the union-busting individuals and not the system. The biggest example, I think, are the Eserites. Now, there’s been much digital ink spilled every time they show up about how their actions are moral or immoral or what-have-you, but I’m not really looking at that. What I’m looking at is why they’re supposed to be doing what they’re doing. They were described in 10-52 as opposing power as their purpose. But what gets me is that there actually is a real-world political philosophy with a heavy focus on practical application primarily defined by the opposition to power: Anarchism. It’s also specifically anti-state and anti-capitalist. But in TGAB, we have the people whose ideology should put them opposed to the state, capital, and the church not just uneasily working with them, but seemingly totally recuperated by the power structure, and this, at least thus far, hasn’t merited comment that I can recall. And I just find all of this odd considering the big deal, especially early on, the series made about systems.

    It really took me so long to figure it out for two reasons, I think. First, Webb is spectacular at character’s voices. It’s still actually pretty hard for me to read early Thumper chapters, for instance, because the chapters ooze slime. And given that context, given that only one of the original class protagonists could have been described as working class, I’m not surprised they didn’t come up for quite a while. But also, on a personal level, when I started reading this, I was a liberal. Almost half a decade later, I’m an AnCom, and of course, that kind of profound political transformation obviously impacts how you read any fiction. But even that, even with the elements I’ve found concerning due to that transformation, this work remains a bright spot every day a new chapter comes out.

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    1. Well, the thing that might be throwing you off is that while the Eserites are a bit anarchisty, their ideology and legitimacy comes from divine authority. Specifically a divine authority which is undeniably a part of, and allied with, a pantheon. Going against the ruling authority completely as a matter of ideology would essentially mean open conflict with the pantheon, meaning direct conflict with Eserion.

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      1. I’ve realized that most of the gods are in conflict with the principles that define them, by the very fact of being gods. I find the result one of the more interesting sources of conflict in this story. The cults all have fundamental conflicts at their core, and trying to create an organization out of seems like it would inevitably be a struggle. I remember some character saying that all cults attract the kind of people they want least, and I think this internal contradiction is part of that.

        Some examples: Eserion’s cult thinks all systems are corrupt, but he’s part of a pretty concentrated system of power. Toby’s struggles to reconcile pacifism with still taking action very directly dragged his god into it. Vidius is alive, but he cares for the dead. Scyllith is all about cruelty, but she still has to keep followers.

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    2. As far as I can tell, no one in the series is actually an anarchist, except arguably Kuriwa, maybe?

      A major theme of the work is connections, and cooperation as the world enters the next civilizational age. Even Eserion explicitly accepts the existence of systems of power as better than the alternative, as long as there is an opposing force actively working to keep them (relatively) honest.

      Maybe Good Capitalists and Enlightened Self Interested Nobles are as much of a fantasy element as Dragons, but it seems to me that the world Webb chose to imagine happens to be one in which systems can be redeemed.

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    3. Eserites are not against power or systems in general, they are against those who use the former to oppress people. Themselves profite from sauf system.

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      1. I think it was Principia who put it most succinctly. Paraphrasing: All systems are corrupt. But that doesn’t mean you throw out the system; that means you work to minimize the inherent corruption.

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      2. I can’t edit or reply to my post, so I hope this shows up somewhere reasonable.

        To followup, that’s my understanding of Principia’s (and, by extension, Eserite) philosophy, not necessarily my own.

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    4. Like you, Eris, my politics have been moving steadily leftward for the last several years, and a lot of the things you bring up have been bothering me as well.

      I feel that the root of them is that while you and I and others like us have shifted from liberals to various shades of Leftist, Webb, well… he hasn’t.

      This is not by any means intended to besmirch his character, of course. It’s just clear that he doesn’t understand the way we view the world.

      I mean he thought that he had made Verniselle, goddess of money, trade, and commerce into a socialist just by having her say that money must flow instead of being hoarded.

      It’s like listening to a symphony and consistently hearing discordant notes, and slowly coming to realize that the orchestra is playing in a different key than you thought.

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      1. With respect to your political position, Jim, I’m not sure it’s fair to Webb to say “It’s just clear that he doesn’t understand the way we view the world.” Webb is not, to my knowledge, trying to present your worldview as the underpinning of Eserite philosophy – so it not matching your own beliefs does not mean that he doesn’t understand your beliefs, just that Eserites don’t match up to your beliefs as closely as you first thought.

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      2. You’re kidding me, right? The benefit of continued trading and redistribution of value not specifically used to maintain life, production and trade (or kept as emergency reserves) is capitalist orthodoxy. The idea that any trade both parties consent to is a good thing is pretty much a propaganda-pure definition of laissez-faire capitalism, only missing the sermons on the benefits of economic specialization and commodification. In order to start becoming socialist you have to add in chapters about goods and services that should not be traded freely (starting with slavery) and the need to systematically provide protection, goods, services, recognition/influence, and opportunity to everyone even “in the absence of effective demand” (without them having the money to pay for it).

        Having never spoken to the author directly on these topics I wouldn’t be able to disagree with your claim that Verniselle was intended to be socialist. That said, it didn’t strike me that way, and there’s another interpretation of Verniselle’s “libertarian capitalism” sermon which seems to fit the setting better to me: Consider the widespread presence of open “inheritance classes” like nobility and their traditional servitors (and likely also apprenticeship trade guilds). The Tiraan empire is still struggling to fully emerge past oligarchic feudal-agrarianism. Against that understanding of the level of political-economic development perhaps it may be both more fair and accurate to characterize her as someone speaking up for the benefits of industrial capitalism over the locked economic privileges and entitlements common to feudal-agrarian societies. Either way, I’d rather not disparage the intellect of the author.

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      3. It’s worth noting that Marxist theory is facing a spoiler in the Bastardverse: The theory predicts various evolutions in society and economics, but the Bastardverse is “pinned”, by the whispers from that gateway and the will of the gods. I’d expect that it tries to evolve, only to be nudged back into its oligo-feudal mode,,,,

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    5. I apologize if I’m messing this up, I’m really not sure how best to respond to multiple people in a conversation on this system.

      TheZorginator1: I disagree. Eserion explicitly says nobody, not even himself, should have power. The Eserites have also explicitly gone into conflict with other members of the pantheon, such as over the spice market and with the pope. Given what Eserion has stated about his beliefs, I don’t believe your statement holds.

      The Chosen One: I feel your statement here indicates a(rather common) misunderstanding of anarchism. Anarchism isn’t Heath Ledger “Introduce a little chaos” kind of philosophy. It is explicitly about emancipation through solidarity and mutual aid(one of the big books is even literally called Mutual Aid). Anarchism isn’t opposed to organization or structures, in fact the most significant school of anarchism historically, anarcho-syndicalism, has a specific structure it uses, that is revolutionary industrial unions. Anarchism opposes power, or in more specific terms, coercive hierarchy, not cooperation or connections or whathaveyou. It’s anti-state, not anti-government.

      Konstantin von Karstein: I’ll let the Big Guy himself say it, from 10-52: “People with too much power have—have—to be brought down,” and “Hey, now, I’m not the one making decisions in this outfit. You know how I feel about the people in charge, anyway… Nobody can be trusted with power. Not any of us; not even me. Power changes people. No matter how careful you are, or how noble your intentions, it twists and destroys you slowly from the inside.” Unless I’m misreading it, it seems that, from the word of their very god, they oppose people with power because they, or at least Eserion, think that people having power is bad.

      sde: No. You’re actually making the mistake almost everyone is, and that is getting caught up in anarchism and ignoring the rest of my issue, because it is, at its core, a leftist critique. See, liberalism, as an ideology, likes to make most analyses individualistically. See Margaret Thatcher’s quote about how there is no such thing as a society as an example(I’m not saying that Webb is like Satan’s real-world sockpuppet, just that ideological hegemony is a hell of a drug). And leftists, of course, reject such an analysis. As my other comments in my first post referenced, TGaB seems to tend far more towards the individualistic than the systemic critique. That, in and of itself, supports what Jim is saying I think. Or, you could read back in Puna Dara wherein a dude calls some significant decommodification with a robust Bismarckian welfare state attached to a monarchy “socialism.”

      (I do want to also say that it’s totally understandable to be misinformed about socialist ideology, so I’m not trying to shame anyone for this. Between the Propaganda Model and actual hard power, I think its frankly something of a miracle we have as many people on the left as we do right now. It’s just that, while it is understandable and I don’t want people to feel bad for having misunderstood or having been misinformed, I do think it should be corrected when possible.)

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      1. I think you’re projecting a political allegory onto this book that isn’t wholly there. I won’t deny that there are what could broadly be classified as political ideas at the core of work, but those ideas tend to be pretty broad and lacking in nuance. The political ideas of TGaB tend to take the form of simple statements like “feminism is good,” “power corrupts,” and, if you want to get really technical, “the world is becoming more connected, we should probably learn to deal with that.” The author leans left, that much is obvious, but I think that’s really about as specific as you can get regarding his personal politics. If you DO see something more specific, I think that’s because of what you’re bringing with you when you read, rather than because the author is trying to present a cohesive political framework.

        For example, you’re not wrong that liberalism likes to make critiques individualistic, but I think it’s a stretch to say that TGaB has a specifically liberal view because it has an individual focus, because you know what else likes to make it all about specific individuals? Fantasy. Fantasy is a genre where everything revolves around specific individuals, whether it’s Chosen Ones or Dark Lords, with institutions only ever really existing to serve as extensions of the individuals the story is about. The political structure of the Evil Empire is irrelevant, because once the Evil Emperor dies, all the problems get fixed. TGaB deviates from that some, definitely, but it’s still going to give inordinate power to specific individuals because of the literary heritage it’s pulling from. The only times I’d say it doesn’t use institutions in the fantasy fashion (i.e. using them to enable or challenge specific characters, rather than making a point about the institutions themselves) is when it’s pulling on the other half of its literary heritage: the western.

        Westerns are also very focused on individuals, but when institutions DO show up, they tend to take the opposite form of what you see in fantasy. They are monolithic, inhuman, akin to forces of nature that no man could every really affect or change, and everyone has to find their place in the reality they create. Time marches on, the frontier becomes settled, civilization encroaches upon the few wild places left in the world, and soon there will be no place left for the lone gunslinger who rides ever onward into the sunset.

        Basically, I think you’re reading things with your poli-sci hat on instead of your english teacher hat. That’s understandable, especially if that sort of thinking is something you’re really passionate about or comes more naturally to you, but it’s important to recognize when you’re doing it. Because yes, those genre conventions DO have political ramifications and there ARE conversations to have about that, but that doesn’t mean that the highly specific political reading of the text is the intended reading. Is the author trying to make specific points about specific political systems and institutions? Or is the author trying to make a different, broader point about (for example) the nature of power? That can be a difficult question to answer, but I think the fact that you’re using phrases like “decommodification with a robust Bismarckian welfare state” while the story is NOT means you’re probably seeing more specifically political ideas in the text than the author wrote it with.

        P.S. I think you’ll probably be more satisfied with political readings of the text if you ignore what’s happening with the fantasy genre conventions (i.e. institutions as being shaped by Great Men) and focus instead on the western side of the equation (i.e. people being forced to adjust to the march of progress).

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      2. Part of the the issue is when we’re talking about the conflict between capitalists and aristo’s, capitalists get to grab a spot on the left side of the room. Do I have dozens of arguments denouncing the bourgeoisie, absolutely. Is when they are actively helping us against hereditary aristocrats the time to make them, absolutely not.

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      3. I can’t reply directly to don here, but this is to him. You’ve hit the nail exactly on the head, and it’s not even like his takes on his leanings isn’t nuanced. With the sisterhood we’re also exposed to the foibles of feminism, it’s even more pronounced in their country who’s name escapes me where men are being essentially culturally repressed by the matriarchy.

        I love this story and this world because he tends to take a fair shake at literally everyone.

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  2. If I were in Justinian’s shoes, and I knew what happened here, I would make a point of sniping those three priestesses before they made it to the Temple of Avei. For bonus points I’d want to pin blame for their deaths on Juniper and the Eserite apprentices trying to handle this prisoner transfer, but just killing them close to the Casino should be good enough to make a decent mess of this situation.

    Knowing that there were a lot more than three of the Purists captured by those Huntsmen (and others?) I bet some of them have already been put in politically problematic places in varying states of ill-health ranging from cosmetically scuffed, to crippled, to dead. What I don’t know is what Justinian’s next move is going to be while everyone is distracted with that mess.

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    1. It’s hard to see how many layers Justinian’s plans actually have, or when an actual victory is scored against him. The main setback I can remember was his realization that Toby, too, can control Omnu and there was no way that he could have known that. Juniper might be another blindspot since she was severed from Naiya while being inside The Crawl, but again her actions might be predicted and planned for.

      All that is to say that I don’t think sniping them would be his optimal move, even if he could do so.

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      1. If his goal is to discredit and collapse the organization of all the religions, which is as good a guess as any for what he’s up to, tossing the misogynist-legacy Shaathists into the bonfire would be on his to-do list at some point in the sequence. Having them do that sniping of Avenist priests right outside the casino probably isn’t the worst way to get some use out of them before they finish collapsing.

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  3. Everyone’s speculating on the political ramifications of all of this and I’m over here wondering what Juniper’s reaction to an asexual person would be.

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      1. I’m not sure Fross is asexual so much as she is *non*sexual. It’s possible I’m misremembering something about pixies, but I don’t remember them having sex at all, to the point that they could easily have Barbie doll anatomy and I’d be completely unsurprised.

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  4. A little late to the conversation here, but as someone who considers himself a more conservative leaning libertarian, Webb has managed to be very apolitical while being very political. He doesn’t besmirch, ridicule or mock different politics and doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda besides presenting the character’s agendas.

    As someone who’s politics are frequently mocked, ridiculed and belittled online I find it very refreshing.

    One of the many reasons you’re one of my favorite authors on here Webb. I love this story and I wish you all the continued happiness you deserve.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. It may even be fair of them to do so. With that said, the state of the “debate” on the subject of transgender status often fails to rise to the level of affording people basic human rights to not be assaulted or sexually assaulted. I’d say there’s an embarrassing lack of fairness on the topic in general.

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      2. The purists as presented here are genuinely awful people, their ideology makes little sense in a fantasy world where someone can magically alter their body perfectly. They deserve to be mocked and ridiculed.

        But be careful you don’t fall into the trap of labeling everyone who doesn’t share your views on trans folk transphobic. It belittles the conversation and everyone involved.

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      3. It’s a common fallacy to take one character from a work of fiction and extrapolate that character’s beliefs as a statement of the author’s beliefs, or as a representation of an entire group of people in real life.

        I have no doubt that *somewhere* on our planet there’s a person whose beliefs match up with those of the three hapless Purists we’re seeing here. But I’m sure there are plenty of other people who disagree with the DSM-5 definition of gender dysphoria, but not in the same way that these fictional characters do.

        Unless there’s a specific reason to believe that the author is lampooning an entire class of people, it’s best to assume that one fictional character’s beliefs are nothing more than the beliefs of this *one* character, who is present to support the story the author is telling. No more, and no less.

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    1. Agreed, there are very few cases where, “ad hominem,” negative characterization of a person’s morals, capabilities and tendencies is actually a fair and worthwhile thing to do during an argument or debate. Irrelevant denigration is also not very persuasive to anyone that isn’t either already partisan or easily fooled or bullied into following such rhetoric. People who do that are showing some combination of laziness, inability with speaking and/or writing, bad faith emotional manipulation, and intellectual failure to understand and explain why they don’t like something in a clear and reasonable way.

      On behalf of all the other people on the internet who believe, “libertarian conservatism,” is dangerous and abhorrent but failed to maintain even minimal standards of civility, I’m sorry.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is one of my all-time favorite chapters!

    I think Dichen Lachman would make a fantastic Glory. I only know her from Agents of SHIELD, but she’s got the vocal skills to portray what I’m sure is perfect and deliberate enunciation.

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