I apologize if any of that sentence caused anyone headaches.
With the handfast concluded, Alanna informs ClanFintan that there's been a feast prepared to honor the handfast... which is for him, Shannon, and his warriors. That's it. Again, shouldn't a super-important marriage warrant a little more celebration?
Bah. This just makes me want to go read The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis firmly believed in joy and merriment being an important part of our lives, and I for one support that idea.
The three set out, and we instantly get generic UST for Shannon and ClanFintan. He tells her that he's glad she “finally managed to set aside [her] own desires and do [her] duty”. And yes, this is subtly bashing Rhiannon, who we're going to see is supposed to be a flighty, selfish twit who has no sense of duty or propriety. Y'know, not like Shannon, who's the epitome of all those qualities. *rolls eyes*
LET'S SHIT ON RHIANNON: 4
He also says he'll overlook Rhiannon's previous behavior of returning his gifts, refusing to see him, and making him go to her for the handfast. Okay, the first two are legitimately rude things to do, but why is the latter so bad? We know nothing about this world, but isn't it supposed to be matriarchal, and isn't Rhiannon supposed to be incredibly powerful? Why's it so bad that she had him go to her? Was it the principle of the matter? Was there some special place they were supposed to do this, and that's why it's so low-key now?
Of course, we get no answers for any of this. World-building's for the birds, clearly!
Anyway, at this point, I'm wondering all over why Rhiannon was forced to marry this guy. She has made it quite clear she wants nothing to do with him. She has all but spat in his face to make him cease communications with her. And like I said, there seems to be no reason for this union beyond Reasons. In any other story, a woman being forced to marry someone and being portrayed as willful for making her intentions known and scolded for not doing her “duty” would be considered very sympathetic. Here, this is just us being told that no, she really is willful and pig-headed and a brat who won't settle down and marry some guy because society tells her to.
LET'S SHIT ON RHIANNON: 5
If the text actually gave us reasons for this wedding to actually be important, sure, I could understand everyone being Not Happy with Rhiannon. But since there's no reason for it, everyone just look like assholes for forcing Rhiannon into this!
(And again, just wait until we get to Rhiannon's backstory. Her fighting tooth and nail against getting married looks MUCH worse.)
Shannon, meanwhile, just focuses on the fact that ClanFintan's being a meanie to her. Even though she has no idea of the situation she's in or what Rhiannon was doing before now, she decides she's going to stand up and tell him off for badmouthing her. Again, this is without having any idea what this society considers appropriate or, more importantly, worthy of an execution or declaration of war. Thankfully, her retort is pretty restrained (at least by what we'll see her standards are). She just tells him that she'll overlook him criticizing her in the temple of her goddess on the day of their handfast. And of course, this instantly disarms him and gets him to apologize and get upset with himself instead of her.
They continue on to the banquet hall, Shannon reminds us that the guards are hawt...
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 68
And we get a description of the hall.
“The room held at least two dozen large, flat couches. Each had one side that was raised with a kind of reclining armrest, a little like oldfashioned chaise lounges. Next to the raised end of the lounges stood squatty marble pillars with flattened tops. On each flattened pillar sat a golden goblet. Endless supplies of beautiful, nymphlike young women were scurrying from chaise to chaise, filling the goblets with yummy-looking red wine. I tried not to drool.”
BOOZE IT UP: 7
ZeldaQueen: My first thought, when I read this description, was that it sounded rather impractical for a banquet hall layout. Upon doing a bit of research though, that really was an ancient way of dining... in ancient Greece and Rome. So yeah, more of PC Cast mixing things up. We just finished a lovely Celtic pagan wedding, time to head on out to the Greco-Roman dining hall!
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 69 (I know you guys remember me getting pissed at how much PC and Kristin mixed cultures, with little rhyme and reason.)
Shannon and ClanFintan sit next to each other at the same pillar, and Shannon promptly gets weird.
“And I was suddenly starving to death. So I nodded and approached the deceptively comfortable-looking dinner torture device. I mean, come on. It reeked of Ancient Rome. Please. All those Romans and their 'He who controls Rome controls the world,' blah, blah, lie down to eat, eat too much, go puke. They couldn’t even figure out a dining room table. Get serious.
Well, at least reclining would make me look thin….”
- Why is she referring to that thing as a “deceptive torture device”? It's given her no reason to think it isn't comfortable.
- Why is she talking about stereotypes regarding Rome? Does she think the couches are some sort of SCP which makes anyone who use them stuff themselves to bursting?
- I don't know why your thought process is, “Those are all Roman 'eat until you throw up'. I mean, they don't even have dining room tables!” I honestly can not follow. Can anyone else?
- With all your alleged education about ancient times, the lack of tables is the only thing you can't believe wasn't invented, Shannon?
- As per Wikipedia, the Ancient Romans did have tables. In their olden times, it was considered traditional for the women to sit at them, opposite their reclining fathers and husbands.
- Considering that later books have at least one instance of Shannon railing against The Media pressuring women to be bulimic and skinny and how she knows better, that last part, about looking thin being the only bright side to this, is hypocritical at best.
ZeldaQueen: Oh, of course...
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 70
Because that just REEKS of the sort of “hilarious” and nonsensical asides Zoey constantly makes.
Shannon sits down and we have a rare instance of her actually committing a social no-no. Everyone stares at her and Alanna scurries over, pretends to get whispered instructions from Shannon, and announces that unfortunately since Rhiannon lost her voice, she can't bless her own handfast feast. Again, why did Alanna not think to bring this up earlier? Or announce it earlier? Or do SOMETHING? I get that Alanna's doing a lot of this on the fly, but come on now!
In response to this, ClanFintan asks if Shannon can't just whisper her blessing to Alanna and Alanna say it to the room at large. Shannon promptly decides that Mr. Ed (as she mentally refers to him) is a pain in the ass (and reminds us that he bit her). “Perhaps he thought he was dealing with some kind of slow-witted, cobwebby priestess.” Or, perhaps he thought that you were committing some social faux pas, Shannon. You don't know what the cultural expectations are. You don't know what priestesses are supposed to be capable of. You know nothing about this world.
But, hey! No worries! Shannon's covered, y'all. You see, she's a teacher, so naturally that means she has... er... a full working knowledge of appropriate prayers for alternate universes! Apparently!
Yes, I'm aware this makes fuck-all sense. And yes, this is just more of an excuse for PC to tell us how awesome teachers are, as Alanna freaks out over Shannon getting warmed up.
“She obviously didn’t realize she was dealing with a high school teacher—we make a living handling weirdness on a daily (or hourly, depending on who has or hasn’t been suspended recently) basis, and we manage to stamp out ignorance and touch the future in the midst of chaos. This was small potatoes. Thinking on my feet I the norm for me—it’s even what I consider fun.”
HAVE I MENTIONED I'M A TEACHER: 13
ZeldaQueen: It's one thing to enjoy thinking on your feet, and it's quite another to bullshit your way through an alternate universe WHERE YOU HAVE SPENT ALL OF A FEW HOURS AND KNOW NOTHING OF ITS CULTURE OR CUSTOMS!
Shannon leans over to Alanna, informing us helpfully that she's showing off her cleavage in the process -
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 71
And gives her blessing. And I will give credit, it's not as bad as, say, how Danisha would have handled things. If this were Danisha, guaranteed we'd be getting a rendition of Alexander's Ragtime Band or something equally stupid and inappropriate. Shannon goes for a short and pretty harmless Irish blessing. And unlike Danisha, she worries about potentially naming something not known in this world, specifically tea (turns out, they do have tea in this world).
That being said, this is also a massive wank session for how great and clever Shannon is. All the centaurs cheer this blessing on, and normally I'd attribute it to them being polite, but the rest of this book proves that no, everyone just thinks that everything Shannon says is fascinating. ClanFintan is appropriately chastised and intrigued and all the slap slap kiss harlequin bullshit you'd expect. Shannon, meanwhile, reminds us how awesome English majors are. “As my favorite college prof once sagely said, 'Don’t fuck with an English major. They keep lots of useless crap trapped in their heads. Once in a while they let some of it out and it bites you square on the ass.'”
Good lord. I think that's annoying and I am an English major!
Shannon sits down and dinner is served. We are informed that there is more wine and it is delicious and Shannon drinks a lot of it.
BOOZE IT UP: 8
How is she still conscious at this point? Like I said before, the constant descriptions of it as rich doesn't make it sound watered down.
ClanFintan starts talking to another centaur, so Shannon takes the opportunity to get a good look at him. We then get three incredibly lengthy paragraphs talking about how hawt and chiseled and desirable he is. I'll just sum it up thusly – his human half looks like Khal Drogo. I'm serious. I know this book was published well before Game of Thrones aired and so it's not that PC's cribbing, but the description just had me picturing Khal Drogo. He's tall, he's muscular, he's got black hair, he's got every exotic Fabio harlequin trait imaginable, the few clothes he wears are leather, etc. and so forth. He's also apparently got a Cary Grant-esque cleft in his chin, ten bucks saying that's because PC Cast is into Grant.
MY OWN LITTLE FANTASY: 7
Oh, and Shannon also casually throws out how she tries to be equal-opportunity and oogle “skinny wimps”. How nice of you.
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 72
Shannon tells us that she doesn't find a half-man half-horse being to be revolting or horrifying, and attributes it to being an Okie girl, which means that of course she's utterly obsessed with horses. I personally would think that it's because centaurs are right up there with cat girls and merpeople as human/animal hybrids that are mainstream, very recognizable, and very neat in the distribution of the human-animal bits. It's not like Shannon married a lizard man a frill on his neck and a prehensile tongue, after all.
(Of course, there is the obvious issue a human woman would have with marrying someone who's horse in the bottom half, but we're going to see that Shannon just failed to consider that entirely.)
The food gets served, and we're told that it's “delicious-smelling fish in creamy sauce, tender mouthwatering poultry (well, it tasted like chicken) sprinkled liberally with what appeared to be lemon pepper, grains that had a distinctly garlicky smell and veggies that looked like a nice mixture of pea pods, whole mushrooms and baby onions”. Shannon helps herself and gets more wine, while continuing the unfunny joke that the wine's medicinal because she was recently dead.
BOOZE IT UP: 9
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 73
She then decides, after tasting the food, that she can't be in hell because it's too delicious. For fuck's sake, can we finish with that joke already?
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 74
Shannon also notes with interest that ClanFintan isn't limiting himself to grains and veggies and seems to be omnivorous. Uh, yeah. He's half-human, you know. And she reminds us that ha ha, he's a biter.
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 75
ClanFintan notices her staring at him and says that she seems to be recovering well, given her appetite. She replies with, “Well, thank you, Dr. ClanFintan” and then starts hitting us over the head with how bug-eyed and shocked he looks that she said that. Erm, yeah. These people seem to be acting pretty formal, and you just shot that one out of nowhere. Shannon tells him she was making a joke, which he genuinely didn't seem to understand. Shannon concludes from this that Rhiannon didn't look like she had much of a sense of humor.
Or maybe your joke just wasn't that funny. Or maybe doctors aren't the same in this world as in ours. Or maybe you performed a massive breech of etiquette by saying something like that at a handfast banquet. It could be any number of things, really. I mean, you hardly know anything at all about this world and -
Oh, no, never mind. We know that it's really because Rhiannon was a stick-in-the-mud who didn't joke around. Boo on her, naturally.
LET'S SHIT ON RHIANNON: 6
At this point, it's announced that “To demonstrate the Muses’ approval of your handfast, Terpsichore, incarnate Muse of the Dance, will perform”
Erm... yeah. We'll be finding out more about these folks later. For now, no, Terpsichore isn't supposed to be one of the Muses from Greek mythology. Being called “Muse” basically means that they've mastered the respective art that they're titled for. So Terpsichore here is the best dancer ever, basically. (And if she's supposed to have somehow inspired the one from Greek mythology, I have to wonder how she stuck around for so long, being a normal human.)
Terpsichore walks in and music starts playing. She walks in front of Shannon's seat, head bowed, and slowly looks up to start her dance. Upon seeing Terpsichore's face, Shannon freaks out because MY GOD! The Muse of the Dance looks EXACTLY like Shannon's friend, Michelle! ISN'T THAT AMAZING?
ZeldaQueen: I know. I was so underwhelmed, I nearly fell asleep. You too, huh?
For serious, PC? We have no clue whatsoever who Michelle is. Shannon just says she's her friend who teaches alongside her.
HAVE I MENTIONED I'M A TEACHER: 14
That's what we learn after Shannon notices the resemblance. Were it not for the paragraph describing Michelle, we'd have no clue why Shannon suddenly finds Terpsichore so familiar. To give an example of how sucky this is, let's take Back to the Future. Imagine that we go through it without seeing Marty's parents ever. At all. The rest of the movie goes as normal, Marty goes back in time, and so forth. We've all seen the movie, don't pretend you haven't. Now, imagine that's how the movie went... and we then get the scene where Marty stares in shock for a good five seconds at the young George McFly.
If we don't know anything about Marty's dad, that doesn't exactly have the same impact, does it? The same with Marty's mom. If we know nothing about Lorraine McFly, then Marty waking up and freaking out over the pretty teenage girl sitting next to him is just pretty random. We don't get the context that he realized his own mom is hitting on him, so there's no emotional investment.
That's what's happening here with Terpsichore/Michelle. Shannon recognizing someone who looks like her friend in an alternate dimension could have been very meaningful. It's implied that everyone in our world has a version of themselves in Partholon, but Shannon running into AU people she knows is treated like a brief surprise at the most.
Inversely, let's look at a favorite manga of mine, Anatolia Story. I'm going to be comparing that series to this quite often, since it takes a similar premise and does it very well – a high school girl named Yuri is magically kidnapped to the Hitte Empire and has to pose as a prince's concubine (the prince is in on everything) so his evil stepmother can't sacrifice the girl for blood magic purposes. At the very start of the manga, we see Yuri sitting and talking with her sisters, establishing that the three girls are close and love each other. Later, when Yuri is in the past and sees a servant who very closely resembles one of her sisters, it's got some emotional impact when she is shocked and quickly befriends the servant. Yuri's trapped in a strange land and is seeking out comfort through the one person who at least looks familiar, even if she knows they aren't the same as her sister.
This will be happening a couple of times, incidentally. Not enough that I can justify a count for it, but it remains dumb each time. I think there's only one instance where her seeing an AU version of a loved one actually gets a serious reaction from her.
So, seeing as we're being told about a character we never heard of before, Shannon sits us down and explains to us more about Michelle.
“Michelle and I love to laugh about the paradox of two of the three passions in her life. Passion number one is dance, passion number two is science (and she really likes reptiles, which has always worried me, especially because my classroom is next door to hers and at least two or three times each school year some kind of snake escapes from its cage and gets 'lost'). So she combined her first two passions by attending Northeastern Oklahoma University as a chemistry major on a dance scholarship. At our high school she combines them by teaching honors chemistry and choreographing the school musicals. Strange girl.”
ZeldaQueen: *scratching her head* Since when is a love of science and a love of dance a “paradox”? That's really not the strangest blend of interests people have had. I used to work at an eyeglass store and am a major fantasy and manga geek. While I was working there, one of my customers was a teacher in my college's English Lit department. He and I ended up talking about our favorite mangas, because it turned out he was a fan as well. Hilariously, he was called to fill in for my Detective Fiction teacher and, upon seeing I was in the class, cheerfully greeted me with a reminder that I sold him his glasses. Oh, and said Detective Fiction teacher? He was a Lit professor who was super-political. The reason he was on leave was because he was off to give lectures in Israel.
And of course, that's just me and my own experiences. I'm sure everyone following along in the audience can give even more wild examples. Hell, we can just look at Tom Lehr, a respected Harvard scholar who was a forerunner to Weird Al, writing goofy songs like Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, New Math, and, my personal favorite, The Vatican Rag.
Michelle having those two interests is not paradoxical or even particularly noteworthy, really. But hey, these ladies are the forerunners of Zoey Redbird and her band of one-note goons! I suppose it stands to reason that they think a love of science and dance together is strange. The fact that Michelle likes more than two things in general must be a shock!
(Also, if Michelle loves reptiles so much, why didn't she go to college for biology instead of chemistry?)
Shannon happily gulps down more wine and smiles at the servant who refills it.
BOOZE IT UP: 10
She then tells us that she's quite certain she's looking at Michelle's AU self, since they look exactly the same. The only difference is that Terpsichore has waist-length hair. That... sounds incredibly impractical for a dancer. Oh, and Terpsichore is also wearing gauzy see-through clothing, which Shannon describes as “As she danced, the slips of fabric floated around her, exposing enticing glimpses of her tight little body with every change in movement. Her body has always been sleek and gorgeous though she eats like a sparrow—ten times her body weight per day”.
ZeldaQueen: Is there something you'd like to tell us, Shannon?
Oh, and we get a pointless aside about how Michelle is able to eat a ton and not gain a pound, prompting Shannon to mentally refer to her as, “the bitch”. Good to see the Twins getting some representation here.
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 76
We get back to Tepsichore, who is really upping the eroticism of her dance, apparently. Shannon continues to describe it in ways that make me raise my eyebrows (“sex and grace all rolled up together into one delectable ball. Kind of like Bob Fosse Does Swan Lake”). The centaurs, meanwhile, are staring intently at the display. I'd like to point out that given the... reputation centaurs had in Greek mythology, performing an erotic dance in front of them does not sound like the greatest idea ever.
(Don't worry, though. The centaurs are all written as a bunch of beefcakes who are softies on the inside and are honorable soldiers, wonderful eye candy, perfect gentlemen, etc. and so forth. Of course they are.)
Anyway, this all climaxes (*snrk*) in Terpsichore touching herself. In front of an entire banquet hall full of people celebrating some massively important handfast. I...
ZeldaQueen: ...Okay, to clarify. It's not so much that I have a problem with her doing that as it just... does not seem to fit with the scene at all. The whole thing was being built up as something erotic but tastefully so, like how the miniseries Arabian Nights depicts Morgiana dancing for Ali Baba's party. And I don't know, maybe this is just me, but touching oneself is...really not something I associate with “tastefully erotic”. I mean, did she just grab her crotch in front of everyone or something?
Maybe this all worked out in PC's head, but this just felt incredibly random and awkward to me, given how the scene was set up. It seriously reminded me of the scene in Betrayed when Zoey has a vision of Heath sleeping at night, it's set up as some gently tender moment, and then Zoey tells us how Heath touches himself while muttering her name in his sleep.
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 77
Shannon herself doesn't comment very much on this at all, which becomes MASSIVELY hypocritical considering how she goes on about Rhiannon later. Instead, we get back to her telling us about Michelle. Remember how we were told that Michelle had three passions? Well, apparently the third of is men. Yes, really.
“She adores men. Tall men, short men, hairy men, slick men, muscular men, lean men…etc., etc. She likes them all, as long as one part of their anatomy is big (no, I’m not talking about their wallets). Yes, she truly enjoys a big, hard penis more than any woman I know. With her it’s a veritable art form. She’s not exactly a slut—let’s just say that men are her hobby and, well, she stays incredibly busy.”
ZeldaQueen: Too much information there, Shannon. And again, nice to see you adjusting your definition of things to suit yourself. “She's not a slut! She just considers sleeping with as many big-dicked men as possible to be her personal hobby!” If that's what she wants to do, fine, but Shannon? I know how you are going to be acting when it comes to Rhiannon later, and I'm taking notes, you fucking hypocrite.
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 78
Back to Tepsichore, Shannon flat-out tells us she's “a sexy woman”. She notices ClanFintan ogling Tepsichore as well, and amazingly we do not get Shannon throwing a passive aggressive snit-fit over it. Instead, she watches with equal interest as Tepsichore (who Shannon refers to as “Michelle”) “locked eyes with him as each pulse of the music drew her hips (and her scantily clad crotch) nearer and nearer his chaise”
ZeldaQueen: Can we move past this scene? It's been going on for far too long, it's not adding anything to the book, and I really think I need an adult.
Shannon thinks that Tepsichore's dance must be similar to the one Salome used to get Herod to cut off John the Baptist's head, apparently missing the detail that Salome was portrayed as an evil seductress who got a holy man killed. The song FINALLY ends and Tepsichore starts taking her bows, but just as Shannon tries to catch her eye (to what purpose I'm not sure, since the dancer doesn't know her), she looks at Shannon with cold hostility.
ZeldaQueen: Gee, you guys, I don't think Terpsichore likes Shannon. Or, rather, she doesn't like who Shannon is supposed to be.
No, I don't recall hearing why Terpsichore doesn't like Rhiannon. Maybe the many mentions of her staring at ClanFintan's supposed to suggest she's jealous Rhiannon got to marry him? I don't know. It just seems to be a pointless bludgeoning over the head that RHIANNON'S A BITCH AND NOBODY LIKED HER, GUYZ!
LET'S SHIT ON RHIANNON: 7
Shannon notices that ClanFintan is all Husky and Passionate and finds that this intrigues her instead of annoys her. Why, imagine that! Who ever could have guessed at this turn of events? You know, besides anyone who's ever read a harlequin novel?
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 79 (paint-by-the-numbers romance)
ClanFintan and Shannon lean in close to each other and talk about what a great dance that was and how it's a blessing and so forth, Shannon seems to spontaneously get drunk and starts giggling, and we get this mysterious sentence from her.
“Reciprocating, he leaned toward me, which did make me giggle. (Quick note to self: yellow light—wine alert!) Oh, well, a yellow light was just a warning.”
ZeldaQueen: You know, when I learned for the first time about how to use parenthesis, it was explained by my teacher that anything inside parenthesis should be treated as optional to the story. In other words, if you took the content out, the rest should make sense still.
If we took out the parenthesis for that excerpt, we get “Reciprocating, he leaned toward me, which did make me giggle. Oh, well, a yellow light was just a warning”.
That certainly makes sense.
We then are told that apparently the dance was supposed to get the two of them in the mood, which finally gets it through Shannon's thick skull that (A) she is married to this man, (B) consummation seems on the horizon, and (C ) if things go the way they look like they are, she'll be qualified to make a lot of Equs references. Somehow, this makes her seem even more drunk, missing the table when she sets the goblet down and having multiple vision when she sees Alanna. I've never been drunk myself, but this all seems rather awkward and sudden.
Alanna decides that Shannon has overexerted herself, ClanFintan smirks and says they should head off to bed. Shannon continues to freak out about not realizing the implications of marrying someone whose lower half is a horse and even lampshades the fact that she's been married (with an unnecessary aside about how she considers her ex her “starter husband” and how she really should have thought of this.
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES: 80
Because Zoey would also tend to act like she has no knowledge of dating and such, even though she canonically had a boyfriend for a long time when the first book starts.
And the chapter thus ends, with Shannon think about how she's drunk off her ass and is going to consummate her marriage with a horse. Who bites, for those of you who find that running gag actually funny.
HAVE I MENTIONED I'M A TEACHER - 14
AS THE RED BIRD FLIES - 80
MY OWN LITTLE FANTASY - 7
BOOZE IT UP - 10
TAILOR-FIT SUETOPIA - 4
LET'S SHIT ON RHIANNON - 7