Tuesday 1 September 2020

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant Reading Notes Act Two

ACT TWO: The Plague


This second act of the third book did something peculiar - taking a story that has been dark and sad for so long and somehow changing course entirely, and all of that through a small moment of connection between two unlikely characters. I still can't see where Baru will go - not in this novel, or the final fourth one - but something about this act so far has changed the whole feeling of the story for me. 

What happens is that Xate Yawa is about to lobotomise Baru, explaining the process that she has perfected over many test subjects. But then Baru does what she has done before - her two eyes act autonomously from each other, in a way that may induce a seizure, and make a lobotomy impossible. Last time that happened was when Yawa had poisoned Baru deliberately, but it is only now that she puts the pieces together, and questions Baru's right side - the blind side, the unlikely ipsiliteral blindness (because normally, blindness would occur on the opposite side of the wound). She has such plans for Baru: to take her revenge on her, to give her to the Necessary King as dowry, to make the marriage between him and Heingyl Ri possible, which will save Aurdwynn from Falcrest. But instead, she realises that Baru has something that the Ilykari priests called an erye, a second soul within her body. And this soul is.. Tain Hu, who has been, for the last few months, working on her own agenda. Baru, in her grief over the loss of her beloved, has recreated her inside her own mind, with Tain's values, Tain's beliefs. "Through study and obsession you have built inside yourself the soul of Tain Hu".

Surprisingly, this keep Xate Yawa from going through with the lobotomy. Instead, she and Baru share a moment of connection and truth, where they both admit to each other that all of their actions have been for the freedom of their respective homelands. It is a complete turn from where Baru was at the end of Act 1, believing herself to be a perfect example of the self-governing subject, someone who could never trust any of her own instincts because she was so fully owned by Farrier. Instead, because she has created Tain Hu, she can not only believe in herself again, but also in these secret plans that have been in progress this whole time. She becomes Barhu - her name has always contained Hu's. And so, Xate Yawa becomes an ally. 

This sets in motion and out-of-this-world insane plan to save everyone. Baru fake-surrenders as Aminata's and Apparitor's hostage to the Sulane and Juris Ormsment, who has her keelhauled - something that would surely kill her, if she hadn't in her entourage one lovely and dedicated diver (earlier, they make out in front of Aminata, who takes interested but distant notice). Ulyu Xe rescues Baru and takes her to Apparitor's Helbride. The plan is for Aminata to use the Uranium lantern that Baru took from the Eternal and signal through the location of all the navy's mines, so that the monster ship can safely escape - and then Aminata would leave, with or without having killed Ormsment. It takes a long conversation between the two friends to get there, with Aminata trying to figure out if Baru is good, and where exactly her duty lies - what it means to follow wrong leaders, and wrong commands. Aminata has every intention to follow Baru to safety, but then she sees a young sailor on board, and realises she cannot leave these people behind. 

It all ties in with Baru's realisation about Juris Ormsment beloved riddle about the three ministers: The answer to the riddle lies outside its own parameters. 

"Power can’t be separated from its history. A choice can’t be taken in isolation from its context. Power is the ability to set the terms of the riddle. To arrange the rewards and punishments by which the choice is judged.”

The question is - who placed the players on the board? Who put the poison there? Falcrest is absent in the riddle, and yet present within the context, and the same is true everywhere else as well. It's a sad realisation to come to when she sees Aminata so willing to sacrifice herself - a position that she has manoeuvred her into. Because once Galganath the whale uses one of the navy's own mines against the Sulane, all hell breaks loose. 

Other things: 
  • In a horrible revelation about 25 years ago, we learn how the First Armada War ended: With Falcrest burning down an entire city with hundreds of thousands of people in it, just to demonstrate its might. This also killed Abd's mother, and set into motion his decisions. 
  • A reminder that Baru is in possession of the Palimpset with all the confessions to the Ilykari priests, but hasn't been able to decode it yet. 
  • In an interesting exchange between Aminata and an extremely high Execarne, he explains to her that Falcrest has become parasitic, and this will be its eventual downfall. Probably also good to remember how much Execarne values Tau-indi. 


From the Helbride, a horrified Baru watches Ormsment's Sulane in strive, but then she is about to do grave harm to Eternal - until Aminata signals to Nullsin's Ascentatic, asking her to shoot, which the Ascentatic does. It's a deadly blow for Juris' ship. 
Baru insists on looking for her friend, and Apparitor blames her for once again trying to control an uncontrollable situation. Also, I've only now realises that whenever the narrative switches to the First person in her chapters, it's Tain Hu talkin! Also, Apparitor explains to Baru and Xate that they are meant to be fighting each other (to the death), as part of Hesychast's and Itinerant's fight for dominance (he seems a bit spooked by their cooperation, and Xate herself isn't sure how it gels with her plan to sell Baru to Mansion Hussacht). He also - and we have seen Baru in the now pose this question to her sponsor - once again confirms that there are likely more cryptarchs (apart from Stargazer and Renascent, who he says can't be that powerful if Baru knows their names), other cells of them, doing their own work, closer to the centre of power. 
To further horrify Svir, Bar(h)u reveals that she doesn't really have a plan from here on out, nor what the saved Eternal is actually good for, but her instincts and morals tell her that they have an obligation to help Kyprananoke, which is now fighting both the Kettling and a brutal civil war. She's not really sure how - making trade deals between warring factions, holding the Apocalypse fuse (basically, charges that will explode the mountain upon them) over their head for leverage. Baru sees it as a lesson in how revolutions against Falcrest could work. 

"But she had to know how to end Falcrest without simply murdering it. How to butcher an empire. How to do it cleanly, and to end up with useful and nutritious parts. To do that you would need a revolution, and there was a revolution here. Why not study it? Learn from it?"

It's a brave idea, but one that collapses swiftly once she, Ake and the leftovers from the Morrow ministry begin negotiations with the rebel group. Baru realises that some of them are monstrous, committing atrocities against everyone they perceive to be under foreign influence (speaking other languages, having had surgeries or inoculations done). It's another journey into darkness, maybe modelled the Cambodian killing fields and the Rwandan genocide. 

"No matter the cause, these were people doing evil. To absolve them of guilt would be to deny their humanity, to deny that they had some intrinsic dignity and moral independence which only they could choose to surrender. To say that these people were doing monstrous things entirely of their own monstrous nature was to deny Falcrest’s immense historical crimes. But to say that these people were doing monstrous things solely because Falcrest had made them into monsters was to grant Falcrest the power to destroy the soul: to permanently remove the capacity for choice."

How can she hold these groups accountable for what they are doing and still see Falcrest creating the context for their acts? Baru realises that it isn't an either-or proposition that there is a role for individual choices within the empire without discounting the existence and the power of that empire (I wonder how she would interpret Juris' riddle with that new insight in place). And just as she has arrived at that conclusion, Tain Shir appears to cut through all of those considerations with sheer chaos and violence, which is how she has explained to Baru she has escaped their shared sponsor Farrier. They make a pact of sorts, that Shir will keep Baru alive for as long as she lives up to Tain Hu's code. She also shows her a meditation technique to try and communicate with her second soul that leads to... unexpected results. And then, Baru contracts meningitis, because half of these books is just breaking down Baru's body in new and unexpected ways. 

Baru has failed to negotiate Kyprananoke into anything resembling a situation that could contain the Kettling, and even though Tain Shir is trying to get rid of the apocalypse fuse, someone else is right there to make sure that the Kettling does not escape: Iscend has survived as well, and serves herself (in a perfect world, the Clarified would provide counsel to the cryptarchs, and the cryptarchs would then act - she's just found a short-cut, through using her command word on herself). The wave that follows finds our players as follows: Aminata on the Eternal, after being tortured by The Brain and rescued by The Mouth, after being assigned to Iraji to try and find a way to talk to Tau-indi (and after having realised that Shao Lune thinks she has a superior rank, and can command her around). Aminata also awkwardly ends up being told that Baru's aim was to destroy Falcrest, because somehow sweet summer child Aminata hasn't figured that one out by herself. It finds Juris on Kyprananoke in a hospital, doing her best to help what cannot be saved. 

  • A fun reminder that Aminata likes pretty boys (and Iraji continues to be the prettiest), and has probably banged Hesychast when he was undercover. 
  • In Mansion Hussacht, Yawa's agent Dziransi arrives with his proposal for the Necessary King: marriage to Heingyl Ri, and Baru as a dowry. He has also received a previous offer from Baru's agent to return his brother Svir home - Apparitor doesn't know about that one yet. 
  • Very worried about what exactly has happened to Baru in the now to make her into the person telling the story to Farrier. Fingers crossed it isn't the worst possible outcome. Also, at the end of the chapter she tells him her story about being split into two souls, and carrying Tain in her, was a lie - except it would be very Baru, to keep Tain Hu all to herself in front of the man who is to blame for everything. 

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