Monday 7 September 2020

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant Reading Notes Act Four

ACT FOUR: Yawa's Choice. 


 "Mother! Mother!” “Baru,” her mother said, “your hands smell like pussy.”

And thus, the tone for this final act is set. Baru reunites with her two remaining parents and get nostalgic about how this small Taranoki settlement reminds her of the home that, as Tain Hu said, she can never truly return to. She has forgotten words for things (it is always good to remember how very young Baru is, still even now). She gets teased, and then she has a more serious conversation with her parents about the atrocities all three of them have committed, her parents in the Taranoki resistance (that inevitable point where the situation was dire enough that the violence happened predominantly against those suspected to be collaborators), Baru in Aurdwynn. 
The next morning, Baru speaks with the local council of elders (who are aunts and uncles in both sense of the words) about her trade route plans, but they are very hesitant to agree, failing to see how Baru proposing this is any different from Falcrest doing this as their entire expansion strategy. Baru insists that the difference is that she is at the helm, and that she is working towards the destruction of Falcrest through her trade concern. Her parents express to her how proud they are of her, in spite of everything - and then a landing party from the Eternal arrives, and trading begins between this Taranoke enclave and the Mbo, like a version of what Baru has in mind in small. Except then Eternal begins bombing the landing vessels, and makes it clear that it is well in range to destroy the entire settlement if Baru doesn't come on board. Xate is horrified that Baru would even consider it, but Baru tries to calm her down, reminding her that in the end, it was always going to be only one of them surviving, and that Hesychast's whole purpose was for Xate to destroy  her. 

We can’t beat our masters, can we? They control the entire board. They have control of the money, the government, the ideology of sex and race. They have control of the context in which we make choices. They’ve written us a script and we have to perform it or be punished: destroy each other, or be destroyed. If we deviate, they will know at once. They have us in yomi.” “So you’re giving up?” “No! There are two ways to break yomi, Yawa. One of them is an external factor. Something they haven’t accounted for.” She waved wildly towards Eternal. “And the other one is you! You, Yawa!”
Think about the secrets you’ve kept from Hesychast. He knows what you’ve done for him but he’s never understood your motives! It’s possible to do exactly what they require of us, Yawa, but for reasons they don’t understand! That’s how to beat yomi! Conceal our maneuvers inside their maneuvers! They think their yomi is maintained until the moment it is broken!”

So I suppose she is answering Tain Hu's question here: the difference is in the heart, in the motives, in the fact that both Yawa's and Baru's goal, in the end, is to destroy the masters that believe them fully in their hands. She will board Eternal, and once again turn the Brain down, and then explain in great detail that last bit of her plan that she has kept from everyone else: that the trade concern will soak up all of Falcrest's capital, that she will create a bubble, divert all of the money into Oriati banks because the Falcresti investors will want to avoid tax obligations, and then burst it, and feast on the carcass. 
And from the shadows, Aminata has listened to all the ways that Baru wants to destroy her beloved Falcrest. 

Random notes: 
  • "Solit! Solit, come down! We caught our daughter fingering some falca girl in the woods! She’s so embarrassed!”
  • Elsewhere (In Aurdwynn), a woman who perfectly meets the Incrastic ideal appears to Bel, whom Heingyl refuses to divorce, plays right into his jealousy about Heingyl Ri and his great ambition, and then leaves a bottle of something called Ant Juice, which has an effect like MDMA and coke combined. Bel overestimates himself and freely voices his jealousy of Heingyl Ri to an armsman who is so true to her that he takes it as a deep insult, and then, freed of any inhibitions, he insults the man's mother. Which results in his death. (also, back on Cauteria, it seems that Baru is trusting into Heingyl Ri maybe a little bit too much, and maybe because she is kind of into her). 
  • The Brain fails to convince Baru to take the cancer because Baru wants to stay alive to see things through (in fact, her whole plan only works if she stays alive), but she does reveal to her the source of the Kettling: Vampiric bats in the depths of the jungle. 
  • "What I carry is the image I’ve made of Hu, my record of her beliefs and the method of her choices. It’s the law of being Hu: and that is enough for me to carry and to tap for strength. Isn’t that a soul?"


Oh so much happens. In a flashback to 25 years ago, Tau-indi proposed marriage to their friend Cosgrad Torrinde, who refused: he was going back to Falcrest, if he were to take Tau, they would have to hide their entire identity. He also gives Tau a warning about Falcrest, one in line with the Cancrioth opinion on trim: it is a beautiful ideology, one that Baru realises a little bit later has created a society far ahead of Falcrest, one safe from its influence, because to be kind was the only way to survive, but people are coming for the Mbo who care nothing for kindness, or for peace. And that person who cares nothing for is standing close by, being mocked by Kinda. I think that maybe we do find out Farrier's secret in this scene, the secret that Tau will later tell Baru he is sworn to keep, the secret that is, in fact, a person. Because a bit of time later, Kinda marries Abd (Abd, who has been nursing the Cancriothi sorcerer back to health, to learn from her), and they both have a person that they keep secret from each other, and one of them grew in Kinda. So, I guess, maybe there's a child out there that's Kinda's and Farrier's?

Baru realising that Tau is trusting her again, has faith in her again, is overwhelming to her (or perhaps it is overwhelming to Hu - Barhu feels essentially different from Baru). She calls it "grace", the fact that Tau asks her to occupy the space in trim they had, to be an ambassador for the Mbo. But Baru has none of the things that she promised Xate Yawa, not Farrier's secret from Tau, not the rutterbook of Eternal to shore up safe harbours for her trading route. And they are running out of time, because Xate has heard of Bel's assassination and knows that Heingyl will blame her (although somehow they manage, and manage very well, to make it clear to her that they had nothing to do with it - and Xate later explicitly asks Iscend to not tell her if it was her). They are running out of time because Xate has to return to Hesychast and promised a Cancrioth sample, and Baru has to return to Farrier (where we have already seen her), and Yawa's brother is in danger. 

Baru knows she is running out of time, and in one desperate act before her plans should come to fruition, she asks her parents and the elder of the Taranoki settlement to perform a banishment ceremony, so that her ties to them will be cut, so that they cannot be used as leverage against her. It's heartbreaking because Baru knows it isn't just symbolic, or a ruse: she will never be able to return. She can promise, or at least attempt, Salm's return, but for her, Taranoke will be nothing but a nostalgic memory of a place that will never exist again. And then Xate Yawa takes her away - saying, she thought I could find a way to fake it, but I couldn't. There will be a lobotomy (but Iscend is right there, and at the end of the first lobe, the needle breaks off - or maybe was never there to start off with). 

Meanwhile, all hell breaks lose. The negotiations are meant to have ended and been a success, but Morrow minister Faham Execarne has decided to raid Eternal for a sample of Kettling, so that Falcrest can develop a cure. It all turns to shit - the Cancrioth release some kind of psychoactive drug, and Aminata ends up in another Apocalypse Now trip, trying to save her friend Iraji, Abd, and Tau, who is still on board. Tau makes it clear to her that she must save Baru, that their friendship is as important as that between Tau, Abd and Kinda, even though she is still furious about Baru's intended betrayal of Falcrest. 

  • Cholera on Cauteria, spread from Eternal. Oh the horrors hiding on that ship. 
  • Iraji, to Aminata: "Do you ever think—maybe they teach us that we can overcome our race just to make us think our race is something we have to overcome?” 
  • Baru is 22 years old, and Xe is pregnant, and I guess the only person in this story who has her shit together, which does not bode well for her. 

Svir has successfully returned to the beloved homeland he never thought he would see again, and is immediately assaulted by the forces of Mansion Uczenith. It does not seem to help much when he declares what Baru told him: that she is now the rightful heir, because she is Tain Hu's widow. And he soon finds out that there are others vying for the hand of his brother, the Necessary King. This part of Baru's gamble is still in the air (but at least Vultjag is thriving due to the grain futures it has purchased well in time ahead of the invasion, while the rest of the North is suffering). 

To set up the showdown that finishes the novel, first of, in the Now, we get the first indication of things falling into place. Baru, who we assume has been lobotomised by Xate Yawe, under the watchful eyes of Iscend, who as a Clarified can give a perfect witness account, has arrived at the end of her story with Farrier. She proceeds to tell him that she was in possession of the Eternal's rutterbook and maps, things required for the trade concern - but we know that she never had them, that she told Xate that they could just fake it for the investors. So we know now that Baru is playing her sponsor, which of course means that the lobotomy has failed. Things click into place. 
She tells Farrier about her trade concern idea, and he is endlessly excited about the opportunity, offers up his capital and contacts immediately. It is an effortless first step. The second is a favour Baru asks of him, a dream she has always had...

"And she knows she has him."

All the pieces are falling in place. Tau-indi, Aminata and Abd go to see Kindalana, and they will all be attending the announcement of the trade concern. The Emperor will endorse the monopoly. Abd's and Tau's presence will show that the Oriati are in support of it. 
And the world might be healed just for Abd (who, after the botched surgery on Eternal, is paralysed) and Kindalana, his ex-wife, to be united. For the friendship between his two best-beloved people to be restored. "If anything Tau believed had any power at all, the world might be healed in microcosm."
Before it all goes down, Farrier takes out Baru for a meal of sheep's brain and drowned songbirds, to introduce her to life in Falcrest. While they are eating (with Farrier, of course, believing her utterly incapable of reasoning), Baru considers if other lands could have done what Falcrest did - the old quandary, of why it was the Masquerade that landed on Taranoke, and not the other way around. She thinks the answer lies in on the Mbo have never done this, have never used trade as a weapon to conquer far-away lands, that it is something essential in Falcrest ideology that has made it into a violent, conquering empire, one from which each and ever Falcresti profits. 

"But Falcrest was not an innocent victim of a historical inevitability. Empire required a will, a brain to move the beast, to reach out with appetite, to see other people as the answer to that appetite, to justify the devouring of other peoples as right and necessary and good, to frame slavery and conquest as acts of grace and charity."

It refutes that Falcrest's conquest is justified through its vaccination and infrastructure projects (and remember that all of the horrendous things that Falcrest has done are based on things that empires have done). It will justify what she is about to do. Which is this: 

She takes Farrier in the moment of his greatest triumph. He has placed her on the throne, because she asked for it, because he believed her lobotomised, and so she can accuse him - of fathering a royal heir with Kindalana, a crime in Falcrest which is obsessed with hygiene and anti-royalist. It is what she has suspected, what Kindalana has confirmed, the reason why he always treated her as a daughter. And since Baru speaks with the voice of the Emperor that does not know itself, that is faultless, she is believed, and Tau confirms what Farrier did. He is removed. He has lost a game he thought won, because he was too arrogant to even suspect a thing. 

And the beauty of it is that it puts Baru exactly where she said she would be, at the head of the trade concern, at the head of a bubble that is beginning to inflate before a single ship has even sailed. She has taken her revenge on the man who has stolen everything she held dear - Taranoke, her parents, her childhood, Aminata, Tain Hu whose sacrifice he is still incapable of understanding. Instead of killing him, like Xate Yawa suggests, she keeps him imprisoned to truly make him understand how utterly wrong he was, and how utterly she has defied his theories. She has not changed. She loves women. In a moment of brilliance, she even threatens that she will find his daughter, wine and dine her, and take her to bed. 
In the end, Baru says goodbye to Tain Hu, to Barhu. They imagine together what a world after the Masquerade would look like. Tain Hu demands that Baru does not just seek her political goals, but also her happiness, which is what Tain Hu sacrificed herself for. Hesychast attempts to gain some traction back, to threaten her, but she has kept another card up her sleeve - the fact that Kindalana was a genius political actor who used everything at her disposal, including the weird Falcresti ideas about Oriati women. Hesychast cannot be certain that the child was Farriers, because she could be his (maybe she and Baru can connect over that when they dine together). 

  • What a surprising and unlikely way for this novel to end: with Xate Yawa finally betraying Baru in the one way she could have never predicted, figuring out when her birthday is and inviting all of her friends to celebrate with her. What a joyful journey, just this once.
  • There is an indication here that Faham Execarne is one of the unknown cryptarchs that Baru has been suspecting exist. And Hesychast indicates to Baru that he is not sure if Renascent is even still a woman, or something else entirely (his statement that she has made "requests" is pretty horrifying, considering the body-horror subplot of what the Cancrioth do to live forever). 
  • Shao Lune, as expected, lands on her feet like the cat that she is, but at least Baru isn't into her whole thing anymore. 
  • One of my favourite bits in the background is Iscend's role in all of this: witnessing the lobotomy but leaving it open if she was aware of the ploy from the beginning (the needles broke off in Baru's head before they could do any damage, and are now part of her wide selection of wounds). We know she is beyond Hesychast's reach because she lied to him about Xate Yawa! 
  • So Kinda's daughter is very likely Stargazer, the cryptarch that Baru had suspected of likely being Oriati. 
  • Oh Aminata. "Tau-indi touched Aminata’s hand. “See?” the Prince said, warmly, though there were tears in their eyes, the tears of a person so gentle that they mourned even the ruin of the awful. “She trusted you. She trusted us.” In that moment, against all reason, Aminata felt like she was in a fleet of two, a navy of her and Baru: she had just been promoted to Grand Admiral, captain of everything she had ever wanted."
  • Any theories about what happens where the passage-search party lands in the Mother of Storms are welcome. A civilisation that harnesses lightening, bring sacrifices, and eats brains? 

No comments: