The morning QuiTai awoke completely sane, she knew Petrof was dead.
If any first sentence is an indication of the quality of its novel, this one is. In “The Devil Incarnate” Braden continues to weave her words together into sounds and images that brought me to the Island of Ponong and its inhabitants. Cultural gaps between the Thampurians and Ponongese are shown, not told, and I have no problem understanding the depths that must be bridged. The greatest one has to do with respect.
Thampurians respect only their male elders. When grandfather Zul states something as fact, younger generations are not allowed to gainsay him nor to disobey him even if their knowledge is greater than his. The Ponongese, however, are not bound by such rules. Age or gender do not automatically buy a person respect. Instead, titles are given on the basis of power and understanding. While speaking with people, QuiTai is called “grandmother”, “aunt”, “daughter” and “little sister” depending on the issue at hand. Even little children may be called “grandmother” if they are the most knowledgeable about a something. Even though QuiTai is a very powerful woman, her employees may call her “aunt” if the topic at hand denotes equality or if there is a close relationship. Oddly, enough, the Thampurians seem to fear this system. Or perhaps it isn’t all that strange after all.
In this story, QuiTai wants to find out who hired Petrof to kill her, Kyam Zul desperately wants to leave the island, and grandfather Zul plays games with deadly consequences.
Grandfather Zul is too much of a coward to speak directly to Kyam about what he wants to do. Despite having articles of transport signed by Governor Turyat and Chief Justice Cuulon, grandfather Zul has pressured Thampurians into denying Kyam transport back to Thampur. In spite of his cowardly ways, Kyam cannot find fault with the old man. He claims “It is not our place to question him” even when Hadre tells Kyam
He gave me a direct order not to tell you that he was here. He didn’t have the balls to tell you the bad news to your face, so he ran away and left it to me.”
In a sense, this is a “coming-of-age” story for Kyam. His blind devotion to Grandfather Zul is challenged over and over. Fighting facts, Kyam mostly blames others for the choices he is forced to make, and one wonders whether Kyam has the courage to face the truth about the old man.
Kyam is not the only one who has a difficult time removing his blinders. Major Voorus was hit hard when he discovered the truth about the slaves on Cay Rhi. Slowly he realizes that “honor” is just a word used by those in power to control the behavior of the masses. “Honor” must be redefined into something he can live with. He and Kyam have a defining moment when Voorus expresses his doubts. Both of them are forced to make a choice. Sadly, both judge the Pongonese on the basis of what a Thampurian would do.
They’re just waiting for any excuse to slaughter us, and she has that excuse, Zul.
Fantasy and science fiction, more than any other kind of fiction, allows the reader to relax and look away from what their socialization has told them to think. Stories like “The Devil of Ponang” opens the door to issues like racism, culturalism, genderism and classism without telling us what to think about them. My own ideas of right and wrong have changed thanks to such literature, even when facts were not able to get through my noggin.
QuiTai grieves. Petrof killed her daughter, her family and had tried to kill her as well. In “The Devil’s Concubine” he killed her spouse, Jeezeret. “The Devil Incarnate” continues her grieving lessons as even more essential parts of her life cease. Yet she is not allowed time to grieve. Instead people demand more and more of her. Once a person manages to pull a miracle out of their sleeve, such as freeing slaves, even more unlikely deeds are expected of them. As the new incognito Devil, she also has obligations to the Ponong underworld.
You’re running out of black lotus.
I envy none of these three for what they go through in this novel, but I did enjoy reading about them and the rest of the characters in “The Devil Incarnate“.
My review of “The Devil’s Concubine“