Chapter by Chapter: 12
Zoya: Social Isolation
Zoya sat by herself at the end of the Summoners' table, eating her breakfast in silence. She didn't look up as Marie and Nadia called their greetings to me, and I did my best to ignore her, too.
Zoya did assault Alina, and broke her ribs. That shouldn't be underplayed, but I can't help but feel sorry for her. To go from being the most popular person, returning home in triumph, to sitting by herself at the end of a table full of her "friends" while Marie and Nadia utterly ignore her is sad.
Baghra is Not A Good Teacher
Theory: the reason Baghra is so obsessed with keeping warm is similar to the reason Alina always feels weak/sick when she doesn't use her powers.
We've never seen Baghra use her powers, and so this lack of use makes her cold all the time. Similar to how Alina feels weak.
Baghra is starting to really grate on me. She's not a good teacher.
She never encourages Alina, she never gives constructive criticism, she never displays the slightest bit of faith in her abilities (despite having felt her powers). She's always putting Alina down. I'm not saying Alina is the best student, but when you don't understand/can't "get" something, the proper response isn't destroying her (already small) self esteem.
When I was in elementary, I was terrible at math. Every time we had a test, our teacher would go from student to student (in class) and go over each thing they'd done wrong on a test. He went over every single mistake, in front of everyone, and kept asking why we'd done this instead of that. Well, it didn't make us love math. It made a lot of ten year olds cry, and we had some of the lowest overall grades in the school. It inhibited learning.
Humiliation doesn't make you work harder, it just makes you want to be invisible (something Alina seems to want alot). You never remember how to do something right, just that you did something wrong.
Baghra is certainly a humorous character, with quirks that make me laugh a bit, and an air of mystery- but her words and actions border on cruelty. They're always mocking.
"She's fine!" hooted Baghra. "She's fine! She cannot light a hallway, but she's fine."
I winced and wished I could disappear into my boots.
So, when the Darkling steps in
"Leave her be."
I'm glad. Because that's an appropriate reaction to a toxic teacher. Alina doesn't have the agency to do this, she lacks the power to do this. The Darkling doesn't.
(Although, I'd question the premise of he having her teach if she's like this with kids)
"Don't patronize me, boy!"
Damn Baghra! You called the Darkling "boy," the utter disrespect she has for his position is insane.
Let's look at this in context- The Darkling is her boss. And the only things she shows him in this chapter is contempt and disrespect, without ever deigning to explain why.
Also, how old is she that she can call this 120 year old man "boy"
The Darkling's reaction to this is fascinating:
To my amazement, I saw the Darkling stand up straighter and then scowl as if he'd caught himself.
He was going to listen to her! As if by instinct, he was going to obey. What kind of relationship do these two have?!
"Was she your teacher, too?"
A shadow crossed his face. "Yes."
Ooooh! He's acting like she's his mom! lol Or grandmother, rather.
"Don't chide me, old woman."
Baghra is the only one that seemingly makes him lose control. The Darkling always has control (outwardly) of situations, and now Baghra has gotten him off kilter.
What were they talking about before Alina walked in?
"The boy thinks to get you an amplifier. What do you think of that, girl?"
Ok... so, I feel like this is an obvious play on Baghra's part. She's clearly trying to piss off the Darkling by telling Alina something that the Darkling hasn't yet agreed to. She calls the Darkling boy again, she's poking the bear really hard.
Wait... wait wait wait. What do we know about amplifiers? Would it actually be helpful in Alina's situation? Because her situation isn't that she needs more power, it's that she needs more control. Nothing that Feydor/Ivan said about amplifiers implies that they give the user more control. But rather that the bones of powerful animals are used to "focus" or increase power (in my mind- like a wand).I'm not sure it would actually work in Alina's case. What good is more power if you can't control it?
Baghra and the Darkling were able to help me call my power because they were living amplifiers
Yes, Baghra and the Darkling can call your power. But when you try to touch it yourself it slips away. It's Baghra and the Darkling's intent/skill doing this, not Alina's. (At least that's how I read it).
"I think it's brilliant!"
Ok, maybe I'm wrong- but now's the time to ask questions! They're old, powerful, and super Grisha- so, please please, now is the time for exposition!
I have never heard of that- but this exposition looks promising.
"Of course she has. She's also heard of unicorns and the Shu Han dragons," Baghra said mockingly
Yeah, so my view of Baghra is dropping by the sentence. Instead of constantly putting everyone else down- why don't you come up with something to help Alina reach her powers. Or instead of mocking everything that comes out of the Darkling and Alina's mouth, why don't you offer some constructive criticism instead of essentially saying you're an idiot if you think fairytales will help. It just feels like Baghra, as a teacher, is failing in her job and now the Darkling has to step up to the plate to try and fill the gaps.
The Darkling is literally the only Adult Adulting
An angry look passed over the Darkling's features, but then he seemed to master himself. "May I have a word with you, Alina?" he inquired politely.
Honestly, really respect him for this move. Clearly, Baghra is not contributing anything to this conversation, so instead of getting angry he takes a deep breath. Calms himself, and removes himself from the situation, while also not taking his anger out on Alina.
It's the adult thing to do.
Baghra snorted again, but the Darkling ignored her
Good. Healthy thing to do.
he heaved a huge sigh and ran his hands through his hair again. "That woman," he muttered
Lol. This is the Darkling at his most relatable. I wish we saw more of this (though I understand he has to be "removed" from everyone), it's quite humanizing and shows that although he may be the Top Boss, he, like everyone on the planet, has trouble with the people he works with too.
"Was she your teacher, too?"
A shadow crossed his face. "Yes."
Ooooh! Interesting! Finally some hints about their history! I wonder why their relationship is so antagonistic. It seems like they're working towards common goals.
white deer, magical creatures...grant wishes
It's a White Hart! They're real figures of mythology! Specifically, Celtic mythology. In a lot of Arthurian myths they're masters at evading capture, and they're associated with spiritual (fantasy) quests.
There's a ton of religious motifs associated with them- in one really famous illustration the white hart wears a golden crown as a collar attached to a gold chain- which symbolizes the suffering of Christ and the burden of kingship- noble and enslaved.
It's a symbol of bondage and power.
White = purity (and in Celtic mythology white also represents the "otherworld"
oh... I just caught an asoiaf thing. White Walkers/beyond the wall are deeply associated with Celtic mythology. (Ex. Bloodraven literally hanging in a tree = Odin.) And White Walkers are Others and associated with the magic of the Children... that's so cool! Especially since the Wall is one of the "hinges of the world" and passing through is often associated with passing through a barrier into an entirely other world.
The White Walkers are a part of the Other World, I am loving that.
C.S. Lewis Reference:
The Pevensie children hunt the Stag in the first book, hoping to get wishes for catching it.
Harry Potter Reference
I'd be remiss if I didn't include the Harry Potter reference- Prongs/Harry's Patronus is a white stag, and a protector
Back to Baghra
Baghra usually finds my ideas ridiculous
That's pretty discouraging. And a pattern of behavior that extends beyond just Alina's experiences.
"Kings and Darklings have been searching for Morozova's herd for centuries
Check! Masters at evading capture.
"its antlers can be made into an amplifier"
Just like the stag in the famous picture- a crown around its neck.
"The most powerful amplifier ever known"
"And you want to give it to me"
He nodded again
"Wouldn't it just be easier for me to get a claw or a fang..."
I have... questions.
I totally understand Alina's perspective- this seems like a hell of a long shot. A mythical amplifier no one has ever seen much less caught? I hope to god she's skeptical! We need to encourage critical thinking in our MC!
But the Darkling is right,
If we have any hope of destroying the Fold we need the stag's power
The Darkling is a living amplifier- he can call Alina's power to the surface. Why can't he and Alina ride up on the Fold, he holds her hand, and he acts as her amplifier. And then bomb bang, her power, his experience, his amplifier... am I missing something?
First Time the Darkling "Feels" Old
The Darkling has never really felt 120 years old to me. He's always felt... well, strangely young. I could imagine he's actually 35 and it would make total sense.
Here though, Alina has this desperate impatience (which is completely understandable in this situation) but he's calm, steady. A rock. The Darkling's sense of time should feel completely different from ours, when Alina says "hurry up" what she's saying is- I want it now. Quick, fast, and in a hurry.
So, when the Darkling says
"I've been waiting for you a long time, Alina."
I imagine he's thinking of the long game. A quest that could years, decades- they've got nothing but time on their hands. If the Fold is around for another 10 years, it's like 6 months in Alina's time.
This is the first time I've gotten the weight behind those words. The years, decades, the century- that's there. It's... a heavy thought.
Alina does research
YES! A character decision! I fully and completely support! She's doing her own research, trying to learn more, and also fact checking what she can! A smart move, please do it again!
Grisha could have only one amplifier
I feel like this increases my view earlier on the Darkling being an amplifier. So, if Alina gets the antler necklace, could she still touch the Darkling and get a power boost? Or does it not work like that?
The reason for this wasn't entirely clear to me
It's a soft magic system- works for the plot, Alina. Lol how very meta.
the Fold was the one place where the Darkling was helpless, where his powers meant nothing.
I'm not sure I understand what this means. Can the Darkling not use his powers in the Fold?
Approving of Alina Couldn't Last- gah!
But nothing had changed. I still couldn't summon without Baghra's help. I still wasn't truly a Grisha. All the same, I felt a bit less miserable about it. The Darkling had asked me to trust him, and if he believed that the stag was the answer, then all I could do was hope he was right....
Alina goes to the banya a few times and to one of the ballets at the Grand Palace
At first, I thought this was an improvement. That Alina was still trying, but had broken that "block" inside her. The part that was putting so much pressure on herself... then I kept reading:
My new attitude infuriated Baghra.
"You're not even trying anymore!" she shouted. "You're waiting for some magical deer to come save you?
When she started railing at me, I just shrugged. She was right. I was tired of trying and failing. I wasn't like the other Grisha, and it was time I accepted that. Besides the rebellious part of me enjoyed driving her into a tizzy.
Forget about driving Baghra crazy! It's driving ME crazy!
Show Me! Don't Just Tell Me: I want to SEE Alina STRUGGLE
We have no insight into these lessons,- we've been told about what's happening (in one chapter, briefly, meditation, tea, stress positions) but we have not been shown anything! This is infuriating, it's impossible to judge this important aspect of Alina's training with just a bare sentence about her lessons.
There should have been at least a few scenes where we see Alina desperately trying, working as hard as she can, to do this. And utterly failing. It needs to sink in to the reader that she feels like she can't do this. Have her break down. Have her cry herself to sleep in despair watching the other Grisha effortlessly use their powers (especially the children) while Alina can't even summon a candle.
I want to see rock bottom. How long has Alina been at the Little Palace? About 2-3 months. And we have nothing to show for it- by this I don't mean progress on her powers.
By this I mean- no character growth. It pains me to say but, the combination of this "new attitude" and the lack of insight into Alina's lessons screams "lazy writing" to me because it results in one thing- we don't get any insight into Alina's lessons or the hard-nitty gritty complexities of Grisha powers.
This would be a fantastic place to world build- show how Alina is learning all these incredible things (theory, diplomacy, politics, etc...) but none of it means anything if she can't Summon.
If she feels like a fraud- go full ham and show me.
Don't just say she avoids practicing in front of others, show the stomach churning, anxiety inducing moment when someone invites her (or implies she can't use her powers) and Alina has to find some way to say no. And utterly loses face. How deeply her pride (what little she has) is being slowly ground down. Every. Single. Day.
Show me how miserable she is, show me how much she hates the Little Palace.
But for god's sake stop telling me in summary what happens.
Still, I couldn't shake the sense of my own failure...I put (the kefta) on, but it was hard not to feel like a fraud.
Yes. This is what I mean! A little scene showing how even golden fabric makes her feel like a fraud- just expand it! Show me more!
Mal- Not Dead!- But Leaving Alina on Read
Ultimately, I'm really glad he's not dead. It would have been a waste of character to kill him off screen, and at this point it would have felt like kicking Alina while she was down.
Genya's letter says: Mal is healthy, stationed in Tsibeya (Siberia) for 6 weeks
I should be grateful. I should be glad.
Oof. Her last letter was really passive aggressive for not knowing if he was dead.
Dear Mal, I haven't heard from you, so I assume you've met and married a volcra and that you're living comfortably on the Shadow Fold, where you have neither light nor paper with whih to write. Or possibly, your new bride ate both your hands.
Followed by descriptions of the Little Palace/friends. It's interesting that Alina doesn't tell him her struggles, I can easily see a version of this where Alina uses the letters as a sort of black hole journal. A place where she can confide her fears/wishes and despair to her oldest friend.
I think part of me wishes she'd done this. I'm not sure if it's more impactful that she wanted him to believe she was fine when she wasn't.
I hadn't told him about Morozova's stag or the fact that I was such a disaster as a Grisha or that I missed him every single day.
If Mal is going to live I think it would have more weight to Alina's overall narrative if she'd told him all this. If she'd sent those letters (believing at this point he'd ever respond and she might be sending confessions to a ghost) pouring out her heart and he never read/responded to them- well, she has her answer. And if he did read them, that emotionally vulnerability would be a painful joy to read since she refused to be emotionally vulnerable in the books beginning
If Mal is going to die I think it's more impactful/more painful for Alina to know that she spent so much time imagining the things she wants to tell him but never did. I'd love the angst if Mal read all her letters believing she was happy at the Little Palace, and he died never knowing the truth.
But I've always preferred angst over fluff so that's a personal choice.
But he had gotten my letters. What had he done with all of them? Had he even bothered to open them? Had he sighed with embarrassment when the fifth and the sixth and the seventh arrived?
I cringed. Please write, Mal. Please don't forget me, Mal.
Pathetic, I thought, brushing angry tears away.
Oof. That's rough, girl. At this point, I'm really with her. Screw Mal! He's safe, completely healthy, but he can't be bothered to write back? Alina went to all this trouble (and is constantly pining over him) when she could be focusing on her Grisha lessons. I get that he's important but Mal really doesn't seem worth the effort.
He's not worth your tears, Alina!
Moral of the Story:
If your life long friend is just going to up and abandon you at every drop of a hat- girl, you need better friends!
But, there's something worse about this. If, as a reader, we don't see the good times, only the bad. I cannot appreciate her relationship with Mal, fully.
All I have read about is Mal just ditching her, getting drunk without her, and refrain after refrain about how they used to be so close.
The problem is that I've never actually seen it. If there were flashbacks to her and Mal being BFFs, then I could understand. But until we see a grounded, strong, intimate relationship between the two that doesn't amount to Alina pining- I just can't buy it. And thus, I can't invest in it, if it feels empty.
This? This feels empty. Like it's lip service without the actual effort behind it.
Alina Finally Breaks (thank you, god)
Baghra let out a short bark of laughter. "So you're angry today, girl? What do you have to be angry about?"
Ooooh, keep picking Baghra.
"I'm sick of all this, I'm sick of eating rye and herring for breakfast.
I take offense to that lol. I am a bread baker at heart and herring is delicious. I feel the need to tell everyone that I was making sourdough before quarantine made it cool!
I'm sick of wearing this stupid kefta. I'm sick of being pummeled by Botkin and I'm sick of you
..."No," she said slowly. "No. It's not that. There's something else. What is it? Is the poor little girl homesick?"
Damn Baghra! You mean old sparrow, I don't like her teaching but she know how to pick and pick at a sore that hurts.
"What's so bad about your life here? New clothes, a soft bed, hot food at every meal, the chance to be the Darkling's pet."
This is building up to something. And that's one thing I love about Baghra- she goes for the throat. That's ruthless.
"I'm not his pet."
"But you want to be," she jeered. "Don't bother lying to me. You're like all the rest. I saw the way you looked at him."
Oh my god. She's twisting the knife. Striking right at Alina's insecurities, and the very best worst thing about it- she's right, it's true. That's why it hits Alina so hard, that's why it hurts.
Alina doesn't want to be somebody- she wants to be like all the rest. She wants to disappear. She has all these luxuries (soft bed, good food- but she still doesn't like it, being the Darkling's pet) and she hates it all but wants it all even more.
Baghra drags all her insecurities to the surface and beats them with her stick.
Baghra becomes a reader insert:
"A thousand girls would sell their own mothers to be in your shoes, and yet here you are, miserable and sulking like a child. So tell me, girl. What is your sad little heart pining for?"
Alina refuses to show vulnerability (and since it's Baghra I definitely don't blame her)
Alina Becomes a Hawk
"Where are you going? What's waiting for you out there?"
I'd bet my last dollar Baghra knows the answer
"Nothing!" I shouted at her. "No one!"
As soon as I said it, the truth of the words hit me so hard that it left me breathless.
So, I was right. (Isn't smug at all)
I'd pushed my power down and held it there each day, with all my energy and will, without ever realizing it. I'd used up every bit of myself to keep that secret.
I think this is supposed to be some sort of revelation, but really (not to sound like an ass) it was obvious from the Before.
Alina pushed her powers down, down down down. All for Mal, and now he'd abandoned her. Left her behind.
The only person in the world who truly knew me had decided I wasn't worth the effort of a few words. But I was still holding on... deep down, some part of me just wanted to go home to Mal. Some part of me hoped that this had all been a mistake, and that the Darkling would send me back to the regiment, and that Mal would realize how much he'd missed me, that we'd grow old together in our meadow.
And that. That right fucking there is why I do not like Mal. That level of codependency is terrifying. Unhealthy. It's a total New Moon moment, when he drops her like a hot potato.
Alina should, no Alina needs to make this decision for herself. She needs to choose to be Grisha because it is the best thing for her, it needs to be a choice of agency, on her own two feet- and not because of Mal. Alina needs to want this, for herself.
Life, Death, Rebirth
It was time to let go. That day in the Shadow Fold, Mal had saved my life, and I had saved his. Maybe that was meant to be the end of us.
I do love the symmetry of this. Alina died in the Shadow Fold, and on the wood deck of the skiff, Alina was reborn.
Now, she's still living in the past. Mourning a past that never truly existed in the first place.
The thought filled me with grief, grief for the dreams we'd shared for the love I'd felt for the hopeful girl I would never be again. That grief flooded through me, dissolving a knot that I hadn't even known was there.
I called and the light answered.
Finally. Gah! I'm so happy.
It's a wonderfully written moment and I'm so excited to read it (not to erase previously mentioned things) but seriously I adore this final paragraph!
It surrounded me, blazing with heat, more powerful and more pure than ever before because it was all mine. I wanted to laugh, to sing, to shout. At last, there was something that belonged wholly and completely to me.
This is a fist pumping, on your feet, caffeine jittery moment! And it's the very first time I am uncomplicatedly happy for Alina!
Conclusion: Let Me Gush, Please!
The Light is her. It's wholly and utterly Alina's. And I love that! I adore that the light is this intrinsic quality of hers, like one of our senses. Possible to live without, but painful everyday it's gone-it's like sight, hearing, taste, our sense of touch. The light feels like this well of warmth, being without has left Alina incomplete.
And I'm gushing, gushing far too much but I'm just so euphoric that Alina is finally, finally happy.
Because she hasn't been happy, truly happy until this moment. It's not because of Mal, Genya, the Darkling or any of the others- Alina is full of joy for herself.
Before Chapter 1, Chapter 2 Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 Chapter 8-10, Chapter 11
Alina is Complicit: A Genya Analysis
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