Redoubt by Mercedes Lackey #ReadingValdemar

SYNOPSIS

Herald Trainee Mags is working more closely with his mentor Nikolas to learn the business of spying for the King of Valdemar. Through different costumes and personas, Mags talks to folks who enter the pawn shop Nikolas set up, in one of his disguises, to gain information. But one night as he’s leaving, Mags feels eyes watching him. He’s unable to pinpoint who or what it could be, and his Companion, Dallen, isn’t sure either. Is it ghosts? Mags knows ghosts after spending his youth enslaved, working in a mine where children and people with disabilities were either murdered or left to die after cave ins…

Then, in a somewhat confusing, lengthy transitional scene, readers are unsure if Mags is remembering his experience with ghosts in the mine. Or is he in a new mine after being kidnapped and brainwashed? Or drugged? What comes next is a story of survival.

HIGHS & LOWS

The lows are in the eyes of the beholder. Er, reader. The trainees and other Valdemarans play a war game called kirball to practice for battle when they’re graduated to Heralds, Guards, etc. For Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku, kirball scenes are boring, and they may go on for a whole chapter. I love reading sports drama on the field, so I’m in my happy place. There’s more drama around Bear’s and Lena’s families again, but this time the nonsense is concluded by a rational, adult decision, and Lackey doesn’t linger there.

There was tension around Amily’s leg in Changes; would Bear be able to develop a surgery to repair her leg that was mangled then healed improperly when she was a girl? Somewhere between Changes and Redoubt, Amily has the surgery and is in recovery to strengthen her muscles…and I was disappointed. Lackey focuses on Amily being a “cripple” and needing to made “normal” instead of taking the opportunity to develop something cool. This is a fantasy novel.

Why isn’t there a Companion with a disability that could Choose Amily? Instead, Lackey emphasizes that Amily is not considered capable enough to be a Herald with her unusable leg. She’s physically carried everywhere, yet she tutors Herald trainees and has an excellent set of ethics. No, she couldn’t go out into the field or war if she were Chosen to be a Herald, but plenty of Heralds don’t. They are archivists, teachers, and advisors. Lackey couldn’t even conjure up a wheelchair or some other device so the world meets Amily where she is. Imagination, much? Instead, Amily is given two wonderful, usable legs. Ooh la la.*

Other than the aggravating ablest side plot about Amily, I enjoyed Redoubt because Mags ends up in a survivalist adventure. Kidnapped and drugged, he’s taken around two weeks away from Valdemar into enemy Karse. There, he learns more about the power-hungry priests who pervert the religion to keep citizens in line, sending demons into the night to kill those who disobey. If you’ve read previous books, you’re familiar with what happened to the Karse religion and who these priests are and how it resolves.

Mags also gets more information about his unclear origins, perhaps even his nation of origin. Lackey hits her stride as Mags escapes, forages for food, and attempts to walk home, all without any survivalist or maps training — he wasn’t quite there in school, yet. A nearly-blind priest and a sassy FireCat help him along his way, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy from there. Lackey sends Mags through the ringer until he needs a daring-do rescue, but from who or what will it come? As a survivalist/ adventure writer, Lackey succeeds. As an open-minded person writing about feelings, she often does not.

DISCUSSION QUESTION

It happens in fiction and movies all the time: people are rewarded for conforming to a “normal” standard by “overcoming” their disability. A angry blind man can see after an experimental surgery, a deaf person gets a cochlear implant and everyone cries upon watching the person hear for the first time, a paraplegic can walk after being possessed or entering a fake world (Avatar, anyone?). And then there are those who would rather be dead than disabled. As I learn more about disability activism and how the disabled community wants to be seen (which involves listening rather than assuming), I’m noticing more icky examples of “fixing” disabled people so they will be “normal.” Can you think of a book you’ve read that celebrates someone “overcoming” their disability?

*One of Mags’s spy personas is a boy deaf from birth who is an expert at analyzing the quality of gemstones. I learned than pretending to have a disability to trick people is also a negative stereotype of people with disabilities. It suggests folks are not as disabled as they claim, that they’re using other people, lazy, etc. I am still learning!

14 comments

  1. Except for the survival stuff, I found the whole book pretty frustrating. The structure was weird, those dream sequence things were weird. And it was super frustrating that no one was helping Amily to function in a supposedly egalitarian society until she was utterly changed…

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    • I remember reading in a previous book that Dallen stepped up and helped Amily feel like a person by carrying her around. Was there no other way to treat Amily like a human before she met Mags and Dallen?? That plot line sticks in my craw. I’m sure she’ll be running around and doing ninja kicks in the next book, or may even be Chosen now that she’s “fixed.”

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  2. It was implied in Foundation that the Heralds didn’t Choose Amily because they didn’t want to break Nikolas’s heart. This, too, enfurates me. She obviously has what it takes to be a Herald but the Companions have taken this away from her because her father is too bent out of shape to let his precious daughter grow up. And the Companions are encouraging this behavior! Infuriating (though, I expect she’ll be Chosen by the end of the next book…)

    To answer your discussion question totally backward… I’m currently reading Disability Visibility a collection of essays by disabled people. It’s wonderful and eye-opening. I’ve learned so much about what I have been doing to unintentionally harm members of the disabled community. Highly recommended!

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  3. I read Jackie’s review and then yours, so I have a fair idea of the book. Fantasy is not my favourite SF. And dreams I never see the point of and generally skip. I think a lot of SF writers are better at imagining situations than they are at writing about character and feelings (Le Guin of course the exception).
    In Australia we all grew up reading Alan Marshall’s I Can jump Puddles (1955) about his growing up with the effects of polio. But I agree with you that most stories involve “fixing” disabled people and that sometimes you need to look hard to see what’s going on.
    And in case you don’t know him, here’s Australia’s Steady Eddy: https://www.standup.com.au/comedian/steady-eddy

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    • Nick and I watched the Steady Eddy clip together. Thanks for sharing! His humor reminds me of another comedian with cerebral palsy, Josh Blue, an American. I love this bit, especially the pigeon joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQLbw61HtQs

      It’s interesting to see how the two talk about disability differently. Steady Eddy is more about terminology, where Blue jokes that the terminology is his gig.

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  4. Hmm, I’m drawing a blank at the moment in coming up with specific titles about “overcoming” disabilities, but my memory is awful and I do know exactly what you mean anyway. It is indeed a tired, ableist trope that suggests there’s something wrong with those who are disabled and ignores that “normalcy” may not be the ultimate goal in life. I suppose I can think of a ready example for the “rather be dead than disabled” camp though: Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. That one really faced some criticism for its handling of the quadriplegic character, and rightfully so.

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    • I didn’t read or watch Me Before You because it looked like it did a suicidal-to-love trope in which he probably dies in the end anyway. Ew. I’ve been trying to pay attention to my own thoughts about disability because I DO catch myself cheering for folks who “overcome” their disability. The worst one I’m guilty of is getting teary over those babies who get a cochlear implant and hear for the first time rather than parents learning and teaching their child ASL.

      I just retweeted this this morning:

      If we’re still gonna run headlines like:

      “Her disability hasn’t held her back….”

      can we follow it up with:

      ”…but ableism, discrimination and inaccessibility has.”

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      • You’re not wrong! I had already read the book and agreed to see the movie with a friend before I heard the criticism. At the time, while I understood the ableist complaint, I thought it didn’t mean a story like Me Before You was totally out of the realm of possibility or worth being told even if it was a rare case. Now that I’m farther away from it I definitely think that it should’ve been handled differently to leave the reader/viewer with a clearer message about the value in a disabled life, regardless of whether the MC of this particular story could see it or not. Tone and commentary is important, and Me Before You failed in that.

        The cochlear implants and related cases are tricky for me- I think if the science exists and the person wants to be able to hear or walk or whatever would allow them to “overcome,” then those options should be available for people who want them, free of shame. What’s so hard about the infant cases though is that clearly a person of that age can’t make the choice themselves! I don’t know enough about whether there’s an age that’s best for cochlear implants or learning ASL to understand whether timing is a factor, but I would love to see those babies getting to grow up with both and/or allowed an informed decision when the time comes. The emotionally manipulative videos meant to reassure the ableds that full ability is the only way to live really can go out with the trash, though!

        And that is a fantastic tweet.

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        • I’m reading more about Deaf culture and realizing that one struggle people born deaf or who lose their hearing very early have is learning English. Their reading tends to be slow, and their writing often reads like something from a non-native speaker of English, because they’re not. ASL is a different language, with different grammar, etc. To be raised in both languages would likely make a huge difference for fitting into society.

          I Googled some on how the Deaf community feels about devices like hearing aids and implants, and it sounds like folks think of them as tools rather than an attempt to overcome. Many are happy being deaf but pissed that society is not only not accommodating, but often cruel for no good reason (staring, negativity, using terms like “mute” and “dumb,” etc.).

          Back to the Moyes book. I’ve always thought that being able to choose assisted suicide was necessary, but then I was writing to one of the Australian bloggers, Brona, or maybe Kate, and she was talking about working in a hospice-type place and how people can have a death with dignity, to experience all their humanity right to the end. I’m now wondering what it means to treat someone like the man in Me Before You with full humanity, and if his exposure to kindness would make him feel differently about himself.

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          • ‘Many are happy being deaf but pissed that society is not only not accommodating, but often cruel for no good reason…’ Perfectly reasonable! A large portion of society unfortunately really does seem unaccepting and cruel. No one wants to be stared at and called names, of course, but for some reason able-bodied people often fail to grasp that someone disabled is still a whole person deserving of equal respect. The Deaf community truly should be angry about that! Society needs improvement.

            That he’s exposed to kindness that could make him change his mind is sort of the point to the whole book- the woman caring for him becomes very attached and spends months trying to convince him his life is still worth living and that she wants him around as is. He’s definitely treated with full humanity, but he still can’t stop drawing lines between a *good* life and a *good enough* life.

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            • You ever see The Matrix? And there’s that moment when Keanu can SEE the Matrix? He brushes the bullets away, etc? The older I get, more more I feel like that with what a “good life” means. I had a hard time for a long time because I thought you were supposed to get married, buy a house, have the same job forever, collection your pension, and die. Well, houses are cost prohibitive, and even if we bought one, are we willing to give up the ability to move easily? Do we want to fuss with home maintenance every weekend? And with work: do we want the same job our whole lives or an attitude that allows us to reinvent ourselves and be brave enough to do that? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people who are unused to change and insist on having things just how they want them are having the hardest time with all the change caused by COVID.

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