In which no-one is likely to come after someone’s head on University… are they?
The situation with Anne and Er Thom has developed an additional complication, with the way Anne is now apparently able to sense some of what Er Thom is feeling. That’s another thing where I wonder how it would read to someone who didn’t already have the story of Val Con and Miri as context.
And there is something that’s just occurred to me, that I don’t think had before: one of the guest suites at Trealla Fantrol is apparently the Ambassadorial Suite. Does Korval host ambassadors that often?
In which Anne comes home to find Er Thom and Shan gone.
The dragon on Korval’s shield, so Er Thom tells Shan, is named Megelaar. I didn’t think anything of it the first time I read Local Custom (why shouldn’t the dragon have whatever name Korval chooses to give it?), but having read “Dragon Tide” it’s interesting that the name fits the pattern of the dragon family in that story. It’s not inappropriate – there are plenty of parallels that make it clear the Laar is a relative of Korval’s Tree – but I do wonder how Korval knew, when the only person who could have told them is the Tree, and the Tree isn’t one for generating vocal utterances. (I also wonder whether there was a real dragon named Megelaar, and if so why he was singled out for having his name immortalised. The first of the line, perhaps? …or the last?)
Another thing I wonder, speaking of having read other things first: I read the novels in more-or-less publication order, so when I reached Local Custom, I already knew how Er Thom and Anne’s story turned out. How does this chapter read to someone coming to it from the other direction, who knows Er Thom only from the eight preceding chapters? Does it seem more likely that Anne’s fears are justified?
In which Er Thom and Kareen each take thought for the good of the clan.
As Er Thom works on persuading Anne to come to Liad and meet his family, we start getting an idea of the politics at work. One gets the impression they’re not going to be as delighted to see her as he’s making out.
And speaking of seeing her, there’s another miscommunication in this chapter that’s going to significantly affect Anne’s understanding of the evolving situation. The distinction between being seen by the Delm and being Seen by the Delm is not nearly as clear in spoken Terran as it presumably is in Liaden.
Anne appears to have an exaggerated view of the Liaden need to protect one’s melant’i. I suspect she’s not familiar with the anecdote about dessert that’s at the head of the chapter. Instead, she’s taking the tale of Shan el’Thrassin as her model of Liaden conduct, and in so doing she’s misleading herself in several important ways. In general, great literature can be an unreliable guide to how real people act, tending as it does toward dramatic instances. Not every hurt or insult must result in a great big debt-war. In specific, Er Thom is not Shan el’Thrassin, and, crucially, Anne is not Lyada ro’Menlin: Anne’s model is a story about two Liadens, with nothing to say about the possibility and ramifications of one party acting from a strong but alien Code. Anne looks at the story and sees that Shan el’Thrassin had no way out of harming his love to achieve Balance, but she doesn’t see that Er Thom has an out that Shan el’Thrassin didn’t have.
Unrelatedly, Shan yos’Galan is such a cute kid, isn’t he?
This chapter kicks off a major complication that lasts, one way and another, for most of the book, and illustrates a thing I’ve often observed in life as well as in fiction: that the most troublesome miscommunications often result not from something being said unclearly, but from someone assuming that the situation is so obvious to everyone that nothing need be said at all.
This chapter contains the situation in a nutshell: Er Thom and Anne love each other, thrive when together and struggle when separated; all that’s keeping them apart is the entire weight of social convention and expectation on both sides. Easy.
(Communication on the internet has its advantages, but there are times when I miss the ability to convey facial expression and tone of voice.)
It appears my memory let me down again: the Liaden face-touching taboo is explained in this novel. (Of course it is; it’s an important detail. I’m not sure now why I thought otherwise. I expect I was thinking of other stories where it is just an incidental.)
In which Anne and Er Thom each separately look forward to life becoming more simple.
We’ve encountered Shan el’Thrassin before, briefly; Jethri reads about him in Balance of Trade.
There’s a nice bit of multiple-purpose exposition in this chapter, when Anne is reflecting on her childhood. It serves its overt purpose of elucidating how Anne handles her own child, but it also casually slips in the fact that she comes of a family that produces pilots, which will be important later.
This chapter is one that becomes richer through being able to bring in context from other stories. There are things that slide by as unexplained background details that are expanded on elsewhere in the series.
For instance, the reason why Er Thom, “an experienced and considerate lover”, was “unexpectedly awkward” when it came to kissing, is never explained, that I recall, anywhere – in this novel. But the necessary cultural background is available elsewhere.
Likewise, knowing about the Liaden prohibition on permanently-installed ear decorations adds strength to Petrella’s description of Daav’s ear decoration as “barbaric”, and on the other hand adds emotional weight to Daav’s decision to continue wearing it.