Today we return to my look at Michael R. Underwood's consistently excellent serial Born to the Blade. Following my brief thoughts on Episodes 3 & 4 (see here), we continue on with episodes 5 and 6, written by Malka Older and and Marie Brennan, respectively.
Episode 5: Trade Deal
Secrets are revealed that perhaps shouldn't be revealed. Now that Kris Denn was victorious in the Gauntlet and earned Rumika a seat on the Warder's Council, he immediately fulfills his promise to Ojo of Quloo and confirms the titular trade deal of aerstone (a relatively rare and expensive ore that allows all of these island nations to float in the sky + build airships) and help out the otherwise sinking island nation. Being relatively inexperienced and trying to make friends and influence people, he lets slip during a night of drinking that Rumika perfected a method to manufacture aerstone rather than just strip mining their island like everyone else does. Whoops.
Malka Older balances the intensely action packed fourth episode with a quieter episode, if equally explosive in term of revelations. I really like how Older gets across the inexperience and naivete of Kris more here than in any of the previous four episodes. He's great with a blade (though still has more to learn in that arena, too), but his diplomatic experience is sorely lacking and it shows. That's the heart of what "Trade Deal" gets across. Kris may be a primary character of this narrative, but he made a really stupid mistake and this may be one of a pivotal event in the Born to the Blade narrative.
Episode 6: Spiraling
It's not that I want to say the episode titles are a bit on the nose, but if I'm being honest, they're a bit on the nose. After the successful trade deal between Rumika and Quloo in the last episode (and Kris's lack of circumspection), the fleet delivering aerstone to Quloo is destroyed. Distrust and rumors begin to infect and infest the warders of Twaa-fei. Events are not out of control yet, but they're getting there. Things seem to be spiraling out of control. Like I said, on the nose.
Thing is, that spiraling is exactly what is happening here. Marie Brennan is very effective at communicating the growing distrust between the nations represented by the warders at Twaa-fei. Things are tense and growing increasingly moreso. That tension is palpable. We're at the midpoint of Born to the Blade, so it's quite clear that things have to get much worse before they get better, assuming they do get better. That's not guaranteed and even before I see how this season shakes out I know that I don't want this to end. I want a second and maybe even a third season. It's good not-television.
BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award
Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.