Monday, August 27, 2018

Born to the Blade: Episodes 7 & 8

Today we return to my look at Michael R. Underwood's consistently excellent serial Born to the Blade. Following my thoughts on Episodes 5 & 6 (see here), we continue on with episodes 5 and 6, written by Cassandra Khaw and and Malka Older, respectively.

Episode 7: Dreadnought

War! Or, at least the first steps towards war have been taken. With the suspicion between Quloo and Rumika over the destroyed shipment of aerstone, Quloo has parked a warship over Twaa-fei and all the nations are more than on edge. They're taking sides, they're breaking old alliances and friendships. The neutral ground of Twaa-fei is looking more and more like it is going to be where the peace of nations is fully shattered.

Though the last episode was titled "Spiraling", that title would be just as apt for this one. Cassandra Khaw is extremely effective at bringing that spiraling distrust to the forefront. Each warder is on edge, Ojo in particular is as tightly wound as it is possible to be.

There is a moment of crowning awesomeness in "Dreadnought", which is that of Lavinia facing down that titular dreadnought. A loaded to bear warship is anchored above Twaa-fei and Lavinia, with just her sword and her skill, is able to use the magic of the forms and symbols of bladecrafting and single handedly take on that warship. It was spectacular and Khaw made that extended sequence do double duty, working through narrative of Kris feeling betrayed by a friend and Michiko's exerting a small bit of independence after finding herself the primary warder of her nation.

Episode 8: Refugees
"You mean like unprovoked attacks, colonialist rhetoric, stronger powers ganging up on the weak? Yes,  I'd say something is going around."
Even in an episodic series as smoothly written as Born to the Blade, there are certain story beats and landmarks that puts me in mind of who the writer is. A story tangentally dealing with refugees (despite the title, which is more a story driver than the story itself) is very much what I would expect from Malka Older.

We're still on the edge of a massive explosion into war. Both Quloo and Rumika are becoming increasingly isolated, though we see Kris Denn from Rumika still working to learn the truth of the destruction of the Rumikan fleet with hints that if he aligns Rumika with the Merkitan Empire that he will receive support. But that goes back to the opening quote about colonialism and stronger powers.

While I'm sure at some point Born to the Blade will erupt into all out war, I'm not in a rush. The gradual alienation is so effective and so - well, entertaining isn't the right word because the parallels to the real world is are just a touch too close for comfort. The alienation is compelling. Will Ojo be torn between duty to his nation or opposing what he feels is wrong? Will Lavinia succeed in driving every other nation to their knees in an echo of American arrogance? Will Rumika truly find allies? There's a lot to think about and more questions than that to see if Older will answer in Episode 9: "Assassination".

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.