After a long absence, we return to my look at Michael R. Underwood's consistently excellent serial Born to the Blade. Following my thoughts on Episodes 7 & 8 (see here), we continue on with episodes 9 and 10, written by Malka Older and and Marie Brennan, respectively.
Episode 9: Assassination
The titular assassination is a bit of a tease if taken literally because the assassination in question does not occur until the final paragraphs of the episode. If taken figuratively, Malka Older could be referring to the overall assassination of peace that has been ongoing now for several episodes of Born to the Blade and now with the formal declaration of war, that peace has been shattered. I wonder about titles, sometimes.
Knowing the little bit that I do of Malka Older (at least as she presents herself online), I am not surprised by how gracefully she handles the growing refugee crisis on Twaa-Fei. Resources are being overwhelmed, tensions are escalating, but the refugees are not a faceless mass of invaders. They're people and Older writes them as such, even in the limited space she has for this episode and with all of the other work she has to do to propel the larger narrative forward. It's a fantastic piece of writing and "Assassination" might be my favorite episode of Born to the Blade so far.
Older also smoothly handles the politics of this episode. From the early formal declaration of war by the Merkitan Empire against Quloo to the dinner party thrown by the more junior Merkitan warder for all of the other warders, despite the war they just declared, it's an impressive balancing act of Older fitting all the pieces together. Is the party high level diplomacy or a show of supremacy? Maybe it's both.
Episode 10: Shattered Blades
Born to the Blade, in some ways, is warfare writ small. It's aggression between diplomats, chaos on the island of Twaa-Fei, assassination attempts, and duels in place of large scale warfare. We know there is a larger war raging beyond the shores of Twaa-Fei, but "Shattered Blades" is about the personal stories.
Those personal stories, of course, are told through and around the best fight sequences in any of the episodes of Born to the Blade (and perhaps in just about any other story). Brennan absolutely nails the two major duels of "Shattered Blades". This episode is not just about the fighting, but damn, the duels are so damned good. But, so is the everything. Dealing with the fallout of the assassination attempt from the previous episode is powerful and meaningful for change and moving the story along. "Shattered Blades" is among the best episodes in a very strong season of Born to the Blade.
BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award
Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.