Sunday, December 11, 2016

Swan Knight's Son: Chapter Five

Not the right kind of mermaid for this book, I know.
More training, punctuated by a meeting with the mermaid.  In a move that strongly parallels the writing of John C. Wright himself, she doesn’t just come right out and give her name, Nerea, but launches into a long prelude detailing her ancestry and it is only through patience that Gil draws forth her name.  Everything about this books is a slow burn.  The background, setting, plot, and characters, none of them are introduced plainly and clearly, but always slowly, one layer at a time.  With this ‘drinking from a firehose’ approach, it can be hard to know what bits of information are important, and which are just window-dressing.

That’s not necessarily a complaint.  A rich and detailed background that is also consistent lends the book a pseudo-historical feel and staves off any feeling that the reader knows where the author is going next.  It just means that the reader should adopt a more passive attitude of going with the flow.  As Gil learns, good things come to those who wait, and this is true for the reader, too.  Watching Wright set up the dominoes adds to the anticipation of the coming climax.  When he flicks that first domino over, you know that the results will be spectacular.
Even Nerea’s explanation of half of Gil’s lineage serves as a set-up.  Her admission that she sought out Gil, and they they are cousins draws back the curtains on the background a little more, but somehow still manages to leave most of the stage in shadow.  At last, after a number of hints, we learn that Gil a member of an extended family known as the Moths.  Collectively, they are part of the Twilight crowd.  Not the sparkly vampire Twilight crowd, but the not-quite-human and not-quite-faerie crowd.  Within the Twilight population are several families, of which the Moths are the most numerous, just ahead of the Cobweb family.

The symbolism here is obvious.  The Moths are drawn to light, the Cobwebs to dark.  Several lesser families get name-checked, providing a useful classification schema that is at once more organic and more easily understood than the most obvious comparison, J.K. Rowling’s houses of Hogwart’s.
More dominoes are set-up when Nerea agrees to take Gil to observe a tournament between the two most powerful elf kings in the world come Lammas Day.  We also learn that Nerea considers Ruff to be a pooka, and that she doesn’t want Gil to mention to Ruff that they had spoken.

It is these moments of doubt by Gil that make him such a sympathetic character.  This is a little thing, don’t tell a friend we talked, but as a lie of omission it still leaves Gil with a bad taste in his mouth.  It’s hard not to like a character with strong of a sense of honor and loyalty to his friends, even in the little things.  Because as all men of honor and loyalty know, if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.
Of course, even as Wright gives us more reason to like Gil, he also leaves us with another mystery.  What is it about Ruff that Nerea finds so troubling?

Looking to the sum of all knowledge, Infogalactic tells us that a pooka is an Irish spirit that brings good and bad fortune. The connotations between dogs and coyotes, and the parallel development between the Irish and the Native American tribes (at least those who considered Coyote to be a trickster God) is interesting, but doesn't really answer the question.  For that, we'll just have to remain patient a little longer.


  1. Rather than seeing it as merely a slow rollout, it can also be seen as an aspect of the whole 'the real world isn't what we think it is' storyline. Not to get too lit crit, but Gil does need to be Everyman to some extent, and so his experience - not knowing who he is, not knowing what he is supposed to do, not knowing who he can trust or just how far he can trust them - has to be our experience, too. Thus, he has to find out slowly and with few clear answers; his mother must be a teller of riddles; his cousin, partly out of fear of the elfs and partly because she can hardly grasp his ignorance, doles stuff out furtively and maddeningly incomplete; his pooka, we suspect even this early in the books, wants to tell him more than he can, but is hiding stuff as well.

    Gil trusts a dog, a bear and a mermaid. He doesn't trust a school principal or any school 'friends'. He loves his mother, but hardly trusts her to tell him the plain truth. The connecting thread is beauty - Ruff, Bruno and Nerea are all archetypically beautiful after the manner of their kind.

    Like real life, the answers may be out there (or in here) but do not come with a handy one-page cheat-sheet. One must trust *appropriate* beauty, such as the beauty of a loyal dog, yet be wary of the beauty of the elfs, which hides hardness, a certain viciousness - and sadness.

    Like the fairy tales it is based on, and like life when properly considered, Swan Knight's Son is often sad, yet mysterious, beautiful and true.

  2. I'm way late in responding to this comment. It's a great point, and one that should have jumped out at me.

    Never apologize for lit-crit on this blog. That's the whole point of the exercise!