March 30th, 2010 - 08:32 pm
|Chapter 4 of "Voice of the Earth", aka BORING CRAP|
This chapter is about 98% maudlin filler and about 2% plot advancement. Now, I'm okay with light, filler-ish chapters that focus on character development without much plot advancement, as long as they're written in an engaging manner. This, though? This is terrible. It's cringeworthy.
We begin with Zuko and Sokka sparring. We don't get to see any of the actual sparring, though, because that'd actually be interesting. No, instead we get a comparison of the guys' bodies and some commentary on their martial arts backgrounds:
Years ago, before the fall of Ozai, they'd sparred with each other often as they worked to ready themselves for the coming battle. At first Sokka had been barely trained, unconventional in his attacks, sometimes clumsy, sometimes brilliant. But with practice, he'd learned quickly. His clumsiness gave way to artistry, and the unconventional brilliance of his swordwork began to shine. Despite Zuko's many years of intense training with the blade, Sokka sometimes got the better of him.
Sokka's out of practice, Zuko kicks his ass. Sokka doesn't have time to train, since he's too busy bringing home the bacon for his little wifey and his kids. But he's okay with that, because "I became a warrior out of necessity. I was always happier fishing or working on something". Oh, is that so? Funny, I seem to recall Sokka taking a lot of pride in his identity as a Water Tribe warrior and his ability to compete without Bending. Guess I just imagined it!
But anyway. He angsts about Suki for a bit:
Then he glanced back to see Suki wiping at some dirt on Zutara's round pink cheek. "But that's not how it was for Suki. She was born a warrior. Trained from childhood in the Kyoshi Warrior arts. But I don't remember the last time she had a chance to really work out without one of the children needing something. And now that she's expecting, it'll be that much longer before she can get herself back into fighting form again."
[...] "I married a warrior, Zuko. But I've turned her into a housewife. She used to defend a kingdom. Now she wipes my kids' noses and makes sure I've got something hot to eat when I come in from the boat."
This may be oversensitivity on my part, but: note, "my kids." Not "our kids", "my kids." Sokka's. Like Suki was merely the incubator for his genetic material. It's just a pet peeve of mine. Buuut anyway. Sokka thinks that if he was "half the man I ought to be", he'd make Suki rejoin the Kyoshi warriors and put her fan-wielding ninja skillz to better use. He worries that he's strangling her. Okay, almost decent character development. Maybe, except for stuff that happens later. Kind of. We'll come back to this in a while, okay?
Zuko advises Sokka to go tell Suki what he just told him, and... ugh. Let's just get this next part over with as quickly as possible. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
Sorry, but I'm going to get unfunny here for a bit. Maybe I'm being oversensitive about this, too, but what happens next between Sokka and Suki just reeks to the skies of "Motherhood is a woman's highest calling. Being a mommy is the greatest ambition a woman can aspire to" kind of junk. No offense to mothers or motherhood. I have tons of respect for those who choose that path. But I'm pretty sure I don't want kids, and hearing that kind of stuff, about how producing a child is the most important thing a woman could ever hope to accomplish with her life... It feels demoralizing and demeaning to me, I won't lie. I'm going into the field of biology, and it hurts to have society at large telling me that any major discoveries I might make wouldn't be nearly as useful as the babies I could be making instead... It's basically saying that, for a woman, a baby is a bigger achievement than a Nobel Prize.
That's kind of what happens here between Sokka and Suki. It's great that they're happy, it really is, but the dialogue makes me want to puke. Here's a little taste of it:
"But it's not fair. It's not fair to you at all," he retorted, capturing her hand in a strong grip, as if to stop her from being concerned with him. "Katara uses her waterbending all the time with Aang. And Toph stopped a volcano from erupting, for goodness sake. [Note: this happens in the prequel] What do you get to do with your talents?" he asked, his voice harsh. "What about your life?"
[...] "I get to stand beside the man I love. I get to make beautiful babies with him and see them grow and discover their own talents. I get to teach the girls in our village how to be strong and courageous too, just like I learned," Suki replied.
She looked down at Sokka's worried face, and she knew her answer hadn't satisfied him. He could be so strong and so funny. He was a loving husband and a wonderful father. He worked hard to give them everything within his power to give. He was brave and sincere.
And he was scared to death that she wasn't happy with him. That he wasn't enough for her. At that moment, she loved him more than ever.
"I use my warrior's skills every day," she continued sincerely. "Every time I nurse a sick baby through the night, every time I wait for you to come home in a terrible storm, I use that strength and courage I learned as a Kyoshi Warrior," she whispered, her voice heavy with emotion. "Just like you use your warrior's heart every time you go out fishing in the middle of a winter storm, knowing you might not come back, but willing to go to battle with it for our sakes. So we can have a home and food to eat and clothes to wear."
Am I going crazy? Am I hallucinating the sexist ickiness of this exchange? Am I turning into one of those childfree people? Help me out here, flist!
*shudders* Let's move on. This is getting ugly. Suki pins Sokka to prove that she can still kick his ass, just like their wartime years, and this squicky section is finally over.
Mai hasn't heard from her brother yet, which worries her. Also, King Crazyface is going to make an announcement. The announcement scene is probably the most well-written, in-character scene in the fic thus far... right up until the end. I'm just going to quote most of it here:
Then Bumi spoke, his old voice crackly but strong as it echoed through the courtyard. "I have determined that the next ruler of Omashu must be one who can listen to the voice of the earth." He then abruptly rode a pillar of earth down to the courtyard to stand before the large crowd that had gathered there.
He paced back and forth before them for a moment, fixing his eye at random on different individuals until they began to squirm nervously beneath his penetrating, yet slightly deranged gaze. The he stopped abruptly.
"Jing is the energy that fuels an earthbender's attacks," Bumi declared, then shouted, "Positive!"
With a wave of his arms he shot hundreds of rocks up into the sky where they exploded into starbursts like giant earthen fireworks.
As the dust began to fall onto the crowds, he shouted, "Negative!" and the dust suddenly disbursed away from them, leaving the air clear and clean.
Then he just stood there. After a few moments of complete silence and stillness, he stated, "Neutral," in a quiet voice. Then he took a few steps forward until he stood directly before Toph and asked, "Toph Bei Fong, what is neutral jing?"
"I am not going to play games with you, Bumi," Toph retorted. "Get on with your announcement."
Bumi's eyes grew bright and a huge smile creased his wrinkled face as he stood tall before them. "Correct! Positive jing for the attack, negative jing for the retreat, and neutral jing for doing nothing!" Bumi crowed. "Correct answer!" Then in a side note he stated, "Toph Bei Fong, you are now the ruler of Omashu," and turned to walk back up the steps.
Not half bad, right? Toph's her usual blunt self, Bumi's as entertainingly eccentric as always. I can kind of picture him doing something like that. But then, this happens:
Then Zuko suddenly stepped forward and grabbed the old king's arm to stop him. "Toph can't be the ruler of Omashu," he stated firmly. "She's the Crown Princess of the Fire Nation."
Bumi turned to face the young man, a combative glint coming to his eye. He shook free of Zuko's grasp. "Positive jing for the attack," Bumi declared coldly, shaking his shaggy white head back and forth menacingly. "Wrong answer."
Then with a wave of the old king's hand, the stone floor seemed to rise up around Zuko like a wave, surging over him, pulling him beneath the surface. The crowd gasped in terror, and Toph heard a voice—it sounded like Mai's—cry out his name.
Then the floor smoothed itself back into place with the soft grinding of massive rocks, settling heavily over the spot where Zuko had stood, leaving no sign that he'd ever been there at all.
Zuko is the soon-to-be Firelord. (In this fic series, Iroh took the throne after the war's end.) He's a visiting royal from the nation that was Bumi's nation's enemy for 100 years. The world currently exists in what is doubtlessly an uneasy, fragile peace. And Bumi sinks this guy into solid rock on a whim. There's a difference between eccentricity and idiocy, author.
Sorry for the lack of funny in this review, guys.