Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guest Post: Melissa Douthit

Excerpt from The Firelight of Maalda, pages 55-57:

“Why are we even learning this?” Chalice asked, picking up the wad of dough in her hand and plopping it down on the wooden prep table as if it was a glop of mud she had played with as a child. “I thought we had professional chefs working here.”
“Of course we do, my dear,” Magda replied in the condescending tone that she constantly used when she spoke to Chalice, “but you may someday want to make a private dinner for your husband.”
Chalice glanced up and frowned. “My husband?”
“Someday you will marry, Chalice. In fact, it will be required of you. It is part of your role as an Ielierian princess - to marry and learn the art of pleasing your husband.”
Chalice arched a wry eyebrow. “Um, I’m sorry? Did you just say ‘the art of pleasing my husband?’” She’s got to be kidding me! she thought.
“Yes, I did,” Magda answered curtly. “Don’t you want to marry?”
“No … I mean, yes … I do, someday, but …” she stopped, flustered, and glanced down at her lump of dough on the table. It resembled a horse’s hoof. She hadn’t meant to shape it that way but it had taken the form as soon as it had hit the table. Not knowing what to say, she picked up her glass of water and began to drink.
“I think Marcus will make an fine husband for you,” Magda said cheerfully. “He’s handsome, commander of the Royal Legions, and fit in every way to take your place as the First.”
Chalice almost choked. She removed the glass from her lips and coughed. “Marcus!” she said in alarm, wiping her mouth with her sleeve as water dribbled down her chin. She had to laugh inwardly at Magda’s outward expression of disgust. She was sure Magda was determined to correct her obviously repulsive manners. “Why would you say that?” Chalice asked, desperately hoping that arranged marriage was not a requirement of being an Ielierian princess. If that were the case, she wouldn’t have it. She would relinquish her title and give the throne back to Valderion. It wasn’t worth it. Not only was Marcus more than twice her age, she didn’t even know him, nor him her. No, she would never marry this man. There was only one man in her life that she would ever marry.
“Because he is in love with you, of course,” Magda said, answering her question with a forced smile.
Onya turned to her and nodded. “He is very fond of you, Chalice,” she said meekly.
“How can he be? He doesn’t even know me?”
Magda laughed in that irritating, patronizing way that she always did. “Oh my dear, he doesn’t need to know you! Men don’t need to know you in order to be in love. All they need is a well-behaved woman behind a beautiful face. A woman who is demure and obedient.”
Chalice’ jaw dropped and she looked around at the others who seemed to take Magda’s words in stride. She, however, could not believe what she was hearing. Papa would never have taught her something like this. He raised her as an independent person, not an ornament for some man to admire. No! She was no man’s arm candy. The words coming from this woman’s mouth, so elegant in her posh accent, nauseated her. Chalice could recognize garbage when she heard it, no matter how nice it sounded. She realized suddenly that she despised this woman, despised her for everything she represented.

There have been several readers who have commented on the feminist undercurrent in the story and I have to agree with them. The story features many strong female characters who are leaders and fighters. In the heroine’s case, Chalice, the main protagonist of the story, is suddenly placed into the role of being a princess who is expected to adhere to the social pressures that come with the title. One of those expectations, as shown in the excerpt above, is that she will marry and serve her husband who will take her place as the First, or the leader of the people.

One aspect that I love about the story (and about Chalice’ character) is that Chalice stubbornly goes against the grain and refuses to marry and let a man assume her position. She realizes that although she has inherited a title from birth, she does not necessarily inherit the power that comes with it. That, she will have to fight for. Throughout The Firelight of Maalda, she is constantly struggling for power and respect - to be heard and obeyed. This is necessary in order for her to lead the people and fight a war against the man who usurped her father’s throne. Chalice has an overwhelming sense of duty even as her heart tells her to give it all up for the man that she loves. Deep down, she is a free spirit who hates the restrictions her title places on her. Her story is all about her grappling with the internal conflict of doing her duty and following her heart.

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