Relationships are getting complicated on the supposedly neutral island of Twaa Fei. Loyal Michiko’s ancestors are more vocal than she’d like, and arrogant Mertikan Bellona is determined to turn Michiko’s acquaintance with Kris to her advantage. But Kris is hot tempered and has their own views on who they should befriend – and trust…

It’s only the second week of Born to the Blade, but (some of) the characters are already becoming so clearly established it feels like I’ve known them for ages. Fault Lines adds detail and nuance to the broad sketches of Arrivals – to character and world-building both.

Michiko is determined to be a success as junior Kakutan warder, and seems to genuinely believe that her people are better off as part of the Mertikan empire. There’s a lot of implied world-building right here, given how recently the Kakutans were defeated. Michiko has never known a non-Mertikan-governed Kakute, but either everyday life really isn’t that awful under Mertikan rule or the Mertikans are terribly good at youth-oriented propaganda education.

It also makes me wonder how much direct contact with Mertikans Michiko has had, because Bellona is hard to swallow. The junior Mertikan warder makes no effort to hide her ingrained belief that her colleague is her inferior in every way. Bellona considers herself the better bladecrafter, the product of a better culture, even blessed with a better birthright. Her colonial sneering is pretty unbearable.

The more we hear about the birthrights, the more fascinating they become. Mertikans remember their past lives, so reincarnation is a given – always an intriguing element for world-building. I’m keen to wrap my head around how that sits comfortably next to the Kakutan ability to talk to their ancestors – do the voices eventually fade away when they reincarnate? Do some people choose not to? Rumikans can choose to shift their gender, putting them at odds with the gender-segregated Vanians (who are perfectly comfortable with people being transgender, but not with the idea of gender fluidity) – the conversation between drunken Kris and mortified Cassia is painfully on point illustration of misplaced curiosity.

I’m looking forward to finding out about the other birthrights, but I’m also completely in love with the fact that it’s not your blood that determines your birthright: it’s where you are born. The islands themselves govern it, pushing pregnant women to go home to ensure their children have the ‘right’ ability. Poor Ojo.

This week we also get a front-row seat for just how arrogant Kris is, completely assured of their own abilities and a little too good at under-estimating the abilities of others. Michiko calls them a puppy, and it’s a good observation: it’s hard to dislike Kris in spite of their lack of self-awareness. They have an open-hearted joy in making new friends, and a clear-eyed perspective on Mertika (ahem, what do you mean I’ve adopted Ojo’s bias? Hush) – as well as an evident delight in being defeated so they can learn. I have to suspect that Kris will do a lot of learning – and growing up – over the next few weeks…

But will Michiko? That remains to be seen. For now she’s determined to right by Mertika, and doggedly persisting in fulfilling her duties. But just how long can she keep it up with Mertika’s greatest enemy raging in her head?

Another fascinating instalment of Born to the Blade from Marie Brennan.

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