Born to the Blade (1.06): Spiralling

Banner: Born to the Blade, a Serial Box Original

A fleet of Rumikan ships floats in pieces off the interdicted coast of Quloo. Did the Rumikans try to go back on their promises? Did the militant elements within the Quloi stage the attack to seize power? Did the Vanians strike out at the nascent power of a nation they despise for its gender-fluidity? Is the Empire moving swiftly to keep Rumika in its place? How long can the fragile peace last? How often can I yell AAAAAAAAAH?

We’re midway through the season, and tensions aren’t so much rising as sky rocketing as the next phase of plot kicks into gear. Rumika’s shipment of aerstone to Quloi has vanished, the ships wrecked and crews presumed dead. Friendships count for little in the wake of political disasters: no matter what Ojo and Kris think of one another, their governments at home are less trusting.

This episode is all about consequences. I have tutted in previous episodes about Kris’s tendency to be indiscreet; arguably the disaster overtaking Rumika looks to be entirely their fault – although my money is on spies overhearing boasts in tea shops rather than the Quloi taking advantage of confidences offered.

Honestly, it’s episodes like this that give me life. A big juicy mystery. Every nation backbiting and finger pointing. Prejudices being flaunted, alliances left exposed – we get to see the fracture lines in relationships and the naked self-interest in how each island responds. No matter what we’ve learned about the world so far from getting to know its Warders, Spiralling adds further detail (hooray for organic world-building!). Diplomats aren’t always entirely representative of their homelands (I feel for Cassia, given her affections for a flamboyant sky pirate, I really do). Only the Tsukiseni appear above suspicion (suspicious in itself, for my money).

Enter Michiko, making a cautious offer to act on Kris’s behalf. With all her ancestors in agreement for once (if with very different goals), she’s keen to find out as much as she can about the Rumikan shipwreck. She can help a friend and (dis)prove Mertika’s innocence – although I’d love to see her response if she discovers the Kakutan resistance are involved…

However, on the evidence so far this seems unlikely (although surely her storyline will become entangled with theirs at some point). In the meantime, she takes us on a fascinating journey into the bowels of Twaa Fei in search of the Apolytoi – Vanian extremists who run a fight club on the lowest island. The Vanians have strict views on gender (and gender roles), so the gender-fluid Rumikans are natural antagonists and the fight club will only grant men admission as spectators.

It was the last place I expected to find Takeshi (just there to candidly study how bloodrights are exposed through combat, honestly), who is rapidly becoming my favourite character: less martial, more cerebral, either entirely sincere (a cinnamon roll scientist – of course I love him) or the best spy in the business, with a cover story for every occasion (less likely, I think, but frankly I’d be here for that too). Either way, he and Michiko could be natural allies if she weren’t so terrified of him finding out her heritage. While Michiko is learning fast, she’s barely better at subterfuge than Kris, so hanging out with Takeshi can only be good for her.

…although nobody, it seems, is as bad at lying as Bellona. I’d been holding out hope that she would surprise me at some point, but this week shows her up as being every bit as arrogant, condescending and prejudiced as she has previously appeared. While it’s hard not to have a little sympathy for someone under Lavinia’s heel – especially when she’s both aware of it and unhappy about it – I’m not going to be able to find any for Bellona now. But it does seem to be the case that only fear is keeping her in place, which could be interesting in the future – I don’t think she’d hesitate to backstab Lavinia if she thought she could get away with it.

Are Lavinia’s secret messages guiding the attacks on Rumika? It’s so easy to suspect her, and yet it seems too subtle a plot for a women who has just bulled her way straight through every obstacle to date.

Honestly, I’ve got no idea what’s going on and pretty much any answer should turn into a great big juicy plot development – roll on Dreadnought!