Wither, Ch8

Last time on all the books people want banned for all the stupid reasons, and yet they have no problem with this, Cecily was raped but it’s okay, she wanted it.

After Cecily collapses, Rhine wonders if there’s something she should have done.

Should I have told Linden how awful she looked the morning after the party? He would have listened to me. I should have reminded him that she’s only a child. He doesn’t realize these obvious things

How the fuck can you believe this? She’s thirteen. She’s not even one of those thirteen year olds who looks like she’s older – that wouldn’t be an excuse, but at least you could imagine how Rhine thought it was. But no, she’s tiny tiny tiny. And the rapist picked her, and he married her, and now he raped her.

Anyway, so she’s worrying about what happened, so Gabriel shows up to check on her and she’s thrilled things seem to be back to normal so she hugs him.

I’ve never been this close to him before. He’s taller and sturdier than Linden, who is a few pounds from blowing away. And he smells like the kitchen, like all the noise and energy and things boiling and baking.

Love triangle formally engaged.

Anyway, she starts rambling about how he doesn’t understand, they’re all being hurt by this marriage. Because it needs to be explained to him that people who were kidnapped and imprisoned aren’t happy to be there.

Jenna hates him, you know. And I know how Linden looks at me—like I’m Rose.

Note it’s only Jenna who hates him. Rhine’s pity apparently won out again.

“I’m sorry. Anything you and the House Governor do is none of my business.”
“It’s not that!” I cry, and put my hands firmly on his shoulders. I lower my voice, just in case anyone might be standing in the hall outside. “It will be the very coldest day in hell before Linden Ashby has his way with me, all right?”

Rhine, the word is rape. Even if no one else knows it, didn’t your parents explain to you how things used to be? Or is this a subtle hint that the neocons won first and the superbabies came later?

Also Gabriel, you’re a fucking asshole.

“I never believed otherwise,” he says. “But I saw see him in your bed and—I don’t know. It got to me.”

Oh, poor baby. The fact someone else was getting raped bothered you because you were jealous! Life is so, so hard, isn’t it.

Mysteriously, this sets Rhine off on the idea that she wants Gabriel to escape with her. Then she asks to know more about him. He doesn’t remember his parents but he says he was born in the state.

Anyway, this is interrupted by the little girl servant of Cecily, who tells us what you’ve probably already guessed – Cecily’s pregnant. Which means the rapist probably didn’t just rape her once.

What this means for Rhine is just that the rapist leaves her alone more, which means she gets to talk to the asshole more. She explains why she keeps talking about being from Manhattan:
There used to be more boroughs dividing the city—Brooklyn, I think, and Queens, and a few others. But they called it all Manhattan after they added the lighthouses and new harbors, and they labeled the boroughs by their purpose.

Gabriel reasonably asked why, and she says no clue. I have none either.

Maybe the president couldn’t bother to learn the difference.”

I would say more likely either the author couldn’t or she thought her readers were too stupid to follow it.

But she says she liked it because the buildings were ancient so she’d pretend she was time-traveling back to the twenty-first century when there were people of all ages. No other times, just then.

This is one of the signs the author doesn’t have actually much interest in the supposed future setting, the character defines themselves through comparisons to the current day, nothing else. I remember reading an essay once about writers reskinning fantasy novels as scifi and how you could tell because the scientists would act more like secretive magicians even though that’s not how science works. There’s a lot of dissonance clues like that. I can’t tell where the problem necessarily lies – probably this was the author’s attempt to cash in on the dystopia thing, but it’s possible this story was altered by publisher meddling instead.

It isn’t clear when the wonderbaby thing happened. The book keeps talking in terms of hundreds of years, here and when talking about the novels Jenna reads. I think it’s probably only a hundred years total, but it’s hard to imagine a timeline – the ice caps need to vaporize, every other continent needs to disappear, and the wonderbabies need to take over America.

Anyway, he understands this super secret actually pretty bland fantasy, which makes them practically soulmates.

I let the fantasy return. One day I’ll step outside of this mansion, and there will be the world. The healthy, thriving world, with a beautiful path to the rest of my long life.

Then stop whining about dissection. You can’t make an antidote omelet without breaking some corpses.

This kind of thinking is why we have organ shortages. Everyone wants replacement parts, no one wants to be the parts. (Sign up to be an organ donor today! Because you can’t feel pain once you’re dead.)

She tells Gabriel he should see the great city of Manhattan someday, and then Cecily appears because she heard voices and wants to know if her rapist is there.

“No,” I say.
“But I hear voices,” she says. “Who’s with you?”

Do you know what else I like about Cecily? She’s pretty observant and smart. Her viewpoint on her forced marriage may be horrifying, but it’s a completely understandable one given she’s been raised to think that. And while her view of the big picture may have been warped, on individual things she shows she’s clever and surprisingly mature. I would actually put her above Rhine.

Gabriel quickly grabs a tray from the table so he can pretend he’s just there collecting things to bring to the kitchen while Rhine continues to try to misdirect Cecily.

“Try paging the kitchen,” I tell her. “Maybe someone there knows where he is. Or try Elle.”
She hesitates, knocks again. “Can I come in?”

Yes. I really do like her. I think she’d be a very interesting viewpoint character – the book at least recognizes her viewpoint is skewed, which is a huge improvement over Rhine, and she’s so much better at noticing things. Rhine has no idea how long she’s been there and she only mentions things in passing. Cecily is the one noticing nesting bluejays and finding string to play cat’s cradle with and trying to learn the science behind pregnancy.

Rhine lets Cecily in.

She pushes past me, stares at Gabriel, sizing him up with her brown eyes.

But she doesn’t accuse him of anything. He says he’s bringing things down to the kitchen, so she says to bring back hot chocolate.

“Extra, extra hot, and don’t put marshmallows in it. You always do that, and they get all melted and gross because it takes you so long to bring it upstairs. Put marshmallows in a bowl on the side. No, bring a whole bag.”

I…guess this is why they hate her? This really seems pretty reasonable. She doesn’t like the marshmallows melting. I do, so I guess in her place I’d be saying, “And don’t bring up the marshmallows separately, by the time they melt after I add them the hot chocolate’s not hot.”

See, if someone says this to a friend, they’re being unreasonably picky. But this is their job. When Gabriel isn’t fetching her marshmallows, he’s peeling potatoes, it’s not like what she’s saying is a demand. And she can’t just do it herself. She probably would be fine with going downstairs and getting her hot chocolate right off the stove so it’s properly hot, but she can’t because she’s locked up. Either she tells him how she wants her hot chocolate or she will never have hot chocolate the way she wants for the rest of her life.

As a side note, I just realized microwaves presumably don’t exist. Damn, that sucks. I often forget about drinks halfway through and microwave them, or stop eating something and microwave it later. I think this is another point for the setting not actually being in the future, despite what it claims. The only technology we’ve seen so far is the truck, the elevators, and the holograms that are, in terms of story, just something specific subbed in for a general display of luxury. Oh, and I guess the TV back at her house, but that was basically a newspaper.

Cecily waits for Gabriel to leave.

Then she spins to face me. “Why was your door closed?”
“None of your business,” I snap. I realize how suspicious that sounds, but I can’t help it.

Rhine explains that she’s snapping because she doesn’t want Cecily to do anything to stop her from talking to Gabriel, not realizing that snapping and refusing to explain herself is not going to accomplish that.

Cecily says he’s only a servant.

“And he’s stupid, anyway. He never brings enough cream or sugar with the tea, and it takes him so long to bring my meals that the food’s always cold by the time—”
“He’s not stupid,” I interrupt. “You just like to complain.”

No, having seen a couple of Cecily’s complaints, they have been that he does stuff like bring tea without milk and sugar at all. Again, she can’t get either of those herself, either he brings the stuff or she doesn’t have it. Yes, she likes to put a lot of sugar in her tea. That doesn’t make asking for sugar unreasonable. We never see her complaining about not enough sugar then not actually using the stuff.

Also, her food probably is cold, since for breakfast at least he’s getting there super early, well before the rest wake up, so he can hang out with Rhine.

So Gabriel may not be stupid, but he’s definitely doing these things, and Cecily isn’t just complaining, these are things that honestly bother her. She likes tea with sugar. She’s allowed to want tea with sugar. Rhine apparently doesn’t, but the fact she doesn’t care about something doesn’t make her the better person. How would she feel if they started bring up the tea pre-sugared? Pretty whiny, I’d bet.

This sets Cecily on a rant about how she’s throwing up food and she’s not let out of bed and I do not think I’m asking for too much when I expect the stupid attendants to do their job, which is to bring me whatever I want.”

And because I think the book means for this to be her being childish, no, that literally is their job. She’s not even being petty about it and demanding one thing then changing her mind and asking for another, or asking for things just to mess with them. She just wants them to bring her food when she asks for food.

Rhine belatedly realizes that Cecily is a strung out mess.

loathe as I am to admit it, I understand her sour mood. She’s going through more than a girl her age should.

Actually – she isn’t. At least, not the pregnancy.

The reason why thirteen year olds shouldn’t get pregnant is largely related to that pregnancy takes a huge toll on their body, so they’re getting years chopped off their lifespan by doing this. But that’s off a lifespan that otherwise could be 80+ years easily. Even six pregnancies one after another from the time she hits puberty would probably not manage to bring her lifespan down to below twenty years. Especially when we’re told all the second gen kids are supernaturally healthy otherwise, even more than the superbabies.

Which doesn’t mean twenty year olds can stick their dicks in them. Aside from the consent issues, there’s the issue of size. We won’t go further into this subject because it is a bad subject. Just let it be clear that, and this is sadly a point fanfic fails on too, just because you’ve created a very contrived setup for why it’s vital for the human race that certain people get pregnant, you have not given anyone an excuse to actually fuck them. Everyone who does so is still a rapist.

Which brings us back to that the thing Cecily shouldn’t be going through is everything else – being kidnapped, the threat of being murdered, being raped and literally owned by her rapist, being locked up and unable to even leave the floor without her rapist’s permission.

Anyway, Rhine refuses to admit Cecily has a point but at least feels bad enough to be somewhat nice. She had a candy before her wedding that settled her stomach and apparently she still has a bunch, so she gives Cecily one, and it’s considerate of her but why haven’t any of the servants done this already? She got the candy from her personal servant, Cecily has one too.

“And giving birth is going to hurt, you know,” she says. “I might even die.”
“You won’t die,” I say, forcing away the thought that Linden’s mother died in childbirth.

Actually, no, she’s got a pretty good chance of dying.

Cecily is an orphan, which we know means she wasn’t fed much. She’s not just thirteen, she’s an unusually tiny thirteen year old by modern standards. You know how in the middle ages they’re always talking about women dying in childbirth? It’s because of malnourishment. If you don’t eat enough, you don’t grow. If you don’t grow, the baby doesn’t fit when you try to give birth. Either it literally can’t get through the too-small gap in your hips, or everything else tears apart as it does.

And the only way to make this worse is to suddenly have access to plenty of food once the actual pregnancy starts, ensuring the baby will be unusually large.

Cecily will almost certainly need a cesarean, which means that she’ll probably need one for every successive pregnancy she has, and that means going through pregnancy followed by major surgery every time. Either one of those is horribly taxing.

As an aside, this is why the whole “fattening house” practice some cultures have is actually very important. If you live in an area where food is limited, the best way to handle it is to have it ingrained in your culture that you feed girls a lot during the period they need to grow, before they have a chance to get pregnant. And while it’s bad when it’s getting used with child brides, removing it doesn’t stop people from fucking kids, it just makes it even more likely they die afterward.

Under the circumstances, they really should do something similar with young girls here, but as I’ve mentioned, the people of this world seem to be aggressively avoiding changing their society in any way other than adopting a kidnapping and rape system.

Cecily, who really does seem smarter than Rhine, repeats that she might die. And that’s why people should do what she says.

“Okay,” I agree. “You should get whatever you want. But you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, you know.”

Rhine’s dealings with Cecily have been nothing but vinegar, but we see here that hasn’t even occurred to the author, because the book revolves around Rhine. Rhine can yell at or ignore Cecily because it’s just about showing us Rhine’s feelings, Cecily’s reaction isn’t important.

Anyway, Rhine explains that being nice makes people happier to do things. While it’s true that servants who resent you can start spitting in your food, this still strikes me as unreasonable – Cecily isn’t asking for them to be happy about bringing her hot chocolate, she doesn’t want them to do a gleeful little dance at the request, she just wants the damn stuff to be properly hot. That’s not a big deal. She shouldn’t have to be honey and sweetness to get it. You’ll notice this entire topic is a nonissue with the men. There’s nothing about the rapist being nice to the servants.

Cecily asks if that’s what’s going on with Gabriel, and Rhine lies and says it is.

“You shouldn’t be so nice,” she says. “It gives the wrong impression.”

Cecily continues to be the better character. This is the second time now she’s warned Rhine about this – and both times after Rhine has been rude and deceptive about it, no less. The book’s trying to set Rhine up as the more worldly of the two, but it doesn’t match with what’s shown. Cecily knows what’s going on. And she isn’t tattling, she’s concerned for Rhine and trying to give her advice so she won’t get in trouble, while getting the same from Rhine is like pulling teeth and requires Cecily to have a breakdown about how she’s miserable and going to die. Where was Rhine while Cecily was flirting with the rapist? Oh, that’s right, sitting there smug about how dumb Cecily would learn soon enough.


  1. Niesse says:
    Oh god. Poor Cecily. She probably had no idea what actual pregnancy was going to be like, either. Since, you know, no-one would tell her anything.
    1. Farla says:
      She had no idea what sex was going to be like either, from the sound of it. And she’s in for another horrible surprise when she gives birth, and when she tries to nurse the kid, and when she tries to recover from her pregnancy…

      In fairness, I think the other girls probably don’t know much about it either, but god, they could have at least said that they have the general understanding it’s horrible to balance out how she’s been told it’d be wonderful.

  2. Igloo says:
    I remember reading an essay once about writers reskinning fantasy novels as scifi and how you could tell because the scientists would act more like secretive magicians even though that’s not how science works.

    Link, please?

    1. Farla says:
      It was in David Brin’s Otherness collection. You can read at least part of it starting at http://books.google.com/books?id=pt_Rk1DcQKIC&q=science+vs+magic#v=snippet&q=changed%20humanity%20science&f=false
  3. purplekitte says:
    Magicians acting like secretive magicians aren’t even interesting. Stories where they act like scientists tend to be so much cooler. But seriously book, eunuchs existed for a reason.
  4. actonthat says:
    The thing that’s getting me about all this: what the fuck is wrong with Linden that, when he looks at two young adults and a little girl, the one he wants to have sex with over and over is the child?
    1. Farla says:
      Linden apparently appreciates girls who appreciate him and don’t think he’s a rapist. And that narrows things down to the brainwashed thirteen year old.
  5. Savanah says:
    Why  Gabriel isn’t a eunuch? Really, they existed for a good reason.

    1. Farla says:
      Exactly, it would get in the way of the love triangle.

      Alternatively, Linden has a cuckholding fetish.

      Alternatively alternatively, he’s gay and really hoping someone else will get the girls pregnant for him.

      1. actonthat says:
        That last one would be an interesting story. Though, it’s kind of what was going on in Chuck Palanhiuk’s Diary.
      2. Savanah says:
         A steamy gay romance between Linden and Gabriel… now it’s becoming interesting ^^
  6. Libby says:
    Is it horrible that, in spite of all the other disgusting shit going on in this book, all I can think is, “Where did the continents GO?  Did they get shoved into the Mariana Trench?”
    1. Farla says:
      That just shows that, like most non-newborns, you have a concept of object permanence.
  7. Elisabeth says:
    Which doesn’t mean twenty year olds can stick their dicks in them. Aside from the consent issues, there’s the issue of size.”

    There was the line in the previous chapter about how she’s moving like she’s in pain after Linden rapes her the first time. So the author knows this and realizes that sex and pregnancy will be dangerous for an undersized, underdeveloped 13-year-old, and yet she still has Cecily be the one who has to get pregnant. And poor Cecily gets very little sympathy from the other characters, despite the fact that she’s still a child. The whole scenario just makes my skin crawl.

    1. Farla says:
      Bizarrely, the author claims to love Cecily.
      1. Elisabeth says:
        If that’s how she loves characters… with friends like that, who needs enemies?

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