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Thinking About Dragaera: Yendi

“Morrolan, how many Yendi does it take to sharpen a sword?”

He looked at me through slitted eyes.  “Tell me,” he said.

“Three.  One to sharpen the sword, and one to confuse the issue.”

Yendi was the second Dragaera book to be published, in 1984.  It takes place before the main chapters of Jhereg; Vlad has established himself as a Jhereg boss but is still relatively early in his career.

This was a tricky book to untangle.  Not that that’s surprising – it’s practically right there on the title page…

About yendis

The yendi is a snake with a slow-acting but deadly venom.  The Lyorn Records say that the yendi’s victims often don’t notice the bite until they suddenly die an hour later.

About Yendi

Yendi coils and strikes, unseen…

Little is known about the House of the Yendi.  The name of the House is a byword for subtle and intricate plots; those machinations appear to be the only identifying trait of the House.  The Yendi certainly aren’t going to make it easy for anyone else to notice them, because when you know there’s a Yendi about, then you can be assured that they’re up to something.

About Yendi

A neighboring Jhereg boss, Laris, encroaches on Vlad’s territory and incites a turf war.  Things escalate quickly (and expensively for both sides), and after surviving two other attempts on his life, Vlad is killed by the famous assassin duo “the Sword and the Dagger” – but not permanently.  He wakes up in Dzur Mountain, Sethra Lavode’s stronghold, and discovers that the assassins were also killed, and have also been brought to Dzur Mountain and revivified.

The Sword and the Dagger are an interesting pair.  As assassins, they are considered to be second only to Mario Greymist1Mario being the assassin who killed the Emperor before the Interregnum.  He is a legend among the Jhereg – and extremely expensive to hire..  The Sword is an ex-Dragon named Norathar e’Lanya, who turns out to potentially be the actual Dragon Heir (or would have been had she not left the House after she was supposedly shown to be a bastard).  The Dagger is Cawti2Those reading in chronological order may not already know that Cawti will soon be married to Vlad, but the publication order makes a will-they-won’t-they plot here pretty pointless., an Easterner woman with a background not unlike Vlad’s.  They quickly bond over their similarities and only pause briefly (to acknowledge that Cawti has returned their fee and dropped the job of ensuring Vlad’s death) on the way to commencing a romantic relationship.

Another unsuccessful assassination attempt later, Vlad decides that his survival of four different attempts on his life can’t be coincidence.  Meanwhile, Aliera’s interest in genetic studies (and her desire to not be the Dragon Heir) surfaces again, and her scan of Norathar reveals her to be a true Dragon and the rightful Heir.  Back at Castle Black, in the process of trying to put these pieces together, Vlad discovers that the Sorceress in Green (a perennial guest at Morrolan’s party) is a Yendi, and everything starts to come together once they know there must be Yendi machinations involved.

The plot turns out to be a collaboration between the Sorceress in Green and Sethra the Younger (a Dragon and apprentice of Sethra Lavode’s).  They wanted to insure that the Dragon Heir would be someone who would name Sethra the Younger as Warlord and start a war with the Easterners.  Norathar, Aliera, and Morrolan were ultimately the targets of the part of the plot that involved Vlad; Vlad himself and his entire operation was essentially collateral damage in the attempt to kill Norathar and discredit Aliera and Morrolan via their involvement in the Jhereg war3Though Vlad’s friendship with Aliera and Morrolan was part of the plan to draw them into the war in the first place..

Sethra Lavode takes care of punishing her apprentice.  Meanwhile, Aliera, Norathar, and Morrolan (along with Vlad and Cawti) take the usual Dragon approach towards the Sorceress in Green: killing her, revivifying her, and mind-probing her to get details of her other plots.  Before her death, though, Vlad extracts Laris’ location from her at the point of a Morganti knife, allowing him to wrap up the turf war with a direct strike to his opponent (and take over his territory and operation in the process).

The book closes with Vlad and Cawti visiting Vlad’s grandfather, asking for his blessing for their marriage.

The Yendi Thesis

To quote Vlad, “It is axiomatic that nobody but a Yendi can unravel a Yendi’s scheme.”  Previously in the same conversation – when he is talking with Morrolan immediately after discovering that the Sorceress in Green is a Yendi – he says, “Wherever you find a Yendi, you find a plot.  A devious plot.  Twisted, confusing, just the kind of thing we’re facing.”  Similarly, in Phoenix, Vlad (as the narrator) says that a Yendi’s definition of “civilized” behavior is “making sure no one ever knows exactly what you’re up to.”

To the extent that the Yendi have a guiding ethos at all, it seems to be conspiring to get what you want as subtly as possible – ideally without anyone else even realizing that you’re involved, let alone realizing that you’re benefiting from the things that happen as a result of your schemes.

The Yendi Antithesis

Morrolan replies to Vlad’s Yendi axiom with “Maybe I use different axioms”, and that is the core of the Yendi antithesis – a refutation of the arrogant assumption that nobody outside the House of the Yendi can figure out a Yendi’s machinations.  But it isn’t necessarily “unraveling” that Morrolan has in mind – if the Sorceress in Green’s scheme is the Gordian Knot, then Morrolan wants to be Alexander, cutting straight through the tangled mass of Yendi intrigue.  The problem with the Alexandrian solution, though, is that you have to know where the knot is before you can swing a sword at it, and it takes the protagonists most of the book just to positively identify the people behind the scheme.  Still, once that is done, Sethra axiomizes the Yendi antithesis in another way: “It is vain to use subtlety against a Yendi.”

Once again, the Dragon mode of thinking acts in opposition to the named House – where the Yendi incite confrontation between others to attain their ends, Dragons prefer to be right in the middle of the confrontation with swords in their hands.

Synthesis

Simply to reach the point where they can do something about the plot carried out by the Sorceress and Sethra the Younger, Vlad and his allies have to think like Yendi.  But the discovery of an actual Yendi in their midst is the key that allows them to finally put all the pieces together – the Yendi way of life proves to be somewhat self-defeating in this case.  And then the protagonists can largely shift into the Dragon mode to deal with the Yendi plot – apply sufficient force directly to the principals of the scheme, and watch it break apart.

Vlad’s solution to his own problems is a blend of the two approaches as well.  In the midst of the combat in which the Sorceress is cornered and killed, Vlad takes advantage of the conflict between the Dragons and the Sorceress (which is at this point basically being fought over Dragon honor) to extract some information from the Sorceress which he needs to accomplish his own ends; he then steps back and lets the rest of the battle proceed without him.  This is a typically Yendi approach to the situation.  On the other hand, armed with that information he goes personally to deal with Laris, killing him with his own hands (and presumably a knife) – whereas the Yendi seem to avoid getting their own hands dirty whenever possible.

Other interesting notes

Yendi coils and strikes, unseen

Fittingly, the lone Yendi in the novel stays hidden for most of the story.  Prior to the reveal of the Sorceress’ House at the end of chapter 14 (i.e. about 80% of the way through the book), the word “yendi” appears only three times:

  • In chapter 8, Vlad-as-narrator mentions that Sethra occasionally turns would-be heroes who attack her into yendi or jhegaala.
  • In chapter 13, when Vlad and Cawti are brainstorming about whether they were supposed to figure out that the attempts on his life weren’t genuine, Vlad remarks, “Come on, lover.  We aren’t Yendi.”
  • Just a few lines later, when Vlad is speculating on Laris’ intentions to figure out how to respond, Cawti replies, “Are you sure you aren’t part Yendi?”

Of these three occurrences, one refers to the actual animal and the other two are used rhetorically (though in a way that makes it clear to the observant reader that we’re starting to get close to the truth of the matter).  Nevertheless, for eighty percent of the novel, the novel’s namesake House remains hidden4Unless you know what to look for.  Vlad is introduced to the Sorceress in Green in Chapter 1 and refers to her as an Athyra.  Morrolan tries to correct him but gets cut off when Vlad suddenly needs to leave to deal with the incursion into his territory – resulting in Vlad going without that vital piece of information for another thirteen chapters.  If Morrolan had been able to finish his sentence, this would have been a shorter book – and a much less fun one..

Chronology and plot arc

  • In Jhereg, Vlad was already married to Cawti; in Yendi we see how they meet.  Their romance is fairly abrupt, but while it’s possible to interpret that as a failure to write credible romance on the part of the author, I see it as an indication of how isolated both Vlad and Cawti feel – both as Easterners among Dragaerans, and as assassins among society.  Is that a sufficient connection upon which to build a marriage?  We’ll see, soon enough.
  • In the denouement of the novel, Vlad folds Laris’ territory into his own; by the end of the book, he doesn’t have complete control over it, but he does by the start of Jhereg.  Parts of Dragon and Tiassa come between the end of Yendi and the beginning of Jhereg; we’ll see whether those books address any complications that come up as he’s consolidating his control over the area Laris used to own.

Next time

The next book in publication order is Teckla.  We’ll have a lot of politics to discuss, I suspect…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Mario being the assassin who killed the Emperor before the Interregnum.  He is a legend among the Jhereg – and extremely expensive to hire.
2. Those reading in chronological order may not already know that Cawti will soon be married to Vlad, but the publication order makes a will-they-won’t-they plot here pretty pointless.
3. Though Vlad’s friendship with Aliera and Morrolan was part of the plan to draw them into the war in the first place.
4. Unless you know what to look for.  Vlad is introduced to the Sorceress in Green in Chapter 1 and refers to her as an Athyra.  Morrolan tries to correct him but gets cut off when Vlad suddenly needs to leave to deal with the incursion into his territory – resulting in Vlad going without that vital piece of information for another thirteen chapters.  If Morrolan had been able to finish his sentence, this would have been a shorter book – and a much less fun one.

Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novel of the Vorkosigan Saga, and it is one of my recent favorites from the series.  It is also practically impossible to talk about without discussing plot details from earlier in the series – this is perhaps the least stand-alone Vorkosigan book yet, steeped as it is in the history of its characters.  So, stop reading now if you haven’t at least finished Cryoburn, the end of which I will be spoiling shortly.

I’ll also be discussing Gentleman Jole’s plot in more detail a little later, but I’ll warn you before I get into anything that isn’t apparent within the first chapter or two of the book.  Ready?  Here we go.

Cryoburn was one of my least favorite books in the series, but its ending makes it hugely important: its themes of handling mortality and death are capped off by Miles learning of the death of his father, Aral Vorkosigan, who has stood astride Barrayaran history like a colossus for the last forty years.  Aral served as Admiral, Regent, and Prime Minister of Barrayar, as well as Count Vorkosigan, and Miles’s entire life had been lived under that shadow.  But naturally, Miles is far from the only one to be affected by Aral’s death.  Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen examines the echoes of Aral’s life and the shape of the hole he left in his passing by returning to the viewpoint character that started off the entire series, and perhaps the only person who grokked Aral in fullness: Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Aral’s widow and the Vicereine of Sergyar.

Cordelia isn’t the only protagonist, though.  The narrative flows relatively fluidly between her and the other main character of the story, Admiral Oliver Jole.  (Jole was first introduced in The Vor Game, though I had honestly forgotten about his existence until this book.)  And as not only an old friend of the Vorkosigans but also the senior Barrayaran military officer in Sergyar space, the former Viceroy’s passing left a hole both personal and professional in Jole’s life as well.  Aral has been dead for three years by now, but his ghost is essentially the third main character of the book.

(And here is where the spoilers for the latest book begin.  You have been warned.)

In fact, Jole’s relationship with the Vorkosigans is much more profound than we had been able to see from Miles’ point of view in The Vor GameGentleman Jole opens with Jole in his role as Admiral greeting Vicereine Cordelia upon her return to Sergyar space, and they arrange for a more unofficial reunion – whereupon the reader learns that Jole was, for many years, effectively the third person in the Vorkosigan’s marriage.  And Cordelia has a proposal for him: she is going to use some frozen gametes to have some more daughters, and offers her former co-spouse the use of her “eggshells” (i.e. enucleated ova) and Aral’s X-chromosome-bearing gametes so that Jole could have sons by Aral.

Cordelia’s return to Jole’s life, her offer, and the emotions redeveloping between them naturally turn his life upside down (in a way that only entanglements with Vorkosigans can), and the bulk of the novel is the two of them navigating the new opportunities that they see in front of them and the memories they have behind them.  The story is, at heart, a romance; it is clear well before the midpoint that Cordelia and Jole will rekindle their relationship, but the questions of how and for how long remain open.

The structure and setting of this book – a romance between Cordelia and a Barrayaran admiral taking place on and above the planet Sergyar – mirror that of Shards of Honor, the very first book of the series, and in that way I see Gentleman Jole as a bookend to the series, wrapping up the story of Cordelia and Aral with a bow and a happily-ever-after (at least to the extent that Aral can get such an ending posthumously).

Which leads me to the question: is this the end of the Vorkosigan Saga?  It very well could be.  If so, I found it an extremely satisfying one, both structurally for the series and as a story in its own right.  Cordelia Vorkosigan is one of my favorite characters – not only in this series, but across all of science fiction – and she deserves all the happiness that this ending gives her.

My 2015 Hugo Nominations

See also my 2015 reading list for all the fiction I chose from.  Nominations are in no particular order (though mostly in the order in which I read them).

Best Novel

  • The Flux, Ferrett Steinmetz
  • Apex, Ramez Naam
  • Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
  • Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson

Best Novella

  • Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson
  • Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Last Witness, K. J. Parker
  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”, Usman T. Malik
  • Envy of Angels, Matt Wallace

Best Novelette

  • “Fabulous Beasts”, Priya Sharma

Best Short Story

  • “Variations on an Apple”, Yoon Ha Lee
  • “Some Gods of El Paso”, Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “Damage”, David D. Levine
  • “Oral Argument”, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • “Schrödinger’s Gun”, Ray Wood

Best Related Work

  • Writing Excuses, Season 10, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells
  • The Wheel of Time Companion, Robert Jordan, Harriet McDougal, Alan Romanczuk, Maria Simons

Best Graphic Story

  • Schlock Mercenary: Delegates and Delegation, Howard Tayler
  • Gunnerkrigg Court, Tom Siddell
  • Erfworld, Rob Balder, Xin Ye, Laura Ahonen
  • Order of the Stick, Rich Burlew

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  • Inside Out
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Best Editor (Long Form)

  • Marco Palmieri
  • Beth Meacham
  • Lee Harris
  • Joe Monti
  • Harriet McDougal

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

  • Ellen Datlow
  • Ann VanderMeer
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Beth Meacham
  • Carl Engle-Laird

Best Professional Artist

Best Semiprozine

Best Fanzine

Best Fancast

Best Fan Writer

Best Fan Artist

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Andy Weir (for The Martian)

Remaining categories to be filled in soon!

I LIVE

I’ve decided to start doing some long-form blogging, and I’m going to repurpose Pyrlogos to do so.  The comics won’t be going away, but the Comicpress theme will, and I’ll be editing the posts to include image links to comics (or whatever I need to do to make them appear reasonably in the archives).

Just so you know.  Changes inbound.  See you on the proverbial flipside…

I’ve been putting this off.

It’s been hard to figure out how to approach the subject; I’m still not quite sure just how “done” I am with Pyrlogos I am right now.  The world still interests me; the story still interests me; the characters still won’t get out of my head.  But I’ve been pretty deeply unsatisfied with the way I’ve written the story so far, and trying to figure out how to address that has been one of the things I was hoping for a few months to resolve so I could move on with the comic.  But it’s not happening, and my immediate priorities have moved on to other things, and it’s time I admit that Pyrlogos is essentially dead at this point.

I’m not done with Pyrlogos, as a whole – but I’m not really convinced I’m capable of telling the story as a serial comic at this point.  I hope to pick up the project again some day, in some incarnation or another, and when I do I’ll be posting about it here.  But for now, well, I don’t have any plans to continue it in its current state.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for leaving things like this.

Life continues to get in the way…

Page 029 is mostly done, but between sleeping issues and trying to rework my schedule to accomodate the curling season starting, I haven’t quite been able to finish it.  It should be up by Wednesday at the latest.

In related news, Pyrlogos updates are going to be about this spotty for another few weeks, until I can get things to settle down again.  If you don’t want to have to check the site and see no new updates, we do have an RSS feed you can use…

No comic this week

I had a pretty rough week last week, for a few different reasons.  Long story short, page 029 will go up Monday, October 12th.  See you then!

Page 019 goes up July 20, 2009

I’m getting married this month, and after that will be on my honeymoon until early July.  As of July 20th, I hope to be able to resume a once-a-week schedule, but it may take me a bit of time to ramp up to that.  Further details on the 20th – see you then!

Page 018 delayed

Because there wasn’t enough going on, my tablet crapped out on me as I was starting the lineart for the comic.  I only got the new one (thanks for the loan, Gwynne!) set up and working this weekend; I expect I’ll have the comic up by next Monday.

Thanks for your patience.

Schedule change

I haven’t been able to keep up with the schedule, largely due to wedding planning and related activities.  I’ve discovered that, with my life as busy as it is, I simply can’t do a page a week.  Accordingly, Pyrlogos will be updating once every two weeks until July, after my wedding.

Next page will be up Monday, March 9th.  See you then!