Bibliophile Princess ‒ Episode 4

Bibliophile Princess ‒ Episode 4 thumbnail

I admit that I’m afraid I might be putting too much of myself in my reading of Eli, but consider this: it’s not that she lost her personality from when she was a child, it’s that she was taught to suppress it. That she shows a bit more gumption this week at the Star of Sissel’s traveling book sale would seem to back this up; when she’s looking at the books, she’s more animated and more willing to speak up, even giving the merchant a lengthy list of volume, edition, and language preferences for the title she wants. It’s frankly more than we’ve heard her say to anyone since episode one, barring the flashback to her childhood, and it’s suggestive that she’s learned that no one wants to hear her most of the time.

This theory would, I’ll grant you, stand up better if we knew more about the way society in Sauslind functions. At this point we can extrapolate that women don’t typically have the depth of education that Elianna does, and the ubiquitous tea party has been held up as a normal form of female entertainment. Speaking as someone who didn’t enjoy the sort of socializing everyone else did as a kid (and to be perfectly honest, I’d still rather stay home with a book and my cats), you learn pretty quickly what’s acceptable and not to your peers. Even if Eli’s family hadn’t whisked her back to the Bernstein estate after Chris started asking about her, she’s unlikely to have been unscathed by social expectations, as we saw in the Lady Irene storyline. That means that part of the arc for Eli is that she has to come to trust that she can truly be herself around Christopher, and that’s what we’re starting to see develop in this episode.

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He’s really not helping his own case with his moderately aggressive flirting, though. There’s a big difference between loving someone and being comfortable with public displays of affection, and Elianna is definitely not in the latter group. That there’s a hint of possessiveness to Chris’ actions could be an issue if that’s not your preferred romantic trope; he’s clearly staking a claim to Eli even before he makes the (very stupid) comment about not wanting her to mention another man’s name in his presence. Sure, Theodore could be competition for Elianna’s heart, but she’s been quietly clear about her feelings for Chris. Mostly, though, Christopher’s jealousy on that point just shows how little he understands buying rare books: when you see the rare or antique volume you want (or know a fellow collector is looking for), you do not wait.

Plot-wise, this episode is setting up the next storyline, and it does a decent job of it. The mention of a Bernstein wanting Rene and Paolo to steal a book lets us know that not everyone is scrupulous and respectful when it comes to Eli’s family, possibly including less than savory extended family members. That Rene is trying desperately to find a doctor who will see his mother also could have implications about the way racism and bias work in the series’ world; Rene is the son of a member of the nomadic scholar group (clearly its own ethnicity) and a Sauslind knight; in our terms we’d say he was biracial. This feels like a factor in why he has to resort to theft for a patron to secure medical care for his mother, and it’s really only when Chris allows Rene to call him “dad” and makes it clear that he’s also willing to stand as guardian to Paolo that the merchant backs down. Yes, Chris also knows an influential leader in the group, but it’s hard not to notice his blinding whiteness in that scene.

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The whole “I swear he’s not my kid” element isn’t really needed in order to make Eli feel like there are sides of Chris she doesn’t know. The latter quarter of the episode seems to be doing that just fine, and the trick will be to see if she can find it in herself to step up and do what needs to be done. I suspect she will, because not only are books involved, but also her family’s honor and a child’s parent. Elianna doesn’t need to be the spitfire she was at age ten to make a difference – she just needs to remember that she’s allowed to have a voice.


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