The Book of Flying | “The Robber Queen”

a novel

by Keith Miller

“On a peak of a rooftop they sat awhile in the domain of owls, cowled by stars, above the sea” (Miller, 34).

So after deciding to gain wings at Paunpuam, Pico sets out into chapter two “The Robber Queen” and runs into a band of thieves lead by Adevi. She’s more dynamic than Pico and more confident, lively, and palatable. I liked her. Did I necessarily agree with her beliefs and attitudes? Not really, but I found her directness likable.

Also, the vague allusion to Andersen’s The Snow Queen and the little robber girl probably endeared me to her just a twinge. I don’t know if it was intentional, but considering the constant talk of stories and obvious references to other stories, I’d say it’s a fair guess that it might be.

Although I felt bad that Pico had to become a thief – it was either that or die. And, ugh, not a fan of branding, but hey, the story says he was drunk enough that it wasn’t too bad. Yeesh. (Part of joining Adevi’s group meant having her symbol branded on him. Suddenly reminded of the Sun Pirates.1)

Some of the description in chapter two, feels like it relies on very specific stereotyping:

“the robber camp was ringed by tambourines rung by twirling girls wearing only patched skirts and bangles, pearl-decked anklets and great gold earrings. The men sat on logs they sometimes slapped and sometimes they clapped intricate counterpoint to the patter of slim feet. The robbers were stubble-jawed, their eyes blade-sharp, blood-dark, fingers nimble as lizards. They wore open shirts, chains on chests, embroidered vests, hoops in lopes, colored kerchiefs, brass-knuckled boots” (20).

When I read this I instantly thought of a scene in The 10th Kingdom television mini series where the main characters end up lost in the Enchanted Forest as guests to a band of poachers. There’s a fire and a threat of violence. In The 10th Kingdom, these outlaws are referred to as g*psies (in the show and soundtrack), and I’d bet money on the likelihood that this kind of imagery — bangles, hoop earrings, campfires, danger, daggers, (threat of) murder, and stealing — are Roma stereotypes.

As chapter two goes along, Adevi tells Pico her story and how she became a robber. As she tells him, her parents were performers and so there was always artistic people in her home. This made her inclined to be an artist, but she says her brother was the naturally gifted artist and “his gift was cherished, coddled like a living thing” (32). She, on the hand, had no skill. But one day when she saw one of his beautiful paintings, she was overwhelmed with emotion and killed him with a palette knife. And that’s how she found her gift for killing, as she says.

Upon learning her story, I wondered if her brother was talented or if he was male. If her parents went out of their way to ensure their son had the finest materials and attention, wouldn’t he have become a better painter than his sister? I question how much of his skill was talent alone and how much of it was male previlege.

Also, I’d debate whether or not he painted beautiful art, since when I read the description of them I was a little unnerved — “winged-fish and bird-headed men, trees with hands on the ends of their branches and girls with the legs of gazelles” (30). Typing it up now, I think that they weren’t as unnerving as I imagined when I first read them. I think the tree with hands unnerved me most. It sounds eerie and slightly ominous.

Eventually, Adevi sneaks away with Pico to accompany him to Paunpuam. Along the way (to chapter three), she teaches him about sex. Which comes about in a rather unsettling way:

“On the third evening of their travels Adevi stood across the fire from Pico and to the music of a nearby nightingale and the percussion of her snapping fingers began to dance. He watched through the window of heat that spindled and heightened her motions as she plucked the clothing from her body… Then she came to him and held him down and he looked at her and said “Adevi—” as if he’d forgotten something but she covered his mouth with her hand.

Later he wept so violently she thought it was a fit but when she tried to touch him again he shuddered as though her fingers burned” (36).

It seems like Pico didn’t want to have sex with her, but did anyway. And later, his desire drives him to ask her to teach him about sex, so she does. Eventually he loses interest once realizes he’s lost something through her and gained something. He ruminates and he writes a sonnet to Sisi and that’s the end of that.

discussion of love (and sex in place of it) (may) come with chapter three next week


1 although in the One Piece context the branding serves as a means of protection and assimilation into society at large

Words:

source edited for better definitions

  • balustrade (less)n. a railing without any number of closely spaced supports
  • counterpanesn. a quilt or coverlet for a bed; bedspread
  • cowledv. 1. to cover with or as if with a cowl; 2. to put a monk’s cowl on; 3. to make a monk of
  • vouchsafedv. 1. to grant or give, as by favor, graciousness, or condescension; 2. to allow or permit, as by favor or graciousness
  • casementsn. a window sash opening on hinges that are generally attached to the upright side of its frame
  • chamferedv. to make a a cut that is made in wood or some other material, usually at a 45°angle to the adjacent principal faces

Quote:

Adevi: “‘Up, poet, we’re off to burgle'” (35).

Works Cited:

Miller, Keith. The Book of Flying: A Novel. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2004. Print.

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