S is for—Seven Dials
As the Five Points was to Gangs of New York-era Gotham, so Seven Dials was to 1800s London—the centre of the rats' maze, a place where the city's criminal underclass had congregated and bred since long before Transportation to Australia was enacted into the Criminal Code. It was, in other words, a truly superlative slum which gave rise to a culture and language of its own (Thieves' Cant, whose roots are still recognizable even today in Cockney rhyming slang, and indeed also made the jump over to Amerikay along with various immigrant groups, forming the base of the flash palaver Amsterdam and Bill the Butcher speak), and it's here that Chess's Ma Oona was born and raised. Which is why he ends up in a sort of half-memory, half-parody version of it at the end of A Rope of Thorns, his own personal Hell into the many-roomed prison of Hell Proper. I was particularly interested in how claustrophobic and gross Chess, who's spent his entire life in a series of non-industrialized places—many of the empty of almost everything except landscape—would find the fog and soot-saturated, black-and-grey heart of London's steam- and coal-driven machine. I guess it also stands in for the unrecognizable truths about our own backgrounds and histories we sometimes have to have our faces rubbed in in order to progress, literally or figuratively...but in a lot of ways, this was mainly for the lulz.
T is for—Two-Spirited
At the end of A Rope of Thorns, we were introduced to Yiska, aka The Night Has Passed, a “woman chief” with magic-worker genes who has deliberately chosen not to pursue that part of her heritage, mainly because she really enjoys kicking ass in a way her culture labels specifically “male”. This makes her effectively “Two-Spirited”, a category left open for people who don't respond well to gender norms—men who want to be wives, for example, as well as women who want their own. And while I'm not sure whether or not I'd categorize Yiska as FTM transgendered per se, what I found increasingly fun about her existence is that it offers an alternative to the automatically antagonistic way Chess has been living his life. As Grandma points out, they're pretty similar people, except for the fact that Yiska was raised with a certain sense of responsibility which comes out of having a community to call her own. And while it may well be too late for Chess to develop anything of the same sort, the hexes and hex-allied in and around New Aztectlan could do far worse than to copy her example.
(Then again, he is young, as even he probably forgets, most of the time. It's possible he may yet settle.)
Tomorrow: U and V!