Read-along: Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle (Week 2)


Have I mentioned that I’m enjoying myself immensely reading Golden Witchbreed? No? Prepare yourself for unapologetically enthusiastic gushings. Because, frankly, my husband needs a break.

Details for this read-along can be found here on imyril’s blog, and each week the prompts will be posted on the Goodreads page here.

It’s week two, we’ve read parts three, four and five, all kinds of crap has gone down, let’s talk!



Week 2: Parts 3 to 5 inclusive

Last week, Christie gained a nickname. This week, she takes an arykei. Were you surprised by her choice (and who she chose)? …and how did you feel about Falkyr’s choices in light of their relationship?

Yeah I was surprised! More by who she chose as her arykei than by her decision to take one at all. I like that Christie is quite open to Orthean culture in this way, but I wouldn’t have called Falkyr as her choice of lover. I’d have expected Ruric, if anyone, (who I’m missing now she’s gone). I didn’t feel like we particularly got to know Falkyr before or during he and Christie’s short-lived affair …

… which keeps his behaviour afterwards nicely ambiguous. The gifts that Christie assumes are from him when she is in prison suggest one thing. Later his being a part of the group pursuing her and her fellow escapees suggests another thing. And I start to understand the whole “he’s a good man, don’t trust him” advice from a different angle. Friendship, respect, love, none of these things can compete with telestre.

There’s a lot of games of ochmir played this week. How good a metaphor for Southland politics do you find it?

It’s near perfect, isn’t it? Pieces that can change ‘allegiance’ (for want of a better word) and tip the balance of power across the board on its head, the acceptance of cheating (sometimes), and the shifting alliances when three players are involved all sound very like some of what we’ve witnessed so far. I’ve even read the appendix in my copy to try to understand a little better how a game may look, and was struck by the description of the game being about “manipulation not territory” – a difficult idea for a human to grasp when we seem obsessed with the concept of property.

What was your reaction to Blaize? What did you think about Christie allowing him to live and tag along?

I don’t like him. At all. And I think Christie should have killed him. I wonder if her decision to let him live is a result of her empathy. She doesn’t talk about it over much – as I guess you wouldn’t when that’s the only way of being you’ve ever know – but I feel like some of her decisions are because she is able to identify with individuals more than is normal. Although in other ways, like … I don’t know … say, acknowledging a person’s neuter gender, she’s really shit at empathy. Like her human bias gets in the way sometimes (male-female binary is all she can understand?)

What do you think happened to Haltern?

I don’t know. I’m hoping he’s not dead, but I’m also hoping he’s on Christie’s side, and I’m not sure the two of those things go together. I’d like him back though please, and Ruric too (I take back my comment about your yellow eyes Ruric, you were really quite charming). I’m feeling a distinct lack of friendly people right now!

Fenborn! Why do you think they took Christie’s party? …and why do you think they let them go?

Holy cow! This whole section of the story was at once brilliant and confusing. I love how different the Fenborn are, while still being recognisably Orthean. I honestly couldn’t figure out either why they took Christie and friends, nor why they let them go again. And Theluk’s death was equally bewildering (and unexpected).

Is it wrong that I loved this whole bit? Even though I didn’t really know what was going on? Because I didn’t really know what was going on?!

From one supposed myth to another… Everyone is afraid of the Golden Witchbreed! Do you believe in them – and do you believe they’re dead and gone?

Yep, I believe in them. And yes, I think they really are gone. Maybe there are genetic remnants, I don’t know, but I feel pretty confident (at the moment) that they’re a dead race. But I want to know so much more …

There are intriguing hints of the mystical creeping in with Theluk’s intuition and endurance as an Earthspeaker and the revelation of memory-dreams. How has this changed your understanding – or expectations – of Orthe?

I was really fascinated by the hints of a kind of land-Orthean-bond between Theluk and her home area. It reminded me of Sadri and Ruric’s questioning Christie about her feelings and memories of the land she was born in and their affirmation that “They feel it too” when she seemed to get lost in her memories for a moment.

And I feel like memory-dreams are just another side of the same puzzle. This is such a fantasy-like world as imyril has said in her first week’s post, and I keep having to shake myself a little and try to understand how these things might be explained scientifically. I’m going with an Orthean version of the instinct that some species of bird have here that enables them to return to traditional nesting grounds they’ve never visited before. That’s my take for the moment at least. More information please!

The memory-dreams change Christie’s job considerably though, and I find that very interesting. She’s no longer dealing with a pre-tech, but a post-tech world, and that’s not her area of expertise. Suddenly nothing is quite as she thought it was … I’m dying to see what happens next. 

Christie begins to realise how little she has truly understood about Orthe, and the Southland in particular. Now that you’ve got to know her, do you think the Dominion were right to send her? What is your assessment of her as a person and a diplomat?

I’ve got no real feel for the Dominion as I’ve been very, very focused on Orthe. I vaguely remember Barratt (was it?) saying something about the Dominion overstretching itself having encountered more peopled worlds than expected. That doesn’t really make much sense to me. If there were too many new worlds to make contact with, surely some sort of system would be devised to help prioritize? (Make contact with most likely threats first, establish good relationships then move on to less threatening worlds … or something similar?)

I’m not answering the question, am I? I don’t know if the Dominion were right to send Christie or not. I’m starting to think she may be more out of her depth than I initially thought. I like her as a person, more because she has obvious flaws than because I think she’s a good diplomat. Way back at the beginning she said to Geren:

“I’ve come here as envoy … I must be awkward, I must deal with your people as I would mine. I’ll make mistakes, yes, that’s not to be avoided, but it doesn’t matter. Watching me, you’ll see the truth of Earth. I can’t bring books or pictures to show you what we’re like, all I can do is be.”

And I feel like she’s doing exactly this. This is an alien world. There is no being a good or bad diplomat when you don’t yet know how a species entirely new to you thinks or feels, or where they place worth. There has to be some understanding before there can be negotiation and exchange. And I feel like both she, and we, are going to have a pretty good understanding of the Ortheans before we’re through.


The next post for this read-along can be found here:

Week 3 – Parts 6 & 7



      • The whole “other people” 😉

        It didn’t used to be like that. But ever since my time at booklikes ended and I started here at WP, I simply cannot abide anyone else dictating to me how or what I should read, even if it’s voluntary on my part.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 🤣 Yeah, other people are a problem, aren’t they?! 🤣
        I actually detest being ‘forced’ to read something by people I know IRL (mostly because none of them like the same stuff that I do) because I’m eager to please and get caught up in both wanting to and resenting doing it.
        Somehow, it’s different here. I think because I feel like you all ‘get me’ better. Hmmm … now I need to think about all that … 😆

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Can’t believe I missed the “he’s a good man, don’t trust him” angle on Falkyr 🤣 – perfect! I also spent this week missing Ruric, lots. I don’t feel we get to know Christie’s on the run travel companions as well as Ruric or Haltern – poor Theluk, asshat Blaize (who I enjoy, but you can’t like) and the ‘barbarian woman’ who doesn’t even get a use name until they part ways (…which is an interesting choice; I’d like to learn a lot more about the tribes) – there’s a real sense of Christie’s isolation even though they’re with her; it never feels like they’ve got her back, and I like the way that puts a bit of extra tension into the proceedings.

    I’m with you on the fenborn – I had more questions at the end than at the beginning, but that rings true for Christie’s experience. I like Gentle’s commitment to holding us to Christie’s POV even if I feel like I’m being teased the whole way 😂

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