Iayan has never had an easy life. No slave does. As an Adesi-ren, a member of the slave caste of the matriarchal Adesi, Iayan has no rights, no protections, no say in whether or not he is sold away from his home. What he does have, all that he has, is his iron self control. He can bow before Naravi, who left him to take the blame for a theft he did not commit, taking all the blame (while his master took none of the responsibility) and all of the punishment as he was dragged to a Jevite prison. He can say yes master, no master, as you like master, with a face as smooth as still water and a voice as unruffled as a cloudless sky. Iayan refuses to allow himself feelings, instead resigning himself to an empty, hollow existence. Until Dax.
Daxen Variyat, once of House Variyat, is now — like Iayan — an Adesi-ren. The young man has been cast out of his house, has lost all of his rank and rights as a person, and been taken in by House Yy as a slave. And Iayan hates him. Dax sees Iayan’s skills in cleaning and laundry as natural; of course a slave would be good at chores. It’s what they’re born to do. It’s why they’re Adesi-ren in the first place. As if he, now, is any better. Dax’s contempt, arrogance, and pride make Iayan burn with a rage that eats away at his own complacency with a desire to make someone — Dax, especially, hurt as much as he does.
When the Jevite Legion needs Adesi help in taking down an extremist responsible for, well, everything, Iayan grabs at the chance with both hands. The chance to get out of this house, to get away from House Yy and his duties, from the ocean of rage threatening to drown him, he’ll take it no matter the risks. Maybe there’s a part of him that hopes he does get found out, that he does get killed. It would be an end, at least, to all of it. To the hate eating him alive, to the soul-crushing toil of being a slave, to having to bow and scrape before Naravi who would have let him die rather than step up and be a man.
Iluren, the cult leader, is like no one Iayan has met before. He speaks of a world where all are equal; no more Adesi-ren, serving their houses, bought and sold as property, beaten and abused and starved because no one cares enough to help them. He speaks of bright future, one in which Iayan plays a crucial role. He speaks to Iayan’s heart as though it’s his own, and Iayan finds himself listening. And more, believing. But Dax, stupidly loyal, stubbornly clinging to him like a burr, won’t let him listen in peace. Dax questions, Dax remembers their purpose. And for all that he loathes everything Dax is and was, Iayan finds himself relying on the other man’s solid presence. No matter how he yells at him, bites at him, no matter how many poisonous words he spits, Dax takes it all. But will it be enough?
The Call of Revolution is the third and final volume in the Exalted series, and it is my favorite, and in many ways, the most biting. While the first book took a look at colonialism, and the second book toxic families, this one uses the caste system of the Adesi to take a long look at social inequalities (the most obvious correlation being racism) and how privilege and complacency can blind us to the suffering of others. Iayan is not happy, has never been happy in House Yy, and in all of the years he has lived here, not one of the Adesi have noticed. They think they’re doing well by not beating their slaves, by paying generous stipends when they retire, by asking them to do tasks rather than ordering.
But just because they ask doesn’t mean they want an answer. Or that they’d accept one. What would really happen if Iayan said “No, I don’t want to to this chore. No, I don’t agree with what you’re saying. No, no, and no.” Iayan is sensitive, and angry, and helpless. He code switches from the competent and sometimes cruel high slave of his house to a fawning, placating Adesi-ren in order to save Dax from old acquaintances making sport of him for his new lack of status, and Dax doesn’t see it as what it is … he sees it as natural. Of course Adesi-ren act like that. It’s how they’re born. If they were meant to act like real people, they’d have been born Adesi, instead.
Dax isn’t cruel. He’s young and ignorant. He has lived his whole life being told, as an Adesi man, that Adesi-ren are slaves because they’re born to be slaves. They’re not capable of being smarter, so why put them to the work of educating them? They don’t know any better, so why ask them? They’re stubborn because they don’t like working; they can take a beating better because they born to be beaten. And on and on. But now that he’s an Adesi-ren, Dax is realizing how much of what he took for granted, how much he was taught, is wrong.
This book has a lot of dark pain, filtered through the view not of some good-natured, kind, and sympathetic hero who wants to save the world, but through the eyes of broken, angry (justly so) Adesi-ren viewing the entitlement of the family who own him with contempt. Yes, House Yy thinks they’re doing the right thing — and they are — by trying to pass a law to prevent people from beating their Adesi-ren with weapons … but that still leaves fists and feet. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. Iayan can’t forgive Naravi for leaving him to take the blame for something he didn’t do. He hates him. He hates them all, even as he serves them day in and day out.
Iaiyan is smart. He’s also an asshole. He’s kept all his pain behind his teeth, burying everything he feels … which leaves him open to the cult leader who pours poison into his ears and heart. Poison can, after all, be an excellent fertilizer to dark, hidden, dormant thoughts and feelings. And it’s painful to watch Iayan try so hard to find himself through all of this. What he really wants. Who he wants to be. Who he is beneath all the anger and the pain and the suffering.
This is a beautiful book with a strong ending. The writing, as always, is good. The characterization of Iayan is strong and vibrant, and I cannot wait to see what more the author has for us in the future. This series has been a wonderful adventure and I’m glad to have been able to review them.