One of the things my (American) critique group brought up was the fact that Yosua, at many times, seemed too obedient. He was supposed to be king, supposed to be issuing orders, but, at the start at least, he was just letting all the “adults” run the show—whether it’s his father, Garett, or his uncle, Jeffett.
Part of that, I figured, was his upbringing. He was literally brought up as a servant. He was used to obeying if he didn’t want to get into trouble. Then again, he’d also already spent something like two years on the throne at the start of The Tale of the Hostage Prince, so some of that instinct would probably have started to change.
Yet the other part of it is really the Asian culture of respect for elders. I mention it a few times—between adat (customs) and adab (culture), you’re supposed to respect your elders. Obviously, with Yosua being Raja, the authority of his position should trump that supposed deference. Only...Yosua is too soft to demand it and Jeffett, having been the Regent of Bayangan for two decades prior to this, totally takes advantage of the fact that he still commands their respect—and obedience.
And Yosua never really steps up to wrest it back from him until it’s too late. Here’s a little snippet of what’s going through Yosua’s mind even while his uncle is busy usurping his authority.
Chapter 10 excerpt
But no matter where I turn, Uncle Jeffett is there. He doesn’t accuse me of anything outright, but he inserts himself into every meeting, questions my decisions with each quirk of his eyebrow. I have learnt what statecraft I know from Ayah, from observing Sultan Simson and the Mahan Majlis, where they gently guide the people to the decisions they want made. That doesn’t work here. Every time I pause out of habit, every time I unthinkingly ask a rhetorical question, hoping they will finally get the point, Uncle Jeffett is there, questioning my ‘uncertainty’. Weakening me in their eyes.
And at least half the Majlis look to him every time they are uncertain. He’s still their ex-Regent—his very presence overshadows my authority. And adab demands that I give him face, deference, as my elder, as my senior, as my uncle—that despite what power I hold, I must listen to him with the respect his age and family relations affords him.
If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I allowed him to resume his role as Temenggung, instead of urging him to return to his estate. There’s no way to get rid of him now.
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The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)
But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.
With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?