I should say something about Tovera, since I was having opinions about empathy earlier. This isn’t the first time she shows up, but I think it’s the most detailed of the little narrator-introductions we’ve gotten for her so far:
“If you follow your training, you have less to think about and so make fewer mistakes,” said Tovera in a primly chiding tone. She accpeted Adele’s ethical decisions without question: Tovera had no conscience, but her sharp intelligence let her act within the bounds of society so long as she had a guide she trusted to tell her what those bounds were.
Tovera did not, however, defer to Adele’s judgments regarding doctrine and technique, except under orders. She ws apt to honor even direct orders in the breach if she decided they would endanger her mistress unduly.
That wasn’t simply a matter of loyalty, though perhaps it was that as well. Tovera knew that she wouldn’t survive in society without direction. She had been the tool of a Fifth Bureau officer. After he was killed, she had attached herself to Adele as someone who would appreciate the usefulness of a murderous sociopath the way she appreciated the postol in her tunic pocket. Either would kill at Adele’s direction, and Adele’s duties and ruthlessness guaranteed that she was likely to need them.
Tovera hasn’t really done much in the story yet, but I’m cautiously positive about her. I feel like this neat explanation of her only works because it’s pretty fuzzy about exactly what “conscience” and “ethics” and “social boundaries” are, and I’m not sure how much sense it actually makes.
(It’s also pretty contrary to the usual pop psychology about this kind of thing, which is really surprising, don’t you usually hear “sociopaths/psychopaths are socially smooth, good at acting, good at manipulating people”?)
But it treats “sociopathy”/”having a conscience” and a person’s actual conscious desires and choices as separate things, and I’m in favor of that.