Welcome to our weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! In the next two chapters, a royal funeral is celebrated in very different ways in Castle Crag and in Stronghold. Plots thicken, relationships both gel and curdle, and we learn a great deal more about magic and the people who possess it.
So this happens: The chapter begins with a visit to our villains in Castle Crag. The news of Zehava’s death has reached them, and they’re all pretending to mourn. In truth however it’s a celebration.
Again Palila is the viewpoint character, and we see how she perceives her relationship with Roelstra: how intimate they are, and how she alone knows what he has in mind. She reflects too on how and why all the nobles hate her, and how she intends to finally produce a son and become Roelstra’s legal wife.
After the ceremony she goes to meet Crigo, who will be spying on Stronghold via moonlight. But Pandsala finds her there first.
After some spitting back and forth, she asks Palila to use her influence on Roelstra to choose her as Rohan’s wife. For leverage, she points out that Ianthe, the more logical choice, is unlikely to do for Palila what she can do, which is save her life.
Pandsala can help keep Palila from being supplanted by a younger, prettier mistress with more hope of producing a son. She also knows something else, which she doesn’t specify and Palila doesn’t insist on finding out. Pandsala will make sure that Palila has a son.
At this point the narrative shifts to Crigo, and we overhear the rest in patches as he does, but the import is clear. Pandsala and Palila are plotting to replace Palila’s next daughter, if so the child happens to be, with a baby boy.
Crigo retreats rapidly to his room and his dranath and reflects on what he has heard. He spares no contempt for both women, or for Roelstra, either. Then, as the drug enters his system, he rides the moonlight to Stronghold, and spies on the funeral ceremony for Zehava.
With this we segue to Tobin’s viewpoint as she watches Rohan perform the ceremony. He has had the dragon’s carcass brought to the funeral ground, and—shockingly—accords it the same honors as the late Prince.
After the funeral proper and the consecration of the bodies of both man and dragon, as the faradh’im perform a ritual that informs the whole of the known world that the Prince is dead, Tobin is caught in the web of magic and nearly shadow-lost. Andrade and Sioned are able to call her back, but what she has done, as Andrade points out in no uncertain terms, is deathly dangerous.
Sioned takes the responsibility on herself. Rohan assists by being as cold and cruel as he promised to be—shocking the rest.
Chay carries Tobin off to bed and a few pages of byplay with teasing and worrying: Chay over Tobin, and Tobin over Sioned and then over the fact that she is herself faradhi.
She summons Sioned, who appears promptly and in none too happy a state. “I am unfit to wear my rings,” she says more than once.
Tobin is not looking for apologies, nor does she feel any are needed. She wants Sioned to teach her to use her gifts. Sioned is willing, if Andrade gives permission. Tobin then tells her that in the middle of being almost shadow-lost, she sensed someone else in pain: a man, whose colors she describes.
Once Tobin has disposed of these magical matters, she puts Sioned on the spot. “What do you think of my brother?” Sioned does her best to evade the question, until she is saved by the fortuitous appearance of Tobin’s twin sons.
And I’m thinking: This chapter moves along at a rapid clip, relatively speaking. There’s a lovely craft to the segues from Palila to Crigo to Tobin, and from Castle Crag to Stronghold.
We get the usual technique of telling us all about what’s coming and what everybody is plotting and planning. Palila is clearly an unreliable narrator, which we see through Crigo here; she’s not nearly as clever or as beloved of her lord as she thinks.
Along with Tobin we learn quite a bit more about how faradhi works. It’s clear that people who have it are not considered normal, and that Chay is not happy to be told his wife has it. His denial is immediate and stubborn.
Tobin meanwhile, despite nearly dying of it, is enthralled with what she’s discovered she can do and be. She barely pays attention to her husband’s denial or his objections, and heads straight toward her goal, which is to learn how to use her gift. We learn about colors as identifying markers, and about different degrees and kinds of perception of these colors.
Which is seriously cool, though Eighties Me (who still remembers the Sixties) can’t help but notice that faradhi is basically a whole-body mood ring. Crigo’s sapphire shading to black…oh yeah. Black is a bad, baaad mood.
We’re really starting to get the point about Rohan and dragons, too: that he doesn’t see them as the enemy. Quite the opposite, in fact. He has some sort of dragon magic. We know it. We’re waiting to see what comes of this.
Sioned is not having a good time here. Her earlier crises of confidence are minor compared to what she goes through when Tobin gets swept up in the wash of faradhi all around her.
It’s obviously not Sioned’s fault, and everyone points this out early and often. But Sioned is clearly a person who Takes Responsibility. Or blame, as the case may be.
Other, smaller notes get rung here and there. Tobin is aware of Crigo—which foreshadows a revelation later, and a possible hole in Roelstra’s defenses. Roelstra meanwhile comes across as a sort of antimatter version of Rohan, both physically and mentally; which makes Palila and Sioned foils of a sort, too. Palila’s overconfidence in her own abilities makes a nice counter to Sioned’s notable lack thereof.
Both sides of me are really enjoying the range and complexity of Rawn’s visual imagination. She has a wonderful way with description, and a real sense of scope in the physical world which her characters inhabit.
So this happens: Chapter 8 is a bit of a transitional chapter. One major event, Zehava’s death and Rohan’s succession to the princedom, has concluded. The next, the Rialla, is still some months away. In between, both Sioned and Rohan have some learning to do and some emotional upheavals to face.
Sioned has lost all confidence in herself and her powers. Therefore she puts herself back to school—first among the books in the library at Stronghold, where she mostly studies Rohan, and quickly discovers that “he had more formal education than any prince had ever had before him,” and then with the elder faradhi, Urival.
It’s clear by now to both her and Urival that she wants to advance in her art not to serve at Goddess Keep but to be a court faradhi—specifically, at Rohan’s court. Urival at first refuses to teach her, stating that she wants it for the wrong reasons.
She is also, he points out, getting above herself. “You are not a ruling princess yet.” Whereupon, he walks out.
This shocks and angers her. She runs after Urival, but once she finds him, her anger evaporates, and she bursts into tears. She doesn’t understand. She begs him to help her.
That’s what Urival has been waiting to hear. He agrees to teach her after all, and acknowledges that she is, indeed, meant to be a princess.
Rohan meanwhile has been thinking about Sioned, getting ready for the annual Hatching Hunt, and performing the many duties of a ruling prince.
These last inspire him, in private with Chay and Tobin, to expound upon the changes he intends to make in the way the princedom is run: from a loosely feudal, barter-based economy to a much more centralized and structured, more clearly authoritarian system. Chay listens with a fairly open mind, but Tobin points out, bluntly, that he might be trying to change too much too soon—and then, as is her wont, wrenches the subject around from the general and political to the personal. “What about Sioned?”
Rohan does his best to evade her, but Tobin keeps pressing, even against Chay’s warnings. Finally, after some storming from Tobin, further warnings from Chay, and a fair amount of teasing, he manages to escape.
He is, as it happens, escaping toward Sioned. She has been evading him, but tonight he has commanded her, as Prince, to meet him in the garden at midnight.
While he waits for her, he reflects on the Hatching Hunt, and on how much he hates it and wishes he could find a way to get out of it. Sioned interrupts his thoughts in a right rage about being ordered to meet him, which allows him to think about how different she is from the women of his own family. His mother and sister are usually playing at rage. Sioned really means it.
She also cools down fairly quickly, after some parry and riposte about her repeated refusal to accept his polite invitations. She is still not, however, in a romantic mood, which puts him further out of temper. He wants to exchange sweet nothings. She wants to talk about troubles and intrigues.
The subject changes to jealousy—lightly at first, as he admires Cami’s fine eyes, and then more seriously when he observes that he has no intention of marrying one of Roelstra’s treacherous and deadly daughters.
Sioned is shocked and appalled. She never thought of that. They might kill him. He shouldn’t go to the Rialla.
He laughs at her, which does not assuage her temper, and then tells her his plan for her. On the last day of the gathering, he will appear with her on his arm, stunningly and scandalously dressed, and “dripping with emeralds.”
She’s willing, but she isn’t at all sure it’s a good idea. The princesses will not only be horribly jealous; when they marry, they’ll turn their husbands against him.
Rohan will be too strong for that, he replies—and then tells her what kind of wife he wants her to be: an active partner in running the princedom, above and beyond Stronghold, which “runs itself.”
After a bit of teasing and banter, Rohan asks Sioned to come with him to the Hatching Hunt, not to witness the slaughter of the newborn dragons, but to show her Rivenrock. He has this feeling about dragons, he says, “as if they’re more important than anyone realizes.”
They’re interrupted just then. It turns out to be the squire, Walvis, summoning Rohan to his mother.
Who, it turns out, had nothing to do with it. He literally runs into Tobin.
She invented the summons and followed Walvis, and has seen Rohan with Sioned—and she is not letting him go until she gets the answers she’s been waiting for. Sioned is in love with him, Tobin says—and then she drops a bombshell.
Sioned is thoroughly trained. Sexually trained. Which Rohan, it seems, had not known.
Tobin is taken aback by this, and slows down a bit, but not enough to keep from telling him how Andrade’s Sunrunners are initiated to the rite of the Womantree.
Rohan’s rage frightens Tobin. She tries to defuse it by stating that it’s only the one man and the one night, but Rohan is well off the edge.
He’s not a virgin, either, he declares—while reflecting bitterly that he was drunk; he has no memory of the night. This only serves to incense him further. He tosses off a vicious phrase—“used goods”—and storms off, determined to even the score. “The sooner the better.”
And I’m thinking: Neither Rohan nor Sioned appears in the best light in this chapter. Sioned is both low on agency (though Urival makes sure to remind her that she does have a choice, Fated Love or not) and high on plot stupidity, what with not having figured out that Roelstra’s daughters could actually, you know, kill Rohan, but Rohan isn’t looking or acting particularly intelligent, either.
We do hear about the “best-ever educated prince that ever was,” and he’s certainly full of grand plans and sweeping changes, but when he’s faced with actual human interactions, he’s pretty thoroughly and mortally flawed.
And I’m loving it. Rohan not only isn’t perfect, he’s wonderfully imperfect. He overreaches, he underestimates, he gets into terrible trouble—and we just know he’s going to fall flat on his face when he tries to show Sioned just how experienced he can be.
Both Rohan and Sioned are showing similar levels of temper and jealousy. This is as clear evidence as I’ve seen that they’re meant for each other.
They’re so much alike even in their differences. Sioned’s extreme lack of confidence mirrors Rohan’s equally extreme overconfidence. When they meet in the middle, they strike sparks.
The book is finding its stride, and that’s a good long gallop across some rocky terrain. I’m looking forward to the Hatching Hunt—and from there, on to the Rialla.
Judith Tarr’s first epic fantasy novel, The Hall of the Mountain King, appeared in 1986. Her YA time-travel science fiction/fantasy/historical novel, Living in Threes, appeared as an ebook from Book View Café in 2012, and will debut in print this fall. Her new novel, a space opera, will be published by Book View Cafe in 2015. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.