Mon
May 26 2014 9:00am

Rereading The Empire Trilogy: Daughter of the Empire, Part 2

Daughter of the Empire Raymond E. Feist Janny WurtsWelcome back to the reread of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Daughter of the Empire. In this installment, we get political commentary, business advice, and Mara starts figuring out how to be Lady of the Acoma. Meanwhile, her old nurse gives her a sex talk.

Chapter 2: Evaluations

SUMMARY:

Mara awakes in the glade to find the assassin dead at her feet. Her throat is bruised, but she has been rescued by her Strike Commander, Papewaio.

They return to the house, and Papewaio confirms that it was an assassin of the Hamoi tong—hired murderers of no clan, also referred to as the Red Hands of the Flower Brotherhood.

Papewaio begs to be allowed the honour of taking his own life with a blade—he did not technically disobey Mara’s orders because she did not name him when forbidding the others to follow her, but he did trespass in the sacred family grove. His life is forfeit.

Mara refuses to let Papewaio kill himself by blade (an honourable death) and her gardeners prepare to hang him instead (a dishonourable death). Horrified, she stops them and postpones the issue.

While Mara bathes and servants tend her throat, she discusses the key points of the assassination attempt with Nacoya. Her insistence on attending the grove immediately was an error, as it did not give the gardeners a chance to sweep it for security. The servants were honour-bound to obey her commands despite knowing better.

The assassin intruded upon the sacred place of the Acoma, which suggests he was not only there to kill Mara but to steal her family natami, symbol of their honour. He attempted to kill Mara by strangulation, a death usually reserved for criminals. (Also women of low status, but Nacoya insists that as a Ruling Lady, Mara’s status is now the same as that of a man, so this attempt was especially insulting.)

Someone is attempting to wipe out the last traces of the Acoma family and their honour. If Mara dies without an heir, and the family natami is lost, then the Acoma name will disappear. Her servants will become slaves, and her soldiers will be condemned to the life of the grey warriors who eke out an outcast existence as bandits in the hills.

Nacoya is firm that of Lord Sezu’s two enemies, the Minwanabi and Anasati, it must have been the Minwanabi behind this attack as well as the deaths of Lord Sezu and his son. The Lord of the Anasati is too clever and subtle to make such a clumsy attempt. Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi has grown so powerful, he is second only to the Warlord himself in military might and status. This plot has his arrogance all over it.

Mara summons the rest of her inner circle, prepared now to start acting like a Ruling Lady. She suggests to Keyoke that they arrange a hand signal so he can warn her discreetly when she leads them into danger with her ignorance or impatience.

Now the matter of Papewaio: everyone urges her to name the time and manner of his death. Mara refuses to lose a (badly-needed) loyal soldier for her own folly. She declares that she will choose his sentence some time in the future—and meanwhile, he must wear the black rag of the condemned on his head, knowing his life is forfeit. Should Mara die before speaking his sentence, he may kill himself by the blade or visit revenge on her killer, as he sees fit.

Privately, of course, she intends never to speak his sentence and they all know it. The decision is highly unorthodox, but everyone seems pleased with it.

Mara begins her education about business matters and the extent of her property with Jican, the new hadonra. The Acoma might be lacking in people power but their other resources are healthy. Lord Sezu, unlike many other Ruling Lords, had a knack for finance, and chose competent property managers. The crops have flourished, and the Acoma herds are legendary for their good breeding stock (thanks to decisions made from pragmatism rather than ego—apparently not the Tsurani way!).

They have wealth to recruit new soldiers, but tradition dictates that they can only hire men who have a family connection to those already serving. Most available men had already been called to the Acoma before the battle.

Mara insists on sending the red cord from the assassin to Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi, as a gesture of her strength and resilience, to let him know he cannot simply roll over the Acoma. Nacoya concedes this will buy them a short respite, but pushes her own plan to preserve Mara’s family—the Ruling Lady must marry, and fast. A consort will bring his family in alliance to hers, and she will retain her control over the Acoma as Ruling Lady. Nacoya also insists that Mara needs to become quickly acquainted with sexual pleasures before her marriage, so her husband’s experience does not give him emotional power over her. Lord Sezu in his widowhood employed women of the Reed Life (licensed prostitutes) in order to protect himself from the political dangers of lust for women of his own class, and Mara’s brother Lanokota was also provided with sexual education.

Angry and offended, Mara sends Nacoya away. Surely there must be some alternative to her dire situation other than immediate marriage?

The most immediate danger is their lack of manpower, as shown when grey warrior bandits raid the Acoma herds. Keyoke will not countenance mercenaries, as they are not reliable. Only soldiers who hold Acoma honour as closely as their own, who will live and die for Mara and her family name, are acceptable, and there are few to be had. Further recruiting must be done gradually or reveal their current weakness.

Concerned at how vulnerable they are, Mara questions Keyoke about the grey warriors. Some are criminals, but most are men whose house has fallen—a fate that awaits Keyoke and the others if they lose Mara. The grey warriors might have been good men once, but to outlive your master is a sign of the gods’ displeasure.

Mara comes up with a plan. She will, against all advice, travel overland with a small caravan of goods, and only a small honour guard to protect her. The servants are dumbfounded at her apparent foolishness, but Papewaio at least seems to suspect what she is up to.

 

COMMENTARY:

It’s so exhausting being a Ruling Lady! I felt tired for Mara just reading this chapter. So much she has to learn and achieve, with the clock ticking urgently and enemies breathing down her neck.

While the first chapter was swamped with shock and grief, we are already seeing gleams of why Mara is a character worth paying attention to—as a leader, she learns quickly and innovates out of dire necessity, time and time again. She’s been the Lady of the Acoma for one day and has already defied tradition by saving Papewaio instead of mindlessly following tradition—and she does it with such deftness that no one can complain.

It’s clear that Mara can not only think fast on her feet, but also that she is going to be a trial for her loyal followers and her enemies alike precisely because she is so unpredictable. Also, while she might have missed out on the political education offered to her brother Lanokota, she is highly experienced in negotiating to get her own way. We saw that in the last chapter when Mara described how her father gave in to her wishes to become a sister of Lashima (against his express desire) without technically defying him. Achieving her ends without conflict is already second nature to her—and I imagine to many women in this deeply constricting society.

I appreciated that Mara owned her errors from Chapter 1, and chose safety measures to deal with the fact that she has a weird power imbalance with her advisors—they know far more than her about this job she has to perform, but they also live and die by her word.

To a greater or lesser effect, this is probably the case for all hereditary rulers, especially those who come to the throne young. There is often a romanticisation of the young, untried king who is destined to rule in fantasy fiction, and already the narrative of Daughter of the Empire is poking away at that particular trope. Game of Thrones fans will spot similarities here in the portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen, far from a home she never knew and trying to figure out how to be a ruling queen from first principles. Likewise, Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon both serve as examples of why the young, untried king trope does not deserve to be romanticized… it’s basically a very BAD idea.

Being a female ruler on a world like Kelewan (or most fantasy worlds) is already so against the norm that the women in question may as well go for broke and smash a few conventions along the way. Rules are more like guidelines, yes? But you have to be careful which ones you smash and which ones are going to smash you back…

The rather lovely business and money matters scene demonstrates that Mara’s way of looking at the world is not just because she is a woman who missed out on a Ruling Lord’s education—Lord Seu was an insider and yet profited from being aware of some of the more ridiculous aspects of Tsurani culture. The idea that so many Ruling Lords select bulls for breeding because they are ‘well-endowed’ rather than for more sensible reasons is funny because it’s so believable, and I like that Jican and Mara share a joke about this.

This anecdote, like almost everything else in the book so far, does double duty, pushing the story along but also revealing more about the world of the Tsurani. Every family has a Ruling Lord who has absolute power over the rest of them—and that means that every family has a weakness, depending on the ego, emotional blind spots and other weaknesses of the person (usually “man”) at the top of the pyramid. This is a society of warring tyrants, and anyone with the ability to recognise their own faults is going to have a head start over the rest of them. Mara’s in with a chance here.

It’s in this chapter that we properly get introduced to Nacoya, Mara’s “mother of my heart.” I have to say that I remember being very annoyed and frustrated by Nacoya back in my teen reading days, but I appreciate her presence a lot more now.

Formerly Mara’s nurse, Nacoya has shrewd political acumen and is an incredibly valuable asset. Unfortunately, the fact that she changed Mara’s nappies and taught her how to use her spoon properly means that she is also a danger to Mara’s dignity. Nacoya can no longer be allowed to tell Mara what to do in public, even if she does actually know best.

But what a fabulous character! This wise, snarky and occasionally short-sighted old lady lights up every scene that she is in. She’s basically every clever wizard in every other fantasy epic, rolled into one, only her experience and advice is about domestic matters and public politics rather than how to turn yourself into an owl. Her pragmatic attitude towards sex and the power balance of partners in an aristocratic marriage is really interesting, and I love the fact that we learn from this that despite this being a world in which women are of lower status to men, there is little in the way of the fetishisation of virginity that is so often used as a narrative and worldbuilding default.

The other advisors are coming into focus as well—including their relationships with each other. Keyoke chooses Papewaio’s nervous gesture as his warning signal to Mara, because he himself is always completely still. Papewaio wears his black rag of shame “as if it were a badge of honour.” Nacoya made a good choice in picking Jican as the new hadonra after his predecessor died in the wake of Lord Sezu’s death—but she definitely stepped above her station to make that call.

The story is rattling along very well, with so much packed into these first couple of chapters. Roll on the grey warriors!

(Have you guessed yet what Mara’s cunning plan is? Have you??)


Tansy Rayner Roberts is the fantasy author of the Creature Court trilogy and one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection “Love and Romanpunk.” She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day. Come and find her on Twitter!

17 comments
Mieneke van der Salm
1. Mieneke
I love Papewaio and on rereading the book, I appreciated Mara's wisdom and ingenuity in saving him all the more.

And oh Nacoya... like you how I view Nacoya has grown different over the years and I really do appreciate her wisdom. But what's even more I love her unfaltering and unconditional love for this young, headstrong girl that has suddenly been thrust into a life she wasn't prepared for and Nacoya's unflagging efforts to help her and do right by her without regard for her own safety. Because in Tsurani society for a servant to offend a master or mistress could have serious consequences up to and including death, as we've seen in Papewaio's case.
Joanna Slupek
2. Spriggana
Oh, I loved the "black rag gambit". And the wonderful scene laaater on it leads to. I still cheer silently everytime I think of it.
The Empire Trilogy is one of all-time favourits. And I never forgave Feist what hid did to Kelevan later on. As much as I would like another Kelevan – or even a little bit Kelevan – novel I refused to read *that* one.
emeraldreverie
3. emeraldreverie
Literally said "YAY" outloud when I saw this in my list. I too was annoyed by Nacoya, but with the grain of "she's probably right but damned annoying about it." I love how innovative Mara is - she doesn't stay inside the box, it's more like she makes the box morph/bend to fit what she knows is right and necessary. I would be very sad had Pape done the good Tsurani thing.
j p
4. sps49
Did Feist actually co-write these books, or did he just license the setting to Wurts?
Sara H
5. LadyBelaine
See, I always adored Nacoya... for some reason she just reminded me of some of the beloved nuns I had as teachers in grammar school, even though unline those nuns, she is more earthy and practical. She just seems like a good soul.
Brian R
6. Mayhem
@4 They emphatically co-wrote the books. Not to mention that it wasn't her idea - he had to really badger her into doing it!

Initially each would do a first draft and the other would refine, and certain sections are much more one than the other, but the majority is a true blend of back and forth from both so that either will admit they have no idea who wrote that particular passage.

It is one reason I like the series so much - Feist has always had superb ideas, but here the execution is so much better with the input of Wurts, especially in the politics and intrigue. The Midkemia novels are notably much less sophisticated in that regard.
Sara H
7. LadyBelaine
Mayhem @6,

- well said. I really, truly adored these books, but later when I read the Midkemia books, I was really, truly dissappointed. In fact, only being able to piece together Midkemia as seen through the eyes of the Tsuruani was actually kinda cool. When I see them on the flipside... not so much. They are so much less interesting.
emeraldreverie
8. Queen MyrdemInggala
Well, RobaydayAnganol was completely off the wall. A son who won't BE king? No matter what the incentives - a healthy and lustful half-Madi princess for wife? That's one young man who wouldn't be king!

Facetiously, I immensely enjoyed these first chapters - I liked the way Mara found her feet in such distressing and threatening circumstances.
emeraldreverie
9. megaduck
This is definitively a collaboration between Wurts and Fiest, and one of those rare collaborations where the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. The Empire trilogy is in my opinion the best books either of them have ever wrote.
As for the breakdown,
A lot of the politics, world building, and descriptions come from Wurts. She has a richness to her writing that can be seen in both the Empire trilogy and the Wars of Light and Shadow (Her other big series that I have read). The plot and pacing come from Fiest.
They really complement each other’s weaknesses. Fiest can tell a fast past gripping story but as LadyBelaine states, his world building can be a little disappointing when you get into it. At the same time, Wurts is perhaps the most unfocused writer I have ever read.
As an example, The Wheel of Time starts as a fast paced tight story but by Crossroads of Twilight drags by the raw weight of detail and different plot lines. Curse of the Mistwraith the first book of the Wars of Light and Shadow STARTS as rambling as CoT and then the series gets worse from there.

No real comment on the Black Rag Gambit. It was awesome. It was also one of the decisions that if she hadn’t done it, she would have died and the Acoma destroyed. It goes to show how bad the Acoma situation is, even the littlest decisions can destroy the house at this point.

I never real caught the point before that the rulers weakness was also the houses weakness. Though I think we are seeing (Again) Mara’s greatest strength, her ability to see from outside her self.

“ The servants are dumbfounded at her apparent foolishness, but Papewaio at least seems to suspect what she is up to.”

Papewaio doesn’t suspect, he and Keyoke both know. At the end of the previous scene Mara ordered them to her chamber after everyone else is asleep and they put the plan together then.
So this plan is not quite as reckless as it first seems. Both of Mara’s Military advisors have helped refine it. It’s her Economic (Jican) and Political (Nacoya) advisors that don’t know.
Which highlights another thing that Mara does, she always runs with Need to Know. In this case neither Jican and Nacoya Need to Know what is going on, nor could they help refine the plan (It’s strictly military) so she never tells them.

On Nacoya, her get married plan, is pretty much whistling past the grave yard. It’s not going to work, for simply a reason of numbers.
For the following I’m going to be pulling some numbers from the rest of the series, though there shouldn’t be any spoilers.
At this point the Empires total fighting strength (Not counting soldiers needed to guard warehouses and the like) is around 100,000 soldiers.
The Emperor has 10,000 soldiers
The Minwanabi (Most powerful house) have something like 6,000
A mighty house has about 3,000
I would guess an Average house has about 800 to 1,500 ( Estimate based on 1,000-2,000 noble houses and 100,000 soldiers total as well as the size of the Tuscolora.)
I would guess a weak house has 500 to 800.

Now, houses can’t put their entire army in the field to attack. They have to leave some for defense or they could be sneak attacked by another house. So the Minwanabi can’t attack with 6,000. The number most often tossed around in this book is about 3,000.
As Mara has essentially no soldiers another house would have to give her 1,500 just to be outnumbered 2 to 1. Look at the above approximations for house army size. No other house can do that, not even the mighty ones. Not without being so fatally weakened that their own enemies might move in. And if that house doesn’t commit that much they risk losing a son in the battle with all the accompanying honor and face lost to having their ally squashed.

So getting someone to marry Mara is going to be a hard sell at this point. High risk, little reward, and it probably won’t save her anyway. That’s also why Keyoke is getting rather Fatalistic in this chapter.
To all rational calculation, The Acoma are doomed.
emeraldreverie
10. Namdonith
Great idea for a re-read! Magician was the first fantasy novel I read when I was young (10 or 11) and I read these shortly afterward. I've always loved them, and will be interested in seeing them from another point of view.

I think I love Mara so much as a character because she is clearly a product of her culture, and yet she is able to see the best outcome and make hard decisions that often reject her culture. Watching her come to grips with that over the course of the books is awesome.
Scott Raun
11. sraun
I would have sworn I read at least Daughter when it first came out. I picked it up after your post on chapter 1, and am now 87% complete (according to my Kindle). And I don't remember any of it. I'm enjoying it immensely.
Matt Spencer
12. Iarvin
@11 How did you get it on your kindle? It doesn't seem to be in the kindle store.
Brian R
13. Mayhem
@12
It's on the UK one for sure.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Daughter-Empire-Raymond-E-Feist-ebook/dp/B0092HPYKS
Maiane Bakroeva
14. Isilel
Yes, I remember loving this trilogy, despite being one of these people, who couldn't get into Feist or Wurts separately. Tsuranni culture was so refreshingly different from the usual fantasy fare, and the characters were vivid and interesting. I am really curious how well this series stood the test of time. Hm... time to rummage through my bookshelves, I guess.
emeraldreverie
15. alreadymadwithmagician
Yep. I read Magician first too. Way back in high school. This one I read far more recently, but it's different and yet set in the same setting that it's not entirely a stranger. That's one of the first things that drew me in. After that the Empire trilogy just began to stand on its own.
Erik
16. gadget
I know I'm late to the party, but here are a few comments.

Megaduck, those are some very astute observations, and I largely agree. I thought one of the missteps in the early chapters was actually how reduced the Acoma forces where. I mean she has like 38 warriors (and many of them bearing wounds from the battle that killed their Lord)? I know it mentions there were a hundred or more in outlying holdings and garrisons, but with all the emphasis in the story on having to man your estates a be vigilant against your enemies it seems really odd that Mara's Father would take virtually his entire force into the war on the other side of the Rift. All the Acoma opponents would have to do is send in a company of 'Grey Warriors' to obliterate the estate and steal the Acoma Natomi while he was away.

The only way I can reconcile this is that there was some sort of “Warlord's peace” declared for those who participated in the Warlord's Army. We learn later he is a stickler for following the outward forms of honor and custom, so it isn't just a matter of strict military might as megaduck's post indicates. There is a lot of political maneuvering, favor-curring and such that limit direct military conflict on the large scale. If it is just a matter of pure military prowess, it seems the lesser houses would have been largely obliterated by the larger at this point in the Empire's history. So, while I think Megaduck is right that Nicoya's plan for marriage is highly optimistic (The Acoma would be somewhat of both a political and military poison pill for most houses in a position to help) it was not strictly a matter of military forces.

It still seems kind of borked that Mara's father would take virtually his entire compliment of warriors through the Rift. Maybe this is one of those "Why don't they shoot the horses?" things often said about old Hollywood Westerns like Stagecoach (i.e. All the Indians/Bandits have to do is shoot the horses on the Stagecoach and the the heros are done for). The answer is: "Because then we wouldn't have a movie" (or in our case, story).
Brian R
17. Mayhem
From memory, the Acoma were allies of a sort as the Jade Wheel combined with the War Party, which included the Minwanabi, all under the command of the Warlord. I think through political manouevering the Acoma were required to put a large percentage of their forces into the field, and then the Minwanabi managed to get them obliterated while the Warlord was away.

I expect the Acoma estates would have been safe in their absence on Midkemia under the expectation that any injury to them would jeopardise the war efforts, and therefore bring retribution down from all the combined forces. Once the Acoma were savaged in the line of battle though, they are no longer useful to the war, so no longer under any protection ...

Bear in mind that both the Minwanabi and Anasati leaders at this point are known for subtlety and cunning. A blatant assault by "Grey Warriors" at this point would be obvious, and therefore would cause loss of face. On the other hand, the Acoma estates were being preyed on by Lujan & co ... so the regular bandits weren't being kept off. But I expect there is a definite difference between preying on outlying estates, and hitting the heart estate. The payback is higher, but the risks are also dramatically higher, and Grey Warriors are the equivalent of bandits and mercenaries - each to their own.

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