Welcome back to our weekly Wednesday reread of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince! Here we meet a new key character. And Rohan’s plot gets thicker.
So This Happens:
This chapter introduces a new character in a new setting: Sioned (sh’NED, we’re told as we read on), who serves and studies under Lady Andrade at Goddess Keep. We meet her first via flashback, in a dryly historical tone: “When Sioned was three years old, the death of her parents left her brother Davvi, her elder by twelve years, lord of River Run.” We even get a date: the year is 693, though we’re not told how that’s calculated.
After the historical note, we get into a more detailed flashback, in which the sixteen-year-old Sioned in 693 enters the pine grove near the keep and performs a ritual to discover her future. She gets naked, and we get a Mirror Moment: we learn she has red-gold hair and is beautiful, and will grow up to be even more beautiful.
We also learn that this culture doesn’t put a premium on virginity. Sioned is a woman now, by way of her first sexual experience—with a man she likes but doesn’t love. Sioned wants love, like her friend Camigwen and Camigwen’s “Chosen,” Ostvel. She wants children, too, though not right away.
Her conjuring in this direction gives her more than she bargained for. She sees herself wearing a royal crown and partnered with a Prince. (It’s fairly obvious who the handsome blond Prince is.)
It takes her five years to figure that out for herself. That’s because the time is right, we’re told. She finally sees the physical resemblance between Lady Andrade and the man in her vision.
Grown-up Sioned is on her way to becoming a Sunrunner adept, though she has confidence issues about her magical skills. She’s also completely inept in the kitchen, can’t even brew a decent cup of taze, which seems to be a form of chai tea.
Now, as we shift into story-present, she receives a magical message from Andrade, assisted by someone else (who we know from Chapter 1 must be Tobin). She’s to pack up immediately and head for the Desert. Her as yet unwitting future husband is waiting.
All twenty of her closest friends who serve as escort and future bridal party are on board with this, including Sioned, though she repeats several times that she’s uneasy about marrying “a man she didn’t even know.” Her confidence issues are front and center: she begs Camigwen and Ostvel to stay with her when she gets to the Desert, and when Camigwen urges her to look into the Fire to assure herself that she won’t be shadow-lost (which is clearly a terrible thing), as soon as she sees Rohan’s face, she nearly gets fire-lost (also a terrible thing) instead.
Back in the Desert, Rohan meanwhile has disappeared, and Andrade is busy informing Tobin about the magic the two of them did together, and talking about Sioned, and discussing the dangers of faradhi and the horrors of being shadow-lost. From here they segue to a discussion of Rohan’s character and actions, and the fact that the future Prince is forbidden to witness the death of the current Prince.
This is a bit confusing because Andrade, who appears not to know about the prohibition despite being otherwise totally in the know about everything, is faulting him for not attending Zehava on his deathbed. Which is taking forever to happen. Zehava is tough to the last.
Finally Andrade finds Rohan, or is allowed to find him, in a lofty space called the Flametower. Rohan tells her what will happen once the Prince dies, and gives way to grief.
Andrade, to comfort him, shows him Sioned’s face in the flames. And Rohan is not playing. “You want me to marry a Sunrunner witch?”
Andrade does her best. They go back and forth with Rohan’s options, including one of Roelstra’s daughters. He starts to see the advantage of a faradhi wife—for intelligence-gathering and powermongering.
He also sees what Andrade is up to. She’s playing prince against prince—because the Goddess bids her, she says.
“‘Dragon shit,’ Rohan said in a pleasant tone, his eyes blue ice.”
Andrade isn’t backing down, but she is having to work for it. She tells him Sioned is on her way—and gambles that it will work. That they’ll be perfect for each other.
Rohan admits that he can only be truly honest with Andrade, and he’s having a terrible time waiting for his father to die. He’s grieving. He’s also having a crisis of confidence. “What I have to offer won’t seem like much to them—not compared to my father.”
And I’m Thinking:
Sioned’s scenes don’t flow as easily as the others’ have so far. She’s introduced via synopsis, and her high sexy moment in the grove revolves around an apparently fixed and inescapable future. She’s passive. Nicely sex-positive, but passive. Going where she’s told, doing what she’s told to do.
(Note that Tobin suffers from the same affliction. Right up to and including the “Hey! You have magic! I will use you!” scene with Andrade in Chapter 1.) (Andrade is big on the using. I still like her. But she sure does love her game of live chess.)
Sioned is also lacking in practical skills, and her magical skills aren’t quite as advertised, either. It seems clear she’s meant as a foil to Rohan with his misfit tendencies and his crises of confidence, but mostly she’s just not written in the active voice.
Agency, people, 2014 Me says. That’s her problem. She doesn’t have any.
Eighties Me gets mumbly. She’s showing how she’s not cut out to be an ordinary woman-type person. She’ll get active later. Really. Also, True Love. And Chosen lovers. And all that romantic stuff.
Dragon shit, says 2014 Me. (I do love that line.)
Not that Rohan is all that prepossessing here, either. But he languishes sexily in that Freudianly named Flametower, and he agonizes handsomely, and he has layers and levels and there’s a lot more to him than Andrade expected, for one. He may be forced by local law to wait passively for his father to die, but he’s kicking as hard as he can while he does it. Sioned is mostly kind of limp. Rohan is interesting.
I am getting Dunnett flashbacks again. Lymond and Philippa, here. Though I remember Philippa as being quite a bit feistier about doing what she’s told.
There are other bits worth noticing, even with Sioned in charge of the viewpointfinder. Elk plows! They plow with elk!
Eighties Me likes that Camigwen is not a lily-white BFF. She’s dark, and her eyes are tilted. That’s cool. Not a lot of fantasy writers are doing it back here in the Eighties.
That is nice, says 2014 Me. In 1988, diversity wasn’t much of a thing. This was an actual effort in that direction. And yet…does she have to be the Sassy Black Best Friend? And does she have to be the one acing household chores and sewing the bridal gown for the future princess with the red-gold hair?
Somewhat aside from the fact Our Hero is the blond Prince of a black-haired people (because Mom is blonde), and of course his Fated True Love is a strawberry blonde. Got some cultural assumptions running deep here.
Still. For 1988, this is good going. It’s even not bad for 2014, considering what else is out there. We’ll take it.
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.