Welcome back to the weekly Wednesday Reread of Dragon Prince! This week we’re doing a pair of chapters, and meeting our villain. Plus there’s some action-heroing.
So This Happens: Chapter 3 introduces yet another cast of characters in a new setting. After all the setup and background, we finally see Castle Crag, and start to get a sense of Roelstra’s court and surroundings through the eyes of his mistress, Palila. Palila is a royal broodmare, working on pregnancy number five, and bound and determined that this one will be the High Prince’s first and only living son and heir.
Palila feeds us a large lump of exposition, wandering around what is essentially a harem, naming and giving her opinion of the women in it. There are a great many of those. Palila despises them all, even while she plays the role of the warm and kindly lady of the manor.
Palila has Plans. Those plans include marrying one of her own daughters to Prince Rohan.
While Palila plots and schemes, Princesses Ianthe (the smart one) and Pandsala (the sly one) pursue their own plots, which include making sure Palila’s son, if she delivers one, never grows up to inherit, and finding husbands of their own to produce sons of their own. The Princesses are much more aware of Palila’s plans than she is of theirs, and not at all taken in by her façade.
Meanwhile the High Prince is much more aware of his women’s plots than they realize. He, of course, has plots of his own, and an actual renegade Sunrunner, Crigo, to help him execute them. Crigo is on the downhill side of drug problem (he is addicted to an herb called dranath) and may need replacing soon.
The High Prince is all about Rohan and his father and princedom, as everyone else is. Roelstra has plans for the major event called the Rialla in the autumn, involving the marriage of Rohan to one of Roelstra’s daughters. (Just as Andrade predicted.)
Now we know where things stand with Roelstra, we get a glimpse of Crigo: where he comes from and how he fell into Roelstra’s power. Sunrunners can’t cross water without becoming seriously ill—and five years ago, trapping him in a boat on a river subdued him enough to get him to dry land and get him addicted to dranath.
Crigo is by no means a willing slave. But he is a slave, and he does whatever Roelstra commands, using his magic to spy on Roelstra’s enemies, especially Lady Andrade.
Next we see Crigo with Roelstra and Palila together, and learn that Roelstra has been forbidden to have an official faradhi—hence the need to secure a renegade. Palila doesn’t know or care what Roelstra did to earn the ban. She just cares about the results.
Tonight Roelstra wants—of course!—to get a look at Prince Rohan. He also wants, or so he says, to get Palila’s advice as to which daughter to marry off to the Prince.
Ianthe, Palila says. Because she’s smart, she’s ambitious, and she’s predictable in what she’s likely to do. Also, as Roelstra notes, that will get her out of Castle Crag and out of Palila’s way, which is a bonus.
Just as their plotting starts to wrap up, Crigo’s conjuring rages out of control. All the principal characters appear in a frame of fire and dragon wings, including a girl (not woman) of fire who must be Sioned. Crigo nearly burns to death, but Roelstra puts out the fire and sends the Sunrunner elsewhere.
Palila, it turns out, is terrified of fire. It drives her completely off her head. And that makes Roelstra very, very happy, and very, very hot for his mistress.
And I’m Thinking: Well, this is…bracing. Here are our villains all in a row. Roelstra is a clear foil to Zehava—imperious alpha male who dominates all he surveys. He’s also a sadist on a royal scale.
His numerous women are remarkably easy to keep track of. They’re all distinguished by one trait or another, and each one gets just enough on-screen or in-someone’s-head time to give us a sense of what she’s like. That’s not easy to do.
We do get rather a load of exposition. 2014 Me In Editor Hat would comments-balloon such lines as, “She loathed her own sex on principle” and “A woman with a brain was not a thing to be relished.” Laying it on a bit thick there.
Still. This is heady stuff. Maybe it’s over the top, but it reads fast and it builds a world that only gets bigger with each succeeding chapter. There’s a lot going on here.
I notice there’s a thing about five years ago. Sioned had her big vision that year, Tobin’s twins were born, and Crigo was captured and corrupted. We’ll see if this adds up to anything, or if it’s just the author’s tropism toward the number five. She likes people in groups of twenty, too. Connection? Coincidence? We shall see.
And of course it’s all about Rohan. It’s always about Rohan.
2014 Me wonders why he’s so very important, considering how big the world is and how many other realms are clearly in it. Isn’t that just a bit, well, Gary Stu?
Oh, never mind, says Eighties Me. He’s obviously a Lymondesque hero/antihero, he’s just gorgeous (if you lean toward broody blond beauties), and he’s interesting. Kind of unlike Sioned, but the way she turns up in Crigo’s vision is promising. She’s got potential. And hey! dragon fire!
But triggery, says 2014 Me. Pretty bad at the end there, with Roelstra and Palila. That’s rape.
Eighties Me doesn’t know what triggery means, but agrees that that’s a bit raw. Roelstra is a definite Capital-V Villain.
Then This Happens: Now we’ve got all our sets of characters lined up, we can get back to the Desert and Prince Zehava’s deathbed. Zehava knows he’s dying, and wants to get his affairs in order. Starting with his son and heir.
Their one-on-one bonding session is a definite “better late than never.” Zehava has to get it all in. Warning Rohan about the Merida, the war with whom is lately over, and about Roelstra, and telling him to trust no one.
To which Rohan replies that he won’t worry too much about the Merida—he’ll buy them off. Zehava is appalled, but he quickly gets over it and focuses on what everyone else is focused on: getting Rohan married off.
Zehava has definite opinions about women and marriage. Mostly having to do with letting them be strong, but showing them who’s boss.
We get a bit from Rohan about not being the son Zehava wanted, but he’s what Zehava has. Zehava gives him everything, lock, stock, and stronghold. And then back to women again, and being their lord and master, before Zehava tells Rohan to take his ashes to Rivenrock and blow them in the old dragon’s face.
Rohan says he’ll do better than that. He’ll blow the dragon’s ashes, too—which is a promise he maybe can’t keep.
They wrap it up with more talk about women, and Rohan confesses that he has a bride: a Sunrunner. Zehava doesn’t disapprove, though he warns Rohan not to trust Andrade.
After a bit more bonding, Rohan leaves his father, going off to brood and wait.
Sioned meanwhile has met an obstacle on her way to the Desert: the same river that betrayed Chigo into Roelstra’s hands. The crossing, via meticulously described river raft, is excruciating. She barely has time to recover before disaster strikes: the raft’s cables break, and the horses that are being brought over in the second load are dumped into the river.
Sioned springs into action, gets the rest of the party up, and helps to rescue the raft and its human occupants. Twelve of the twenty horses are lost. That leaves her with just over half of her escort, which is barely proper for a princess, but she is determined to get to Stronghold as quickly as possible.
This being a horse-transport culture means that is fairly slow and needs a stop at night. Then Sioned has time to ponder and brood, to worry again about marrying a (very handsome) man she doesn’t know, and to offer more insight into Sunrunner powers. Sunrunners can use the light of sun and moons (plural) to work their magic, but starlight is forbidden.
Then she worries again about her marriage, and for the first time stops to think about what it would mean for her to give Stronghold an heir with faradhi. That’s what Andrade wants. And Sioned doesn’t understand.
And I’m Thinking: 2014 Me is eyerolling all through the father-son bonding scene. Zehava is a sexist pig, though he’s kind enough to allow that women can be strong, too. Just not as strong as their lord and master. Which Eighties Me finds kind of annoying, too, but fixes it by pulling out the vinyl LP of Camelot and providing, as soundtrack, that great Sixties ode to the battle of the sexes, “How to Handle a Woman.” (SPOILER: Love her. Just love her.)
Rohan doesn’t do anything to contradict him, either. Mostly he’s being all “We never got to know each other” and “I’ll do things my own way and you’ll be horrified by what I do, but I’ll honor your memory.”
Zehava doesn’t fight that, or even argue much with it. He’s a little too accepting, for me. I’d go for more friction and less kumbaya. But it does make for a nice, affecting scene. Annoying, but affecting.
Sioned’s half of the chapter is more immediately interesting as well as less talky. She actually does something—even flattened after the river crossing. She’s an action hero. I like it.
Though—only twenty horses? No remounts or backup mounts? No pack string to carry their fodder and the baggage, especially considering that they’re headed for the presumably fodder-free Desert? We think through every twist of the raft cable, but we don’t consider the logistics of the land transport? Gap in the worldbuilding, there.
But Sioned is getting a little more active, and that’s good. When she gets broody, she gets broody about magic, which has all sorts of potential for later. Though she has to spike it at the very end by turning plot-stupid and just finally getting it about what Andrade is up to with this marriage scheme. She’s still not finding any agency there, but she’s getting a clue. Better late than never—which seems to be the theme of the chapter.
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.