Welcome back to our weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! This week we’re reading two chapters. Two long-awaited events finally happen, and we find out a great deal about Rohan’s future plans.
So this happens: After four chapters of worldbuilding and character introductions, we finally get one of the moments we’ve been waiting for: Prince Zehava dies.
Rohan breaks tradition by being present at his death, along with the rest of the family. Afterward, when he heads for the Flametower to help the servants light the beacon to inform the world that the Prince is dead, Andrade hunts him down and corners him.
She has one thing on her mind: getting him married off to Sioned. She is not taking no for an answer. She doesn’t exactly get that—but she doesn’t get what she wants, either.
Rohan pulls rank on her and takes off.
Rohan is on a mission. With Chay (and Chay’s loyal horse Akkal) and his guards commander Maeta, who happens to be a woman, he rides out to kill the dragon who killed his father.
On the way to the dragon’s lair, Chay and Rohan have a conversation in which Chay points out that Rohan has never even hunted a dragon before, let alone killed one, and Rohan reveals that he can sense the dragon’s presence, something that Chay can’t do (and doesn’t spend much time thinking about). Rohan then explains that he has plans for the princedom, the Rialla, Roelstra, and above all, the much-discussed issue of being married off. Which involves, or so he lets Chay think, disobeying Andrade and doing what he judges best.
Which is to avoid war as much as possible, and do whatever he can to establish a peaceful rule. Chay is suitably loyal and supportive, though he’s also honest about his doubts of Rohan’s success.
After this bit of plot foreshadowing, the hunting party reaches the dragon’s lair. The dragon is still there, and not all of his females have been bred. He’s clearly slowed down by his wounds. Rohan and Chay have another conversation about Rohan’s apparent insanity and his tendency to think outside the traditional box. As before, Rohan wins and Chay goes along.
Finally the dragon appears—and Rohan sets himself up as bait. The battle is suitably fierce, bloody, and interspersed with moments of self-doubt and outright terror on Rohan’s part. We get another indication that Rohan has some sort of magical or psychic connection with dragons, though that morphs into pure and apparently instinctive hostility toward this one.
Rohan wins the battle, taking a talon slice to the arm and succumbing to a brief bout of near-unconsciousness before he comes to, organizes the collection of trophies from the dragon’s carcass, and promises Chay that he will never slay a dragon again. They leave the dragon’s lair to the sound of the females’ mourning song.
Sioned meanwhile has reached the desert outside of Stronghold—just in time to meet Rohan coming back from the hunt.
Her first sight of him is his gold hair, and then his shirtless torso and his bloody bandage. She realizes that his escort is in mourning grey, and quickly deduces, from what Rohan says, that Zehava is dead and he is now Prince.
That ups the ante on Sioned’s mission considerably. Rohan asks to speak with her privately, and they go off for several pages of plot exposition.
Sioned has very little to say. Rohan does most of the talking, explaining what he has planned and why. He has to pretend their marriage is not a foregone conclusion (although it is), and she has to be prepared for the resultant drama and deception.
She accepts this completely. “How am I to behave?” she asks. And he tells her. Which she also accepts. She is completely smitten and completely aware of it, and (apparently) completely happy about it.
And I’m thinking: Eighties Me is loving Dragon Hunt: The Revenge. And Shirtless Rohan. And even the whole Fated Love Match thing. It’s a thing in quite a few books of this and previous decades, the One True Love and the Fated Marriage. I confess I’ve committed a fair few of those myself.
It does make some things simpler. Get the two together, throw in some plot tokens and a prophecy or two, and then you can concentrate on throwing cherry bombs at them so they have to work to finally close the deal.
Which is not only what’s happening here, it’s been laid out for us so we know that no matter how nasty Rohan is to Sioned, he really loves her and they’ll be together in the end. Just not until he’s done what he has to do in order to further the interests of his princedom.
Sioned accedes willingly to all of this. That’s what a good Chosen Bride does. It’s in a whole bunch of fairy tales.
It’s a nice wrinkle that here, the about to be cold and cruel lover explains to her why he’ll be doing it. That’s kind of him. Shows that he really, really loves her and really has her best interests at heart—just not until after he’s looked after his country’s best interests.
2014 Me is older, crankier, and living in a much less starry-eyed era. Also an era much less accepting of traditional gender roles. She has a word for what Rohan is doing.
And she’s really not believing some of the stuff Sioned is coming out with.
“Who would believe this man incapable of doing whatever he chose to do?”
“Tell me how I am to behave.”
“How should I behave?”
It’s all so inevitable. And so, well, easy. Not to mention, submissive female, much?
In fact easy is a problem 2014 Me is having with the chapter in general: the sense of plot points ticked off, and the feeling that there’s a layer of emotional complication missing. After all the buildup about the tradition that keeps a prince from being present at his father’s death, Rohan breaks tradition and no one says anything about it, nor are there any consequences. Rohan’s feelings about his father’s death get lost in the descriptions of the dragon hunt; there’s a lot of action but not much going on under the surface. He’s wounded, but there don’t seem to be any serious consequences.
And then there’s the “instant love, just add Fire” effect of the meeting between Rohan and Sioned. It feels a bit as if we’re being asked to believe it because Plot Outline says to believe it.
Still. It’s refreshing to have some female gaze here, even if it is going a little overboard with Rohan as Mary Sue. Sioned stays comfortably dressed, at ease in her body, and not even thinking about her breasts. It’s all about the sexy male. Who does not, be it noted, have bulging thews, and we never look below his (modestly covered) waist.
Interestingly, too, it’s not about sex between them. They aren’t getting all physical while they can, and they’re not focusing on each other’s bodies. The attraction has a distinct physical component, but the emphasis is on mind and personality.
So this happens: Now we’re back to Stronghold and everyone is taking a bath. Sioned first, literally cooling off after her meeting with Rohan, and giving us some detailed worldbuilding in the process. We learn a great deal about plumbing and décor, as well as the accommodations made for a desert climate.
We also learn that Chapter 5’s Easy Button isn’t a permanent installation. Sioned has an attack of “What the hell just happened?” while juggling the need to keep her friends Camigwen and Ostvel from finding out about Rohan’s plans. They’re outraged that she’s not been given a royal welcome, and aren’t shy about saying so.
Once she’s calmed them down as much as she can, she has to calm herself down, while pondering what she’s got herself into. She’s going to marry a prince—and that means “a man who use[s] people…easily.”
She’s still not out of trouble with Camigwen, who has seen how she is with Rohan. Then to add to the complications, Andrade appears and grills her about the meeting.
Sioned lets slip the essence of Rohan’s plan, by confessing that he told her to wait until the Rialla. She has not, apparently, connected the dots until Andrade does it for her. It hasn’t occurred to her that Rohan will be expected to choose one of Roelstra’s daughters as his wife. This despite the fact that he as much as told her what he’s going to do.
Andrade asks Sioned if she trusts Rohan. Sioned replies that she doesn’t know—but “When I’m with him it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but him.” She’s clearly clinging to some vestige of objectivity about him, and not succeeding very well.
Andrade advises her to force him to be honest with her—and to reciprocate. Sioned reacts by turning completely passive. “Tell me it will come out all right. Please.” Which Andrade obligingly does.
Meanwhile, Chay also gets a bath at the hands of Tobin, and we get a recap of everything’s happened since Chay left for the dragon hunt, plus the backstory about Sioned and the river crossing. Of course they circle around to Rohan, as everyone does; Chay notes that nobody is going to be able to figure out what Rohan is up to before he does it. With which Tobin begs to differ. She’ll get it out of him, she’s sure.
Bath number three is Rohan’s, and Andrade has choice things to say to him while she supervises the proceedings. They talk about Sioned, and Rohan makes it clear that he’s attracted to her. But he won’t commit to marry her.
Andrade is not fooled. She’s not pushing the issue for now, either.
Now that everybody is clean if not comfortable and we’re really, really clear about what Rohan is up to, the scene shifts to midnight, a garden, and a royal assignation.
Just to be sure we’re really, really, really clear what Rohan is up to, we get a long rumination upon lovers’ meetings—Rohan used to set them up between Chay and Tobin as the young squire Walvis has done for Rohan and Sioned—as well as the nature of those lovers’ relationship. Trust is a theme, again, as is the practical and political benefit of marrying a faradhi.
We’re also reminded that Andrade is a major mover and shaker here; she most likely arranged the marriage between Zehava and her own twin sister. We’re told, again, that Rohan’s actions will be “incomprehensible to most.” And we’re told, in detail, what Rohan plans to do at the Rialla.
When Sioned appears, we have a mirror image of her first sight of Rohan: instead of gold and sunlight and a bare torso, we see silver and moonlight and her body made mysterious beneath the concealment of a gown. Rohan’s physical reaction, like Sioned’s before him, turns quickly psychological, even as he (and we) realizes that she’s not trusting him blindly any more.
He tells her what the Rialla is and what he plans to do there, and we get a quick interplay of jealousies—Sioned in Rohan’s future, with Roelstra’s daughters, and Rohan in the past, with Sioned’s previous sexual partners. This quickly shifts back to the physical; they literally are on fire for each other. Which is going to be a problem.
So, possibly, is the fact that she’s faradhi. She asks him point-blank if that will be a problem. He replies that it will not (contradicting what he said to Andrade when she first presented the idea).
As if to test him, she conjures moonlight in front of him. She’s testing herself, too, as she tells him; she lost control of a fire-conjuring on the way to Stronghold, and this is the first time she’s dared try again. It’s too soon to trust him, she says, but she does trust him. With that, she kisses him and leaves him.
And I’m thinking: My cranky self is somewhat gratified that Sioned isn’t as complete a pushover as she seemed in the previous chapter. It’s hormones and Destiny, then—and she’s fighting back.
Though she’s still a bit light on agency: begging Andrade to pat her and make it all better, which Andrade does. Is Andrade being ironic? Or is she serious? We’ll have to keep an eye out for that in future chapters.
Then again, Sioned controls the meeting with Rohan, more or less, keeps him on message and decides when it’s over. That’s good. She’s not as completely under his spell as she seemed at first.
2014 Me is getting twitchy around the editorial synapses. Rohan’s wound hasn’t been mentioned at all since he met Sioned. It’s as if it never happened.
At the same time, other elements of story show up again. And again. And over again. Summarized. Repeated. Re-analyzed. Foreshadowed and re-foreshadowed. We’re reminded frequently of every key event that’s happened so far, and every key event that’s about to happen.
Eighties Me points out that this is one of the things that seems to keep readers comfortable; they don’t have to keep constant track of all the details, since those details are being repeated whenever they’re relevant.
Not to mention, when we are getting these summaries, we’re also getting further character interactions. We see Chay and Tobin as they are when they’re alone, and we find out how Rohan and Sioned will be in the same situation. There’s even explicit reference to the similarity, as if history is repeating itself.
Right, says 2014 Me, but does everybody have to be all mischievous and teasing? Isn’t it just a little much?
Well, says Eighties Me, it does keep things light. And makes it easier to relate to these exotic and highborn characters.
Besides, Chay takes care of his horse. Makes a point of it.
Nice, says 2014 Me (with a couple of decades of barn managing in between), but leaving out the pack train from Sioned’s expedition shows that the author is a rider but not a keeper of horses.
Phoo, says Eighties Me. Details. I like the horse, damn it. And Chay, too. He’s as pretty as Rohan. And Sioned notices.
True, says 2014 Me. We surely do get the female gaze—and it’s literally focused on the eyes, from male character to male character.
Things we’re hoping for as the book goes on: Sioned becomes less plot-stupid (she really didn’t get what the Rialla was about? Really?). And we get a bit less of “nobody will ever understand Rohan’s incomprehensible brilliance which he is making absolutely sure as many people as possible comprehend,” as his plots roll into motion.
We’re still reading, and we’re caught up in the story. It’s not what these characters are up to so much as how they get up to it—and who they all are, individually and to each other.
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.