Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! The Rialla in the rain turns to intrigue and political machinations. Sioned attracts the wrong kind of attention, and a whole lot of stuff gets all too real.
So This Happens: Rainy day at the Rialla. Palila and Pandsala enjoy a wickedly catty and decidedly intriguing breakfast together on the warm, dry barge.
They discuss Ianthe’s nighttime misadventure with Rohan, the plan to provide Pandsala with a son regardless of what she’s actually within a month of giving birth to, and the future they both envision as the mothers of princes. They circle back to Sioned at regular intervals, but dismiss her as a rival bride for Rohan.
Sioned meanwhile is attempting to play a distracted game of chess in a wet and leaky tent. Her mind circles around and around Ianthe’s attempt to seduce Rohan. She escapes quickly, wearing Tobin’s too-short cloak, and finds a convenient patch of woods to hide in while she “thinks things through once again.”
“Things” primarily being the use of faradhi to kill the Merida, and the fact that Sioned is incapable of remorse (a word repeated multiple times) because she did it for Rohan. Nor does she feel remorse for destroying the wine steward who was possessed by Roelstra’s corrupted Sunrunner. She is, however, deeply troubled by the whole thing.
As she circles and circles around the problem, she suddenly realizes that Andrade planned for this to happen. She created a situation that would require a Sunrunner to break her vows on behalf of a Prince. She’s changed the rules of magic in this world—the rules under which her son with Rohan will live.
The authorial camera pans out from here to show Walvis and Meath watching over Sioned, then shifts to Rohan’s somewhat similar, and similarly unhappy meditations while he attends another lordly council. He has started a controversy by wanting to know what his exact borders are, which is a clever plan to create a justification for invading Merida. This incites a completely separate set of battles over other princes’ claims to each others’ lands.
Roelstra fans the flames, and Rohan suddenly realizes how the High Prince keeps and increases power. He divides in order to conquer.
Rohan tells himself that his motivations are much purer. “He wanted only to claim what was his and nurture it in real peace.” The Desert is so harsh, he thinks, and these lands so rich. Its lords have actual time outside of raw survival to get into fights and petty wars.
Rohan’s meditations continue, complete with reflection on how he has used Sioned, Roelstra style, to set the Princesses against each other, until the elderly and wise Prince Lleyn recommends that they settle things with “maps and documentation.”
The keeper of these is none other than Lady Andrade, and she will adjudicate by the next Rialla, in three years’ time. Meanwhile the current borders will stand, by Roelstra’s recommendation. Rohan adds his own: that Lleyn arbitrate any disputes in the meantime. This is agreed to, though Roelstra undercuts it with hopes that the princes may not need Lleyn’s assistance.
Rohan escapes to his usual location: by the river, this time under the bridge. His thoughts revolve around and around the council and the possibilities for war and conflict, with Roelstra’s subtle hand stirring the pot. But clever Rohan is clever: everyone will be too busy figuring out their legal boundaries to do a great deal of fighting, and by doing that, they’ll start to “value the precedent of law.”
As he congratulates himself on his cleverness, suddenly Sioned appears, crossing the bridge from the other side. Rohan calls to her, hoping for a little teasing and maybe some lovemaking, but Sioned is not in the mood. She calls him out on his adventure with Ianthe, and manages to let slip how she feels: “How I’d love to be able to hate you.”
Rohan is thrilled. They kiss. The rain stops; the suns comes out. There is teasing and lovemaking. Sioned confesses that she may not be able to stay a Sunrunner and be his Princess.
Rohan promises that he won’t try to own her, or trap her. Sioned points out that he already has, but asks him to promise to always be honest with her.
They leave their trysting place, and again the camera pans out to their watchers: Walvis the squire, Meath the Sunrunner, and a certain figure in a violet cloak “with hate seething in her dark eyes.”
The scene shifts to the next day, and Andrade deep in the council’s paperwork. She takes time to be awed by Rohan’s statecraft, and his cleverness in letting everyone think he will be Roelstra’s son-in-law.
When the meeting adjourns, Roelstra stays behind. He wants to talk about Rohan, of course, and the marriage plans, also of course. Andrade has a candidate, too, he hints.
Andrade immediately agrees, and names Sioned, but continues to play the game of Rohan’s having rejected her. Roelstra immediately points out that he has no Sunrunner at Castle Crag, to which Andrade responds that when one was offered, Roelstra rejected him.
Roelstra regrets this now, he says, and he needs a faradhi. Namely, Sioned.
Andrade turns him down—accusing him of wanting to use Sioned as a whore, and mocking his age and decreased attractiveness. Roelstra refuses to be refused. “I will have Sioned!”
Andrade counters that she knows “all about” his corrupted Sunrunner. Sparks, and accusations, fly. Roelstra accuses Andrade of controlling Rohan. Andrade retorts that Roelstra has “a great deal to learn” about him. She will never let him have a Sunrunner, she declares, and sweeps out.
Andrade is shaking with hatred and desire to ruin Roelstra. Roelstra is equally furious, but his thoughts are focused on his lust for Sioned.
He turns to his stash of dranath, discards Crigo’s needs, and concludes: “There was more than enough dranath here for Sioned.”
And I’m thinking: This is a long, dense chapter, packed with setup for the next round of plot developments, and bringing most of the previous developments to a head, or moving clearly in that direction. We get an insider’s track on how both Rohan and Roelstra manipulate people and events, and the marriage plot is about to get rather complicated.
Eighties Me skimmed all the telling and the exposition and the murble murble murble of internal monologue. The chewy bits were rather well buried, but they were there. Rohan is in big trouble with one particular Princess, and Sioned is in real danger of turning into Crigo.
I’m not impressed with Andrade for showing her hand about the renegade Sunrunner (whom she still hasn’t identified) as well as about Sioned. Roelstra is telegraphing, too, but I get the feeling he knows he can win this. Though the copy editor seems to have missed that Roelstra said he was denied a Sunrunner earlier, which was why he had to kidnap and corrupt one; here, Andrade accuses him of turning down the one assigned him. Continuity error there.
While I’m in editor mode, I do wish the council had been less exposition and more dramatized scene. Too much summary. My eye glazed and skipped. Though that would have added to the length of an already long book—then again we could dispense with all the repetitive murbling and telegraphing and have room for a full-on scene.
I have to say it ends on a nice, dramatic note. Thanks to Roelstra (and his daughter), stuff is about to get real.
So This Happens: Rohan has been horse- and cow-trading with various princes at the Rialla. His ultimate goal is to found a school for the talented youth—an ambition he expects Sioned to share.
On returning to his tent, he finds Walvis considerably the worse for wear. Walvis has been defending his Prince’s honor against the charge of being “too stupid to find the pisspot.” Rohan approves, and sends the boy to the jeweler to find out if Sioned’s emeralds are ready.
Meanwhile Camigwen has been setting up for the evening’s informal dinner dance. Rohan calls her into his tent and asks if she and Ostvel would like to move to Stronghold and take over the duties of his current and much disliked chamberlain. Before Cami can reply, Walvis bursts in brandishing Sioned’s completed jewelry.
This tells Cami that Rohan intends to marry Sioned. Rohan thought she knew. Cami happily agrees to come to Stronghold—and Rohan sets a condition on it: that she and Ostvel get married. Tomorrow. After which, they can get busy planning Rohan’s own wedding to Sioned.
Palila, in the meantime, is bored and hating being pregnant. Roelstra appears and states that Crigo seems to be overdosing on dranath, and demands to know the correct ratio of the drug to wine. Palila’s alarm bells go off, but she answers Roelstra’s question and lets him take over the job of monitoring Crigo’s drug consumption. Because, he informs her, she should not worry about it, in case it worries their son.
This is the first time he has said the child will be male, which delights Palila. They share the hope that the next Rialla will celebrate the presentation of the High Prince’s heir.
Roelstra leaves her with one last meaningful remark: that his daughters are up to something regarding “that Sunrunner girl.”
Palila can read between the lines. She is being dismissed, and Crigo is being condemned to death. Both will be replaced by Sioned.
Palila determines to take action. Dranath is “an herb that increased its potency over time.” She has a packet of very old dranath, which she will give Crigo tonight. She will force him to “deliberately seek another faradhi’s colors on the moonlight.”
In the next scene, Andrade attends Rohan’s romantic outdoor dinner party. All the couples in attendance are head over heels for each other. Andrade is grateful that she has never fallen for a man, though she wonders what she might be missing.
Urival comes by, well lubricated with wine, and comments on how obvious Rohan is being. He keeps going over to Sioned in front of Roelstra and his daughters, but as Urival points out, Sioned isn’t playing.
Tobin isn’t, either. She warns Rohan to “stop being such an idiot over Sioned.”
Rohan is too giddy with wine and happiness to pay attention. No one can possibly know the truth. He’s just hosting his first big party, and drunk on his own wine.
Tomorrow night, everyone will find out the truth. Rohan can’t wait.
Just as he’s about to go looking for Sioned, Ianthe invites him to dance. She tells him she knows he’s not an idiot, and does her best to seduce him. Rohan is tempted, but manages to resist.
Sioned sees the two of them dancing and is fiercely jealous. When Rohan leaves Ianthe, Sioned confronts her, mocking her for how little time she spent with Rohan during the previous attempted seduction. She knows this is a mistake, but “she could not resist the chance to pay back a few insults.”
Sioned pursues Ianthe with further mocking and jibing, topped off with a display of faradhi. She is so going to enjoy Ianthe’s reaction when Rohan reveals all at the Lastday banquet.
The scene ends with a “familiar” voice expressing pleasure at finding her alone.
And switches to Palila standing over an unconscious Crigo, doing her damnedest to wake him up. She does finally succeed, and tells him Roelstra plans to replace them both with Sioned.
Crigo immediately sees the larger implications of this, and lets Palila know he knows about her plotting with Pandsala. Palila demands that he warn Sioned.
He cares little about his own life, but he agrees to conjure moonlight. He’s dying of dranath overdose—but not, Palila insists, before he does what she wants him to do. He does as she commands, and loses himself in the light.
Andrade feels a brush like an insect across her forehead, just as a dragon’s cry pierces the predawn stillness. This is a harbinger of death.
The conjuring strikes her then, and she recognizes the colors. The faradhi dies, but not before he delivers his warning.
Andrade screams in horror. Roelstra has Sioned. Crigo is dead. She prays Sioned has not died as well.
And I’m thinking:In this chapter, as promised, stuff gets seriously real. Rohan pushes more of his Princely agenda, Roelstra gets even more evil, and the action moves at a breakneck pace, especially compared to the long murbles and synopsis of the previous chapter.
It’s pretty clear here that Roelstra is a master plotter. He blows the good guys completely out of the water.
But Palila proves that she can out-plot him if she’s desperate enough—demonstrating the points made earlier about the dangers of giving women nothing to do but serve as extensions of their men. He gets hold of Sioned, but Palila gets the warning out. We end on a cliffhanger guaranteed to keep us reading.
One of the main weaknesses of the book so far is the good guys’ lack of maturity. They’re operating on the level of the schoolyard. Sioned’s bitchfight with Ianthe is straight out of “Mean Girls.” Even Sioned admits to herself that it’s not a smart thing to do.
Rohan isn’t fooling anybody, either, except possibly himself. He is getting good work done on the legislative front, but he spends enough time congratulating himself on what a clever Prince he is that the result is more annoying than impressive.
They’re all sitting ducks for the likes of Roelstra. Which leads me to ask: Where have they all been for the past however many Riallas? Wouldn’t any of them have learned how to play politics? Where was Zehava when he should have been educating his heir in the finer points of political intrigue? It seems as if Rohan has never been seen in public before, despite the persistent preoccupation the whole world has had with him since the book began.
As careful as the worldbuilding is—this is genuine fantasy-with-rivets, richly detailed and meticulously thought out—the characters seem to be missing a few layers. Sioned should be far more sophisticated than she is; she’s a trained Sunrunner, and she’s the protégée of one of the major political powers in her world. While it might make sense for an adolescent girl to go at Ianthe the way she does, she’s older and should be wiser than that.
I suppose Eighties Me would point out that love can make anyone stupid, but Sioned doesn’t perform to the level of her resume. If she’s been trained to be a Princess, she must have got failing grades in a number of the basic courses, including Diplomacy 101.
We’ve got a bit of prudery on Rohan’s part, too, with his insistence that Cami and Ostvel marry, but that’s in character. We’ve already seen how pissy he is about Sioned’s sexual experience.
Still—the action’s fast, the stakes are astronomical, and Crigo’s departure is both moving and appropriate. He redeems himself in a quite powerful way.
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.