Rereading Melanie Rawn

Rereading Melanie Rawn: Dragon Prince, Chapters 19 and 20

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! We’re six years down the plotline now, with some fast filling in and some new (and not so new) plots and schemes. Rohan’s still utterly sexy, I mean clever, Sioned’s still making magic out on the edge, and Ianthe is back, badder than ever.

Part Three: Vengeance
Chapter 19

So This Happens: Six years after the events at the end of Part Two, three years after the Plague summarized in the Interlude, Rohan receives a secret letter from Feylin of Skybowl, presenting a census of dragons and indicating that the dragons are intelligent enough to avoid the places where they’ve suffered disaster, including plague, and will not be mating in their usual places. He recommends that Rohan ban the killing of dragons.

Rohan receives the letter with little pleasure and a summary of the past years, including his mother’s death of the Plague, along with a multitude of others. Then a cure was found—and that cure was dranath, the supply of which was covertly and highly profitably controlled by Roelstra.

Many lords died, especially those opposed to the High Prince. Rohan managed to keep the Desert mostly safe, but in addition to Princess Milar, Camigwen died, along with Chay and Tobin’s son Jahni. Then the dragons started dying, and Rohan had to take distasteful measures to save the species.

Walvis is now a knight, and Sioned’s young nephew Tilal is now Rohan’s squire. Tilal was a terror when he arrived but has been suitably civilized by Walvis. Walvis in his turn is completely infatuated with Sioned.

Tilal and Ostvel’s five-year-old son Riyan are playing dragons. There is teasing. Rohan reflects, regretfully, that he has no son of his own.

Rohan retreats to his bath and continues with backstory. In acquiring dranath for the dragons, he came into contact with Ianthe, who was pregnant, though not legally married. As to how he paid for the drug, he had discovered that Farid of Skybowl had been smelting dragon shells into gold since Zehava’s time—and hiding it from Rohan.

Those had been Zehava’s orders. Rohan was to find his own way as Prince, and not rely on the temptations of infinite wealth. “Your father,” Farid said, “didn’t want things to be easy for you.”

It was a great joke on Roelstra that Rohan didn’t need to go bankrupt buying the cure for the Plague, but also a great irony that Zehava had kept killing dragons despite their golden eggs. The prospect of Plague and the dragons’ near-extinction had not figured into his calculations.

Rohan’s reflections shift to Sioned and her inability to carry a child to term. She lost two before the Plague, and one during it, the last to the heavy dosage of dranath required to keep her alive. She escaped addiction, but has conceived no more children since.

Ianthe meanwhile has had three sons by three different men, and escaped Plague by tossing the sick off the cliffs of Feruche. Rohan doesn’t fault her. “He understood.” She just wanted to protect her domain.

Riyan appears with Ostvel to apologize for being noisy earlier. Rohan takes a moment to grieve for Riyan’s mother Camigwen, and to grieve (again) for his own childlessness.

Rohan has dinner and thinks about sneaking around in the garden with Sioned—a game they like to play, with everyone else in on it. Sioned however is not exactly in the mood. She wants him to tell her why he was shut up with reports all afternoon—there must be trouble.

They discuss this year’s Rialla—the first in six years—and what to do about the vassals’ customary meeting at Stronghold beforehand, as well as whether to tell them where the gold comes from. Rumor so far has been of a mine; the dragons’ secret has been safe. But it may not stay that way, if Roelstra pays close enough attention. Roelstra has shifted the balance of power through his dranath speculation, and not in Rohan’s favor.

The conversation shifts to the fact that Sioned will not be able to give Rohan an heir, and that Rohan’s heir does not have to be a child of his legal wife. Sioned wants Rohan to take another lover. Rohan refuses. They make love; there is teasing.

Rohan’s night ends in serious reflection. He will pass his title to one of Chay and Tobin’s sons, if he cannot have a son of his own—because he wants no other woman than Sioned. He may never, therefore, have a son of his own.

And I’m Thinking: This chapter has the same problem as the Interlude. There’s an entire long section, if not an actual book, squeezed into a few pages of synopsis and backstory. Characters we’ve been encouraged to become fond of are killed off offstage. A catastrophic event happens, and we get Rohan reading reports, taking a bath and eating dinner, along with some teasing and a lot of internal monologue.

The whole setup with Roelstra, Sioned, and dranath has dribbled away into nothing. It seems that that was leading to its own catastrophe, but she doesn’t end up with an addiction, and it’s not clear the drug has anything to do with her first two miscarriages.

It’s an odd choice of narrative structure: it feels as if the first two parts are a book in themselves, then a book in the middle (which could have been extremely powerful and emotionally gripping) got dropped. Now we’re repeating the Stronghold-to-Rialla plotline, with pretty much the same issues, but less Clever Rohan and more Evil Roelstra Is Evil And Even More Powerful.

The worldbuilding continues to be strong, with a great deal of emphasis on economics and geopolitics. The obsession with sons grates on 2014 Me—there’s been much snarling at mock-medieval worlds with overly imbalanced gender roles in recent years, and while this world gives women quite a bit of power and agency, there’s still that reflexive insistence on male inheritance.

To be fair, Sioned can’t produce a living child of either gender, but nobody at all is producing daughters. It’s sons, sons, and more sons, as far as Rohan’s eye can see.

 

Chapter 20

So This Happens: Meanwhile, back in Feruche, Ianthe has received a letter of her own, from her father—much less quickly or conveniently, because they now have no Sunrunners for instant communications. This letter can’t be entrusted to anyone else in any case, Ianthe reflects.

The letter begins, “Plague deaths have opened up many excellent possibilities….” Roelstra describes them in detail, and gives Ianthe her orders, which include not allowing the Merida to attack the domain of Tiglath while Rohan is at the Rialla. He tosses in a dig at her sexual proclivities, but Ianthe has been carefully and calculatedly chaste since winter.

Ianthe is to keep the Merida under control through one of their princes, to allow the execution of Roelstra’s plan against Rohan and “his Sunrunner witch.” Roelstra goes on to order that she keep her sons under control as well; she should make no promises to them of future realms, though the longterm plan is to give them the Desert. “Daughters vie with each other over men—but sons fight over castles and power.

Ianthe’s sons are aged four, three, and one, but they are already ambitious and contentious. Ianthe takes a moment to remember their fathers, two of whom left when ordered to leave, but one of whom she had to dispose of, summarily, when he refused. She married none of them: “Years of exercising absolute authority in her own keep had taught her that marriage was not for her.”

She regrets the scheme that forces chastity now, while her father “disport[s] himself with anything in skirts”—but without producing children. Rumor has it that he is impotent.

Ianthe burns the letter and goes to inspect the tapestries and accessories that she is having made: scenes of dragons mating and fighting. She intends them for her next lover—whose identity seems fairly clear, since she then proceeds outside to look down on Rohan’s border garrison.

Merida have attacked it three times in the past few years, each time calculated to coincide with the birth of one of Ianthe’s sons. A fourth and quite recent attack had another purpose, related to dragons and a certain set of ancient breeding caves high in the mountains.

Ianthe takes a break to spend time with her sons, and to reflect on Sioned’s inability to produce any. She also reflects on how Sioned must be all dried out and withered by the Desert, whereas Ianthe is more beautiful than ever. She is going to use that—and give her sons the Desert. “The path to power for a woman lay in the men she controlled,” and she has three future men right here who are entirely hers.

Tobin meanwhile is admiring her handsome husband and thinking about her first Sunrunner ring, and needing protection. They are on the beach at Radzyn Keep, observing how the sea trade has recovered, and Tobin has been interrupted by a magical message from Sioned. Rohan is going dragon hunting “around Skybowl, perhaps even as far north as Feruche,” Tobin tells Chay, who is not pleased to hear it.

They discuss the fact that some vassals want Rohan to put Sioned aside and either remarry or take a mistress, which of course he will never do. Chay can’t refute this because his son Maarken is the heir unless or until Rohan has one of his own.

Maarken is not a good candidate for the job. He’s been fragile since his twin died, and he doesn’t have big-picture ruling talent. In that, Chay admits, he’s like his father.

Tobin disagrees, but she does agree that Maarken’s life could be in danger, even though he’s currently being fostered at Lleyn’s court. He’s not happy away from the sea—also like his father—though he becomes ill crossing water. He’s being taught faradhi by Meath and another Sunrunner, Eolie.

Rohan is being an idiot, Tobin and Chay agree, at some length. Then a semi-pirate ship comes in, and Chay gets back to work being lord of Radzyn Keep.

Sioned in the Desert is reflecting on the surprising splendors of the landscape and her own love for it. Tilal enters, wearing a combination of Rohan’s and River Run’s colors—the latter being Sioned’s ancestral home. They talk about Tilal’s mother, Sioned’s sister-in-law, whom Sioned does not admire, and about buying Ostvel new strings for the lute he has not touched since Camigwen died, as well as about other gifts Tilal intends to buy while he’s traveling north with Rohan.

Tilal was a selfish child, Sioned remembers, but he’s changed a great deal since he came to Stronghold. Sioned admonishes him to take care of Rohan, which Rohan, appearing just then, responds to with teasing.

After Tilal leaves, the conversation turns serious. Sioned will not be accompanying Rohan on his princely progress; she will stay safe in the south while Rohan, instead of calling his vassals to Stronghold for a meeting before the Rialla, will win friends and influence people by visiting each one in person. After a loving, and teasing, farewell, Rohan departs.

Rohan rides out as Sioned watches, and reflects on how wonderful she is and how much everyone loves her. He also reflects on the fact that she’s childless, and his vassals are getting restless.

In the meantime he is headed for Remagev Keep, which is ruled by the childless Lord Hadaan. Rohan means for Hadaan to “notice” Walvis.

He ponders the rest of his itinerary as he rides: Skybowl, an assortment of small manor holdings, then Tiglath, which is rumored to be under threat of attack from the Merida. This causes Rohan to remember how Sioned caught a Merida spy in Stronghold last winter, and how she wanted to send him home in pieces, but Rohan gave him a horse, no water, and a warning, then turned him loose in the Desert.

Rohan is not a warlike man. It’s a waste. He fights because he has to, “so that his sons could live in peace.”

He and Walvis talk about Hadaan, and Walvis agrees to look around the Keep and see what he thinks of its condition. Rohan is not telling him why he should do that, or what Rohan’s plans are for him—including a (possibly redheaded) bride. Rohan is very pleased with these plans.

Sioned meanwhile is preparing for a progress of her own, into the south, including a visit to her brother Lord Davvi. Moonlight calls her outside, where she sits by Princess Milar’s fountain and reflects on how Milar “had made the rough keep into a miracle of comfort and beauty.” Sioned wonders what she will bring to Stronghold in her turn.

That will not include sons. Everyone has sons but Sioned. Even Ianthe has sons. Sioned regrets that she didn’t ask the Mother Tree at Goddess Keep to show her future, but if it had shown her without sons, she wouldn’t have gone to the Desert, or “have known that a princess was worth more than her production of male heirs.”

As she ponders, reflecting that she would give up all of her Sunrunner rings for a son—except the emerald Rohan gave her—the emerald flares up and gives her a vision: herself with a newborn male child in her arms, and her face scarred with her own Fire.

And I’m Thinking: Sons, sons, and more sons. It’s all anyone can think about. Obviously the culture leans heavily on male inheritance, but again 2014 Me is saying, “Bitch, please.” It’s such an obsession that it stops looking like a worldbuilding decision and seems like a particularly strong case of Holy Subtext, Batman.

Our strong women are strong, and they’re active and productive and intelligent, but it’s all about the sons, sons, sons.

Why, yes, I am getting annoyed, how did you happen to notice? I’d be less so if anyone, and I mean anyone but the supervillain, produced a daughter. Daughters Bad. Bad daughters bad. Sons are where it’s at, baby.

Ahem. Moving on. I have to say, our female characters are really standing out here, though Sioned suffers a solid case of the Rohans: she’s just too perfectly perfect, except for the part about sons, of course.

I’m not at all sure she’s right that she would have refused to go to Rohan if she’d known her future. The Chosen Love thing has been coming down pretty hard since the beginning. I doubt she could have resisted, though there would have been quite a bit more angst, quite a bit earlier.

I’m loving Ianthe more than ever. She’s overdrawn in the evil woman is evil department, but she’s doing her job in all respects (sons included), and while it’s blatantly obvious where everything’s headed, I’m looking forward to the ride. Like her father, she’s a ton of fun to watch.

When I first read this book, I don’t think I noticed the narrative lurch between sections at all. I was racing through it to get to the sexy guys, the fun villains, and of course the dragons. All these years later, with no clear memory of what happens next, I just hope we get to the point about the dragons soon. That’s what kept me reading originally, along with the sexy bits and the wicked plots.


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.

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