Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! This week we get a close-up view of dragons, Rohan runs himself into serious trouble, and Sioned catches fire.
So This Happens: Rohan congratulates himself on his machinations at Remagev—the old Lord is happy to consider Walvis as his successor. Meanwhile, Rohan arrives at Skybowl, a crater lake with a Keep on the shore and dragon caves above.
Tilal admires the scenery, especially the water, and observes that he’s never seen a dragon close up. Meanwhile Farid of Skybowl approaches with news that there are dragons on the cliffs. On the way there, Rohan meets Feylin, the keeper of the dragon census, who is, to his shock, a woman, “and a young and pretty one at that.”
They get to know each other. She has a dragon’s-tooth knife, which Rohan admires.
The trail leads them toward the fields that he and Farid had treated with dranath. Tilal is full of wonder. Rohan reflects that he can’t inherit River Run; when he’s older, Rohan will have to make sure he gets to be athri, or lord, of some other holding.
Finally they come to the field, and find nineteen of the thirty-two female dragons Feylin had counted. She doesn’t know where the other females or the males are, though they might have gone to caves near Feruche. She adds, “Dragons are more intelligent than anybody thinks.” She also adds that bittersweet, which the dragons eat, exists “to get those old sires ready.” Rohan jokes about sending some to Roelstra.
They move on to fields of bittersweet, where three males are making a great racket. Tilal is astounded that Rohan killed a dragon sire like these.
Rohan excuses Feylin from approaching the dragons. Feylin is grateful. Also, wide-eyed.
Rohan wants to get close to the dragons. As he does so, Tilal notices “a [baker’s] dozen” more dragons flying overhead—the missing females. They’re headed north. Rohan gallops impulsively after them—and runs head-on into an ambush, taking a knife in the shoulder as he goes and an arrow in the thigh: an arrow fletched in Ianthe’s (and Roelstra’s) violet and gold. Just as he realizes this, he loses consciousness.
Meanwhile Feylin waits until evening for Rohan and Farid and Talil to come back, reflecting that “men were so stupidly reckless.” Just as darkness falls, a dragon appears, swoops on something in the darkness below, and comes up with Tilal’s horse. Shortly thereafter, Feylin meets Farid’s riderless horse on its way home, injured and with bloody reins. She and her escort believe the Merida are behind the attack.
They follow the trail to Farid’s body, and find evidence of further casualties. It’s noted that Rohan never wears spurs, and the tracks all show evidence of same.
Ferida finds a Merida medallion. Lhoys, the tracker, notes that Rohan’s Princess will not be amused. “She’ll lead whole armies to get him back.”
The scene shifts to the Merida prince Beliaev, who had been scouting terrain for an ambush just as “that fool of a prince” rode into it. Beliaev has Rohan thrown over the back of a horse, as well as one of his own men whom Rohan killed. Two more dead men follow on led horses, all carefully wrapped and covered to conceal that they’re Ianthe’s men. All clues must lead to Merida; Ianthe is not to be implicated.
Beliaev sums up the whole plan plus the ambush itself as he rides along the very rough trail. Beliaev doesn’t trust Ianthe at all, as he observes more than once, but he’s hoping for good profits. The Merida will have to move up the plans for the attack on Tiglath, though Roelstra and Ianthe are against it; their own plans involve wiping out the Desert’s armies in one stroke along the Faolain River, not dividing them along two fronts.
With these thoughts in mind, Beliaev delivers Rohan to Ianthe in Feruche—along with Tilal. “I do draw the line at killing children.”
Ianthe is not at all displeased to decipher Tilal’s combination of family colors, and to realize he’s a relative of Sioned. He can be her messenger to the Princess. “Rohan is all mine now, little one, as he should have been from the start.”
Tilal is defiant. Ianthe says she might let him see what she’s planning to do to Rohan—“so you can tell that green-eyed bitch exactly what sort of care I gave her beloved.”
Beliaev finally understands what the dragon tapestries are for, “and was very glad they had not been stitched with himself in mind.”
And I’m Thinking: Finally! Some real dragon action. Rohan goes happily nuts and totally plot-stupid and runs smack into an ambush. A good part of that is plot driving Rohan along (and Rohan yet again not being as clever as he thinks he is), but there’s also an indication that Rohan and dragons have a deep bond. That bond isn’t helping him here.
Tilal gets to show some more of himself. Mostly wide-eyed wonder, but we’re told he has leadership potential. He has a fair bit of Sioned’s redheaded temper, as is evident in his reaction to being captured.
This chapter introduces a new character, but one we’ve literally heard from before: Feylin. Rohan’s surprise at her gender played better in 1988 when the idea of male as default mode was somewhat stronger than it is now. In 2014 it’s still logical in the context of the book, but 2014 Me finds Rohan’s reaction a wee tad bit dated. Also, does she have to be young and pretty?
And must she be scared of the male dragons? That’s such a girly reaction. Obviously she has to stay behind in order to escape the ambush, but couldn’t she have had a different reason? If she’s been taking the dragon census, she ought to be used to the males as well as the females, and she certainly shouldn’t be all squeaky and flinchy about them. Respectful, sure. Enough at least to try to talk Rohan out of getting too close.
She’s got a fair amount of Eighties (or more accurately Fifties) gender attitudes going in her own right. Sniffing at the reckless men, early and often. Playing the old-school girl game of accepting male dominance but undercutting male superiority.
Even with all this, she’s an engaging character with an interesting job. She’s a nice addition to the cast.
The villains are in fine form as usual. Beliaev serves as a device for telegraphing the current round of evil plans, followed by Ianthe who is chewing scenery in grand style. Nothing hidden or left to implication here, except possibly the specific use to which Ianthe will put the dragon tapestries (but we know it’s something wicked). We know exactly what all the bad guys are up to and who’s getting ready to double-cross whom.
This sacrifices tension and suspense, but it also makes for a comfortable ride. We know what to expect, we don’t have to worry about keeping track of all the different threads of intrigue since they’re right there for us to see, and we can sit back and watch it all unfold. The good guys will win, of course—it’s clear by now that this is that kind of story—but they’ll have to work for it.
So This Happens: Here we have another new character, a wandering Sunrunner named Kleve, who has arrived at Tiglath to find its lord, Eltanin, in a sad state. “The Merida threatened, and Prince Rohan was many days overdue.”
Kleve heads straight from Tiglath to Stronghold, riding one of Chaynal’s fine horses, and almost immediately meets Tilal, Feylin, Walvis, and Lhoys, who demand that he notify Sioned that Rohan has been kidnapped and is in Feruche. Rohan’s garrison near Feruche is dead, and the Merida are about to attack Tiglath.
Kleve passes the message to Sioned via faradhi. Sioned is absolutely livid. She sends Walvis to deal with the Merida and mounts her own armies in the south. “I will raze Feruche to the dead sands!”
Walvis is not on board with his part of the plan. He wants to go to Sioned and leave Eltanin to deal with the Merida. He and Feylin bicker over this, to Kleve’s and Lhoys’ amusement.
Kleve reinforces Sioned’s order, and promises to take Tilal to Sioned. Walvis gives in. Feylin tells Tilal to use her office supplies to write down and draw as much as he can remember of military arrangements at Feruche, and makes it clear that she’s riding to Tiglath with Walvis and Kleve. Lhoys meanwhile will take Tilal to Skybowl. Lhoys is greatly amused by Feylin’s actions and her general fierceness—“Northern women!” he says, admiringly.
Sioned is thinking about taking command of the southern armies herself, and also about the show she’s put on for Lord Baisal in receiving Kleve’s magical message. She comes out of the trance in a spitting rage, and starts ordering Baisal to supply an army with “provisions, horses, arms.”
Just as she goes raging through Baisal’s holding, her brother Davvi arrives with an army of his own, speaking of the need to keep Jastri from suspecting he’s raised that same army. Sioned gets him out of the courtyard and into the private apartments, but he’s slow to tell her what he’s up to.
Jastri, it turns out, is the young son of the late Prince Haldor, their kinsman. Roelstra has been cultivating him, “conducting military maneuvers around the Catha River plains.”
This is a huge threat to the Desert. Davvi is throwing in his lot with Sioned, who is his sister, against his distant cousin Jastri (and of course Roelstra). He advises her to let Chaynal know there’s a war on. Roelstra will find a pretext to cross the river into the Desert, and Davvi doesn’t think even Rohan’s “dragon-clever tongue” can talk him out of it.
Sioned tells him the Merida are getting ready to attack Tiglath and the Desert’s forces will be cut in half. Davvi reacts with shock. “That’s Roelstra’s excuse!” Roelstra will pretend to come to Rohan’s aid against the Merida, and cross the river.
Sioned doesn’t care. “Ianthe has Rohan! She’s holding him at Feruche!”
She would like to break down and cry in her brother’s arms, but she can’t do that. They haven’t been close since he married, and his embrace isn’t “home to her.” He is “not her husband.”
She’ll send to Chay at Radzyn Keep, she says, when the moon rises. Davvi admits he tends to forget she’s “a faradhi witch,” in her words. He comforts her as much as he can, while she reassures him in turn that his son Tilal is safe, and swears death to Ianthe. “Killing is one of a ruler’s privileges,” she declares.
She remembers that she broke her Sunrunner vows to kill; that she’s a Princess, and those vows can’t be kept if she’s to continue in that office. Davvi warns her that Jastri and Roelstra will bring nine hundred men across the river. She flashes her Sunrunner rings at him and points out that this is the culmination of Andrade’s plan. Sioned can’t produce faradhi children, but she can use her own Fire to deal with Roelstra’s army.
Andrade will accept that, she says, and “ride where she’s reined.” Davvi warns her not to fly so high. To which she replies, “Ah, but I’m married to the dragon prince, brother.”
Tobin meanwhile visits her sons before hosting a state dinner. The twins Sorin and Andry are in the middle of a battle royal with pillows. After much teasing and badinage, Andry catches a message coming in on moonlight, just before Tobin receives it. It’s Sioned with a rapid but impassioned précis of the current situation. She needs Chay and his army, and she needs him now.
Tobin comforts Sorin, who has no idea what’s happening, and Andry, who is all too well aware of it. Then she finds Chay and tells him what’s happened. Chay is almost as furious as Sioned, and tells Tobin to deal with the state dinner—“Just don’t tell them the truth”—while he gets to work raising an army.
And I’m Thinking: With as much faradhi as seems to be running around here, and as many Sunrunners as keep turning up both randomly and not, not to mention her own supposed Chosen Bond with Rohan, I have a little trouble believing Sioned doesn’t have an inkling of what’s happened to Rohan. Nor does any of them seem to have a clue about the threats to the Desert. Roelstra and Ianthe of course have no Sunrunners, but there are plenty of other lords involved, and no explanation as to why Rohan and Sioned are blindsided by the villains’ plans.
The Desert crew is just not paranoid enough. Rohan galloping around with minimal escort, Sunrunners missing big cues and major massing of troops, Sioned not picking up on Rohan’s abduction—they’re wide open to any passing villain. Roelstra and crew are happy to take advantage.
That seems like a bobble in the worldbuilding. Even if the Desert contingent are a collection of innocents and children, wouldn’t Andrade the master manipulator have stationed Sunrunners around the different realms and used them to gather intelligence? Then wouldn’t she try to protect her investment, and her relatives, in the Desert?
Where’s she been for six years while Sioned’s been unable to produce that longed-for faradhi prince? Wasn’t there anything she could have done about that? Is she plotting beneath the plots and letting this unfold because it leads where she wants it to lead? Or is she just being plot-stupid?
I’m sure we’ll get to see some sort of answer to that. In the meantime, Sioned gets to show how she and her brother get along when her sister-in-law isn’t in the picture, and also to be a rather complete snot about only wanting her husband to touch her. With special bonus redheaded rage.
We get some foreshadowing, too, with Andry being a baby Sunrunner. That’s going to be important later. Right now the focus is (as always) on Rohan, and everything’s aiming toward a dramatic rescue.
That’s a trap, of course. Drawing off a big chunk of the Desert’s army, and its Princess, toward Feruche, while Roelstra and his allies attack to the north and south. Sioned’s pretty completely incapable of caring about this. All she cares about is Rohan.
And that’s significant. If she’s Princess, she should logically think of the realm first, then the Prince. He has heirs, though not a child of hers. He’s ultimately disposable.
She’s stopped being a Sunrunner, but she’s not actually a Princess, either. She’s Rohan’s Chosen wife. Rohan is her ultimate priority. It’s Rohan she’ll kill for.
We’re not getting much depth to the overall play of emotions, particularly Sioned’s feelings about killing with magic, but Sioned’s rage comes through at top volume. She’s in a full roaring tear.
It won’t pass the Bechdel Test—it’s all about a man—but it certainly shows her demonstrating agency. She’ll do serious damage before she’s done. That’s clear.
We’re getting a little bit of other byplay, too. Walvis and Feylin have something going on, with their teasing and bickering. It looks like an old-fashioned tomboy love affair.
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.