Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! This week Rohan suffers a fate worse than death, Sioned deals with her many responsibilities as Princess and Chosen lover, and the war gets seriously under way.
So This Happens: Rohan wakes from a drugged stupor to the sound of a man and a woman bickering. He can’t quite place the voices. It’s clear from context that they’re Ianthe and Beliaev.
Sioned meanwhile prepares to ride in search of Rohan, over her brother’s objections.
She is riding in disguise, with a tiny escort. She’s leaving Chay to sort out the military arrangements, to Lord Baisal’s dismay. She promises Lord Baisal a new keep as a reward.
Sioned is the only one who can do this, while the Desert deals with attacks on two fronts. “She wondered if Ianthe thought her incapable of violating her oath not to kill. She hoped so; it would make things easier when the killing time came.”
The scene shifts back to Rohan, who is hallucinating that he’s in a cave full of dragons, surrounded by violence and fire. He’s clearly on dranath. In his drugged dream, he thinks he sees Sioned, who comforts him.
Sioned arrives at Stronghold just before noon and receives a message from Kleve on the sunlight. Preparations for war are proceeding apace. Sioned sends him Tobin’s colors; Tobin can’t reply due to her lack of training, but she can receive messages. Sioned evades Kleve’s questions as to what she plans to do.
She reflects, with dismay, that she’s left seventeen-year-old Walvis in charge of the war in Tiglath. Ostvel tends and comforts her, but she evades his inquiries as she has Kleve’s.
She summons Maeta, the guards commander. Maeta has already guessed what Sioned is up to, and understands it. Maeta tells her of a secret exit that even Rohan doesn’t know about, and offers advice as to how to conduct the war. They’ll empty Stronghold of troops and set a trap for the Merida.
Riyan bursts in to announce that Tilal has come back. Tilal is full of information about Feruche. Sioned reassures him that his own home, River Run, will be safe. Tilal wants to go with Sioned to Feruche, but accepts her orders to stay in Stronghold and serve as Maeta’s squire and Walvis’ deputy in matters related to Remagev. She lets him know that Walvis is going to inherit Remagev.
When the moon rises, Sioned casts spells on the light, taking great care not to let Andrade know what she’s doing. She spies on Feruche and finds Rohan asleep—and Ianthe moving to seduce him. Her outrage snaps her back into her own body.
In the shock of transition, she sees the vision of the child again, and knows whose it is: Rohan’s and Ianthe’s. Sioned is devastated.
Rohan wakes to what he thinks is Sioned making love to him. Then he realizes who it really is. Ianthe commands him to complete the act again, to make sure she conceives a son. He attacks her with rage and hate, and she participates enthusiastically, sneering at her father’s ability to produce only daughters, and Sioned’s inability to produce a child at all.
She leaves him with a last, mocking question: “Could you touch her, after being with me?”
Rohan’s answer, of course, is no. He decides he has to kill her.
And I’m Thinking: This chapter moves right along. Sioned is making sure to set up her solo, magic-assisted rescue as sensibly as possible, making extensive arrangements for the rest of the war. Rohan is right where we expected him to be, in intricate sensory detail.
The difference between the good guys and the bad guys is really clear here. Ianthe and her allies are all snarls and snark. Sioned and her friends and family are tender with each other, and there’s quite a bit of time given to the children. We don’t get much sense of Ianthe’s sons at all, so far, as opposed to the fully developed personalities of the “good kids.” Though seeing Sioned grieve for Cami while loving on Cami’s son is making me really, really miss the unwritten book about the plague and its losses.
Sioned is clearly going to the dark side, and not angsting over it too terribly much, either. Rohan is her first priority, always, though she’s done a pretty good job of making sure the princedom is in good hands.
We’re getting the usual amount of telegraphing. We know what this episode will lead to: Ianthe’s son by Rohan. The adventure is in seeing how we get to that point. Also, when we get there, watching the good guys and the bad guys strike sparks off each other.
So This Happens: Meanwhile, in Goddess Keep, the Sunrunners are afflicted with a long run of rainy and foggy weather, which brings outside communications to a standstill. Andrade is not to be lived with.
Spring brings a great improvement in the weather, and the Sunrunners take full advantage of it. Andrade, in the Keep, reflects on the travails of the last six years, notably Roelstra’s two daughters. Pandsala arrived totally uneducated, was put to school with the younger students, and has turned into a fairly decent person. She’s earned her third Sunrunner ring.
Chiana is a charming handful. Her guardians are on constant watch, “suspecting that her beguiling ways could turn to low cunning if she is not carefully guarded.” Pandsala has taken her in hand and is keeping her under control.
Andrade knows what this situation is not permanent. Chiana will be sought in marriage, and “when Roelstra finally obliged everyone by dying,” Pandsala will be free.
Andrade goes a-wandering on the sunlight, exploring the different realms and noting how they’ve come through the winter. She notices that certain key fortresses are empty. She comes last to the Desert, and finds that it’s preparing for war—to her great outrage, because no one has informed her. She also discovers that an army led by Lyell of Waes is on its way to Goddess Keep.
Andrade is infuriated. She calls a meeting and tells the Sunrunners that Lyell has camped outside the Keep for its “protection,” because Sunrunners are forbidden to kill. She also fills them in on everything else that has been happening. Goddess Keep is besieged.
Pandsala offers to help by making a false escape and drawing off a third of Lyell’s fighting men as escort to her father in Syr. She declares that her three rings prove she can be trusted. Andrade allows this—and spares a moment to be worried about Chiana’s resemblance to her father.
Tobin and Chay are busy with the war in Radzyn Keep, and Tobin is determined to come into the field with her husband. They discuss Sioned’s crazy plan, which is probably the only one that can work.
Suddenly Andry receives a powerful communication from Andrade. Andrade has been busy. Sunrunners in Roelstra’s allies’ courts have been locked away from the light, but she’s been spreading the word as widely as she can. She tells Andry and Tobin who can be trusted, orders Tobin to get Andry and Sorin to Stronghold, and says she’s on her way.
Chay cares for Tobin after the magic ends, and they discuss the situation. It’s not a pleasant one. Chay vows that Roelstra will never attend another Rialla.
Davvi and Chay count up the troops. Davvi is dismayed by how few trainer fighters there are, but Chay points out that a reaper with a scythe can be a deadly thing. Chay reflects that he wishes they weren’t going to war—and that’s Rohan’s fault. He’s been “infected with peace.”
Chay and Tobin take time for a private breakfast, with Tobin naked, since no one is there to see. They discuss the latest plans. Chay intends Tobin to return to Stronghold with the children, but has not yet informed her of this.
When he does, she flatly refuses, until he points out that the boys won’t go without her, and they must be kept safe. At Stronghold, Tobin will be able to help Sioned. Tobin is not happy, but she gives in.
Suddenly Lord Baisal arrives with Chay and Tobin’s oldest son Maarken, whom they haven’t seen in two years. Maarken brings Lleyn’s gift of fifty archers, plus a promise of more, with ships.
Now Tobin really can leave, because Maarken is a Sunrunner. He almost has his first ring. Tobin grudgingly consents. Chay then asks Maarken to talk to Andry about faradhi, and confirms that he’s keeping Maarken as his squire.
Rohan is counting “the sixth night since Ianthe,” in a haze of dranath. He’s nearly clean of it, but it’s been rough going. He plans to die, if he can take Ianthe with him. Meanwhile, he’s securely trapped, and unable to escape.
Rohan’s mind spins through dreams of revenge, shame at his bloodthirsty thoughts, and depression leading to despair. Rohan wanted a son so badly he allowed himself to be unfaithful to Sioned—and as he ponders this, he knows he can’t kill Ianthe.
A commotion brings him to the window of his prison. Ianthe has Sioned, alone, without an army. Rohan understands what this means, and begins to have hope.
Sioned conjures up a dragon of Fire, but Ianthe is not intimidated. She orders Sioned to be locked up away from light. Rohan despairs again, and determines to kill Ianthe after all.
And I’m Thinking: Damn, we need that nonexistent book about the six years between Parts II and III. There’s so much missing. Pandsala and Chiana’s education, on top of the plague and the deaths and the evolution of Sioned and Rohan’s marriage.
What we do have is moving along at a rapid pace. Andrade is in the game now, and the younger players are clicking into place.
I’m really feeling for Tobin. Her whole life has been one long series of “sorry, dear, not you.” She got a great guy, but she never got to develop her magic, and now she won’t get to fight beside him, either. She has to go back to being Mom and take the kids to safety and leave the fighting to another male. I don’t blame her a bit for being pissed off. Tobin is locked inescapably into the traditional woman’s role, and nothing she does or tries can shift her out of it.
I also am wondering about the logic of locating Goddess Keep in a place where the light is blocked off for six months a year. It really messes up attempts at central control, and means that any amount of skulduggery can happen while the Keep is socked in. If Sunrunners operate essentially under astronomers’ rules, why isn’t their chief stronghold situated in an area where the light is almost never obstructed? Say, in the Desert? Wouldn’t Andrade have thought of this, and made it happen years ago? She’s so proactive otherwise. It’s surprising she doesn’t do anything about this.
Then once the Keep clears up, all the efforts to hide developments from Andrade are futile. She gets up to speed instantly and starts ordering people around. I wonder that no one has thought about how fast she’ll get caught up, and I also wonder that no one seems to think about the advantages in the Keep’s disadvantageous location, for clever schemers who want to scheme without Andrade’s knowledge. Mostly they seem to be blundering along without thinking things through.
This is evident in the Sunrunners’ meeting. Andrade talks as if no one there has any idea that there’s an army right outside. But they’ve all been gallivanting across the hillsides and traveling on sunlight. They all ought to be well apprised of what’s going on, and just need to be filled in on how Andrade intends to deal with it.
The size of the various armies makes my medievalist eyebrow lift a bit. Fifty men is teeny. Nine hundred, not so huge, either. These are tribal-raid numbers, in a world full of elaborately civilized buildings and accessories. The world is tiny, too; travel doesn’t take all that long by horse-era standards. Even with Sunrunner communications to speed things up, the slog is still pretty short.
I wonder how much of that is deliberate desire to keep things tightly connected. Mostly I think moderns aren’t aware of how much preindustrial people traveled, and how far they were willing to go. With instant communications, even at horse and sailing speeds, an empire the size of Rome or China could settle in for some serious longterm viability.
As for Rohan and Sioned’s very bad week, that’s coming along nicely in an evil sort of way. Definitely headed toward ignition—literally.
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.