Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince trilogy! This week we start book two, The Star Scroll. It’s been fourteen years since the end of the first book when we reunite with old friends and enemies and meet new ones, and the intrigue and the politics fly fast and furious.
Part One: The Scroll
So This Happens: This new installment in the Dragon Prince saga begins at Graypearl, Prince Lleyn’s palace on the island of Dorval. The camera zooms in to focus on a fourteen-year-old boy playing in the garden. We learn immediately that this is the High Prince’s heir.
Princess Audrite, Lleyn’s daughter-in-law, watches the boy play, and reflects on how very special, and occasionally mischievous, he is.
She has something to tell him. His father has called him home, and then to the Rialla. After that, he will return to Dorval.
Pol is excited, though anxious about having to cross water. Audrite cheers him up with the news that Meath will accompany him. He gets permission to go shopping for gifts tomorrow, but meanwhile has a penance to finish, as atonement for one of his pranks.
Audrite (who is 49, and keeps fit riding horses) withdraws to the oratory that she has painstakingly restored. This castle belonged to faradh’im once, and the oratory is a literally magical place. Audrite reflects that it serves a specific purpose: “the most remarkable calendar in all the princedoms.”
Meath appears. He is planning to contact Sioned on the moonlight. They discuss a certain very important scroll that Meath dug out of the rubble of the old oratory, which they plan to give to Andrade despite her great age and the possibility she may die too soon and her successor may not be trustworthy.
Next morning, Pol goes shopping with Meath. They stop at the inn for lunch. While there they see a deputation from Grib, which is challenging the Desert’s silk monopoly. Pol is quite stiff about his father’s laws, to Meath’s amusement. They talk about girls and gift-giving.
Then a fight threatens to break out over a girl. Meath moves to break it up, but the Gribain soldiers aren’t intimidated by his status as a Sunrunner. Pol unleashes Fire, and the brawl takes off from there.
When the fighting ends, Meath interrogates the soldiers’ captain. She will have to apologize and pay restitution.
While she resists this sentence, Pol lets Meath know that the fight wasn’t random. One of the soldiers started it. Meath is further troubled by the fact that Pol has not been trained to use Fire. Then Pol tells him that the intended target of the fight was Pol, and the plan was to kill him.
Meath examines the unconscious instigator, whose beard doesn’t look quite right. Pol concludes that the man is Merida. Meath points out that the Merida were eliminated the year Pol was born. Pol is insistent.
Meath is horrified. Pol is poised and princely. He promises to pay for the damage to the inn and its contents.
Merchants who were involved in the fight offer Pol, in turn, payment for distracting the soldiers. Pol would refuse, but Meath, in instructor-of-prince mode, accepts.
On the way back to the castle, Meath confronts Pol with his use of Fire. He asks who taught Pol. Pol replies that he did it on his own. “It seemed the best way.”
Meath warns him about the dangers of giving in to his instincts. He instructs Pol in the amount of time and training it takes to earn Sunrunner rings, and admonishes him at he has a double responsibility: he’s a Prince as well as a Sunrunner-to-be. That gives him much more to lose.
Pol is suitably chastened. Meath goes on to tell him that Sunrunner training teaches how not to use powers as well how to use them. Then Pol adds that a Prince may have to do one thing that a Sunrunner is forbidden: he may have to use his powers to kill.
After the lesson is over, news comes that the bearded soldier has hanged himself in his cell. Prince Lleyn, now very elderly, debriefs Meath about the brawl and the attempt on Pol’s life. He and his son Chadric further discuss with Meath the rumors of a possible son of Roelstra, a young man of twenty-one to Pol’s fourteen, who may lay claim to Princemarch. They mention Rohan, who would hear the pretender out if confronted with him, and Andrade, who was present the night of the young man’s supposed birth, but who would be biased toward Rohan, as she’s his aunt.
Lleyn and Chadric may have to decide between a blood claim or the claim of an able ruler, which Rohan has been. They realize why Pol was a target: to eliminate him and open the way for the pretender. They also realize why Rohan wants his son with him this summer. He’s setting Pol up to charm the princes and win their favor against the pretender at the Rialla.
Pandsala is also a player: if Pol is made Prince, she will no longer be regent for Princemarch. Lleyn is not happy with the political situation, at all.
The chapter ends with Meath in his chambers, taking out the Star Scroll and reading its title: On Sorceries.
And I’m Thinking: This book opens with a whole lot going on. Plotting and intrigue and dynastic struggles and political maneuvering. All within the confines of Lleyn’s castle, and spiced up with a tavern brawl and an assassination attempt.
The writing craft here is well ahead of the first book. We’re still in loooove with our handsome blond blue-eyed hero, but he’s not quite as over the top as Rohan was at the same point, and (so far) he’s not nearly as fond of slingshot-ing between “I’m So Clever” and “Oh, Woe, This Prince Job Is Haaarrrrrd.”
We’ve got some really gorgeous descriptions of setting, too, which is a Rawn specialty. The visuals of Graypearl alone are worth the few paragraphs it takes to get to some action.
The characters are a great mix. Meath we know from the previous book. Lleyn is drawn in much more detail here, and we meet his daughter-in-law, Princess Audrite. It’s a slightly unfortunate name, reminiscent of Audrey the killer plant and Rainbow Brite, but she’s a great character.
People are talking about the interwebs this week about books with older women as protagonists, and how rare they are. Here’s one with a strong secondary female character aged forty-nine, the much older Andrade offstage but clearly as badass as ever, and Sioned and Pandsala soon to appear, both nicely up in their thirties.
For 1989, that’s really good going. We’re not getting beaten over the head with sons, sons, sons, either. Just chewing over the complexities of royal inheritance in proper pseudohistorical fashion. And there’s a new McGuffin: the ancient scroll on the subject of sorcery.
It’s a promising start. Themes from the previous book get more air time here, especially the theme of princely responsibility and the stress between the duties of a Prince and those of a Sunrunner—plus some solid instruction in both. We find out something about Meath’s past, and get a good sense of how the world has arranged itself since the end of Dragon Prince.
How well it reads for the reader who comes in cold, I don’t know. It does a pretty good job of filling in background—better than Book I, which filled in background for most of the first third of the book—while getting right into the characters and their interactions.
I notice that Palila and Pandsala’s(!) plot to give Roelstra a son by stealing someone else’s baby is still going strong, with a pretender offering a real threat. That’s going to be fun, I can tell. Along with whatever happened to Ianthe’s three (other) sons after the fall of Feruche. When I reflect that they’re all Roelstra’s offspring (or in Pol’s case grand-offspring), that’s a pretty good Evil Legacy for the late High Prince to leave behind.
So This Happens: Pandsala is at the end of her rope with her tribe of sisters. She’s extracted all of them from Castle Crag, but they’re still plaguing her. The worst, at this moment, is the youngest: the unwanted child, Chiana, now twenty-one and absolutely full of herself. Pandsala has no intention of letting her back into Roelstra’s former castle.
Chiana’s upbringing has been quite scattershot, what with her annoying personality and her endless pretensions. She is now with her sister Naydra. Pandsala knows why she wants to come to Castle Crag: she wants to accompany Pandsala to the Rialla and land herself a royal husband. Pandsala is not about to oblige her.
Having firmly rejected her sister’s request, Pandsala reflects on the status of Roelstra’s surviving daughters. They have all made their way in the world, most as single and, thanks to Rohan’s generosity, well-off women, and they all, even Chiana, are no threat to Pandsala.
Pandsala recalls the one sister who was a threat, the late Ianthe, and indulges in a few moments of pure hatred. The main cause of that hate is the plot that failed: Palila’s attempt to pass off another woman’s son as her own. Ianthe foiled that plot, and Pandsala has never forgiven her. Pandsala was sentenced to exile, with Palila’s infant daughter, in Goddess Keep. Ianthe ruined her life as well as her plot.
Pandsala reflects on the irony that she discovered she had faradhi while at Goddess Keep, and also that, just after Ianthe betrayed the plot, one of the servant women did indeed deliver a boy. Pandsala’s plot would have succeeded, except for Ianthe.
Pandsala contemplates her five Sunrunner rings and the ring of her regency. She has done her job well. She lives for Rohan (who might have been her husband) and Pol (who might have been her son). “For them, anything.”
Pandsala’s gift of faradhi comes from her mother, Princess Lallante, who was Roelstra’s only legal wife. Ianthe did not inherit the gift, and that is a very good thing.
Pandsala’s sister, Lady Kiele of Waes, is also reflecting on Pandsala and her gift, which she also did not inherit. She envies that gift, but she has considerably worldly power. Though that is a problem at the moment: her husband Lyell is on the hook for most of the cost of the coming Rialla. This is punishment for siding with Roelstra in the war, and it’s ongoing. He’s been picking up the tab for years.
Kiele would love to be a Princess again, but it would take considerable maneuvering and a number of deaths to get there. She tried to marry off one of her sisters to her overlord’s heir, Halian, but the sister died and Halian proceeded to sire daughters on a mistress.
Now the mistress is dead, and Kiele has another sister to throw at him: Palila’s daughter Moswen. Moswen is an idiot, Kiele believes, and it will be easy to control Halian through her.
Lyell appears, dressed in his own colors instead of the more becoming color Kiele had ordered him to wear. He is besotted with her. She finds him annoying but useful.
Lyell has brought her a letter from “somebody in Einar,” which he opened because she was busy dressing for dinner. The letter is from Kiele’s childhood nurse, who married a merchant and serves as an informant.
Kiele distracts Lyell with some cleavage, and succeeds too well: he wants to make another heir (having already sired a son and a daughter) right then and there. But Kiele doesn’t want to be heavily pregnant and therefore unattractive to men in general and Lyell in particular, just in time for the Rialla. She has plans that require her to keep Lyell’s attention on her until she’s in control of the princedom through her sister’s marriage to its heir.
She fends him off now, softening it with teasing, and they go to their very important state dinner. Prince Clutha is full of ruinously expensive plans for the Rialla, and Lyell, who will pay for most of them, plays along. Kiele determines to make sure this doesn’t continue—once she has her sister installed as the next Prince’s wife.
Clutha has an elderly Sunrunner with him who will of course report all the proceedings to Andrade. He also has a young squire, Tiel, who passes on the news that the Prince of Firon is dead, and he had no heir. Kiele immediately tries to figure out if she’s related to any of his family connections.
The late Prince was going to take wife number seven at the Rialla, in yet another attempt to produce an heir. Kiele lets slip her amusement. Halian shares it—and is thundered at by his father for it. Kiele notes his reaction, which serves her purposes very well. He has no love at all for the old man.
Finally, late that night, Kiele has a chance to read her nurse’s letter. The nurse’s sister produced the son who would have been passed off as Roelstra’s. The sister and her husband are long dead. The boy, Masul, was raised by his maternal grandparents.
Dark-haired, green-eyed Masul looks nothing like his mother’s blond and brown-eyed family. His mother’s husband was dark-eyed and short, and Masul is tall. Like Roelstra. Who also had green eyes.
This is the news Kiele has been hoping for. She is delighted. She wonders, while she’s at it, if Chiana is even Roelstra’s daughter.
Kiele replies in code, asking her nurse for a gift—“something in shades of black and green.” She means Masul.
Then she invites Chiana to visit her and assist with preparations for the Rialla. Thereby stirring the pot with considerable glee.
She burns the letter to Moswen. That plot won’t fly with Chiana at Waes. Kiele will be much more entertained by the humiliation of Chiana, once Halian learns of “her lowly birth.”
Meanwhile Kiele makes plans for assuring that Masul will indeed be seen as Roelstra’s son. A makeover, of course. Some hair dye if needed. Princely clothes and jewelry, for sure.
If it’s true that Masul is Roelstra’s son, Pandsala and Pol will be ousted and Rohan humiliated. Kiele would love to see that happen—and herself as Masul’s mentor, ruling Princemarch through him.
She reflects on whether he might really be Roelstra’s offspring, and hopes that he is not. “She knew the characteristics of her father’s breeding only too well.” She would not be able to control a true heir of the wicked High Prince.
And I’m Thinking: There’s quite a bit more internal monologue in this chapter, but it’s moving things forward at a good clip. Roelstra’s daughters are deliciously evil, and seriously prone to underestimate one another.
The Sons, Sons, Sons theme of the first book is smacking head-on into karma here. The women are very much in control, and very much into manipulating the men. And we’ve got a pretender who we can be sure is going to cause Rohan and company some bad headaches.
Ironically of course, since we’ve read the first book, we know that Pol is the result of a successful plot to claim someone else’s son as Sioned’s own. Moreover, he’s Ianthe’s son, which makes him Roelstra’s grandson—speaking of the characteristics of the late Prince’s breeding. That makes him an actual viable claimant to Princemarch, but that claim can’t ever be made, because of the deception that surrounded his birth.
Such a lovely tangled web there. This Rialla is going to be at least as much fun as the one in the first book.
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.