Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week Pol comes home, the scroll runs into trouble, and we meet a whole new crew of lovely, lovely adversaries.
So This Happens: The scene shifts to Stronghold, where the High Prince is watching his wife fuss over what to wear for her son’s arrival. There is teasing. We learn that Rohan at forty-two is going mostly grey (“silvery,” says Sioned), but Sioned is still a flaming redhead.
Pol is late, with gives Rohan more time to admire Sioned, and Sioned more time to fret. When Pol finally arrives, everyone in Stronghold is vying to wait on him. He’s universally adored—as Rohan was before him.
Rohan meanwhile reflects on his relationship with Sioned. “Together they were the perfect team.” And Pol is the perfect heir, though he isn’t actually Sioned’s son.
Rohan reflects on this, and concludes that it’s the cause of Sioned’s nerves. “Did she not yet understand that her claim on him through love was infinitely stronger than any claim of blood?”
Pol arrives, and is scrupulously correct. There is adult eyerolling and indulgence. Everyone present is “proud and amused.”
Then Pol unbends and acts like the boy he is. Having embraced his parents, he runs off to greet everyone and take care of his horse. Rohan reflects on how proud he is, and how perfect Pol’s social instincts are.
There are more greetings, of Chay and Tobin, with teasing. They talk about how Pol is just like Rohan, and just as universally adored. There is more teasing about middle age, getting older, and the younger generation—including the fact that Maarken has asked for Whitecliff to be renovated. Then there is mention of the danger to Pol, and Tobin takes over, leading Rohan and the rest into the castle.
We learn what’s happened since Rohan became High Prince: how he hasn’t established a permanent court, and how Sioned has handled communications with Sunrunners stationed in other courts. Sioned has kept Stronghold a family home; she regards everyone else as an interloper, and proceeds accordingly. Rohan, however, has insisted that a chamber be set up for “confidential talks in a relaxed atmosphere.” This is how he handles most of his interactions with his vassals and his fellow princes.
Rohan and his family settle in this room to discuss the situation with Pol, who is still out winning back old friends and influencing people. Chay informs Rohan that he’s set Maarken to guard Pol on the way to Princemarch.
Tobin is concerned about the pretender to Princemarch. Rohan doesn’t intend to feed the rumor with his royal attention. Nor is he planning a war.
Tobin points out that he may not have a choice. Nor may Pol. Rohan is adamant. Pol will not be a “barbarian” warrior prince.
Pol arrives just at this point, realizes they’ve all shut up abruptly, and is peevish about being talked about. Sioned defuses the situation, but aggravates him further by calling him “hatchling.” Which only makes things worse. He wants to know what they were talking about.
Maarken takes the heat off by changing the subject. The party breaks up shortly after, and Pol is too busy to help Sioned in the gardens, but Maarken offers to step in.
He’s not really interested in gardening. Sioned remembers how he turned to her when he needed to persuade his father to let him go to Goddess Keep for training. Today he needs her support for another cause: he tells her he wants to marry a Sunrunner, which she already suspected. And he’s conflicted about being both a lord and a Sunrunner. Choosing a Sunrunner makes him seem to have chosen a side, but he refuses to let Andrade control him.
Sioned doesn’t tell him everything (including the truth about Pol, or how she killed Pol’s birth mother), but she lets him know she understands his situation. It teaches him fear of his own powers, and he needs that. He’s the first of the true Sunrunner princes. She’s not; she was brought up a Sunrunner and became a princess later.
She reassures him that he can handle the two sides of himself, with a reminder of what he did at age twelve, destroying the bridges across the Faolain River to keep Roelstra’s troops from crossing. She also reassures him that he can handle the situation with his chosen bride. But he says he’s glad to have her support.
He hasn’t told Sioned his intended’s name. Sioned doesn’t want him to. She wants to spot the girl herself—and bets him the jewels for a wedding necklet that she can do it.
Maarken remembers another bet at another Rialla: Sioned’s emerald ring against all the jewels a Roelstra daughter was wearing, that she’d “never catch Rohan.” Sioned, Maarken reflects, never bets except on a sure thing.
The subject turns to the heat, and then to Remagev with its desert climate, and Walvis, who is its lord. Then suddenly a Sunrunner’s message reaches them, crying for help.
Meath is not having a pleasant journey. His escort is hustling him along, and he is seriously out of shape.
Then they are met by an armed company. His two guards defend him with archery and tell him to run. Instead, as more armed troops arrive, Meath sends a message on sunlight, to Goddess Keep, but the spring mists stop him. He diverts to Sioned instead.
Then he summons Air—rather than killing Fire—to scatter the attackers. Just as he and his guards celebrate his success, he takes a knife in the shoulder, with devastating effect.
Sioned reacts to Meath’s vanishing from the sunlight, and enlists Maarke’s help to find him. She sees the battle and she sees Meath go down. She calls all Sunrunners within reach and brings down Fire in front of the attackers.
The guards pick up Meath and escape. The attackers flee.
Then the weaving of magic unravels. Pol was caught in it, among quite a few others.
So was something else. Something astonishing. Sioned realizes “we bumped into a dragon.”
And I’m Thinking: The Desert family’s tics and quirks are in full force here. Teasing, chuckling, and having fun, in between bouts of crippling self-doubt and agonizing at length over the stress between being a royal and being a Sunrunner. Not to mention, when the shoe finally drops about who Pol’s real mother is, things will get interesting awfully fast.
In the meantime of course Pol and Rohan are perfectly perfectly perfect and everyone absolutely totally adores them and they have No Idea, except when they demonstrably do. And they’re perfect. Did we mention perfect?
Everybody is fussing about Andrade and refusing to let her control them. Though we haven’t really seen any genuine control on her part, just frustration that she’s not succeeding at it. And plot-stupidity. Andrade is big on the plot-stupid. She looms much larger in her family’s fits of paranoia than she does in person.
Then we’re reminded of why this book, and this series, can keep us coming back. Just when the family stuff had me at the kill-me-now stage, the slam-bang action started, with some wild twists and turns, including Sioned doing her usual trick of hauling in every magic user within reach, an apparently poisoned dagger and, at the end, Dragon!
Dragons make up for a lot. I won’t say everything, but I’m hanging in for the next chapter. Because eventually, dragons are going to get even more interesting than Pol’s complicated origins.
So This Happens: In a rustic setting in the Veresch, we meet a nameless woman of a certain age (sixty winters) and considerable power, a power that is the opposite of the Sunrunners’ sunlight and Fire: “stones and stars, and a different kind of fire.” A “full circle” of ninety-nine has gathered, and the woman reflects on the power of threes in this world. She is the hundredth, and she represents “the Nameless One who ruled all.”
She ponders the presence of Ianthe’s three sons with “their raw, half-trained powers, inherited from a grandmother who had been among the last purebred diarmadh’im.” She plans to use them to gain absolute power.
The diarmadh’im have just begun to recover from the Sunrunners’ destruction of their entire culture. Three Sunrunners led the forces of genocide, but are never named, to prevent their spirits from finding the remnants of diarmadh’im in hiding.
Now she has Ianthe’s three sons to counteract them. She conjures starlight, using the sons as anchors, to energize the stones. This is the meaning of her people’s name: Stoneburners.
In the conjuring the woman sees Lady Andrade, with her ten rings, attended by Lord Urival and a wounded Meath, who delivers the scrolls. Meath disappears; Andrade and Urival open the scrolls and try to read them, without success. They bring in a young man with four rings, who shows fascination—and then Urival detects the spy.
The woman hastily breaks the conjuring. Then, to the sons’ disgust, she orders her people to bring her Masul.
We learn that her name is Lady Mireva, and that she has raised the three orphans to be princes. Their names are Ruval, Marron, and Segev. She explains to them that Masul is older and therefore more immediately usable, and that they still have to learn to master their powers. “Masul is an amusing feint who will cause interesting trouble for Rohan.”
The scrolls however are more important. She tells them how the Sunrunners invaded from Dorval, studied the Stoneburners, and used that knowledge to destroy them and efface their memory. They wrote that knowledge down, and now Andrade has the scrolls—but it doesn’t seem she can read them.
She will manage that, Mireva says. Marron believes the scrolls should be destroyed, but Mireva wants to learn what’s in them. Segev suggests they be stolen—that someone with “the gifts” go to Goddess Keep for training, then steal the scrolls. He volunteers.
Mireva approves of this, and tells him to come to her tomorrow for instruction, which she implies will have a sexual component. The boys leave, and she withdraws to her house, which is much bigger inside than out.
From a secret treasury she retrieves a packet of dranath. She has no fear of the drug: she uses it to enhance her powers. Sunrunners are weaklings, she thinks; they can’t handle its potency.
It was Mireva who gave the drug’s secret to Palila. Now she plans to use it herself. She’ll test her enemies with Masul, get the scrolls through Segev, and use Ruval to “bring her final victory.” Marron she doesn’t mention. She then indulges in the almost sexual pleasure of the drug, and uses it to remember and write down what she saw on the scroll.
Urival and Andrade discuss the spy. We learn that the young Sunrunner is Andry. They consider that the spy didn’t use the usual means to watch them, and conclude that the spy used starlight. Andrade reminds the others that Sioned did this during Rohan’s single combat with Roelstra.
They are all afraid of the scrolls and their subject matter, but Andrade is determined to find out what’s in them. Urival warns her against them, but Andry agrees with her. They have to know what others know.
Andry, it turns out, is Andrade’s choice to succeed her as Lord of Goddess Keep. He’s closely related to the High Prince, and he has notable magical gifts.
Andry is as greedy for knowledge as his grandfather Zehava was for power. He speculates that the ancient Sunrunners came to this country “for the people”—to help them against some forgotten enemy. The ancients erased the enemy’s knowledge from memory but preserved it in the scrolls. Andry proposes that they didn’t just preserve the knowledge; they used it to defeat the enemy.
Andrade then reveals that Roelstra came to her father’s keep as a young man, looking for a wife. Andrade was already a Sunrunner. She made sure to marry off her twin sister Milar to Zehava, hoping for a Sunrunner prince to oppose Roelstra’s already excessive power.
Rohan did not inherit the power, Tobin did. Therefore Andrade married him off to Sioned, a powerful Sunrunner.
Andry points out that there are now several Sunrunners in princely positions, including Pol and Pandsala. Sunrunners and princes are merging. Now a third kind of power has become evident, and they should use it.
Andrade firmly disagrees. Starlight bad. Sun and moon good. But Sioned uses starlight, Andry argues.
Urival dismisses him, ordering him not to speak of this discussion. Andry is not subdued. Andrade deplores his lack of caution, then Urival teases her, and she teases him back.
Urival hides the scrolls in a place only he knows, and returns to Andrade’s bedroom, where he notices how frail she’s become. When he moves to leave, she bids him stay.
She muses on Maarken’s sense of responsibility and Andry’s “wrong kind of cleverness.” He’s different than the rest of his family, she says—more like Zehava. Or like herself. “Andry’s going to be even more dangerous than I.”
Urival is more optimistic. Andry has Urival and Rohan and Chay and Tobin and his brothers. They’ll keep him grounded.
Andrade reminisces about Urival’s sexual initiation, and confesses that she was his instructor. Urival already knew, because she wasn’t trying hard enough to conceal her identity. We also learn that he initiated Sioned. There is teasing and banter. They discuss Maarken and Hollis, with approval. Then Urival tells Andrade to “go to sleep.”
And I’m Thinking: Oh boy. A whole new set of villains, with a whole new web of plots and machinations. Not only that, they’re really really old villains, ancestral enemies—and the Sunrunners come across, through their eyes, as genocidal monsters.
This is lovely. Rawn’s villains are her best characters, and these are showing some clear advances over the ones in Dragon Prince. They’re drawn with less of a broad brush, and we’re allowed to see their motives as at least partly justified. There’s depth to them, and genuine mystery and power.
Interestingly, the supposed good guys at Goddess Keep aren’t all that good, either. Andry is showing clear signs of moral ambiguity. As usual we’re told rather than shown that Andrade is a dangerous, sometimes unscrupulous, very clever manipulator of the world’s people and powers, but I’m getting a distinct impression that Andry won’t be all talk. He’ll walk the morally questionable walk.
After the Desert crew’s perfectly perfect perfection, this chapter is a genuine palate cleanser, even with the somewhat tedious tendency to portray good-guy relationships via teasing and badinage. (Balanced by bullying and sneering among the bad guys.) Mireva is a great foil for Andrade—especially in her strength and health versus Andrade’s frailty—and Ianthe’s sons make a nice comparison-and-contrast to the various representatives of the younger generation on the other side, particularly Andry.
I’m a happy reader here. This just got good, and I can’t wait to see where it’s all going.
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.