Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! While we’ve entered a new year in our world, our heroes and villains are finishing up the first section of their story.
So This Happens: Andry is nervous. He’s about to attempt a spell from the Star Scroll. He’s all set up, with Urival and Morwenna to experiment on, and Andrade and an unhappy Hollis observing.
The experiment is an ointment, and he prepares his subjects by explaining that he’s done two versions: one as written and one according to the code he’s deciphered. He’s also using controls.
There’s stress between Andry and Andrade. Andry is defiant.
First attempt: no results on Morwenna. That’s the recipe as written. Second attempt, Urival’s hand starts to burn and twist. That’s the coded recipe. It washes off with water.
They try again, longer, at Urival’s request. The results are dramatic, but Urival won’t give in. He wants the full effect. Then Morwenna gets in on it, asking for blind tests on both hands. The coded recipe definitely works.
Andrade stops the proceedings with extreme prejudice, demanding that the ointment be destroyed and wishing she could do the same to the scroll.
The subjects and Andrade leave. Andry and Hollis stay. Andry is annoyed at his aunt. “She’s blinded by fear.”
Hollis points out that a demonstration involving pain was probably not the best way to get his point across. Andry retorts that he didn’t have a choice, and insists that he was “right.” He segues quickly to what the scroll says about dranath. If they had known during the Plague, he says, their family and friends might not have died.
Hollis fires back. Andrade is right to be afraid. This knowledge is deadly dangerous, and Andrade may not be able to control it in the lifetime she has left.
That pulls Andry up short. He’ll be old someday, too, and maybe he’ll be in the same position.
Hollis continues to be the voice of reason. She stresses the danger, and the rightness of Andrade’s fear, as well as the fact that much of that fear is because Andrade won’t be around to “shape” the future.
Andry, silenced, tosses the leftover ointment in the fire, releasing a cloud of toxic fumes that affect both him and Hollis. As they recover, Andry is contrite. He gets his hair ruffled, and Hollis calls him “little brother” and warns him to remember that for all his powers, he’s still very young.
Andry notices that Hollis looks terrible. She says she’s just tired, and will get Sejast to brew her a cup of “that special taze of his. It works wonders.”
Andry teases her about old witches and childhood fears. Hollis rebukes him. There is further gentle teasing about telling a woman she looks bad, and Andry’s lack of his father’s “famous charm.”
Meanwhile it’s late and Riyan is bored with following Lady Kiele on her nighttime wanderings around Waes. He’s been charming everybody and persuading them to help him and to share information, which is how he’s managed to slip out of the house and track Kiele to a manor in the country. He recalls previous excursions, including to a house by the docks occupied by a sailor and a servant.
Tonight he’s marked Kiele’s mare’s shoe so he can track her, and having done so, he reflects on the unlikelihood of Kiele’s having taken a lover. He also reflects that the atmosphere around the royal house is strange of late, and that Chiana has moved on to Lyell after getting no satisfaction from Riyan. Kiele claims to be planning the Rialla, but from looks of her “secret, feral smile,” she’s up to something else.
Riyan creeps up to the house, greeting the silent mare on the way, and sees Kiele and an indistinguishable companion inside.
A hand falls on his shoulder. He realizes it’s ringed, and follows Kleve away from the house. Kleve is following Andrade’s orders; he’s been tracking Kiele, undetected by Riyan—an indication of Sunrunner seniority, and greater skill.
Kleve is an itinerant Sunrunner and spy for Andrade. Riyan reflects on his history, and asks him why he’s so far from his usual territory. Kleve asks Riyan the same.
They exchange information, and Kleve rebukes Riyan for scaring Kiele away from the house by the docks, then orders him back to the royal residence. Riyan resists. Andrade commanded him, he says. Kleve responds that tonight’s adventure is potentially dangerous, and again tells Riyan to leave, but meet him in town in the morning.
Riyan still resists. Kleve pulls rank and finally gets him to go.
Andry can’t sleep. He considers talking to Hollis, but she’s so tired, he decides not to bother her.
He reflects on “Sejast’s witch’s brew,” and on witches in general. Which leads him to realize that much of what’s in the Star Scroll could be considered witchcraft. He decides to find out more from Sejast about the witch who gave him his special tea.
Andry goes walking, but just as he reaches the room where the scrolls are kept, realizes Hollis has the key. So, no therapeutic research tonight. He thinks about checking on his horse, and then reflects on how his father gave him the horse in expectation of his being knighted, and how Sorin was given the horse’s twin brother and will in fact become a knight; and Chay must be horribly disappointed that Andry hasn’t taken that path.
When he reaches the stable, he surprises Hollis in the act of saddling a horse to go for a ride—at night, on the mare Chay gave Andrade as a gift. Hollis is not in good shape; she bursts into tears. Andry tries to comfort her by reassuring her that she needn’t worry about the Rialla; Chay and Tobin will love her, “just as Maarken does.”
Her reaction tells Andry that’s not at all what she’s crying about. He sends her back to her room, stows the horse’s tack and then catches up with her, startling her. She acts as if the encounter in the stables never happened.
She recommends that he find a book to help him sleep. Her teasing has a crazy edge, and that’s not like her at all.
Kleve is annoyed at Riyan for butting in on his spying mission, and at Andrade for ordering the boy to do it. But he has to admit it helped tonight: he couldn’t have found Kiele without Riyan.
He moves in toward the house again and nearly gets knocked down by a window being flung open. Kiele and a man inside are arguing about the heat, trying on clothes, and the man’s stupidity in coming into the city today. The man retorts that he was bored, and nobody would recognize him.
Kiele reams him out for not following orders, and calls him by name: Masul. He strikes back by calling her “sister darling.”
Kleve gets a glimpse of a violet tunic, and recalls an encounter many years ago on the road to Einar, when an arrogant young lord nearly ran him down. Kleve responded by running off the stag the lord was hunting, and in gleefully telling the story to Andrade later, and showing her the lord’s face in the fire, learned that the lord was Roelstra.
The face he sees tonight is almost identical, except for a beard. Kleve immediately sees through Kiele’s whole plot, including Chiana’s humiliation.
Kleve keeps on spying, and wondering whether this really is Roelstra’s son. He ponders the political ramifications, but mostly decides to leave that part to Andrade.
As he moves off to find a secluded place to send the information to Andrade, Masul captures him and beats him. Kleve declares that he’s a Sunrunner, and considers killing with Fire. Then he focuses on getting the information to Goddess Keep, while Masul tortures him, over Kiele’s protests, by cutting off his fingers. He dies with the third cut, “from the steel that repeatedly pierced him while he tried to use his faradhi gifts.”
Segev is in the library, just about to lay hands on the Star Scroll, when he hears Andry talking to Hollis. They’re teasing each other about boring books.
Segev has to give up and leave the room. He’s not happy with Andry for spoiling his plan. He had Hollis hypnotized into saddling a horse for his escape while he used the key to steal the scroll, but that’s not happening.
He has to pretend he’s fallen asleep over a book. Hollis is all solicitous. Andry notes that “He certainly is devoted to his studies.” They decide to wake him up to spare him a crick in his neck. He pretends to wake, all confused, while they regard him fondly. Hollis ruffles his hair.
Andry is impressed by the book Segev happened to have used as a prop. Very advanced stuff, he says. Luckily Segev knows what the book is about, and is able to field Andry’s questions. Hollis helps by noting that where Segev/Sejast comes from, the language is close to that of the book. Andry asks him to help with translations; Segev is thrilled, and for effect, adds a bit of infatuation for older woman Hollis. Andry is indulgent, and says they should all go back to their rooms.
In the process of doing so, Segev returns the key to the bowl on her desk where Hollis keeps it. Then he retreats to his room and has a good, long attack of the shakes, followed by pure villainous glee. Andry has asked him to help with the scrolls. He’ll stay and learn everything he can about Sunrunner secrets—then get Hollis to take him to the Rialla. Then he can challenge the High Prince himself instead of deferring to his older brother Ruval.
Riyan sees Kiele gallop past, and hears Kleve’s screams. He goes back to the manor, which is unlocked and empty, with no sign of Kleve. He thinks about trying to conjure moonlight to find Kleve, but decides he’s not advanced enough. He goes back to the royal residence and waits until morning, when he keeps his appointment with Kleve. But Kleve doesn’t appear.
And I’m Thinking: This is an extremely dense, chewy, plot-laden chapter. We see Riyan and Segev as foils for one another: the good spy and the bad. Masul is monstrously evil, and the Sunrunners at Goddess Keep are massively plot-stupid. They really, really don’t get it, even with Segev all but telling them outright who and what he is. Even to the point of Hollis leaving the all-important key out in the open, on her desk where anyone can get hold of it. Really?
And then there’s the magic ointment that washes off easily in plain water. I might give a pass to the stupid of burning the stuff in fire, considering the history of, say, Marie Curie’s handling of radiactive materials in her lab, but I would think the stuff wouldn’t be that easy to wash off. Ointment being by definition oily, it would cling.
(Note on the mare at the manor: horses don’t whinny at humans they know. They might whicker or whuffle as a sign of affection for the person or the food the person may be presumed to have brought, but a whinny is a distress call. “I’m all alone, where are you?” “Help! Save me!” The former might apply, but in that case she’d be making a racket regardless of who comes by, and she would not be a desirable mount for a secret assignation.)
We get a real contrast of styles here between the giggling, chuckling, and teasing of the good guys and the scheming, snarling, and bickering of the bad ones. I’m surprised the hair-ruffling and the patronizing doesn’t make Segev actively homicidal, but then I suppose it just proves to him that the enemy are idiots.
In some ways this opening section of Book Two feels like a recap of Book One, with young prince learning how to do his job, older prince instructing him (at much more length than Zehava did Rohan), and everybody aiming for the Rialla. Complete with dragons and dragon gold, Sunrunner torture leading to fatality, Sunrunner sexual initiation, dranath addiction and compulsion, and various new versions of Roelstra and his offspring on their way to becoming a serious problem for our heroes.
There a lot (a Lot) of speechifying about politics, governing, and magic, especially between Rohan and Pol, but also among Sunrunners old and young. Killing with Fire seems to be every Sunrunner’s constant temptation, to the point that the rule against seems made to be broken.
And yet with all the over-and-overing, the book is compulsively readable. Even if one is inclined to skim the lectures and smack the hair-rufflers, there’s so much action and intrigue and building of tension and suspense (which is more deftly done here than in the first book: less telegraphing, more getting right to it and letting it rip) that the story just gallops on.
Next week we’ll start Part Two with its ominous and evocative title: Sorcery. That’s going to be good.
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 is now in print. 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.