Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week we start a new section with an ominous title. Sioned and Rohan and the rest of the cast assemble at the Rialla. The plot thickens considerably, and a new player comes into the game.
Part Two: Sorcery
So This Happens: Sioned observes an encampment (which fairly quickly is shown to be that of the Rialla) from a height, reflecting on the arrangement of tents and the fact that since her first Rialla, thanks to Rohan’s insistence on sharing the feast with her, royal and noble wives now share their husbands’ authority. Sioned (of course) has the most.
She identifies all the princes present by their colors and devices. Davvi, Princemarch, and Andrade have yet to arrive.
Sioned reflects further on events since the first Rialla and especially in the past ten years, and on the fact that this will be the one in which the princes test Rohan’s power. She continues, at length and in detail, to reflect on the political situation, with special attention to the issue of Roelstra’s rumored heir. She is not optimistic.
She rushes back to the camp, where she finds Tobin and announces that she’s planning a surprise for Rohan. Davvi arrives, and teases her about her disheveled and casually attired state. She teases him back, and teases his two sons, Kostas and Tilal, as well, reflecting that they are very well grown and very handsome.
The younger generation leaves, Davvi winds down the teasing, and Sioned coaxes him to tell her his troubles. He’s concerned about Gemma, who is now Prince Chale’s heir. Kostas is determined to marry her, and she’s determined not to have him. She’s also best friends with Roelstra’s daughter Danladi.
Davvi does not want Kostas to marry Gemma. It will give him too much land and too much power, and Davvi doesn’t trust his son. Versus Tilal, or Pol. Davvi suspects Kostas wants to make Sunrunner children with Gemma—and he’s resentful of Pol.
They talk about the past, and what might have been if events hadn’t turned out the way they have. Sioned suggests he send Gemma to Prince Chale, who needs to get to know his new heir. There is a bit more teasing, then a bit of discussion of the pretender, and of Chiana, who is not amused—and who tried to seduce Chay in front of Tobin, to get him to support her against her rival.
Chiana is trying to seduce everybody. Sioned compares her to Ianthe. Similar personality, similar methods.
Meanwhile, back in Sioned’s tent, Ostvel is preparing a party. He takes her in hand and makes her dress for it. Sioned does not have a maid, for reasons of security and marital privacy. She doesn’t know what to do with one particular bit. It’s lace, Ostvel says, and she’ll be setting a fashion and establishing an industry.
Ostvel has plans. He wants half of the profits, too.
Tobin is also wearing lace to the party. Sioned presides, with further lengthy political reflections. She also notices three important absentees: Chiana, and the Lord and Lady of Waes. Princess Audrite notes that Kiele has been talking up the pretender, and Chiana is not amused.
Sioned lights the torches with Fire, to remind the guests of what she is. Ostvel teases her about it.
Princess Naydra approaches. She is submissive and full of gratitude for her dowry. She notes that Roelstra’s daughters have not done well in childbed; it’s either killed them or killed the child. “It’s almost as if there’s a curse on us and our children.”
Sioned wants to know what she means by that, but she is elusive. Sioned reflects on what Naydra has said, but dismisses it. “A curse; what nonsense.”
She also realizes, as the scene ends, that Naydra hasn’t counted Chiana as a sister.
Rohan arrives the next morning. Sioned greets him with enthusiasm and teasing.
She also greets Pol, then Pandsala, whom she thanks for taking good care of her son. Pandsala praises him and asserts that his behavior has been perfect.
Then she greets Maarken, after which she sends Pol to bathe and rest. Then finally she and Rohan are alone, with teasing, and she fills him in on all the news and politics.
Rohan has news for her. He knows who the pretender is: Masul. They discuss Kiele’s machinations and Naydra’s likability, until Tobin calls them for lunch. There is teasing.
Late that night, Pol is tucked up safe and Sioned takes Rohan out (with teasing) for a “stroll” by the river, leading him to the place where they made love twenty years ago. This is her surprise for him. The chapter ends with a reprise of the original tryst.
And I’m Thinking: Shades of Book I, Part One. Masses of exposition, lecturemode, background, backstory, and political complications. The teasing level is fairly high.
The worldbuilding here is dense and seriously chewy. There’s nothing really new going on. It’s all setup for the next big blowout, and we’re getting closer to payoff on the pretender plot.
We do have some plot-stupidity. Magically gifted Sioned dismissing the idea of a curse is a bit of a contradiction, and since we know there’s an enemy at work about whom none of the major good guys has a clue, we can hear the ominous music rising.
Since it’s all good guys here, it’s an ongoing teasefest, with intervals of serious politics. Nobody’s hair gets ruffled, which may or may not indicate that the adults are starting to see Pol as less of a child.
I am not a fan of teasing or hair-ruffling, as you may have deduced. I know it’s supposed to make the characters seem approachable and likable and endearingly human, and I think it’s also supposed to lighten the mood and show how they all love each other a lot, but for me personally, a little goes a long way.
Chiana is remarkably strongly present considering that she’s physically absent from the festivities, and we get a sense of how bad things are about to get for her. She’s crashingly unsympathetic; everyone despises her.
The discussion of Kostas is interesting. It’s the first time I can recall in which one of the front-row good guys has a son he doesn’t trust. (I don’t count Andry, as he’s a Sunrunner; they’re running their own game at all times, which may or may not coincide with anyone else’s.) At the same time, there’s Naydra, and of course Pandsala, who are daughters of the ubervillain but are very much a part of the good-guy alignment. Good and bad aren’t as clear-cut as they started out to be.
The tryst at the end has the same problem as the one in Dragon Prince: they’re gallivanting off alone without a thought for all the enemies who are supposedly out to kill them. Seems as if sexytime exists out of time. It definitely trumps security—as does Sioned’s refusal to have a maid, or apparently a bodyguard, either. There’s an odd disjunct between the evident danger these people live in, the wars and the intricate politics, not to mention the ongoing threat of assassination, and their frequent insistence on wandering off alone or in couples. Their world is exotic-epic, but their mindset often seems closer to America in 1989.
So This Happens: Prince Volog of Kierst reflects on politics. He’s Sioned’s cousin and Rohan’s ally, and this has served him well politically and financially.
Now he has brought his youngest daughter Alasen to Sioned. Alasen was horrendously seasick on the voyage to Waes, which she insists doesn’t mean she’s faradhi, and it’s clear she hasn’t been sent to Andrade for testing because her father dotes on her.
Sioned gets the message, and invites Alasen to the Fair, with some teasing about daughters, indulgent fathers, and husbandly discipline. They take to one another, and go out in casual dress, though everyone knows Sioned by her red hair. She has some trouble getting people to stop deferring to her, though she finally succeeds.
She and Alasen continue to get along famously, with Sioned as tour guide. Alasen has many questions about livestock breeding, princely governance, and Sioned’s new venture: selling hunting hawks. Sioned persuades Alasen to help her pick out a hawk for Pol.
The seller of the hawk they pick out tries to gouge on the price, but Alasen proves to be an expert haggler, unlike Sioned. In due time, Sioned reveals herself (the seller apparently doesn’t recognize her, unlike the rest of the people at the Fair), and is stern about the fact that the price of hawks had been strictly set, and the price quoted is many times that. She uses this opportunity to parlay the price-gouging into a tax of five hawks for Pol, with the threat of exacting even more if the seller keeps charging the same inflated price. He has to stop overcharging, refund the customers he’s overcharged so far, and hand over the five hawks. They’re to be tagged as gifts for the family, and for Alasen, who is surprised and delighted.
Having won five hawks for free, Sioned sets off in search of food. She literally runs into a middle-aged woman with “intense eyes” who is curiously insistent that she check out “the baker from Waes.” Sioned is cautious, but curiosity wins out.
The woman takes her to the baker, who gives her a loaf, described as “the best,” which Sioned pays for in gold. Once she and Alasen have retreated to the riverbank, she checks out the loaf. Sure enough, there’s a mark cut into the bottom: a dragon in flight.
With Alasen’s help, she surreptitiously cuts open the loaf to reveal a faradhi ring. She waits to finish lunch before opening the note it’s wrapped in.
She reads the note, the contents of which she refuses to reveal to Alasen, except to note that “There’s only one way to separate a Sunrunner from his rings.”
Alasen is sulky and argumentative. Sioned is immovable—and observes that Alasen, for the first time, has not flinched at the possibility of being faradhi.
Sioned tells her the story of her grandmother and Alasen’s great-grandmother, a Sunrunner who fell in love with a Prince and caused a tremendous scandal—this having happened before Andrade started breeding the gifts into royal lines. Alasen confesses that she’s always known she’s faradhi, and her combination of rank and powers makes her extremely valuable. This is why she doesn’t want to be trained. It’s too much to handle in one life.
Sioned drops Alasen off at her father’s tent and goes to Rohan. She starts off with the story of the hawk, which gets him chortling, with teasing; he tells her his morning was terribly dull and full of politics.
Finally she shows him the note. Kleve is dead, his murderer not known. The note ends cryptically: “Word in the city is that the father of a son is in danger usually meant for the Desert.”
Rohan is horrified at the manner of Kleve’s death—loss of his fingers. Sioned concludes that Kleve was here in Waes, and Kiele had something to do with this death, as did Masul. Rohan reads the riddle as meaning that Masul’s real father is in danger from the Merida.
At this moment Pandsala and Naydra arrive. Sioned relays their news before they can begin: a man came to them claiming to be Masul’s real father and wanting money for silence. Naydra realizes she made a huge mistake in sending him away.
She tells Rohan and Sioned what the man told her, about his identity and history and how he had an affair with a married woman who like him was one of Roelstra’s servants. Naydra also says that she was too clear about her loyalties, and went to Pandsala in case he got to her next. Now she doesn’t know where he could be.
They hope he didn’t go to Kiele. They do send for Chiana, who has a roaring fit. They prevail on her to go back to Kiele’s tent, and go back and forth for a while about Ianthe’s plan to give Roelstra a son, and Pandsala’s contribution to it, as well as the Roelstra daughters’ various campaigns to be married off to Rohan (i.e. “Freedom, in the form of one man”). Pandsala ends by telling Sioned, “He chose wisely in choosing you.”
Once alone, amid some mild teasing, Rohan states his intention to wait and see what happens. Just as he and Sioned get down to more pleasant business, his squire Tallain (pause for a paragraph of identification) interrupts. An anonymously dressed man left a parcel outside the tent. It contains a glass dagger: a warning from the Merida.
Rohan refuses to let Tallain double the guard. This isn’t about him or Pol, he says, though he thinks it’s meant to misdirect his concern toward Pol.
Rohan muses on the nature of heroes and impulsiveness, and the need as High Prince to be constrained by law and prudence. He and Sioned discuss this at some length, with Sioned assuring him that he’s a real hero and everyone worships him.
Rohan allows as to how he needs to find and eliminate Masul before Masul can lay claim to Princemarch, and before there’s any need to use Masul’s father to destroy him. Suddenly he erupts, throws the knife into a tent pole, and declares that he’ll do whatever it takes—“even if I have to break my own laws”—to get rid of the Merida and save Pol from living his life in fear of assassination.
Sioned has an idea. Make it more profitable for Miyon, who has been sheltering the Merida, to betray them and side with Rohan against Masul. How to do that? “Set Chiana on him.”
And I’m Thinking: Now here’s some good action, and some classic villains-at-odds with the bitchfight between Chiana and her sisters. We have a nice foil for both Sioned and Tobin in Alasen, who consciously chooses to be what Tobin was forced to be—an untrained faradhi Princess. And there a brand-new fly in the ever more complicated ointment: Masul’s real father, who’s the Merida’s brand-new target.
There’s strangely flat affect in Sioned’s reaction to the news about Kleve. Going ahead and finishing lunch before she takes action? Really? She could be playing to any potential observers, but since she never thinks about this otherwise, and it’s not mentioned here, the overall impression is that there’s something missing from the storytelling.
Rohan mostly makes up for this by saying some of the things Sioned hasn’t said. We then get some cloyingly adoring Rohan-worship (and some lecture mode about heroes), but not terribly much, considering.
I admit to a short attention span for the ongoing debates about power and princehood; clearly the theme is dear to the author’s heart, but by this time, yeah, yeah, I get it. Which is why I laughed out loud when Rohan spitted the tent pole with the glass dagger and said to hell with it, I’m going to kill the bastards off and save my son. You go, Rohan!
(Hmm. Yes. Personal ends up trumping political. And laws and ethics have a way of being put aside when there’s a personal reason.)
I like the intrigue with the loaf of bread, and am betting, based on the eye action, that the mysterious “Ulricca” is really our favorite secret sorceress. Now what’s she up to, I wonder? I’m sure we’ll find out soon.
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.