Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week the plot takes a series of dramatic and devastating turns, and we’re treated to a number of powerful revelations. Though not, maybe, the one we thought we were expecting.
So This Happens: Sioned has been waiting alone for news from the princes’ meeting. Immediately after Tallain brings it, Chiana invades, at high volume.
Sioned snaps and orders her out—feeling as if someone else is speaking through her. Her main concern is that Chiana be gone before Rohan gets there and needs some peace and quiet.
Then Pandsala arrives, and Chiana demands the pretender’s death. Sioned, still feeling dissociative, threatens to kill Chiana with Fire.
Rohan arrives, utters one cutting line, and departs. Sioned is coldly horrified. She dismisses the Roelstra daughters and sends for Pol.
Pandsala stows Chiana under guard and tracks Rohan down. She finds him by the river, and believes (with a deep quiver) that he finds respite in her and not in Sioned.
She offers him an alternative to Andrade’s conjuring of the past. She sums up the situation at some length, and offers to kill Masul with Fire. In the process she is surprised to discover that Sioned has killed with Fire before.
Rohan of course refuses to consider the proposal. Pandsala persists. Rohan roughly rejects her. She continues to press him. He argues that he can’t dispose of Masul until everyone has a clear reason to choose Pol over him—and then his killer has to be someone other than Rohan or Pandsala.
Pandsala drops a bombshell. She’s killed for Pol—repeatedly. She gives Rohan the catalogue of her crimes, as his horror mounts. Most of the mysterious deaths over the past fourteen years have been her doing, including Ajit of Firon and the boating accident that made Gemma heir to Ossetia.
Now she’s lining up to dispose of Kiele, and then of Ianthe’s sons, who have not been seen or heard of since Feruche burned. She did it all, she tells Rohan, “For the son she gave you—the son that should have been mine!”
Rohan sees the truth of her, to which he’s been totally blind. She’s mad with hate, and its core is jealousy. She loves him, and will do whatever it takes to protect his son. “A legacy of blood and hate.”
He’s been so proud of his own cleverness that he’s ignored all warnings against her. It’s a devastating discovery—and he somehow has to keep her from turning on him.
Then it dawns him that she doesn’t know whose son Pol really is. And he realizes he can use this.
Pandsala keeps on going about what she’s done and how it has made the world safe for Pol to rule. And Rohan tells her who Pol’s mother really is. That he’s the son of the sister she most hates.
The truth shatters her. Rohan keeps twisting the knife. He has to get rid of her now, but he won’t kill her. He’ll send her into retirement. He might rebuild Feruche for her and make her live in it.
She’s broken. She says she has no regrets—and Rohan counters that she will. She’ll do whatever he tells her. She belongs to him.
Rohan feels the barbarian rising in him. He knows he’s cruel, and he embraces it. He can’t tell anyone about this horrible mistake and this terrible shame. He leaves Pandsala to stumble away, but knows he won’t ever stop hearing her steps behind him, “tripping over corpses.”
Prince Lleyn and his son Chadric come at Rohan’s summons. He wants to make Lleyn’s grandson Laric Prince of Firon.
Chadric doesn’t understand, but Lleyn thinks he does. Laric will give Pol another vote against Masul. Still, Lleyn asks if he’s thought this through.
Rohan replies that it’s “not possible” for Pol to inherit Firon. He’s already had a blazing argument with his family over it—and he pulled rank on them all, which did not end well. He can’t tell them why he’s done this, but he refuses to profit from Pandsala’s crime.
Lleyn and Chadric are still trying to understand. They think it’s about concentrating too much power in one person. Sioned helps this along by saying Pol won’t abuse it, but people may think he will.
This isn’t in character for Rohan, Lleyn says. Rohan cites the danger to Pol’s life, which turns the discussion around to whether Laric can handle the job. Sioned is not totally on Rohan’s side here—she wants to be sure Laric will be happy with the choice. Lleyn agrees, and says that he will send a message by Sunrunner, to find out if his grandson wants to be Prince of Firon.
The political arrangements continue for a while, with Lleyn noting that if this goes through, six of the eleven princedoms will be held by Rohan’s relatives. That might alarm outsiders.
Rohan isn’t worried about that. By the time the network falls apart, they’ll all be dead “and it’ll be someone else’s problem.”
Once the princes are gone, Sioned calls Rohan on his secrecy. She knows it’s something Pandsala said, but Rohan won’t tell her. “Stubborn self-pity forbade it.”
Rohan feels terribly alone. That decides it: he has to tell her.
Sioned’s analysis is that Roelstra “watered a living green meadow with salt. She has done it with blood.”
Sioned made a mistake about Pandsala, too, and now they’re paying for it. They go back and forth over Pol’s parentage, and whether they should tell him the truth. He’s still too young, Sioned says.
She shares Rohan’s view that Pandsala can’t be killed but will never talk, and should be dumped somewhere. Then she asks who will replace her as regent for Pol—and answers herself: Ostvel.
Rohan wishes he’d killed Masul after all. Sioned counters that Pandsala’s victims would still be dead. Rohan observes that he’s too civilized for murder, and that’s too bad, but there it is.
The chapter ends with Rohan declaring that he can’t live without Sioned. She tenderly agrees.
And I’m Thinking: OK. Wow. Just when I get settled into thinking the good guys are Amateur Hour on parade, everything takes a screeching left turn and we finally get to see what Pandsala really is. And then we get some real complexity of emotion and action in how Rohan responds. He’s telegraphing a fair bit, but he’s downright ruthless.
It’s not a surprise. We’ve had enough demonstrations of the bad-seed doctrine in Roelstra’s offspring and grandoffspring that it makes pretty good sense to find that Pandsala is deeply, insanely eeeeevil.
Which makes me really wonder about Pol, considering his genetics. But Rohan is Mr. Perfect, of course, and Pol has been raised by Sioned et al. to be a Perfect Good Guy. I.e., Rohan Lite.
Rohan has made big mistakes and is full of doubt and self-loathing and he’s terribly cruel to Pandsala, and his smugness and self-satisfaction have blown up big time. But he’s still Perfect. Everything is always about him. Everybody loves him and wants him (even if they want him dead).
Those are the genes that are ascendant in Pol. Clearly.
I do think Rohan’s made another big mistake by telling Pandsala who Rohan’s mother is. Brushing it off as “She’ll never talk” is a guaranteed butt-biter. He should have kept his mouth shut. Really.
And that’s where it’s Amateur Hour again. But still, holy whoa. There’s tremendous complexity in the emotions here, not to mention the politics. These scenes punch hard.
So This Happens: The knighting of the squires gets sandwiched between Masul in the morning and Andrade at evening. Maarken feels sorry for them. Andry asks him about Hollis and gets slapped down.
Sorin receives his knighthood. Andry is ambivalent. This isn’t for him, but still. He’s also feeling odd about Alasen’s part in the ceremony, and determined to become the best Sunrunner he can possibly be. Nine rings’ worth. Ten.
Chay lets Andry know he’s proud of him, too. The ceremony continues, until it’s Riyan’s turn. He shares the first drink from his gift, a huge staghorn, with Princess Gennadi of Meadowlord. There is chuckling and joking and grinning.
Riyan gets the grey mare Dalziel as an additional gift, thanks to Alasen. Andry continues to feel strange about this. Then he realizes she knows how he feels. She’s not in love with him but she’s sympathetic. She’s not laughing.
This triggers her faradhi gifts. He’s the first to experience it. It’s like love, in living color.
Masul shatters the mood. Miyon sponsors him, and gives him a magnificent and significant sword. Its colors are the colors of Princemarch.
Rohan and his family are furious. It’s Pol who takes charge of the moment. He orders Masul to remove his belt, which is Princemarch violet, because Princemarch belongs to Pol. Masul grudgingly obeys, and withdraws with a last barb, which Pol counters. He intends to keep Princemarch.
Pol for the win, there. The knighting ends in cheers and laughter.
Alasen catches Andry after and wants to know why Masul was knighted. After some byplay about how hilarious it all is, Riyan explains: “Just for spite.”
Andry is entrusted to deliver Alasen to her father. They share a long moment.
Sunset. Andrade is ready for the conjuring. She won’t let Ostvel object. (I think that’s supposed to be Urival. Even an author can suffer from too many similar names.)
There are twenty-seven people in the circle, ordered and balanced by political and magical power and alignment. Notable are Tobin as Sunrunner for Pol, and Sejast/Segev for Davvi.
Others stand outside, including a haggard Pandsala, and Chiana and Masul.
Andrade drinks dranath in wine, and discovers that it enhances her powers. The feeling exhilarates her. She’s literally high, and the conjuring is easy.
She invokes the night Masul and Chiana were born. Masul’s real father is there and interacts with her. The scene spins on until Roelstra sets the barge afire—and then the conjuring spins out of control. A new force appears, mocks her cleverness, and shows her the “sorcerer’s way.”
She collapses with her head (figuratively) on fire, screaming.
The circle shatters into chaos. Urival wrenches free of the working and tries to save Andrade. He leaves the rest to Sioned.
She frees Pol first, then the rest. Meanwhile, unnoticed, Segev collapses. He’s been the conduit for Mireva’s sorcery.
Rohan takes stock. Andrade is in a bad way. Masul is mocking. Tilal shuts him up, assisted by a furious Gemma.
Andrade ascertains that Pol and Sioned are safe, and orders Rohan to kill Masul. Lleyn concurs. So does Rohan. She dies, smiling into Urival’s eyes.
Urival carries Andrade away, with much grief. Rohan alone ventures into her tent, and notes that Andrade in death is as beautiful as her twin sister Milar had been. He begs forgiveness. Urival replies that none is needed, then tells him that Andry is Andrade’s successor.
Urival is not entirely comfortable about that, but Rohan accepts it. Then Urival realizes no dragons have cried out to mark this death.
Lleyn comes to tell Rohan Sioned is asking for him. When Rohan leaves, Lleyn and Urival talk about Andrade and love and the necessity of killing Masul. Lleyn forbids Urival to do it. They sit together, on watch, waiting out the night.
And I’m Thinking: Wow again. When this book finds its feet, it’s literally killer. I hardly even find the gigglefests annoying—they’re so thoroughly overpowered by the rest of the story.
Andrade wasn’t nearly as wonderful as she and everyone else said she was, but she gets one hell of a death scene. We get a real sense of how Sunrunner magic works, and what happens when it goes wrong. We also finally get an outright confrontation between Sunrunner and sorcerer.
The gloves are off. Nothing’s going to be the same—and not just because Andrade is gone. Whether she really was the great master of intrigue or not, she was pivotal to the entire political and magical structure of the world. Killing her off creates a whole new balance. Or imbalance, especially considering how young and inherently unstable her successor is.
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new space opera, Forgotten Suns, will be published by Book View Cafe in April. 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 has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.