Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! Almost done now. The battle’s aftermath ends along with the Rialla, in Sunrunner’s Fire. Lines of alliance and conflict are drawn and redrawn, and yet another, and somewhat surprising, marriage is arranged.
So This Happens: Volog and Davvi discuss the sleeping Alasen’s future, and take time for some exposition about how Sioned went to Goddess Keep. In mid-reminiscence, they receive a message: the Masul faction is changing its allegiance, and Kiele is frantically trying to cover her tracks. They discuss this. Then they discuss Ostvel. Volog wants to “do something for him” in thanks for looking after Alasen.
Urival can’t sleep. He goes back to the field of the battle, with flashback to what happened at the end. He reviews who died and who survived.
Hollis was one of the latter; she was not in good mental shape. At all. Urival put Sorin in charge of her.
In the present time, he walks the field. He retrieves the gold dragon that ornamented Rohan’s water clock, then goes to where he hid “Sejast’s” body. This is evidence, “and Andry required a vivid demonstration of Sunrunner fallibility.”
He carries the body out of the woods, pondering all that the boy managed to do, and trying to understand why. He figures out most of the truth. Then he recognizes Roelstra, and therefore Ianthe, in the dead face. He heaves the body into the river—to protect Andry, as is revealed in the next scene, from anyone who might discover the Sunrunners’ hitherto unknown vulnerability (to iron, and to sorcerers impersonating Sunrunners).
Sioned and Meath discuss Urival’s conclusions. Rohan is also present. No one has figured out why Pandsala died.
Except Meath. His revelation is interrupted by Pol’s arrival. He picks up again after a bit of a flurry, and explains about Sunrunners and cold iron. This also explains Merida glass daggers.
They discuss this at length. Rohan comes up with a cover story to explain the deaths of Pandsala and Sejast. Everyone admires his genius.
The discussion continues. Chiana comes in for some dissing. Pol is worried about Alasen. They discuss that.
There is some teasing. Meath lets Pol know he’ll be instructing Pol in magic. Pol is good with this. He’s not comfortable with the prospect of being a prince at Goddess Keep. He doesn’t think Andry will be, either.
They discuss where Rohan is going next. Pol wants to know why it doesn’t feel as if they won. Rohan explains that he doesn’t really know, either.
The scene ends with Rohan and Sioned alone together. Rohan counts up what they did actually win. Sioned is silent. Rohan concludes that “You and Pol are the only victories that ever mattered to me.”
Rohan summons all the nobles to the morning meeting. Chiana is as “insufferable” as expected. Various offices are confirmed, including Laric as Prince of Firon, and Pol of Princemarch, with Ostvel as the new regent. Riyan is now Lord of Skybowl. This shocking: he and his father Ostvel started off as “a pair of landless nobodies.”
Sioned names Sorin Lord of Feruche. This it not Rohan’s idea. She’s paying for the castle’s restoration with the proceeds of the wager with Miyon. There is tension between Sioned and Rohan, but Sioned carries on.
Then Clutha takes Waes from Lyell and Kiele, with a side swipe at Chiana. He settles it on their children with his daughter Gennadi as regent.
Rohan isn’t involving himself, as it includes Kiele’s execution. Andry takes over. This takes some time. Kiele is not going quietly. Andry is going to burn her along with Masul.
And Lyell, by his own wish, if not Andry’s. He wants to die with his wife.
Andry is blindsided by this. Rohan won’t help. Andry gives in, and lays down the sentence for murder of a Sunrunner: death by Fire.
On the way to the execution, Rohan sees Alasen approach Andry and beseech him. Andry can’t back down. Rohan understands what’s between them then, and also that this is how it ends.
They reach the burning ground. Alasen tries to get her father to change the sentence, but he won’t. This is a Sunrunner thing.
Rohan compares Alasen and Sioned, and decides that Sioned has always been tougher—and that lack of toughness makes Alasen wrong for Andry.
Alasen approaches Rohan and Pol. She doesn’t want the sentence commuted—she doesn’t want the condemned to die at Andry’s hand. She asks for them to be killed before they’re burned.
While Rohan dithers and Pol can’t get it together fast enough, Ostvel throws a knife at Lyell’s feet. Lyell uses it. Andry is furious. Rohan understands: Ostvel did it “to spare Andry—and Alasen.” It’s the same thing he did to keep Ianthe’s death out of Sioned’s hands.
And I’m Thinking: Lots of talk. Talk, talk, talk. Lots of summing up. Lots of wrapping up. And then some patented in-your-gut action.
I don’t get, myself, how Sunrunners have gone on apparently for centuries without anyone ever figuring out they’re vulnerable to cold iron. It just seems as if they’ve been living in a bubble. No threats. No challenges. No experimentation. Not even an accident.
Because if they don’t remember the real reason for the law against killing people, what’s to have stopped someone from happening to be doing something with a knife while conjuring, and finding out what everyone seems to have forgotten? Maybe a lot of someones, considering how blithely they just assume they’re invulnerable. Except to dranath, but nobody remembers about that, either.
It doesn’t make sense, because a pair of weaknesses on that scale—they’re major. Really major. They’d keep the secret, but they would definitely pass it down in the lore, for everyone’s safety.
It also seems as if there’s never been a villain before Roelstra, and the sorcerers have been what, in suspended animation? There are Merida assassins, but they don’t seem to do much of anything except, occasionally and incompetently, try to kill Rohan and Pol. Everybody else who’s assassinated seems to be the victim of Roelstra or one of his descendants. Notably Pandsala.
I also don’t get, on reflection, how Andry gets Goddess Keep. No matter how talented he is, he’s way too young, he’s totally not qualified, everyone’s nervous about him, but boom. Bracelets handed over.
As much noise as is made about regencies for young princes, why isn’t there some sort of Acting Directorship for Sunrunners? They’re much more stratified and much more codified than nobles, with the ring system and the various rules and regulations about use of power. And yet the head of them all dies and the whole game gets handed over to an inexperienced kid with a serious attitude problem.
And, if everybody is so nervous about locking all the top offices into one family, why is it just happening? Why don’t the Sunrunners push back, or slow things down, or whatever it takes?
This is actually the most disturbing handover of power in the books so far. Plain old hereditary lordship, you get what you get, but at least you get regents. The most powerful office there is, the one that’s supposed to be all about magical merit, follows the pattern of the worst of hereditary lordship, no regency even suggested. Because Plot.
Nope. Not seeing that.
Lots of points here for setup of the next book, however, and some further development of the conflict between Pol and Andry. Also, the Alasen plot gets thicker. And Hollis is still alive, which means more Maarken drama.
So This Happens: Hollis wakes up to find herself in the Desert’s tent. She is not in good mental shape. Meath brings her around, somewhat, with teasing. Then he fills her in on what’s been going on while she’s been in a healing sleep (courtesy of Urival). The teasing keeps on. Hollis is remarkably lighthearted by the time the wrapup is well under way.
Hollis is convinced she’s going to die of dranath addiction. Meath isn’t. Sioned interrupts. There is more teasing. Meath leaves the explanations to Sioned and leaves.
Sioned has a cure for what ails Hollis: gradual weaning off the drug. The teasing continues: Sioned has a wager on this. Then Maarken appears. Sioned leaves Hollis to him.
Andry wants to speak to Alasen. Volog is hesitant, but Andry insists. He’s sure Alasen will go to Goddess Keep with him. Volog is clearly skeptical.
Alasen is remarkably composed. She walks to the river with Andry. They talk about Andry’s new office and people’s reaction to it—not generally positive.
Andry talks about teasing Maarken about having to ask permission to marry Hollis. Alasen is not impressed. Andry explains that teasing is about laughing, which is “the sovereign remedy.” And anyway Maarken teased right back.
They reach the river, and the real discussion begins. It takes some time to circle around to the point. Alasen loves Andry but is too afraid of her own power to be comfortable with marrying him.
They go back and forth. Andry loses his temper, and terrifies her even further. By the time he gets himself back under control, he’s driven her away.
Alasen stumbles back to her father’s tent and falls into a man’s arms—but not, she realizes belatedly, her father’s. She’s clinging to Ostvel. (Again.)
She makes a choice. She chooses Earth over Fire.
Ostvel declares his love. She accepts it. They go to tell her father.
Tobin holds a friends-and-family feast in Rohan’s tent, in place of the Lastday banquet, which would have been hosted by Lyell and Kiele.
Chiana is also, and quite separately, hosting a feast to celebrate her finally becoming a real Princess through marriage to Halian.
Tobin oversees a tense gathering of mostly silent people who are not enjoying what they eat. If they are eating. The older men are mostly drinking.
She sends Tallain to find the absent Andry and Ostvel. Riyan and Sorin comment on the animosity between the two since Ostvel threw the knife to Lyell. Tobin is feeling as if she doesn’t know her own son, Andry.
She asks Riyan to tell her what happened to Maarken during the battle. Riyan tries to explain, and relives the horror. So does Pol, who comes over in the middle and has a small meltdown over how many more sorcerers there may be besides Sejast.
Urival calms them down, and tells Pol he has to go to Goddess Keep to help Andry get settled, but then he’ll come back and teach Pol. He’ll be the last Sunrunner Urival teaches. “Andrade wished it.”
Tobin realizes nobody wants Andry to teach Pol. Before she can defend her son, Ostvel and Alasen arrive.
It’s obvious what’s happened there. Tobin notices Sorin is shocked, but everyone else is happy.
Then Andry comes in. And Tobin understands why nobody wants him teaching Pol. “She raged silently at her kinswoman for showing Andry everything of how power was used and nothing of when not to use it.”
Andry conjures Fire and cites the scrolls. Urival warns him that his chances of getting all ten rings are in Urival’s charge—and he’s killing those chances.
Rohan intervenes. He says “Please.” Andry backs down, tells Urival they’re leaving in the morning, and leaves.
Sorin goes after him. Tobin and Chay stay, devastated. Chay begs Urival to stay with Andry. “He’s so young.”
Sioned, alone with Rohan, asks how he knew what to say. Rohan explains that he shored up Andry’s pride by, as High Prince, pleading. He understands Andry: if he had lost Sioned at the same age, he might have done the same.
Sioned observes that Rohan can understand, and humble himself, but Pol won’t. Rohan says (hopes) he won’t have to. Urival will teach him, and his power will be different.
Sioned notes that he doesn’t mean the power of High Prince.
And I’m Thinking: Of course this is why totally unqualified Andry gets to be Lord of Goddess Keep. So this quite powerful and affecting set of scenes can happen.
Everybody goes on about how young he is. They do the same about Pol, but Pol has regents. Andry has Urival after all, but his power seems to be pretty well unlimited by the simple fact that Andrade wanted him to succeed her.
If that’s how Sunrunner succession works, I’m surprised it’s survived this long. It’s the worst of hereditary succession without the checks and balances of regents and ruling councils. Succession by fiat, no apparent appeal allowed.
But that fits Andrade’s character in general. It’s interesting that the princes and lords in all their ranges of power and succession are so carefully balanced and coordinated and thought through, but the Sunrunners seem to consist of a tribe of innocents bumbling around under a leader who is, despite the all the hype, pretty thoroughly incompetent. They have all this power but they don’t have much self-control, they’re extremely easily trapped and damaged or outright destroyed, and the ones we see the most of don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the rules they’re supposed to be sworn to.
Mostly, Goddess Keep seems to exist to give Sioned and the rest of the crew something to resist. It’s not, itself, developed the way the secular power structures are, and the people within the structure share the same basic problem.
But you have to admit, if you can get past the holes in the worldbuilding, the interactions between characters are powerful and affecting.
Part of what holds it together is the strength of the supporting characters. Tobin especially. Alasen, too, though she precipitates the eruption with Andry. They both know exactly how the world works. Unlike the Sunrunners—even Urival, who really should have found a way to delay the handover of the bracelets.
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.