Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts! Yes, that’s right, we’re up to Book 3.
In Daughter of the Empire, Mara of the House Acoma went from innocent acolyte to confident Ruling Lady after the tragic deaths of her father and brother. She built her family resources up from almost nothing to a position of reasonable strength, through good management and a flexible approach to her society’s rigid conventions.
Mara survived an abusive marriage and all manner of assassination attempts, only to bring down the two men who were most dangerous to her and her baby son: her husband Buntokapi, and Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi.
In Servant of the Empire, Mara rose rapidly through the ranks of Tsurani society, playing the political Game of Council to win, and enduring years of warfare in the desert lands. New enemies rose to defeat her, but she made friends, allies and vassals among the various Houses, building towards a time when all the favours she had gathered would need to be cashed in.
Mara fell in love with Kevin, a Midkemian prisoner of war from beyond the Rift, whom she bought as a slave. Together, the two of them faced down dangers from all sides, and brought further innovation to the society that would always keep them from being equals. After joining forces with the Emperor to change everything about how power in Tsurani society was to be used, and finally destroying House Minwanabi once and for all, Mara sacrificed love by sending Kevin safely back beyond the Rift. Honoured by the new Emperor as Servant of the Empire, and pregnant with Kevin’s child, she forged a new alliance by marrying Hokanu of the Shinzawai, a loyal and trusted friend.
It looked a lot like a happy ending.
Chapter 1: Tragedy
SUMMARY: Oh, I don’t like the sound of this. Chapter headings, what are you doing to me?
Mara is content. She and Hokanu have had three peaceful, happy years together with their children on the new estate that once belonged to the Minwanabi. Ayaki is now twelve: a bold and beloved child with something of his father’s restless spirit; Justin, who was fathered by Kevin, is a healthy two year old.
While Mara still misses her barbarian lover, she has found equality, respect and love with Hokanu, and he has a strong relationship with both sons.
Their soldiers, in Acoma green and Shinzawai blue, train together but are kept formally separate because Mara and Hokanu represent their own houses—he is still the heir of the Shinzawai.
On a particularly sunny and beautiful afternoon, as they watch Ayaki riding his prize gelding, an assassin attacks the family with poison darts. Hokanu manages to protect Mara and Justin, but Ayaki’s horse is stung.
Hokanu tries desperately to get Ayaki free safely, but the boy is thrown and crushed by his horse. Mara is devastated, and the whole household is thrown into deep mourning for the boy who has represented the hope and future of the Acoma for so long. He is honoured as a fallen warrior, given the nature of his death.
Lujan investigates and finds evidence that Lord Jiro of the Anasati—Ayaki’s uncle—might have been responsible for hiring the Hamoi tong. Hokanu is cautious, however, knowing that it might be planted evidence to throw suspicion on the Anasati.
But they cannot forget that the tacit alliance between the Anasati and the Acoma was entirely conditional on Ayaki’s life. When Mara hears of the news, she is determined to wage war against the Anasati.
She mourns deeply, unable to accept that Ayaki is gone from her when her whole life and career, everything she has done as Ruling Lady, has been about securing his future. He was her atonement, the one good thing she got out of the terrible marriage to Buntokapi, and the justification for how she destroyed his father.
Hokanu comes to her during her vigil, and as her husband he does not attempt to sway her from thoughts of war or vengeance, but reminds her gently of her other responsibilities. Justin is the Shinzawai heir, which means that Mara is once more the last of her line, and the only member of House Acoma.
She is vulnerable once again, and her house stands on the edge of ruin. But she is not alone.
COMMENTARY: Feist and Wurts, I am most displeased! It’s really quite shocking to have the rug pulled out from under us like this—as readers we have watched over Ayaki since he was a baby, centre of Mara’s world as he was. To lose him now at only twelve years old is very upsetting!
And yes I remembered that he didn’t make it to the end of the story, but had honestly forgotten that this particular twist came so soon.
This chapter is as much about Hokanu as it is about Mara—indeed, he feels like the protagonist for most of it—but considering that the time we mostly spend inside her head is so deeply grief-stricken and emotional, that’s probably for the best.
Taking away Ayaki, after three years of peace and happiness, is quite the meanest thing that the authors could possibly have done to our heroine. I do not approve.
If it is Jiro behind all this (and I honestly can’t remember) then it shows that there’s at least one thread that wasn’t tied up at the end of Servant—indeed, cranky old Nacoya warned Mara that she had mishandled things with Jiro years and years ago, when she first negotiated for her marriage to a son of the Anasati, and spurned Jiro for his younger, less intelligent brother.
I could have done with at least one full chapter of happy marriage and general nice Acoma times before the horrors started, this is all I am saying.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection Love and Romanpunk. Her latest fiction project is Musketeer Space, a gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers, published weekly as a web serial. Come and find her on Twitter!