Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince trilogy! Last week we finished volume 2, The Star Scroll. This week we begin the last volume, Sunrunner’s Fire. Chapter 1 plunges us straight into the action, then Chapter 2 gives us some in-depth summing-up and backstory. With special bonus secret passages, chambers, and compartments.
So This Happens: It’s a family gathering, framed by Sioned’s count of everybody’s Sunrunner rings, or in her own case, her emerald that Rohan gave her; she’s up to seven, technically, but she only wears the one.
Most of the Desert contingent is here, minus Pol who is on Graypearl Island and Alasen who refuses to use or learn about her Sunrunner powers, and Sorin, who is off at Goddess Keep seeing his twin Andry installed as Lord.
This gathering is part of that celebration. Sioned explains what will happen, and there’s some considerable discussion of how Andry will depart from tradition. This is not a popular decision, especially with his parents, and apparently the Sunrunners at Goddess Keep are not yet aware of it. The discussion segues into whether Andry is trustworthy, and how Andrade was uneasy about him, and how Urival is there, but won’t be able to control him. Rohan believes he can relate to Andry’s situation: he’s broken tradition a few times himself.
Sioned begins the ritual according to the Star Scroll, with a small amount of dranath. There is discussion of this, and the possible dangers. But Urival has approved it.
She goes under the influence, and observes the ritual at Goddess Keep. Urival is not happy about it, at all.
Andry breaks tradition by conjuring all the elements. While this happens, he becomes aware that Sioned is watching. She lets him know they’re all there but Alasen—to his disappointment—and reassures him that they’re all proud of him. Then he realizes she’s on dranath, and is horrified.
Sioned disengages with amazing ease. Andry is not amused. Sioned remembers the time when she received her own fifth ring, and conjures the actual image of it, including Camigwen, to Ostvel’s shock.
Sioned apologizes, then has a conversation on sunlight with Urival, who is sad.
Andry continues his investiture by adding to and changing the order of rings. It’s clear it’s moving too quickly, and he’s covering for his lack of preparation and training.
Sioned has to stop and rest, though she claims she’s all right. The others are concerned about the influence of the drug. She insists she has to see what Andry does next.
Maarken jumps in, saying (ominously, in Rohan’s view) “I want to know,” and finishes off the dranath. He describes what’s happening to him. There is some byplay about how Riyan, with his sorcerer blood, should not try this, and Riyan thanks Sioned for showing him his mother.
Then Maarken takes a bad turn, declaring that someone is watching, and Riyan’s rings start to cause him pain. Sioned weaves moonlight, finds nothing, but then turns to the stars—and meets the enemy.
Readers of the previous book will suspect this is Mireva, but she’s not telling Sioned who she is. She challenges Sioned, and lets her know the war with the sorcerers has only just begun. She departs, laughing gleefully.
Morning: Ostvel fills Alasen in on the events of the night before. He reassures her that everyone’s all right, and now they know they can tell when they’re being watched. Alasen wonders why the sorcerers spied on Stronghold and not Goddess Keep. Ostvel rather casually notes that they may have done both, and regrets not seeing Andry conjuring with starlight. Alasen warns that Andry’s course is dangerous, and he won’t stop.
Ostvel takes time to compare Alasen with his first wife, and they tease each other about the age difference. They start to take it further, then Alasen has an attack of terror. Andry has pulled in all the faradh’im, by tradition, on the morning sunlight, to announce his investiture and demonstrate his power.
Ostvel observes that this means Andry loves Alasen. He is not jealous. Alasen emphatically wants Andry to stay out of their lives.
Sioned hasn’t told Rohan about the sorceress’ challenge. She did tell Urival. He’s coming to Stronghold with a translated copy of the Star Scroll.
And I’m Thinking: We’re changing up a bit, I see. No more section titles, but the chapters are set up by date and location. Is this going to get complicated? We shall see.
We’re right in the thick of it here. Minimal backfilling, everybody set up and in place, and the battle lines drawn immediately.
The Alasen-Andry-Ostvel love triangle looks like being an ongoing issue. Ostvel is almost supernaturally cool about it, and fairly annoyingly smug, because Andry might want the girl, but Ostvel has her.
If this were another book, I might be really worried about Ostvel’s chance of living to a ripe old age with Alasen by his side. That still may be an issue, but the perfect-marriage trope among the good guys argues against it. Then again, Ostvel already lost one perfect wife. Alasen isn’t immediate family, and she has all those fear issues. Things might go badly pear-shaped for that couple before the book ends.
We get a lot of “Andry is too young and too untrained, this is going to be A Problem” here as in The Star Scroll. Here as there, I wonder why the Sunrunners have let this happen. All that worry and all that concern, and not a one proposes an alternative candidate. Urival is right there, fully trained, competent, and old enough that he’s a sure bet to either die or retire by the time Andry is fully trained.
One thing’s clear: they’re dangerously complacent and remarkably weak when it comes to basic security. That’s already bit them hard. It’s only going to get worse.
721: Castle Crag
So This Happens: Two years down the line from Chapter 1, Ostvel has settled into his new office as regent for Princemarch. He’s had numerous challenges, including labyrinthine castle and uncooperative servants. We get a glimpse of the early days, when he and Alasen and the resident Sunrunner had to lay trails of objects to find their way around.
One misrouting led to Ostvel’s finding the archives. He has not sent them to Sioned or Rohan, and he has not asked anyone, especially Alasen, to help him go through them. He has found the secret list of Pandsala’s murders. He shakes his head over it. “Roelstra’s daughters.”
He also finds a stash of documents relating to Ianthe, Feruche, and Rohan. He’s afraid he’ll find a record of Pol’s actual ancestry. (Reader is reminded that Ostvel knows the truth, and also that he killed Ianthe.)
He finds evidence of Pandsala’s obsession with Rohan, and reads, in detail, of the terrible things she did to protect Pol. He also reads and remembers the names and birthdates of Ianthe’s three sons: Ruval, Marron, and Segev. Pandsala did not know where they were.
Ostvel thinks back again to his first year in Castle Crag, and reflects on how Myrdal, Stronghold’s retired guards commander, found all sorts of hidden passages and secret hiding places. She didn’t think Roelstra knew about this: he killed his father when he was ten years old, and never had time to learn the castle’s secrets.
Ostvel closed up all of these except secret compartments in his and Alasen’s offices, and a passage leading from their private quarters to Pol’s, and from there to a hidden exit: keeping an escape route handy, at Myrdal’s insistence.
Ostvel turns back to the records, with a pause to remember the Plague and Camigwen’s death, and reads through Ianthe’s final correspondence. He finds a letter announcing her pregnancy with Pol, and Roelstra’s own, bloody-minded announcement of the birth of “the heir to Princemarch and the Desert, the next High Prince.”
Ostvel reflects that Ianthe’s older sons have to be eliminated, and that Roelstra’s daughters are or were all evil, with few exceptions. Then he reflects on the most Roelstra-like of all the survivors: Chiana, who has produced an heir to Meadowlord, and who will very probably challenge Pol when the time comes. Ostvel takes inventory of who knows about Pol, and disapproves of Sioned’s refusal to tell Pol the truth, “but it was not his decision to make.”
Ostvel locks the incriminating documents in the secret compartment and decides, at considerable length and with a number of rationalizations, that Sioned can probably get away with it. Then he reflects on the weird coincidence that Ianthe called the unborn Pol “my shining star,” Pol’s name (given by Sioned) means star, and the secret passages all over Castle Crag are marked by a star, plus the sorcerers are conjurers of starlight. He then reflects on the etymology of the word diarmadh’im, and wonders if they built Castle Crag.
He takes a moment to be pleased with himself for the rank he’s risen to—then realizes with a shock that it’s his wedding anniversary. He scrambles to find the ring that seals the marriage permanently, and Alasen, appearing suddenly, teases him about it.
And I’m Thinking: Holy exposition, Batman! Having had some relatively rapid action in the first chapter, now we get a long expedition down memory lane, courtesy of Ostvel, the late Pandsala, and the even later Ianthe and Roelstra. Ominous music plays as Ostvel fails to destroy the evidence of Pol’s parentage, and we get the three-hour tour of the huge and complicated pile that is Castle Crag, complete with bonus sorcerous origins.
I do like the architectural bits, and hope there’s more to be made of them as the book goes on. It’s like a whole other castle inside the one people see. Very cool idea.
I’m also hoping Chiana turns out to be something other than an ongoing joke. Now she’s labeled relatively harmless, but she comes in for the traditional diss-and-mock. She had such a setup in Book 1, being named Treason and all, that it’s a bit disappointing that she’s never done anything but be crass and obnoxious, and be universally mocked and despised. When it comes to serial-killer potential, I’d think she’d be lapping Pandsala around the track, just on general principles.
I notice that she’s the only truly eeeevil Roelstra daughter left. All the rest have conveniently been killed off, mostly by Pandsala.
And Ostvel just shakes his head and rolls his eyes. Roelstra daughters.
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.