Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts! This is the one where the Magicians decide to get their sticky fingers all over Mara’s war of vengeance.
Chapter 3: War
Summary: Mara has completely lost it. As she collapses in her grief, the men of her household gather around her to shield her from the curious and thoroughly judgy eyes of the Ruling Lords and associated hangers on.
As Lujan removes all edged weapons from his person before picking his mistress up, Lady Isashani of the Xacatecas comes forward to advise Hokanu in what to do next, and to volunteer her services in calming and protecting Mara.
Hokanu gratefully leaves Mara in the hands of Isashani while he turns his attention to the military and political implications of what has just happened – war with the Anasati is now inevitable, but there are many ways to mitigate other potential troubles arising from Mara’s attack on Lord Jiro and her loss of face.
Luckily, they have many good friends and allies as well as enemies who would gladly see the Servant of the Empire taken down a peg or two.
The day is spent in putting out fires, with Hokanu, Lord Hoppara of the Xacatecas, and the Ruling Lords of Clan Hadama all working hard to play down the insult that occurred, and making it clear that Mara’s slip was not a sign of greater political weakness. Mara, meanwhile, is dosed up to the eyeballs in sleeping potions and forced to nap.
Later, it is Hokanu who leads a council with Mara’s usual advisors. Even without Arakasi to advise them, they all agree that the evidence implicating Jiro in Ayaki’s death is too neat and obvious. Hokanu asks Incomo – once First Advisor of the Minwanabi, now Second Advisor of the Acoma – if it is possible that this is the tail end of a Minwanabi plot set in place by his master before his death.
Incomo cannot say for sure – he was involved in no such plot, but he wouldn’t put it past Tasaio, whom he knows to have had secret meetings with the Obajan of the Hamoi Tong.
Meanwhile, they must prepare themselves for war against the Anasati. In Mara’s absence, Hokanu considers a formal Call to Clan, as it is almost a foregone conclusion that Jiro will do the same. But will they look bad in the eyes of the world if they make the first move?
In the Assembly of Magicians, the current events of the Empire are causing a stir – Hochopepa, an avowed Mara enthusiast, snarks with his friends as more conservative and trouble-making Magicians rail against her recent actions and the coming clan war between Hadama (Mara’s Clan) and Ionani (Jiro’s Clan).
When the fearmongering gets too much for Hochopepa, he steps into make his own speech about how the Empire has held strong against far more turbulent conflicts than the current dispute between the Acoma and the Anasati, and reminds them all of the Emperor’s current priorities.
He reminds everyone that Mara is not just a representative of her own House now, but an adopted daughter of Ichindar, and thus if the Assembly moves against her, the Emperor is likely to retaliate, and a conflict between the Emperor and Assembly WOULD tear the Empire apart.
Tapek, who has been the most vocal anti-Mara Great One, proves Jiro’s innocence by showing the whole Assembly a private scene between Jiro and Chumaka, discussing the upcoming war.
The Assembly goes wild with outrage, as broadcasting people’s private conversations is not cool, Tapek.
Hochopepa has given up trying to talk sense into them all, but manipulates the Assembly behind the scenes, determined to let the young hotheads think that calling for a vote is their idea rather than his.
An implacable Mara, as Warchief of Clan Hadama, marches to war against Clan Ionani and her hated former brother-in-law. Outwardly she is every inch the emotionless Tsurani Ruling Lady, but inside she is still broken up with grief.
Hokanu himself has his sword bared, ready for action, and he notes that Lujan is commanding the first five ranks who are unlikely to survive the first assault.
In the moments before they charge, the air explodes around them and the Assembly of Magicians appear to declare that the war between the Acoma and the Anasati is forbidden.
Mara argues that she will lose honour by standing down and leaving her son’s death unavenged, but the young Great Ones who have made these demands of her are unmoving. Finally she agrees to stand down, inwardly fuming – Magicians, as ever, can do and say whatever the hell they want, and all must obey them.
As the orders are sent out to her army, the left flank advances to attack anyway – these men are led by the Lord of the Petcha, a young and impulsive leader who is seeking to take advantage of the current confused situation and has either missed or ignored the arrival of the Great Ones and the instructions of the command flags.
The Anasati flank under attack hold the line, not willing to break the enforced truce themselves.
To everyone’s horror, the Great Ones strike the Lord of the Petcha’s forces – two hundred warriors – with an explosive force that renders them all broken and charred but still alive and in great pain for some time after the attack.
One of the three Great Ones – Tapek – attempts to suggest that Mara herself should be held responsible for the actions of the Lord of the Petcha. His companions, however, argue that the young Lord has been punished enough. His death and those of the two hundred men he commanded is finally reported.
Tapek demands that Mara herself see to the obliteration of the remainder of House Petcha, including all blood relatives and the natami. There will be no saving the servants and warriors of this house – all are to die.
Knowing that the Great Ones could as easily order the obliteration of her own house if she resists them, Mara agrees.
In privacy with her advisors once all is finished, a furious Mara declares that she will see Jiro dead one way or another – and if that means she has to work out a way to defy the will of the Assembly of Magicians, then so be it.
Well, we might not quite have our Mara back, but an angry, warmongering and politically rebellious Mara is far less confronting to spend time with than the broken, devastated mother in her grief.
The Magicians and their role in Tsurani society have been like the elephant in the room up until now – they don’t seem to quite fit with everything else, because they have such immense power, but use it only sparingly.
Up until now, they have only affected the storyline at a couple of key intervals – freeing slaves, supporting the Emperor and crucially, putting a thumb on the scale to ensure Tasaio of the Minwanabi’s downfall.
It’s not surprising that they’re getting a bit above themselves at this point – and of COURSE Mara is setting herself against them, now she has wiped out so many other great injustices in her world.
Once again, Hokanu is an important point of view character in this chapter – I particularly enjoyed his nervousness at speaking for Mara in the war council, and that he has to be assured by Saric that she could not have done better in reaching the current decisions. It’s very clear that while Hokanu has benefited from all the vocational training and resources that an heir to a great House should – the same preparation that Mara’s brother received and that she had to do without – she is the senior partner in this enterprise, because she has actually been a Ruling Lady for more than a decade, while Hokanu is still only his father’s heir.
It’s such a difference, though, to the way that Buntokapi took over the Acoma as if it were his right to do so – and indeed, Mara gave him that right – and made a hash of it. Hokanu’s lack of certainty even as he works hard to make the right decisions on his wife’s behalf is refreshing.
The earlier scene in which Mara’s supporters and allies all gather around her after her breakdown is also really touching – and Isashani is wonderful, of course. Mara has been lacking for female companionship since Nacoya’s death, and she’s never really had women in her life who were equals except for the cho-ja queen, so it’s great to see Isashani stepping in as a mother and a friend to deal with the emotional side of all this, while the boys deal with the political ramifications of Mara’s public accusation of Jiro.
Meanwhile, Hochopepa is a great point of view character through which to see what the Assembly are up to – he’s funny and dry, and obviously a bit older and cynical than many of his peers. I hope we get more of him – and does the introduction of a point of view character in the Assembly mean that it’s they and not the Anasati who are going to be this season’s book’s Big Bad? I do hope so, as it’s hard to imagine that Jiro is going to provide Mara with much of a challenge at all. We like our girl to be up against impossible odds, not merely difficult ones!
I honestly have forgotten nearly everything that happens in the rest of this book.
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!