Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week we meet the final two sets of players in the grand drama of the year 728, and get a last round of backstory and setup for the main act of the novel.
So This Happens: It’s autumn in Swalekeep, and horribly hot. Ruval and his older female companion ponder the weather and the history of the place, and discuss the fact that Marron is playing servant here, and that he will not be the next High Prince. There is some chuckling and mild gloating, and some reflection on how Chiana barely tolerates magic in her domain. They discuss how Marron might have changed in recent years, as compared to what he was like the last time they were together; with a pause to remember the late Segev.
Mireva has a long list of people on whom she plans to get revenge, beginning with Hollis, who killed Segev, and moving on at some length to Sioned. There is further backstory about Ianthe’s sons, revealing that Mireva believes son number four is dead. They continue to discuss Marron, and the plot to make Ruval High Prince.
Marron appears, is described in detail and in comparison to Ruval, and moves the proceedings to a nearby inn. There is bickering over how Marron has been made to wait, and Ruval is scornful. They discuss Marron’s situation and his claustrophobia, and of course Chiana. Then Marron discusses the royal family, and how even supposedly unmagical Rohan has a nearly blinding aura.
Mireva asks for a report on Pol, which Marron gives. Pol likes pretty women, Marron says. They agree to meet again and at more length at a “musical evening” hosted by Chiana.
Later, Ruval brings the rug (called a rathiv) that Mireva ordered him to buy before they met with Marron, and with it a surprise treasure: a magical mirror. Mireva dismisses him, to his annoyance, before she works the spell with the mirror.
That night the heat breaks into chill rain. Marron is on his way out, with a pause to sneer at Chiana and her “great lady” pretensions. He meets Mireva in Chiana’s poor excuse for an animal park; Ruval is elsewhere, standing guard.
Mireval informs Marron that “it’s time to prove your brother’s legitimacy.” There is some backstory about the family history and the down side of the new fashion for monogamy (too few offspring), before Marron reveals that Ruval’s father is dead. Mireva is not happy about this.
They bicker a bit, then Mireva demands to be let in to see Chiana. Marron warns her that Chiana is a tough one—and takes careful handling. Mireva does not appreciate the advice.
She reveals that she needs Chiana’s armies to take Princemarch, and that she’s allied herself with Miyon of Cunaxa, the longtime thorn in Rohan and company’s side. Chiana wants Castle Crag, Marron says. Mireva takes this under serious consideration, while playing Marron off against Ruval.
The scene ends with the revelation that Ruval’s father’s death was not natural, and that Marron arranged it.
Marron has manipulated a tired and cranky Chiana into seeing Mireva, whom he presents as a witch (which causes Chiana to make remarks about the witchiness of Sioned, and Mireva sees that and raises it with Andrade). Mireva sets up the rug and the mirror and pretends to tell Chiana’s fortune—promising her Castle Crag and the deaths of Rohan and Pol, and Sioned.
Marron reflects that Mireva is afraid of Sioned. “The High Princess was her target even more than Pol.”
Mireva goes on to “foretell” war, though Chiana doesn’t think that’s a good idea at all. Mireva insists that Ruval will become High Prince; Chiana is not even slightly in favor of this—until Mireva persuades her to look in the mirror, and casts a spell on her.
The mirror will stay with Chiana to reinforce the compulsion. Mireva abruptly and forcefully dismisses Marron.
And I’m Thinking: The backstory continues (and continues). We get another vignette of another set of characters, with extensive summaries of what the others are up to. This time, finally, we see Mireva and her pawns, and Chiana actually shows up onstage, in all her ersatz glory.
Here we see how Pol’s very Eighties (and adolescent) predilection for pretty girls may turn out to be a Problem. And we get a sufficient sense of the interactions between the sorceress and the Roelstra tribe. They’re basically hyenas.
Poor Chiana. She never did get a chance to be anything but a laughingstock and an also-ran, and now she’s Mireva’s sorcerous pawn. I’m just waiting for the fireworks when everybody finally figures out who Pol really is.
727: Goddess Keep
So This Happens: Andry is ready to bare all to his very outspoken family. He’s set up a highly symbolic scene with a giant Sunrunner from Waes, and the final copy of the Star Scroll (revealing that he knows about the secret copy he’s not supposed to know about), which does not include the markers to indicate truth and lies. Andry suspects his brother Maarken knows about that, too.
Urival has died, and few of his effects have been returned to Goddess Keep. Andry wants Andrade’s rings back, but various family members have reset the stones, including (to Andry’s particular irritation) the moonstone Pol wears in lieu of Sunrunner rings. Andry believes, from the scrolls, that there’s power in those rings, but he refuses to show interest in them, in case Pol catches on.
Andry also reflects on a tantalizing reference to the power of mirrors, and on his crush on the long-dead author, Merisel. He then reflects on his newborn daughter, and on Hollis, who assisted with the birth; she has not conceived since her twins, five years before.
Andry recalls his visit to the Mother Tree before his investiture, and the visions he was given: a succession of his own children, and total war and absolute destruction of his family and his order. His twin Sorin woke and comforted him.
Andry reflects on the bond between them, though Sorin has no magic. He’s dreamed the vision again, once when Sorin was visiting, and Sorin says it felt the way it did when they were children and one of them had a nightmare.
Andry won’t tell Sorin the details of the dream. He hopes it’s not a fixed future—that it’s only a possibility. Then he reflects on how Andrade might have married her sister off to Zehava to avert a possible future. Andry wonders if she chose him to succeed her in order to prevent someone else from taking the office.
Andry turns his mind to what he has planned for today. He hopes Maarken and Hollis will understand and be able to relay that understanding to the royal family, but he doesn’t really care if they’re on board with it. He has to do it. He has to stop the future he sees.
There is some family history and backstory about Nialdan, the giant Sunrunner who will assist Andry. Andry reflects on the mothers of his children, one of whom wants nothing to do with her daughter, but another is highly possessive of his only son. He has two additional daughters, on whom he reflects, along with their mothers, before recalling his own mother’s reaming at the last Rialla.
That reaming, and Maarken’s persuasion, led him to set up a family reunion in Syr, at which Tobin met her two older grandchildren. The royal family did not attend, in order to avoid serving as a distraction. And now Maarken and Hollis have come to Goddess Keep. “Maarken had to understand.”
Andry and Nialdan take dranath. Andry has taken great care (in imitation of Rohan) with his dress and presentation. He takes in the crowd that has gathered, briefly distracted by thought of Pol and how Andry did not train him, then continuing to reflect on the people in front of him, and on the fact that there are many fewer non-Sunrunners here than in Andrade’s day, when their tuition was crucial to keeping the school running. Andry’s share of Radzyn’s wealth has made this possible. (And he reflects on what the school could have done with Pol’s dowry from Princemarch.)
Andry has put all his resources into Goddess Keep. He’s proud of what he’s done. He reflects on the crowd, on how they all trust him, and how they have to believe in him in order to follow him.
With this in mind, he tells them the scrolls say Sunrunners rode to battle as protectors, and that the ban against killing with Fire was not instituted until after the war with the Stoneburners (i.e. the sorcerers). He goes on in this vein, about how it’s not about killing, it’s about protection. Then he asks them to consider what would happen if Pol was killed and the realms disintegrated into chaos.
He presents this prospect at length and in detail, with examples from other realms deprived of their heirs by assassination. Then he gives a demonstration: a simulated attack by a small group of warriors. He and Nialdan demonstrate how Sunrunners might hold off such an attack—Nialdan with sunlight, but Andry without, as a sorcerer would do it.
The demonstration is extremely pointed and involves causing considerable pain and terror to the mock attackers—the leader of whom is the husband of the woman who did not want to raise Andry’s first daughter. While they discuss what they saw and felt, an outraged Maarken calls Andry aside.
Hollis accompanies them and discovers the remains of the dranath. She is horrified. Andry is relatively casual.
He and Maarken square off. Maarken is coldly furious. Andry tries to explain. Maarken isn’t having any. Andry sees him as Pol and Rohan’s man, and gives up on trying to enlist his support. He is cutting about how Maarken is a Sunrunner but also a lord, and one day will have to choose between those two loyalties. He tells Maarken to go and tell Rohan whatever he likes. He’ll be ready for the war when it comes.
Maarken seems to back down a bit at last, but Andry is done. He orders his brother’s horses to be ready in the morning. They won’t be staying, and he’s sure they won’t be back.
And I’m Thinking: Now we’re all set up for the big year, 728. We’ve stopped in on all the relevant locations, we’ve met and spent time with the whole cast of characters. We’re up to date on the different alliances and conflicts.
This last one is huge. Andry vs. Pol has been a thing for quite some time now, but here we see Andry in full-on righteous-fanatic mode. Andry knows best, and nobody but Andry can save the world.
He’s quite the control freak, and he’s dangerous and destructively arrogant. As readers we know he’s right about the danger, but he’s going about it in the worst possible way—because he’s lousy with people, and he’s incapable of comprehending his own shortcomings. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, and he doesn’t even hesitate when it comes to terrorizing his own people.
There’s no actual mention of who the leader of the mock attack is, or why Andry might have chosen him, but it’s there in the background. Andry has a distinctly petty streak, and we’ve seen how jealous he can be.
The bit about Andry being a default choice to succeed Andrade is interesting. It sheds new light on why she did what she did, and makes her seem rather more competent than she has so far. The idea that she’s done it all to avoid some terrible future is really interesting, and surprisingly plausible.
We’ll see how that develops. The good guys are in for a bad time, I think, between Andry’s inability (or unwillingness) to win friends he needs and influence people who could help him, and the general complacency of the rest of the crew. One hopes Maarken will calm down enough to convey a sensible warning to Rohan and company, and not just against Andry’s towering pride and arrogance.
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.