Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. In this one, Arakasi’s reputation is going to the dogs, because time jumps aren’t good for everybody…
Chapter 5: Machinations
SUMMARY: Two years have passed. Hokanu guesses correctly that Mara is pregnant, and is delighted at the possibility of another child in their family—his first by blood.
Mara has a troubling request, though. She is concerned about the risks of pregnancy, knowing that if she and her baby don’t survive the birth, House Acoma will be lost forever. The Shinzawai are in a far less precarious position, with all manner of stray cousins and nephews who could replace Hokanu.
And although Hokanu keeps oh-so-helpfully offering, she really doesn’t think it’s okay or good enough to blend the Acoma with the Shinzawai. A girl’s got to have standards.
Mara asks Hokanu to relinquish Justin as the Shinzawai heir, to give him back to the Acoma. Her reasons are logical and sound, even down to her claim that a baby is more vulnerable than a five-year-old, and thus Justin is better able to wear the risks of being the Acoma heir than a helpless younger brother or sister… (cough, no one mention how well that worked with Ayaki)
Hokanu understands Mara’s position, but he is very upset about her idea—he loves Justin deeply, as does his father, and the boy has been sworn to the Shinzawai for his whole life. Hokanu is also concerned that Mara is making this request out of desperation—but mostly, his objection is emotional however he tries to rationalise it.
Arakasi has still not returned from his mission to infiltrate the City of the Magicians, and Hokanu manages to make Mara hold off on a decision about Justin for a little while, in the hopes of getting more information.
Months pass, and Mara endures her pregnancy. Things continue to be strained between she and Hokanu, as they disagree on the question of their children and heirs, and every conversation seems to come back to that.
Arakasi, meanwhile, is close to giving up on the mission set him by Mara, because it has proved to be all but impossible to infiltrate the City of Magicians. He spends his time on the road gathering covert intelligence and slowly repairing the holes in his spy network, but he is no closer than he was to getting inside the Assembly.
All this hanging around in wet bushes does, however, allow him plenty of time to think, and he finally reaches the conclusion that the attack on the silk warehouse and his near-capture may well have been the work of Chumaka, First Advisor to the Anasati and all around sneaky bastard.
Arakasi… that’s not much of a result for two years’ hardcore espionaging. I suspect you won’t be getting an annual bonus any time soon.
COMMENTARY: Time jumps are truly the only way to ensure a little drama-free time for the characters to rest and recover! I am reminded of George R.R. Martin talking about how he intended to put a time jump in the Game of Thrones books at one point to allow the Stark kids some time to grow up, but he couldn’t credibly suspend all the political manoeuvring that would have happened in that time (you can’t leave Cersei in charge of the kingdom for 5 years and not expect it to be in tiny charred pieces when you come back to check on it). Luckily for Mara and Hokanu, their authors are a kinder about allowing them some down time!
It also means a little more distancing between us and Mara’s grief about her dead son, which makes the novel easier to read even if the emotional ramifications are all still pretty raw. It’s clear that Hokanu’s emotional needs, however, have not been addressed over this period—both he and Mara believe that they are being rational and the other person is making decisions based only on emotion, and they’re apparently very bad at talking this stuff through…
Gotta say, I’m totally on Mara’s side on this one. Removing Justin from the Shinzawai may be emotionally unsettling for the men of the family, but she’s talking about survival—and women die in childbirth all the time. It’s understandable that Hokanu prefers not to think about that possibility, but Mara does not have that luxury.
It is a bit adorable that Hokanu is so attached to his adopted son, though, and that he will fight to keep the child born of Mara and Kevin’s relationship as his own heir. The portrayal of adoptive children and heirs as entirely equal to those of blood relationships is a rarity in fantasy fiction and I’m really enjoying this aspect.
The time jump does not do much to bolster Arakasi’s reputation as a Spy Master—two years and when we check in on him he’s achieved nothing, is living in grotty taverns and ditches, and has only just thought through the events of the last chapter seriously enough to figure out who was behind them?
You’re slipping, Arakasi. How are we to believe you didn’t just spend the last two years drinking mint tea and reading epic poetry, you utter skiver?
Still, this is all setting us up for the grand long distance virtual chess match between Arakasi and Chumaka, which is excellent. Much machinations still to come.
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. She is also the co-editor of Cranky Ladies of History (Fablecroft). Come and find her on Twitter!