Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week the stakes get real. Important characters finally meet (and various kinds of sparks fly), a secret is discovered, and the Desert contingent suffers a grievous loss.
Elktrap Manor: 5 Spring
So This Happens: Pol comes to Elktrap after a grueling ride, to be met by the beautiful Lady Ruala with a large goblet of wine. Pol pauses to admire the scenery, with a bit of small talk and chuckling.
Riyan and Sorin are not pleased to see him. He is not perturbed. He immediately starts organizing the investigation. Rialt participates in some teasing at Pol’s expense.
Pol continues to be struck by Ruala’s beauty, this time in a mirror that turns out to be ancient, and Fironese. They discuss mirrors, and Sorin observes that Andry takes an interest in them. The conversation turns back to the investigation into the dragon murders. Riyan conjures Fire to show Rohan the tortured dragon and the image of the torturer. Pol hates him instantly.
Pol reflects at length on the genetic traits of various nations and families, while attempting to determine why the face is so familiar. Suddenly he springs for the window. He can feel a dragon coming (speaking of family traits)—and someone is trying to kill her.
The men head off to try to save her. Ruala is peremptorily forbidden to follow, notably by Riyan. She reluctantly obeys, but she observes to her grandfather that she’ll be going with them soon—“One of them is going to be my husband.” She won’t say which one.
Pol is simultaneously riding and Sunrunning—until Riyan literally slams him out of it before he’s shadow-lost in a dark wood. They split up to search physically, then Riyan starts channeling the dragon’s fear and pain. He speculates briefly on the experience, before they gallop off to find the dragon—who is being attacked by two men, one a redhead. Pol is appreciative of Riyan’s accomplishment, but jealous.
There is some badinage about Rialt’s incompetence with a sword, which the guards will make up for. Pol strategizes, in detail, and disposes his various personnel to capture the dragon-torturers.
They find the dragon with a broken wing, confronted by the dark-haired man, who is laughing, and his red-haired companion. As they move to continue her torture, Pol and his escort close in for the capture.
The sorcerer is evilly amused, wickedly scornful, and not at all afraid. He and Pol engage in barbed conversation culminating in the revelation that he is Ianthe’s son Ruval. Ruval is still completely unfazed by the armed party that surrounds him.
Pause for a flashback: Urival on his deathbed, telling Pol something even Sioned doesn’t know. He identified Segev before disposing of his body. He speculated that the other two Ianthe sons were still alive, and warned Pol against their sorcery—declaring that they needed to die.
The story returns to the present, with Pol realizing why Ruval is familiar—he looks like Roelstra. The redhead must therefore be Marron.
There is further back-and-forth about family resemblances. Ruval is sure Pol is a Roelstra grandson—if not by Ianthe, than by one of the other daughters.
Pol pays no attention to this, as he’s busy being insulting about the identity of Ruval’s father—and getting a rise out of him for it. They continue to spar verbally. Pol has a plan: to get Ruval to release the dragon in an effort to turn his sorcery on Pol, which Pol is prepared for; he gambles that Riyan can control the dragon before she kills them all.
The dragon, who is pregnant, goes completely mad once released. She claws Ruval and turns on Pol, who wards himself with sunlight—and counters her rage with reassurance.
They manage to communicate. He tries to tell her her broken wing can be mended. She says it cannot, and she will die.
His squire pulls him out of the trance. Sorin is badly wounded and dying. Ruval and Marron have fled. Sorin’s dying wish is that Pol will kill the sorcerers, and that he will try to understand Andry.
Sorin dies. Riyan tells Pol “There was sorcery at work here.” Pol says, “They’ll die for it.” The chapter ends with them weeping in each other’s arms.
And I’m Thinking: In spite of all the lengthy digressions, everything in this chapter has a point and a purpose—if not here, then later. There’s both love and death in the air. And someone has finally, though ineffectually, spotted Pol’s true parentage.
Genetics is going to be a thing in this book, that’s clear. There’s a section on it at the end, and in this chapter Pol spends a great deal of time thinking about it. I can hear the background music throbbing with ominous chords.
There’s more bad juju in the works with Sorin’s death—Andry is Not going to be reasonable about that—and the poor dragon, who can’t live if she can’t fly. But Pol finally broke through into communication, which he’s wanted for a long time, so there’s a bright spot, along with Ruala’s dramatic beauty.
Though Riyan is hideously rude to her (not to mention as sexist as hell), which could indicate partiality in teenagerese. So we’ll see about that. We’ve had plenty of love triangles elsewhere. Why not here?
All in all, a gut-puncher of a chapter, and the pacing, digressions and all, is at a good, fast canter.
Castle Pine: 7 Spring
So This Happens: Miyon (described and framed in detail) and Ruval have an edgy private meeting. They sneer about the Desert crew and Sorin’s death, which has left Feruche lordless. Miyon has plans for that, and they both have plans for Ruval’s taking of Princemarch. Ruval also has plans for Miyon, with Marron disguised as a servant, to pay a visit to Stronghold. Ruval will also be going, along with Miyon’s daughter, Meiglan.
Miyon wants Stronghold, Skybowl, and Tiglath. Ruval is happy to agree to it. He wants Feruche.
They discuss trade and economics. Miyon wonders why Rohan is so rich, and speculates at some length, in considerable detail. There’s no clear explanation for where all the money is coming from; what’s clear is that it’s being laundered from somewhere.
They agree they should find out where it’s coming from, with a pause to sneer at the stupidity of Miyon’s daughter. They then end the meeting. Back in the public gathering, Marron is a bit obvious about who he is, and Meiglan wanders through, very innocent and very pretty, and also evidently quite stupid.
Ruval is furious with Marron. Marron is snide. Ruval ponders their plan, their mutual scorn for the common rabble they must associate with, and, again, the source of Rohan’s wealth.
He pauses in a tavern, and scries the past in the remains of his cup of wine: a vision of his pregnant mother showing him the treasure to which he is entitled. Just as he is entitled to the Desert and Princemarch.
He pauses briefly to consider she must have been pregnant with her fourth (presumed dead) child, then dismisses the thought and keeps on mulling over the question of Rohan’s wealth and where it comes from. He knows silver comes from Skybowl, but Rohan’s sacks of gold have Skybowl marks on them.
He withdraws to work “a hated but useful Sunrunner spell,” conjuring Skybowl. But he can’t find any sign of gold. He then makes a new spell using a gold coin of Roelstra’s next-to-last year, 703. He tracks the gold—and finds the source: dragon fire.
Ruval is highly amused, and not dismayed that he promised Skybowl to Miyon. Miyon won’t live that long.
Mireva is not in a good mood. She hates towns, and she really hates Cunaxa. She longs for starlight, which she can’t conjure while she’s here.
Ruval appears, and Mireva opines that Meiglin will “do,” and also that she’s weak and beautiful, not to mention gullible. After a brief spat over the deplorable mixed-blood status of some of Mireva’s family (including Ruval and Marron), they discuss Meiglan’s fearful and biddable nature, and Chiana’s notable untrustworthiness.
Chiana is reviving an old ploy of Roelstra’s: military training exercises on the border between her realm and Princemarch. They discuss this, with more about Chiana’s untrustworthiness, and Miyon’s as well; Mireva points out that these are necessary allies because they have armies.
Ruval wonders why they even need to bother. Isn’t he enough?
Mireva pins his ears back sharply. They need princely tools because Pol and Rohan are princes, and think like princes. It’s all a diversion. The real plan is nothing that these princes and politicians will expect.
Ruval counters that one person does think like a sorcerer: Andry. But Rohan’s insistence in equality under the law (which makes Mireva spit) will keep Andry busy fighting for Sunrunner exceptionalism, and drive a convenient wedge between Andry and Pol.
They’ll take care of Pol first, Mireva says. Then Andry—and he’s the more dangerous.
Ruval assures her he’ll take care of them both. They exchange evil smiles over how many other distractions Mireva has planned. Pol will be well schooled before he dies.
And I’m Thinking: Evil league of evil meets, and schemes, and meets again. Clever Rohan isn’t clever enough to deceive a truly evil and truly educated sorcerer with a scrying cup and a good memory—and now an enemy knows where his gold comes from.
I notice Ruval doesn’t mention this to Mireva. He’s playing his own game of diversions, I’m guessing.
What Ruval isn’t putting together is Pol’s real parentage. Which is kind of explainable in view of how much else he has on his mind, but also kind of convenient for the plot. If Pol really does look like Roelstra, you’d think the bad guys would have figured it out by now, especially considering how the rest of Ianthe’s offspring have also been presumed dead.
Ruval of all people should be able to figure it out. We’ve been hammered on relentlessly through the entire trilogy about how Roelstra’s genetics are absolutely incontrovertibly obvious and anybody (on the bad-guy side) who is related to him is instantly recognizable.
And yet there’s Pol, hiding in plain sight. Which I guess must be the point.
Ruval even taunts Pol with the family resemblance—but as soon as he gets to thinking about the past, boom. Amnesia. Surely someone by now will have, you know, wondered? Just thinking, you know? And doing the math?
Glaringly obvious plothole aside, the interesting thing here is that the whole plot right now hinges on complex economics and tiny details of trade and regulation—how a gold ingot is stamped, where various goods and services come from, how they’re traded, and all that chewy worldbuilding stuff. There’s even a sequence about money laundering.
But it’s all personal in the end: princes fighting over domains both physical and magical, with a solid dose of psychology (and sociopathy shading into psychopathy on the part of the bad guys). Lots of thought there, and lots of detail in the construction of the world and characters.
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.