Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts! CSI: Tsuranuanni takes a darker turn this week, with some unexpectedly grim torture performed by one of our heroes.
Potential trigger warning for discussion of gore and torture. But it’s pretty mild compared to the chapter itself. Seriously, I don’t think the books have been this icky since the human sacrifice chapter. You have been warned.
Chapter 8: Interrogation
SUMMARY: Run, Hokanu, run!
Hokanu and Arakasi speed through the city, avoiding the riot as they head towards the house of Korbagh, a Thuril physician. Hokanu fights an angry dwarf (yes, really) in Korbagh’s garden, and then they face Korbagh himself, a giant of a man in an “effeminate robe.”
Seirously, it’s like they were going for how many problematic stereotypes they could insert into a single page.
Turns out that Arakasi and Korbagh aren’t friends at all, and Korbagh is holding a grudge about Arakasi killing his apprentice.
Luckily, he is also terrified of Arakasi, as are all his servants. Arakasi ties up the “giant” and encourages Hokanu to make a loving description of all the methods of torture he learned at a military man.
Under threat, Korbagh reveals the method for creating the antidote and Arakasi sends Hokanu to ride back to Mara and get it done. Once his master is gone, Arakasi turns back to Korbagh and threatens him all over again, this time to get the name of his employer from him.
Given that Korbagh thinks it is more than his life is worth to reveal that information, Arakasi has to resort to more than just describing torture—after threatening Korbagh’s life, afterlife, servants, and wife, he pulls out the physician’s own poison supplies to do a little experimenting.
After some very gory and grotesque torture, Arakasi gets a name from Korbagh: Ilakuli, a rumourmonger from the Street of Sorrowful Dreams. Korbagh believes that he is associated with the Hamoi Tong—something that Arakasi himself is certain of.
He then tells Korbagh that the chances are high that the tong will go after his wife—but that was a risk he had to already have been aware of.
Arakasi kills Korbagh, and cleans up all the mess he has made so that the physician’s young wife won’t have to deal with an entire bloodbath. Just, you know, the corpse of her husband. Once it’s all over, he throws up, then continues on his way.
By the time Hokanu gets home to the former Minwanabi estate, he has exhausted two horses and is now running on foot. He is ambushed by the prayer gate of Chochocan, and set upon by more than five men dressed in black.
A wounded Hokanu takes refuge inside the prayer gate while arrows hail all around him, and discovers quite by accident that some past Minwanabi Lords had built an escape hatch into the gate. He manages to throw himself on to one of his horses and evade his attackers, though they keep shooting at him.
Luckily, the gelding takes the arrows as a reason to run faster.
Hokanu races home, and collapses into the arms of Lujan as he reaches safety. He warns them of the assassins, but the warriors of the Acoma have already seen to them.
As he loses consciousness, Hokanu gives Lujan the information about the antidote, and refuses to have his own wounds dealt with until he is at his lady’s side again.
Lujan sighs at the pigheadedness of his employers, and calls for a stretcher.
COMMENTARY: Ah, it’s a classic trope: the bromance road trip meets quirky detective romp that finishes up with the heroes (or one of them, at least) dispensing vicious torture and murder in the name of their fallen lady friend. Those wacky dudes.
We’ve heard a lot about Arakasi’s skills as a spymaster and what a dangerous man he is, but this is the first time we’ve seen what he’s capable of—and it’s chilling how easily he terrorises his target, first by mere intimidation and then following through with some really grotesque physical torture.
Sure, he does throw up to remind us that he’s human, but even that is described as a reaction from “nerves” rather than any form of distress at the horrible things he just did.
Very interesting, too, that he held back on the physical torture until he already had the antidote so that Hokanu would not witness it—who exactly was Arakasi protecting with that choice?
Speaking of which, does anyone else think that the giant in the effeminate robe (really, in a world where everyone wears silk frocks, what is it about these particular robes that make them particularly “effeminate”? Embroideries? Pink lace? Give me my costuming details and no one gets hurt!) rolled over far too easily in the face of Arakasi’s threats? I get that it’s supposed to prove how badass he is, and to show how he and Hokanu work well together, but surely a person describing torture methods is a bit soft-boiled?
And yes I know that Arakasi did in fact go to the physical torture, so obviously he wasn’t bluffing (and the giant already knew he wasn’t one to bluff) but it still felt remarkably easy. Almost as if the giant had been reading ahead and knew what he had to be scared of!
Hokanu and Arakasi are two of my favourite characters—as long established by this reread series!—but I am getting rather tired of there being so little Mara in this particular volume. After following her character so closely for the first two books, it feels more and more strange for her to be so thoroughly sidelined and, let’s face it, damsell’d, for much of the story.
It was fair enough when she was grief-stricken, because I was happy not to spend too much time inside her head, but now she’s had the miscarriage and the poisoning and somehow the story has turned into Let’s Save Mara (the Boy’s Own Remix) instead of being a political drama centred around the rise of a fearsome female leader.
More cunning politics, fewer personal tragedies, please!
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!