Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week Andry comes to Stronghold, and Chiana plots with evil glee.
Note: We are a little crazed this week. It started with a propane leak in the hot-water heater. A week and many many many adventures later, the upper right quadrant of the house is gutted, and we are in medias renovationes yegodsandlittlefishes. Therefore, I cannot brain exceptionally well. But I can read! And this is grand stuff!
Stronghold: 26 Spring
So This Happens: Andry is all agog at the Desert spring. His Sunrunners tease him about it.
Pause to grieve for Sorin, and to remember two grief-stricken days at Feruche, which was full of Sorin’s remembered presence. Then a move on to anger. Andry blames Pol, then himself, then reflects at length on why Lady Merisel had not “eradicated” all sorcerers.
Andry has a crush on the author of the scrolls. In his mind she looks like Alasen. He reflects on Alasen’s life since she last appeared onstage, on her children, and how he intends to be the one to train their Sunrunner gifts, if any; he also rationalizes that Alasen would have been happier with him, but he’s accepted reality—or so he thinks.
Andry’s escort calls his attention to the scenery. They’re passing the Flametower. Andry reflects on what the building is, and on his conflict with Pol, as well as his hopes for a long, long reign for Rohan.
They come in sight of Stronghold. The escort is impressed. Various royal and noble banners are flying; Andry is irritated that he forgot to bring his own. He needs to make sure “people, especially these people,” remember who he is.
He knows they all expect him to be angry and upset. “Andry decided to confound them.”
Andry’s escort is confounded by the lavishness of that evening’s feast. Andry reflects sourly on the message being sent: “steel wrapped in velvet.”
Sioned tells him that this is a practice run for Miyon’s arrival. After a quick summary of where everyone else of note is and what he or she is doing, Andry discusses Miyon’s plans and motives with Sioned, and the conversation ranges across various sensitive topics, particularly the dragon murderer and the rift between Andry and his family. Sioned doesn’t play into his attempts to manipulate her; Andrade trained her, too.
He reflects on her personality and training, and on her hard-learned gift of patience. He realizes Pol doesn’t have it. He’s never been tested or hurt.
Sioned calls on Andry to remember that they’re family. But Andry can’t afford to be vulnerable. Sioned sees this; she realizes he doesn’t trust his relatives. A rift opens; they are now High Princess and Lord of Goddess Keep. This saddens Andry.
Rohan and Feylin discuss dragon breeding, and Rohan’s various problems. Rohan is going to try to have a “private chat” with Andry, since Sioned didn’t succeed in achieving detente.
Feylin reminds him of the siege of Tiglath, and how Walvis defeated the Merida. Rohan gets the point. He can surround Andry with family while feigning weakness in himself—and trap Andry. Rohan doesn’t like it, but it’s already begun, what with Sioned, and Tobin and Chay who met with their son earlier. Rohan considers how to continue this—and is disgusted with himself.
He and Feylin discuss at some length how very honorable Rohan is, and how Andry is dangerously confirmed in his beliefs. Rohan feels dirty, but it’s clear he plans to go ahead with his strategy.
The meeting with Andry begins with political small talk. Rohan wields his impossibly charming smile, to good effect, and with some inner guilt. The discussion shifts to the situation with the Sunrunner.
Andry lets slip that if the prince who holds her tries war, Andry will hit him with magic. Rohan loses his temper and lets slip that he knows about Andry’s practice wars, and how one of his children’s mothers died in one.
Andry tells Rohan the time for magical warfare rather than “talk” is near, and starts to walk out. Rohan tells him he won’t get the Sunrunner. It’s Andry’s “right” to judge her, Andry retorts. Rohan hits below the belt by asking him what Sorin would think of this.
This is a major mistake. Rohan tries to walk it back with resort to family, but Andry has lost his temper. They spar about ambition and power, with a swipe at Pol on Andry’s part, and Rohan again tries to remind him of familial love. But Andry, furious, stomps out.
Rohan, dejected, discusses the unfortunate meeting with Sioned, listing all of his mistakes. Like Feylin she agrees that Rohan cares too much about Andry; that’s why he can’t be effective. Rohan observes that he only acts when he’s forced to it, and now he’s been forced. There’s going to be a huge gathering at Stronghold, and Rohan will demonstrate his power.
And I’m Thinking: Andry is really not a sympathetic character. He’s arrogant and insecure, and he’s constantly sparking off at anyone who questions his power. As with Andrade, I don’t see that he’s the wonderful leader he and everyone else says he is; we’re told but not shown how wonderfully excellently amazing he is as Lord of Goddess Keep.
What we see is a lot of posturing and a very touchy temper, some small-scale incompetence with the forgetfulness about the banner (he doesn’t delegate these things?), and some seriously creepy actions and thoughts: especially the ruthless use and misuse of his Sunrunners, and the reflections on genocide. He comes across as a humorless fanatic with a highly inflated opinion of his own power and privilege, who’s a lot more talk than walk.
Rohan isn’t showing up well here, either. He’s passive except when driven to it, then he makes rookie mistakes that are excused under the heading of Family. He’s aware of it, too, but seems incapable of doing anything about it. Which counts as Interesting Character Flaw, I suppose, but he’s also supposed to be the cleverest of all clever people that ever were, so it’s a bit whiplash-inducing.
The one who stands out here is Sioned. The men are a lot of bluster and not much maturity or demonstrated competence, but Sioned is steely and sharp-eyed and relatively competent. I think I like her best here, when she’s putting Andry in his place—even when she’s failing to accomplish what she set out to do. She’s much better at it than Rohan, and much less wibbly and dithery.
Swalekeep: 26 Spring
So This Happens: Same day, different setting. Chiana is having a grand and solitary time in her wardrobe, dressing up (in loving detail) in a warrior princess outfit, complete with armor. She stops to reflect admiringly on the horse that goes with it, and on her plan to take Princemarch. She’s been assembling troops and allies, notably the Lord of Rezeld Manor who failed to convince Rohan of his poverty and had to pay for it contributing heavily to the building of Dragon’s Rest. He’s amassed an amazing number of soldiers who (Chiana thinks) want a Roelstra offspring back in Castle Crag.
Chiana is gleeful, and continues to preen in front of the mirror. Suddenly her very spoiled son Rinhoel interrupts. Rinhoel looks exactly like Roelstra, and is headstrong and imperious. Chiana, the doting mother, encourages this. She tells him, at length and with much gloating, how she is going to capture Castle Crag, so that he can be High Prince. He declares that he wants Dragon’s Rest. Chiana is indulgent. She applauds his bloodthirsty mock-slaying of “Prince Pol and all the Sunrunners!”
Vamanis, Swalekeep’s resident Sunrunner, reflects at length on how little he has to do and how little he’s either respected or trusted. It’s a terribly easy job, but he’s bored, and planning to request a transfer. While idling in the kitchens, he receives a message from Sioned, ordering Prince Barig of Gilad to report to Stronghold. After a pause to admire Sioned’s womanly attributes, Vamanis goes to Chiana, out of courtesy, before taking the message to Barig.
Chiana’s squire is disrespectful, but Vamanis lets it go. Chiana is plainly dressed and wearing a bracelet Vamanis made; she says she was just about to send for him. Vamanis takes a moment to admire her womanly attributes, before she asks him to help her repair her mirror. Disappointed but obedient, he inspects the damage and says he can repair it. But before he can fetch his tools, he finds himself immobilized, under the mirror’s control. A voice speaks through him, speaking to Chiana of plans set in motion, and reminding her not to forget the mirror.
He knows what’s happening. A gloating voice speaks in his mind, mocking his Sunrunner powers, somewhat backhandedly admiring Andry’s ambitions, and laying on him a spell of sickness and another of forgetfulness. He tries to destroy the mirror, but Chiana angrily prevents him.
Chiana can’t remember that just happened, except that the Sunrunner has further damaged her mirror. She orders her squire to repair it immediately.
Her husband Halian appears, asking her if she wants company on her ride in the morning. She declines, reflecting on what a lazy excuse for a prince he is, and how she’s had to take on all his princely duties.
She reflects further on his dissolute and womanizing life, and his neglect of his one legitimate son, as opposed to his illegitimate daughters. She’s learned not to care about that, even while she’s lost all respect for him.
Halian asks what Vamanis was there for. She tells him about Barig’s summons to Stronghold. Halian doesn’t understand the political ramifications of this. Chiana sees an opportunity to add to her list of allies; she decides to try to win Barig to her cause. She brushes off Halian, meanwhile, and tells him nothing of what she’s planning.
And I’m Thinking: Continuity glitch here: maybe it’s my Renovation Brain, but I can’t find any indication that Vamanis told Chiana about Barig. It’s all about the mirror and the Evil Plans. So, she knows about it how?
Chiana is having grand fun being the prototype of the evil queen, complete with awful offspring. And useless consort. And armor! And a fancy hairy horse!
(It’s interesting that she seems to be a competent ruler. She knows her job, she gets it done. No muss, little fuss. All the character flaws including the posturing and the ferocious ambition seem to be separate from her ability and willingness to administer the princedom. I give her a good number of points for that.)
Mostly everybody here is an idiot, except the sorcerer (unidentified—could be either Mireva or Ruval) who controls Chiana and Vamanis through the mirror. But they’re interesting idiots, and Chiana is having such fun. I’m sorry it’s so inevitable that she’ll get slapped down. Though I think Rinhoel deserves every bit of what’s coming to him.
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new space opera, Forgotten Suns, was 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.