Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week a trap is sprung, and another trap is detected (just in time, we hope).
Stronghold: 35 Spring
So This Happens: Feylin stands on the edge of the crowd awaiting Miyon’s arrival in Stronghold, reflecting on how little she likes crowds, what a farce this is, and how the dragon population has stabilized but is still too low. The only solution to the problem remains to try to lure the dragons back to Rivenrock.
Walvis stops her, with teasing. Miyon arrives with a large contingent of Desert relatives including Feylin’s children, Sionell and Jahnavi. Feylin takes stock of them all, notes the tension, observes that Miyon looks smug, and watches Rohan and Sioned welcome him with fulsome smiles.
Feylin and Walvis exchange family gossip, with teasing and at some length. The ceremony continues, until Hollis’ twins disrupt it with cute brattiness. There is chuckling.
Feylin notices Meiglan. Almost immediately, Sionell introduces her parents. Meiglan is all fluttery and nearly faints at the prospect of being introduced to Rohan and Sioned.
Pol appears, looking gorgeous and tease/flattering Sionell. Feylin notices how hard Sionell is working at it. Pol greets Meiglan. Feylin notices more offness. Pol escorts Meiglan into the shade, where the twins proceed to be brattily cute all over him. Meiglan starts to warm up.
Miyon appears and begins to abuse Meiglan verbally. Sionell steps in and smooths things over, taking Meiglan to meet Rohan and Sioned. Feylin notices that Pol looks gobsmacked.
When Meiglan is stowed in her chamber, Feylin corners Sionell, who tells her what Miyon is up to. Feylin is impressed with Sionell’s cleverness.
Sionell is determined to arrange things her way. She makes sure there is a place for Meiglan at the high table for dinner, with Riyan and Tallain to help her along. Jahnavi calls Sionell on her plotting, but she is unfazed.
At dinner, Miyon, surprisingly, ignores his daughter. Meiglan is dainty in pink. Sionell feels like a “plow-elk” in bright green.
Pol is enthralled with Meiglan. Sionell recalls her discussion with Feylin about the politics of a possible marriage. Pol barely sees her now; he’s completely fixated on the bait. Tallain teases Sionell, with comments about male obsession and hormone-driven stupidity. There is further teasing about Sionell’s appetite and what it actually doesn’t mean. (Nope, not pregnant, “though not for lack of trying.”)
Musicians start up, with a digression on who they are and how they happen to be here. Tallain, prompted by Sionell, asks Meiglan to dance. Then Riyan takes over. Sionell is satisfied that she’s made up for Miyon’s neglect of his daughter.
The dancing continues. Maarken observes that Pol is champing at the bit to get at Meiglan. Sionell reflects on all the strong women in the hall, and how they can serve as an example for Meiglan.
Instead of Meiglan, Pol closes in on Sionell—and immediately demands that she tell him about Meiglan. They dance a flirtatious dance and discuss Miyon’s plot. Pol is egotistical about Meiglan’s reaction to him. Sionell calls him on it.
Rohan is not impressed with either Pol or the bait. Sionell, dancing with him, tells him what’s going on.
Meanwhile Pol is trying to teach Meiglan the dance. When it ends, Miyon orders Meiglan to play a huge, complicated, and expensive Cunaxan string instrument. Miyon holds forth on the nature of the instrument. Andry reveals that he knows its history, including its use in battle.
Meiglan begins to play, and is transformed, playing with skill “equal to a Sunrunner’s power.” She makes love to the instrument.
Pol is thoroughly trapped. Miyon is thoroughly smug.
And I’m Thinking: If I weren’t doing a public reread, I’d throw the book at the wall at this point. It’s so clear that Pol is going to end up with this complete drip. All those strong women, and he falls flat on his face for their absolute opposite.
He hasn’t been shaping up well at all. He’s loaded with ego, he continually does incredibly stupid things, and nothing he does comes even close to the brains or sense of either of his parents. We’re supposed to adore him, I think, but except for his looks, there’s not really a lot there.
It’s especially maddening that Sionell is right there, and she yanked herself out of play a long time ago, passively accepting that because she has no magical powers, she can’t have the man she wants. (Pol is oblivious to her anyway, but that could be remedied. Pol is really very stupid.) So there’s all this underlying Angst and not-quite-rightness, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Because this world doesn’t seem to admit the possibility of marital infidelity among the good guys At All. We’re not going to get Pol-a-lot and Sionell-evere, no matter what else happens.
Meanwhile she’s throwing Meiglan at Pol, apparently unable to comprehend what she’s doing. Or else so convinced of Pol’s nonexistent brains or sense (despite her relentless practicality in all other aspects of life) that she can’t believe he’d be as stupid as he’s obviously setting out to be.
Damn. I want to smack the lot of them.
And what’s with the word “moron” in a high fantasy? Smack. Smackity smack smack.
Ahem. Feylin is as wonderful as ever, at least. Love her obsession with the dragon census, and her sharp, clear eye on all the mushy politics.
Castle Crag: 30 Spring
So This Happens: Alasen and Ostvel’s youngest is teething, and his parents are run ragged. Meanwhile her daughters are sledding on the stairs. Alasen joins them, with much adorable hilarity.
The Sunrunner steward, Donato, calls Alasen back to business, and a private conference. He’s concerned about unauthorized military exercises around Rezeld, which he has been observing on sunlight. They speculate as to what Morlen may be up to, note that the castle is closed in with fog, and hope the sun will come out or Donato will have to go in search of clearer weather for his spying.
Alasen wakes the handsomely sleeping and very reluctant Ostvel, with prodding and teasing, to tell him what’s going on. He immediately knows what’s going on, and explains a number of political and economic developments that now fit together, as he prepares to ride to Whitespur in search of sunlight. It’s adding up to a war incited by Cunaxa and the Merida.
Ostvel is not a Sunrunner but was married to one and knows exactly how it works. He guides Donato to the best place for conjuring sunlight, and watches the Sunrunner at work, with lengthy reflections on which of his children inherited the gift from Alasen, and what it must be like—and how difficult it is to possess the gift, as Alasen has demonstrated. Ostvel is not as much in favor of it as he used to be; nor has he been since Sioned almost killed Ianthe (and Ostvel did the deed for her).
Donato emerges from his trance in shock. Everything he saw has vanished. Then Ostvel notices he’s rubbing his hands. His rings are freezing and burning, indicating sorcery.
They discuss the situation. There’s no Sunrunner at Dragon’s Rest—Pol is in Stronghold. They’ll have to send the warning overland. Donato tries to reach Sioned but gets Andry instead; Andry doesn’t believe him and won’t pass the message on despite promising to do so. Ostvel ponders the politics of that: Donato and Andry have not been getting along, thanks to Andry’s high-handedness.
Donato doesn’t realize what his aching fingers mean. Ostvel knows it means Donato has sorcerer blood. Good thing, too, or they wouldn’t have known what was going on.
Ostvel says a tender goodbye to his youngest son. Alasen tells him all is ready; he can leave in secret, with his cover story prepared. With two guards and Donato, he leaves the castle via secret passage (as shown by Alasen). Alasen insists she’ll be “fine,” though she refuses to let Sioned or Riyan send her news on sunlight.
As Ostvel leaves, he reflects on why he’s doing it at his age: because there’s no one to take charge of Dragon’s Rest, and someone with authority has to try to stop the invasion. He has strong second thoughts, but shuts them down. Then he faces the real reason he’s doing this: because he doesn’t trust Andry to relay Donato’s message. He has to be at Dragon’s Rest to defend his princes, whether or not they find out in time to act.
And I’m Thinking: After a chapter that incited me to virtual violence, I’m reminded in this one why these books are so beloved. Their very large casts of characters, when done well as here, are highly sympathetic. The good guys have their flaws and their weaknesses, but they’re likeable, and they’re extremely human, with values that modern Westerners can easily relate to.
There’s a sense of time passing, of people growing up and growing old, families expanding, children maturing into adults, but also being children; and adults sometimes being silly and funny and again, relatable. Alasen sailing down the stairs in a soup pot would make great television.
All this, plus complex politics, detailed worldbuilding, elaborate settings, and secret passages—what’s not to like?
So, all right. Reading on. Because it’s coming to a head, and the war proper has begun. I’m worried for Ostvel; I hope he makes it through to the end. He certainly deserves to.
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.