Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts!
This week: it’s Family Hour, with Mara catching up with her adopted Imperial family, Justin making an impression on a princess, and Hokanu going solo at his father’s state funeral.
Chapter 12: Warning
SUMMARY: Travelling through Kentosani: the Holy City by litter, a heavily pregnant Mara is basically a rock star. Everyone wants to see or touch the Servant of the Empire. It gets old very quickly – she’s busy lamenting that Hokanu is off at the funeral without her, and his lack of a Shinzawai heir is going to have the matchmakers out in force, offering him fertile courtesans and the like.
Mara, it’s like you don’t know your husband at ALL, but you are so pregnant I will forgive you, the brain does odd things to you at the end of the third trimester. At least she’s not obsessively cleaning cupboards or indulging in my own personal ‘nesting’ ritual for the tail end of a pregnancy which mostly involved buying vintage children’s books and adorable striped outfits off eBay.
It’s a lot quieter in the Palace itself: Justin whoops off to play with Princess Jehilia, while Mara greets her adopted father, the Emperor Ichindar, with appropriate formalities at first, then more casual affection.
Within about two minutes, Justin has dumped Jehilia into the ornamental fish pool, thereby causing an international incident – or at least, hysterics on the part of the princess’s mother.
Mara, observing that Jehilia clearly gave Justin a black eye shortly before the pool incident, bids both children to apologise and make up graciously – or be thrashed.
Ichindar, with the worn-down expression of a man who is not allowed to make domestic decisions, informs her that his wives do not approve of royal children being thrashed. Mara is very skeptical of this attitude, obviously believing that the children and indeed the wives, should harden up. (Because yeah Mara, we’ve totally seen you supervising Justin being punished for all his crazy antics)
All is smoothed over, and Mara promises to teach Princess Jehilia some useful wrestling moves to help even things up when she plays with boys. Jehilia gets heart-eyes about the general awesomeness of Mara.
Hokanu, meanwhile, is attending his father’s funeral. Amongst the mourning and official Shinzawai business, he has a discreet conversation with his birth father/adopted uncle, the Great One Fumita, who lets him know that the Assembly are well aware of Mara’s toymaker as well as Jiro’s own flirtation with terrifying machinery.
It’s all very ominous, considering that the Assembly of Magicians can basically do whatever the hell they want with no consequences – really, Tsurani culture, allowing people with magic to be treated as gods was never going to be a good life choice.
Turns out that the Assembly are just as prone to small-minded bickering and politics as any other human, which is not good news for Hokanu’s family. Fumita lets him know quietly that he will not be able to protect him.
Only later, as he attends his father’s remains in the sacred natami grove of the Shinzawai, does Hokanu have a chance to really think through the significance of what Fumita was telling him.
Mara’s connection to the Imperial Family and her title as Servant of the Empire gives her some measure of protection, and is surely the reason that she and House Acoma have not already been crushed by the Great Ones. Hokanu and House Shinzawai have no such protection. If Mara continues to challenge the edict of the Great Ones, it’s not her only House that she is risking.
The new Lord of the Shinzawai has a great deal to think about, as his father’s responsibilities begin to weigh heavily upon his shoulders. Between them, he and Mara have a great deal of power and influence – and also a great deal to lose.
COMMENTARY: Wow but it would be awesome if we could have seen Mara and Ichindar bonding over anything other than how dumb other women are! It’s now established that with five hundred and forty wives/concubines in his harem, and seven daughters, Ichindar is basically the hen-pecked (make that jigahen-pecked) patriarch of a 1950s sitcom. Or a 1980s sitcom. Or, let’s face it, a 2000s sitcom.
So yes, a lot of eye-rolling about nagging wives, hysterical, over protective mothers, and the tragedy of having no sons but a bunch of young daughters to find husbands for. Oh and to top it off, Mara gets to crack jokes about how you should never put women in charge of other women or they’ll basically scratch each other’s eyes out. Gah!
Oh the other hand, Princess Jehilia is great and my personal head canon is that after Mara trains her in various mystical martial arts (I didn’t even know Mara had any wrestling moves!) she will end up running away to become a super spy, Black Widow style. I bet Arakasi would give her a job.
I’m not entirely comfortable with the whole ‘let’s ship the kids cos they’re gonna get MARRIED’ aspect of the Justin/Jehilia scene, however (which is not actually stated here but I’m pretty sure is going to become relevant soon) because that gives me flashbacks to the whole ‘six year old and teenager totally destined to be together’ vibe from the David & Leigh Eddings Elenium/Tamuli books. Bleh.
At least Justin and Jehilia are vaguely the same age, I guess?
Also worth noting that there have been lots of comparisons to Kevin and Justin as the boy starts growing up – many of them weirdly inappropriate- but you have to admit, chucking a girl he likes in a fish pond is right up there with Kevin’s other known courting techniques. Aww, Kevin. Never thought I’d actually feel nostalgic for his presence.
Hokanu’s journey as the protagonist of this novel continues over at the Shinzawai estate. It’s nice to get a glimpse at a different family’s sacred grove, but it also seems pretty unbelievable that he didn’t think through a lot of this stuff before his father died. Was he hoping to have more time before all the political ramifications of his marriage to Mara kicked in?
Oh, Hokanu, you’re going to end up broken-hearted, aren’t you? This is the first foreshadowing that his marriage to Mara maybe has an expiry date lurking in their future.
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!