Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week clever Rohan is clever, Sioned and Pol find a new normal, and the final conflict starts to take shape.
Chapter 25—Stronghold: 34 Spring
So This Happens: Sioned is devastated, reliving the darkness of Ianthe’s dungeon, and remembering all her scars both physical and psychological. She sees a new darkness in Pol, but she also sees Rohan in him, and concludes that she did right to take him from Ianthe. Rohan is short-tempered and will not answer Pol’s questions. Myrdal is wry. The rest of the family gather, including Andry, for a formal meeting. When they’re all present, Rohan announces that they’re searching for “unobvious” inhabitants of Stronghold.
Sioned has been hanging back. Pol comes to her. They have what turns out to be a tender moment. He calls her “Mama.” There are tears and a bit of teasing, with reference to Clever Rohan.
The scene shifts to Rohan, going into his thought process in detail. He has deduced that Mireva, Ruval, and Ruala are still in the castle. Guided by Myrdal, with a pause to reflect on her merciless private teasing, he searches the maidservants’ quarters. There is much talk, some teasing, and a fair amount of lecture mode on Rohan’s part.
The lock doesn’t give way. Andry is sharp about the Star Scroll. Pol is aggressive. Myrdal concludes that the lock, in the shape of a sun, is broken. Then Rohan, who is clever, finds the one star carved into the wall. He warns everyone to expect a reaction, and opens the wall. A dragon flies out, and enchants Rohan into immobility. Sioned’s scream saves him. He realizes it’s an illusion. He laughs it off.
Ruval appears, taunting. Rohan assumes he’s also an illusion. But the knife in his shoulder is real. Riyan and Chay race to the rescue. Pol recognized the illusion of the dragon. Now Riyan recognizes a new illusion. “Ruval” is Ruala.
Sioned upbraids Rohan, which reassures everyone that he’ll be all right. Rohan knows Mireva is still in the hiding-hole. Maarken rushes in and is driven back.
Andry takes charge. He asks Sioned to weave protection for herself and the rest, then enlists Pol to “see which of us she most wants dead.” Pol and Mireva exchange taunts and jeers. Andry proposes a “Fire dream,” an illusion of himself and Pol. Pol’s illusion slips and fails. Andry is contemptuous; his powers are smooth and practiced. He drives Mireva back, calling on Pol to “grab her.” She shifts into Meiglan, then into a monster, both with Mireva’s eyes.
The eyes save Pol. He recognizes the illusion, and tries unsuccessfully to throttle her. Rohan moves in, breaks the illusion, and binds the sorceress with wire. He finishes with a bit of bravado: “Does my version of taking action meet with your approval?” Pol is embarrassed. He sees how Rohan has bound Mireva: he’s pierced her ear with steel. Any sorcery she tries “will cause her the agony of all Hells.”
Pol asks why he didn’t kill her. Because she’s worth more as a hostage, Rohan answers, and because he has “something else in mind for her.” Pol sees death in Rohan’s eyes. Rohan orders Pol and Maarken to shut her up in the cellars.
There is some back and forth with the rest of the searchers. Rohan concludes from Mireva’s taunting that Ruval has left the castle—probably as one of the guards sent to search for Mireva. Pol is in awe of his father’s cleverness. Rohan sends everyone to bed. Andry exchanges taunts with Mireva. Riyan observes that now Ruval will have to fight Pol “fairly.” Now Mireva can’t work sorcery, there can be no “starfire dome.” Therefore, no using Riyan and Ruala to work sorcery.
Mireva continues taunting. So does Andry. Myrdal tries to shut it down. Mireva continues to mock. Pol responds in kind.
There is somewhat of a procession to the dungeons, with Pol, Andry, and Maarken escorting the prisoner, which various returning inhabitants see. Pol realizes how brilliant Rohan is, to reassure his people that the sorcerers are under control. Pol continues to reflect on the utter brilliance of Rohan’s cunning plan. He also reflects that Sionell was right. He was cruel to Sioned. He resolves to “make it up to her,” and to apologize to Sionell.
Maarken interrupts his reverie by showing Mireva into a cell reserved by Zehava for “those rare idiots who offended him twice,” before they were cast out in the desert.
Mireva continues to mock. She threatens Hollis, which arouses Maarken’s temper. He actually alarms Mireva.
Pol inspects the cell and reflects that it must be like the one in which Ianthe imprisoned Sioned. Andry concurs that she’s not getting out of there, or out of Rohan’s steel bonds, either. Pol and Andry have a moment. Pol actually thanks Andry, and says they work well together. Andry isn’t playing. Pol is thinking in terms of potential futures. Andry knows the future, and he doesn’t see any alternatives.
Andry keeps needling, and keeps pushing. Pol stops trying to meet him in the middle. Andry leaves. Pol hangs back, taking time to reflect on how he acts out of “instinct and emotion,” but Rohan is a rational man, and a patient one. Pol reflects on Andry and the future he sees. Pol concludes that patience is a virtue worth cultivating, and that his parents are truly remarkable rulers.
The viewpoint shifts to omniscient, and the action speeds up. Ruval’s challenge comes on starlight at dawn. Pol is ready. He’ll answer at noon.
And I’m Thinking: These books haven’t often thrown me into editorial mode—they’re wonderfully immersive reads, and I’ve reacted primarily as a reader, both positively and negatively. But this chapter made me twitch for the old red pen.
Here’s a climactic scene, bringing one long arc to a head, and setting up for the shorter one of the challenge and combat and the longer one of the future Andry foresees. Rohan fulfills the promise of his cleverness, and Pol finally understands his father.
And yet there is such clutter. A whole crew of people go yakking and tramping loudly through the castle. If they’re searching for sorcerers, and there really is such a warren of secret passages, wouldn’t you think they’d try to be quiet and they’d keep the search party down to a couple of people? Rohan is grandstanding here, and my editorial comment would be along the lines of, “All this lead-up and it’s this easy in the end?” He’s ever so very very clever, and Mireva barely puts up a fight. She mocks a lot, but she’s captured with utter ease. (Really, it’s not that easy to pierce an ear, especially if the victim is fighting back.) And then there’s Rohan’s shoulder wound, which gets forgotten about as quickly as it happens. So, I mean, why?
The same applies to the kiss-and-make-up between Pol and Sioned. For years, decades, she’s dreaded telling him the truth. He has a brief tantrum, a sort period of not being terribly comfortable, then it’s all “I love you, Mama.”
Not that it isn’t heartwarming, but it goes by so fast.
Then in the end, Pol spends pages and pages reflecting on how wonderful his father is; and Ruval’s long-awaited challenge gets a short paragraph.
Really tired of Clever Rohan by this time. He’s fine by himself, but everybody including the man himself goes on. And On. About his utter unmatchable wonderfulness that nobody else can ever match ever. Not. Ever.
Chapter 26—Stronghold: 35 Spring
So This Happens: Tobin is in a roaring rage. Ruval’s challenge upset the twins horribly, and she’s been struggling, with the children’s parents, to calm them down. Rohan tells her that every Sunrunner in reach of starlight got the same wake-up call. He also tells her that this is Pol’s fight, and that he was right about Ruval: he got out disguised as a guard.
They discuss previous threats, including the other two Ianthe sons, and the current threat, with the challenge that spread so far. Pol has to meet it because he’s the key. A sorcerer in control of Princemarch would upset the power balance in devastating ways.
Rohan tells her that Pol now knows everything. She takes a moment to be sympathetic. They discuss Pol. Tobin did not know Hollis killed Segev. They discuss Maarken’s reaction to Mireva’s threat against Hollis, and also further potential threats against Hollis and the children. Tobin is fierce. Rohan is clever, if cryptic, in hinting at his plans for Mireva’s execution.
The discussion goes on. Pol doesn’t know Ostvel killed Ianthe. Rohan speculates on what might have happened if Masul had got hold of Princemarch. Now, he says, there are two claimants with equal blood right. He goes on at some length about his mistakes and his weaknesses, and his views on war, as well as his conviction that Pol is perfectly positioned to win this challenge.
The discussion devolves into teasing about how old Rohan is, and Tobin is older yet. Rohan isn’t telling her all his plans. Tobin teases and fusses but is ultimately adulatory. “Whatever [you do,] it will be the right thing.” The discussion continues, on the subject of civilization versus barbarism, and how Pol has been forced into the choice. Tobin is robust in her belief that Pol will do the right thing, just like his father.
There is further teasing, with slapstick and a schoolyard tussle. Chay intervenes to tell them that Miyon is packing to leave. They discuss this. The discussion moves on to Meiglan and the chance that Pol may marry her. Rohan reminds his relatives that Pol has a similar heritage to hers.
Sioned sits by the fountain, reflecting on Ruval’s challenge, and how all the Sunrunners agree with her, and Pol, that if Ruval wins, there will be war. She reflects that Pol will have to respond on his own. There’s nothing she or anyone can do to help.
She travels on sunlight to Rivenrock, and remembers the spot where she first met Rohan. She remembers other times there as well, but doesn’t find Ruval. She then remembers her first vision of Pol as a baby, and reflects on what might have happened if she had killed his three brothers the night she claimed Pol and burned Feruche. She wonders if the difference in her actual versus visionary scars points to a mistake in her fulfillment of the vision. She worries that that mistake might hurt Pol.
She leaves the fountain and finds Miyon’s guards saddling up. There is byplay about how they must just be going out on patrol. She needles the captain about the sorcerers in his ranks. She reflects that she’ll have to persuade Miyon to stay. She finds this already taken care of, by Meiglan of all people. She refuses to leave. Sioned reflects that Meiglan must be brighter, and more subtle, than she seems. She’s made sure to have an audience for her defiance.
Miyon is openly abusive. Tallain appears with Sionell, and takes care of the situation for Sioned. With his wife’s assistance, he works on Miyon to stay. Sioned moves in with thanks for his sending his guards to search for Ruval—their help is appreciated.
Miyon is trapped. Sioned and Tallain keep poking at him about sorcery, Chiana, and the attack on Dragon’s Rest. Sionell defuses the situation by inviting Meiglan to go for a walk in the garden.
Later, Sioned tells Rohan, Chay, and Tobin about the encounter. Sioned actually admires Meiglan’s handling of the situation. There is some teasing, and some glee about Miyon’s certain fate. They discuss Pol, and the shock of the recent revelations, and how he should have been told long ago. There is teasing. They worry. There is some bickering. They are all worried about Pol.
Sionell sets out to discover what Meiglan knows about her father’s plots. She quickly determines that Meiglan is not stupid, though she is uneducated. Meiglan begs for advice as to how to interrogate her maid about Mireva, then reveals that Miyon was using her as a diversion. Sionell concludes that Meiglan really is an innocent.
Pol answers Ruval’s challenge, broadcast, on the noon sunlight. He does so with spectacular skill. Some respond positively. The Sunrunners of Goddess Keep turn to Andry for cues.
Andry is planning to stay whether Rohan’s decree allows it or no. He’ll learn to shape-change if he has to. He has plans of his own for Mireva.
Pol is in waiting mode. He’s chosen to work with sunlight, as he still considers himself a Sunrunner. “No one must ever know otherwise.”
Sionell happens by. They speak uncomfortably of the coming duel. Pol asks Sionell to be there. She talks about magic—how she wanted it when she young, but now she doesn’t. She’s afraid of “what it does to people,” especially Andry.
She confronts Pol with what he’s intending to do: to kill his own brother, and with it his joy in his magic. They snap at each other. Pol feels the emptiness where her love used to be, and blames himself for it. They part in bitterness.
Miyon accosts Meiglan in the garden, and proceeds to abuse her verbally. She defies him again. He tells her she’ll stay, yes, as Pol’s wife. It’s the only way she can be safe, he tells her. She realizes it’s not just her life she’ll save; it will be Miyon’s. She tries to defy him, citing Sionell’s friendship, but he gets her to confess that she wants Pol. She still clings to defiance. He leaves her with a blow that almost breaks her nose.
As Meiglan washes off the blood, Pol finds her. He reacts with rage against Miyon and tenderness toward her. She declares that she trusts him. He finds her innocence remarkable, and completely unlike the “proud cleverness” with which he’s surrounded.
Pol begins to muse on his difference from his father: Rohan is patient and cunning, and Pol can’t be those things. Meiglan points out that his way is different—better, she says.
She’s saying exactly what he wants—needs—to hear. He kisses her, with more commentary on her innocence. She looks as him and sees safety, and discovers desire. She asks if she can watch him win. “Feminine instinct” arouses, and she knows he’ll kiss her again.
And I’m Thinking: This chapter, though it has plenty of Rohan and Pol, is mostly about the women. Tobin gets to chew some grand scenery, in the process of summing up the key events and themes of the trilogy. She also indulges in some brother-sister silliness. It’s really kind of much for me–I’m not a fan of the tease-and-poke school of family relations, as you all know by now–but I do love Tobin. She’s one of the best characters in the trilogy, by far.
Sioned continues the backstory roundup, then moves on to the matter of Miyon. She finds inadvertent allies in Tallain and, surprisingly, Meiglan. Meiglan has found her courage, and defies her father.
Meiglan’s scene is hard to read. She’s terribly fluttery and stammery. It’s good to see her plucking up some guts, but it’s obvious she’ll be paying for it—as she does later, physically as well as emotionally. But that seals the deal with Pol, so for her it’s an ultimate win.
Miyon is a right bastard. Most of the other villains are more Snidely than Whiplash (oh, god is Mireva snide in chapter 25–if she had a mustache she’d twirl it), but Miyon is the whole package. Everybody wants his blood, and he’s doing his best to make sure they don’t get it.
Pol here is more heroic than he’s ever been. He’s been so immature for so long, and has spent so much time being Rohan’s Mini-Me, that it’s shock to see him suddenly showing up as an ace Sunrunner. Especially considering how not-ace he was in dealing with Mireva, and how Andry had to step in and do it right. Consistency, much?
There’s a lot of leaning on how he’s not like Rohan, he’s not “cunning,” he’s not really all that clever, he’s Action Man. He’s a screwup, too, when it comes to Sionell, and he falls headfirst and eyes open into Meiglan’s honey trap. As innocent as she is, she’s still snared him—and he’s attracted to her because she’s weak, dependent, and girly.
Eighties Me sighs and eyerolls and wants to smack her, but let’s face it, she’s a particular brand of fairytale princess. One we haven’t seen in this world before, with so many powerful and headstrong women, but in the wider scope of the genre, she’s a trope.
A trope, it has to be said, with a little depth to her. She’s a severely abused child, and she’s clutching at any safety she can find. Pol’s ego loves it, while his naturally soft heart falls for it, and her.
2015 Me isn’t buying the “feminine instinct” bit at all, but the abuse and the reactions on both sides are painfully realistic, if a bit histrionic. Pol’s adopting a whipped puppy, which is nice for his karma, but it’s a distinct step back; she’s painfully postfeminist. I’m afraid the subtext is that you get enough strong women and the boys will push back. Then you get patriarchy all over again.
I guess it’s romantic. She’s certainly playing the trope of the innocent girl discovering her sexual feelings, and being guided by the strong, experienced male. Not my cuppa, but it’s one strong theme of a powerful and popular genre.
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café 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.