Rereading Melanie Rawn

Rereading Melanie Rawn: Sunrunner’s Fire, Chapters 27 and 28

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! We’re almost to the end of the book and the trilogy, and the big final duel is under way, along with a series of additional conflicts and some new perspectives on old events.

Chapter 27—Rivenrock Canyon: 35 Spring

So This Happens: Ruval is in hiding in a dragon cave, and he’s panicking. He can’t find Mireva anywhere, which means he’ll face Pol alone. He tells himself he’ll win. He knows a way to kill Pol, one that no one will expect.

He reflects on his surroundings. He’ll eradicate dragons from the world; meanwhile he feels as if he doesn’t belong here. That goes against his grain: he wants to own everything. He takes dranath and gives himself up to the high. At sunset he goes out, alone and intending to win—in Ianthe’s name.

The Desert contingent rides en masse to Rivenrock, except for the still shaken Ruala, and Riyan, whom Pol ordered to stay with her; also Andry and his Sunrunner henchmen. Meiglan is part of the Desert contingent. There is a flashback to the fight between Sioned and Rohan over whether Pol should marry her. Sioned is vehemently against it and her. Rohan argued that Meiglan might not be the disaster Sioned thinks she’ll be, and warned her not to make Pol choose between them.

Now Sioned frets over Pol taking an unworthy bride, and therefore an unworthy successor to Sioned as High Princess. They arrive at Rivenrock. The ceremonies begin with the blowing of dragon horns. Sioned takes a moment to reflect on how Chay has aged well.

Ruval appears, alone, in contrast with Pol’s large and glittering escort.

Rohan reminds Pol of the rules and gives him the wineskin of dranath. Sioned and Pol have a loving moment. The last thing Pol does is smile at Meiglan.

Sioned has to deal with this, at some length, including a memory of Pol’s vision of himself as High Prince, ruling alone. This is fate. Sioned realizes it’s also a love match.

Rohan interrupts Sioned’s reflections with bitterness about everything always coming down to single combat. Sioned tries to comfort him, but knows he’ll be fighting the battle in his own head and heart. She spends some considerable time being awed by his patience and strength and sense of responsibility. He internalizes. Pol, by contrast, externalizes.

Pol and Ruval face one another. Sioned sees their colors. Pol’s are pale. Ruval’s are dark. Sioned has seen blood in the sunset light. Pol sees fire.

Ruval is wearing ten Sunrunner rings. Pol sees him briefly as Andry, then tries to find a family resemblance to himself. But Pol is all Rohan. There’s no resemblance.

Ruval conjures fire. Pol conjures Fire, with ruminations on Meiglan, Mireva, and Meiglan again. She feeds his ego and makes him want to belong to her.

Ruval starts off snide, with a sneer at Pol’s honor. Pol responds with a demand for proof of Ruval’s parentage. Ruval shows him a vision of pregnant Ianthe. This is the first time Pol has seen his mother.

Pol offers to buy him off with Feruche. Ruval counters with a threat of the ros’salath in a potential war. Pol points out that he didn’t actually accept the challenge, just the meeting. Ruval ripostes with an even stronger threat: he’ll reveal the truth about the dragon gold. Pol replies that he has no choice but to engage in single combat.

They settle on the rules for the battle, after some byplay about the Star Scroll and about Andry. Ruval calls for pure magic, no weapons, no physical touch. Pol rejects dranath. They continue with the details, at length, including Rohan, Barig, and Miyon as witnesses. Ruval is mocking.

There is a moment between Rohan and Ruval, with flashback to the night Ianthe died. Ruval threatens Sioned as well as Rohan. Pol reflects on how much he loves Sioned.

The witnesses withdraw. Pol reflects at length on who he is (son of Rohan and Sioned), what he is (Sunrunner), what he’s recently learned from the Star Scrolls (and what the scrolls are for and who wrote them), how he feels no relationship to Ruval, and how very sad he is about all the killing. Then he remembers Sorin, and that makes him angry. He decides to fight for Sorin and his parents. Ruval is simply “the Enemy, all Enemies.” Then he allows the duel to begin.

And I’m Thinking: Some beautiful descriptions here, wonderfully evocative. Rawn is amazing when she’s building her world in front of us. She captures the beauty of her settings so well, and with such rich depth of detail.

There are some poignant emotional moments, too, and some deeply affecting interactions. Sioned is purely Sioned, right down to her devastatingly accurate analysis of Meiglan—but so is Rohan Rohan, all seeing-both-sides and que-sera-sera.

Meanwhile Pol is drawn in primary colors. He’s so much simpler than his father, with so much less to him. It’s no wonder he goes the way of his ego in his choice of a bride. He doesn’t want a partner; he wants a sycophant. A horse breeder would say he’s not an improvement over his parents—either the real or the adoptive ones.

And in and around and through and over and under it is a whole lot of yadda-yadda-angsty-yadda. Teen Me would eat it up with a spoon. Cranky Old Lady Me wishes they’d just shut up and get on with it. Life’s short, you know? Let’s say we get it about all the angsty angst, and move on to the explosions.

In fact Cranky Old Me wonders if the author is having trouble letting go of these characters, and/or is tired of writing the same single combat every time, so wanders around and angsts and ponders and murbles and summarizes rather than cutting to the chase.

 

Chapter 28—Stronghold: 35 Spring

So This Happens: Cut to Andry nerving himself to confront Mireva in the cellars, and pondering the power of knowledge, the cisterns of Stronghold, and the inevitability of his vision of Radzyn Keep’s destruction. He goes on to remember previous forays with Sorin.

Mireva taunts him before he can touch the door of her cell. He jeers back, and orders her to tell him what she knows. He knows what Rohan has planned for her, and approves of it. It’s “admirably ruthless.”

They bargain. She gets him to loosen her bonds, but he won’t release the earring. She makes it clear that sorcerers really can’t tolerate iron or steel, and Stronghold is mostly made of it.

When her bonds are looser, she sums up the her part in the trilogy, from teaching Palila about dranath to her plans for the enslaved Sunrunner, Crigo. Andry demands to know more about dranath. It’s clear Rohan intends to kill her with drug withdrawal.

It’s also clear Mireva has no clue that Ianthe’s last son is alive, let alone who he is. She wanted to breed him for what he is: both Sunrunner and sorcerer. She regrets not getting to raise him.

She continues to relate her side of the history, which is parallel to Andrade’s, with similar goals and plans. Lallante was a failure—she refused to use her powers. Mireva reveals something crucial: Sunrunner gifts are recessive, but sorcery is dominant. If one parent is a sorcerer, so are the children.

She goes on to tell him how she raised Ianthe’s three known sons, and how Segev was educated as a Sunrunner.

She doesn’t know about the code in the Star Scroll. Andry is pleased to inform her of it, and to ask her about Lady Merisel. What Mireva tells him bears no resemblance to what he’s deduced from the scrolls. Merisel ordered all sorcerers either slaughtered or prevented from reproducing, Mireva says, but two survived. She also tells Andry the secret of Merida glass knives: they’re hollow and filled with poison.

She is gasping and spitting with hate. She tells him Ruala is pure sorcerer, and so is Pol, though she doesn’t know how. Then she tells him about Sunrunner rings and the detection of sorcery.

She continues to tell him about all the murders including Sorin’s, all for revenge against Sunrunners. The rest of them will die, she says, at Ruval’s hand, since she’ll be dead. She taunts him with how many sorcerers there are, thanks to their dominant genetics. He’ll never find them all.

They can’t stop him, he answers. He plans to kill or control them all.

She flames him through her iron bonds, and nearly destroys him. When the flames are gone, so is she.

Mireva is in terrible condition, but she’s free, and she concentrates on escape. The corridors are deserted except for a footman, whom she kills. She heads for Ruala’s chamber, working on her bonds.

Ruala seemed asleep, but wakes and stops Mireva before she can remove the earring. They spar verbally, then Mireva attacks her with sorcery. They wrestle, and Mireva knocks Ruala unconscious. She gets the rest of her bonds off and conjures starlight to spy on the duel at Rivenrock.

There is no shield between the duelists and everyone else—including Mireva. Ruval seems to have the upper hand, but Mireva reminds herself that Pol is reputedly clever.

Sure enough, he conjures a dragon. Mireva reflects on the details of the spell and the danger to Ruval. She destroys Pol’s spell.

She’s in very bad shape by this time. She pulls Ruala into the starlight and draws on her power.

Meanwhile Ruval conjures his own monster. Ruala is resisting Mireva’s control, but Mireva holds on. Ruval’s monster is illusion, but its eyes weep real poison. She aims some of it at Pol.

She never sees if it reaches him. A knife stabs her to death—wielded not by Ruala but by Riyan, in Sorin’s name.

And I’m Thinking: Holy offstaging, Batman! All that leadup, all that setup, and we never actually, directly see the big final battle. Last chapter we got Pol in full-on murble mode. This chapter we get the sorcerer version of the first book in the trilogy, with special bonus setup for the second trilogy. The duel itself is filtered through Mireva, so we get it in bits and pieces.

Mireva is certainly working it. She’s in terrible pain and she’s soldiering on. We finally get the sorcerers’ side of the story, and it’s harrowing. What happened to them was genocide. It’s not really clear, either, that they were any worse than Sunrunners. The Sunrunners did awful things, things we know Andry is going to do in his turn, because sorcerers killed his twin brother. It’s all revenge, but one side was almost eradicated whereas the other went all crazyface over a handful of murders.

Both sides have done the exact same things for the exact same reasons. But one side sneers and taunts and twirls its mustache, and is sexually promiscuous and has terrible marriages, while the other side chuckles and teases and has silly sibling tussles, and its marriages are perfect and its children are adorable.

Meanwhile Andry taunts and sneers, which indicates his shift to bad-guydom.

And oh lord is everyone plot-stupid about who Pol is. Surely an evil sorceress with a totally twisty mind could put two and two together, or for that matter cook up a spell and figure out that he’s Ianthe’s offspring. There are so many beautifully evil things that could be done with this. Mireva even talks about some of them. But she has. No. Faintest. Clue.

It would be too much up with which to put, except that it’s clear the story is evolving into much more complexity and moral ambiguity, as so many of the good guys are actually sorcerers by blood, and the supposed chief of the good guys is shaping into a genocidal maniac. Nothing is as simple as it might seem.

By the end of this chapter, it’s a very fine mess. Mireva is off the board, or so we can presume, and Andry is set on his path toward true evil. Ruval and Pol, meanwhile, are still fighting it out. We can hope that finally gets around to happening onstage, after two chapters of digression and distraction.

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.

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