Rereading Melanie Rawn

Rereading Melanie Rawn: Sunrunner’s Fire, Chapters 29 and 30

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! The trilogy comes to an end at last, and we get a strong and indeed devastating lead-in to the next trilogy.

Chapter 29—Rivenrock Canyon: 35 Spring

So This Happens: Pol reacts to Ruval’s monster, and notices Ruval’s surprise when a gust of Air redirects the poisonous goo. Someone else is in the mix. Pol deduces that it’s Mireva, and she’s free. Some of the slime strikes his face. He scrapes it off, with a pause to remember how honorable he is: he can’t just throw his knife at Ruval. It’s against the rules.

This train of thought goes on for a bit. Then he concludes that he can’t throw the knife, but he can throw the poison. Ruval recoils, and Pol goes after him, yelling at him to surrender. Ruval mocks. Pol summons Fire. Ruval responds by conjuring Air. Pol’s control is perfect. Ruval mocks, then leaps and tries to strangle Pol. Pol’s knee gives out.

Pol flings them toward the flames. Ruval lets him go, but they’re surrounded by fire. Pol tells Ruval who he really is. He mocks, and reflects that power is for using. Rohan has never had it, so never understood it.

He calls down fire from the stars, and strikes Ruval down. It’s effortless, just as using the sun’s Fire is. He’s perfectly balanced between them.

He can’t kill his brother. But he won’t help him, either. His knee is in terrible pain. It collapses.

Ruval attacks again, wearing Pol’s face. He’ll keep it, he says, just long enough to kill Rohan. Or maybe longer—until he’s had sex with Meiglan.

Pol begs and pleads, playing for time. Ruval mocks and jeers. Pol continues to beg. Ruval’s guard drops. He chuckles. Pol attacks.

Pol crawls out of the fire, wondering why no one has come to help. Then he sees an image of himself outside the flames. Ruval is still alive, and no one can tell which is which. But Rohan isn’t looking at Pol—either of him. He’s looking up.

There’s a dragon overhead. A male, and he’s under Ruval’s control. The horses panic and bolt. The dragon dives for Pol, whose knee gives out completely.

Pol is furious. He does battle with Ruval to control the dragon, who is fighting back.

Ruval’s illusion evaporates. Pol realizes Rohan’s way is right. He’s been fighting on Ruval’s terms. He has to fight on his own. He also realizes Ruval wants to own everything. He’ll destroy everybody who gets in his way. Pol first, then Andry.

Pol fights with love, and merges with the dragon. The dragon swoops on Ruval and carries him off. What’s left of him is found days later.

Aftermath. Everyone recovers in various ways. Meiglan is the first to leap into Pol’s arms.

Miyon rules that the victory was legal, since a dragon isn’t a weapon or a person.

Rohan notices that Meiglan and Pol are totally fixed on one another. Meiglan is stammery. Rohan is wry, teasing Pol about lighting a premature beacon for his burial. He realizes Pol isn’t into teasing as a release from tension, though Pol rallies and manages a bit of banter.

Rohan wishes he could say more, and resents Meiglan’s intrusive presence. But Pol has made his Choice. Rohan has to live with it.

They discuss arrangements for getting out of the canyon. Rohan remarks that Pol’s new scar is nearly identical to Sioned’s.

Pol looks for the little carving of a dragon. Meiglan finds it for him. He tells her Urival gave it to him. He reflects that the gift was given at the end of book two, when Masul et al. died. It’s a talisman. He gives it to her. “Your first dragon.”

Further logistical arrangements get the party back to Stronghold, where they find a subdued Andry and a very dead Mireva. Rohan indicates that Pol should burn the body with Fire. They leave her burning on the steps of Stronghold’s gate.

And I’m Thinking: Finally, we cut to the chase. There’s a fair amount of internalizing and analyzing, but Pol gets the job done. His knee injury seems to be about as permanent as Rohan’s shoulder injury: it’s major and disabling at the time, but then it’s more or less forgotten. His facial scar gets more airplay toward the end.

Using the dragon to kill Ruval is a nice touch, as is Pol’s choice of love rather than hate as a weapon. That’s very much in the vein of Rohan-and-Sioned. Nurture wins over nature, conclusively.

All the tidying up means everybody gets a mention, so we know where everybody is and how he or she feels and what shape he or she is in. Meiglan is obviously going to marry Pol, and the in-laws don’t get any say in it, though they’ve had plenty to say to each other and in their heads. Pol doesn’t care, or seem to realize there might be a problem.

That’s definitely a postfeminist relationship.

And we’re left with the image of Mireva’s body burning on the steps. So much for all her grand plans—though really, she did win, in a way. A Roelstra grandson will inherit both Stronghold and Princemarch. Her breeding program succeeded, right alongside Andrade’s. Sorcerer blood is not only more widespread than anyone knew, it’s in charge.

The final image is striking: the sorceress’ body, immolated by Fire, on the castle steps. Very dramatic, very cinematic.

 

Chapter 30—Princemarch: Autumn, 728

So This Happens: Radzyn Keep burns in the aftermath of a massacre. Invaders have come, big dark men with short, stocky horses. This goes on for some time, in horrifying detail.

Andry wakes from this nightmare. He knows who the invaders are now: they’re Merida. He’s in Princemarch, and he’s determined to do something about what he foresees. He reflects on events since the duel. Pol married Meiglan, Miyon (to Andry’s outrage) went free, and Riyan and Ruala took over Feruche.

Now he’s in Princemarch secretly, hunting sorcerers.

Dragons came back to Rivenrock at last, brought by the “dragon brother” Pol saved from Ruval. The dragon population has increased dramatically, and Pol has been given the credit.

Andry continues to sum up events: who won, who lost, and who was pardoned, including Chiana. Gemma in Syr had another son and named him Sorin. Andry visited him, then went into the Veresch incognito with two companions. Valeda wants another child, but Andry has refused.

He reminisces about the morning after the duel, when he went to Alasen on sunlight to tell her the outcome—and to ask a favor. He wanted her to spy for him in Castle Crag, to find out where the sorcerers were, so that he could eradicate the terrible danger.

She refused flat out. Later, Ostvel came to Andry and accused him of plotting “wholesale murder.” Ostvel told Andry he would never allow it, and ordered him to stay away from Alasen.

Andry won, however, because Ostvel’s interrogation of Mireva’s followers gave Andry the information he needed. Andry continues to reflect, scornfully, on events, and on Pol’s actions since the duel. As for his own actions, he’s been systematically tracking and identifying sorcerers.

He continues his ruminations and justifications, at length, in detail. It occurs to him that Chay might have been right; he might be causing the events he’s trying to prevent. But he dismisses the thought.

He thinks about how he “dealt with” a sorcerer a few days ago, and his whole family as well, branding the door with “a sunburst radiating Sunrunner’s Fire.” It’s all “dealing with” and “removing” and pondering timetables and logistics.

Valeda comes to him in dishabille. There is teasing. Andry is internally cold to her. She’s just there, and conveniently warm.

Next day, Andry disposes of another sorceress. He’s  meticulous about it. He’s also thorough in his rationalizations, and in his suppression of any pangs of conscience. He’ll save Alasen. She’ll understand. She’ll forgive. He’s the chosen one, the Goddess’ servant.

Inside the sorceress’ cottage he finds a magical mirror. He discovers that he can conjure anyone whose name he speaks, and see how much power that person has. Rohan has a little, he’s surprised to notice. He discovers that the mirror detects living Sunrunners but not sorcerers and not places.

It doesn’t show Alasen. Or past or future. Or the dead.

He has Nialdan hide the mirror by burying it, with some teasing. Then he discovers a letter that spells out exactly who Pol is and goes into detail about the sorcerers’ breeding plan. “He is one of us and knows it.” He’ll keep the sorcerers safe.

The letter goes on to say that the woman Andry killed was planning “with your approval” to go to Pol and teach him what he needs to know. He’ll be a prince for all people, sorcerers included.

Andry is literally floored. He spends some time debating as to whether to keep the letter as proof of the long lie Pol and his family have lived, or destroy it because of what it says about Pol’s powers. He decides to destroy it.

He rounds up Nialdan, with teasing, and rides away. Next time, he decides, he’ll interrogate the sorcerer before executing him or her.

And I’m Thinking: Holy crap. We could have had a nice triumphant ending on a saddish but up note. Instead we get the anatomy of a genocidal fanatic, and a setup for the next trilogy.

Andry is…oh my. Just, Oh my. We’ve had snide and sneering villains and wicked sorceresses and even pathetic posers like Chiana, but Andry is the real deal. He’s the perfectly righteous, utterly justified, completely confident practitioner of pure evil. With just enough banter and teasing to remind us that he is, by blood and upbringing, one of the Desert crew. Out of all those perfect marriages and all that giggling and chuckling and cuteness, he’s distilled himself into a much more effective and destructive villain than Roelstra or Mireva could ever be. He’s the culmination of Andrade’s plotting—Pol isn’t; he’s a combination of two sets of mutually opposed but functionally identical breeding plans.

Andry is the ultimate demonstration of both Andrade’s principles (or lack thereof) and her fundamental failure to think it all through. She bred him without full consideration of the consequences, raised him and elevated him with that exact and fatal lack of forethought, and now the world pays for it.

But then the Sunrunners have a history of that. They don’t think things through. And that’s where the next three books have to be going.

This must be where the assessment of these books as “grimdark” comes from. I’ll be reading those next for the first time—it’s not a reread, though it’s a convenient tag for the blog.

In the meantime, well, holy crap. Next week I’ll do a roundup of this trilogy, with more thoughts on the story as a whole. Then, as here, we’ll go on to the next.

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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