Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
Mara starts doing some serious intelligence gathering with some dangerous men, before setting out on her next exciting adventure. Anything’s better than packing!
Chapter 18: Advice
SUMMARY: Mara savours a day of motherhood, with her adorable playful baby, and her devious prankster son. Life is pretty good apart from that whole absent husband business.
Oh, and she’s about to ship both children off to the Imperial household, because that’s the only place she can be sure of their safety. So that’s a downer.
Before they can even finish packing, Mara hears the chime that announces the arrival of a Great One. The children are swept out in a hurry (without Mara even getting to say goodbye to Justin), leaving her to greet her guest.
The Great One is not what she expected—not wearing black for a start, but he is wearing a beard. A BEARD, people. This is not a drill, this is actually the barbarian magician, Milamber himself.
Uh-oh. Still, Mara (literally) brought this on herself, by sending a letter to him. She didn’t expect him to actually turn up…
Mara greets him politely, and he requests that she calls him by the name from his homeland—Pug, not Milamber or even Great One.
Pug is a terrible name. I kind of feel he’s trolling her by making her use it.
Under the guise of polite conversation (yeah, right), Pug notes that it’s a shame Mara isn’t at her usual residence, the former estate of the Minwanabi, as he’s always wanted to admire the architecture—he himself also took over the estate of a fallen House, that of the Tuscai.
Mara can’t be sure if this is a subtle way of telling her he knows everything about Arakasi and his network, or not. Magicians are tricksy.
They entertain themselves with general conversation: making fun of the Minwanabi, inquiring after family health, and that sort of thing. Pug reveals that his exile was formally revoked, but that he did not accept the title of Great One the second time around.
Finally, they get down to the important topic at hand: Mara’s desperation. She tells him her life story, with particular emphasis on how this rift with the Anasati came about. She even reveals the existence of Arakasi and his recent discoveries.
When Pug finally asks her what exactly she wants from him, Mara gives him her completely honest answer: she has seen how badly Tsurani society is stagnating from its heavy cultural traditions and honour system, and she wants to change the world:
“I would see our Lords held accountable for their actions, and our slaves set free.”
Her most immediate concern is that the Assemble of Magicians will try to stop her in her attempts to support Ichindar’s reforms, because Jiro of the Anasati is plotting against Ichindar and Mara is currently forbidden from fighting him. Pug gives her hope by revealing that not all Great Ones agree on… well, just about anything. However, the ones likely to support Mara’s war against the Anasati are going to be a minority.
Desperate, she blurts out her real hope—that he can give her a way to defend herself against the Assembly if the need arises.
Pug does not give her a real answer to this—but he does put up a spell to briefly protect her house from being spied on. He pushes Mara to further examine what it is she is trying to do.
She is furious at his suggestion she merely hire an assassin to deal with Jiro, as that profession has been responsible for so many deaths of her own loved ones.
Besides, Jiro’s death would not solve the overall problem, that the Tsurani are missing something important—something that Kevin of Zun taught her.
Turns out that Pug totally knows Kevin, and can give her some gossip about how well he’s doing back home. He can’t answer Mara’s question about whether he is married, though.
Pug leaves Mara without breaking the oaths he still feels to the Assembly to which he no longer belongs. He cannot help her in any of the ways she has asked—but he gives her one meaningful piece of advice, to look for Allies beyond the Empire, because she will not find many within.
Has he been chatting to the cho-ja queen or what?
Before she heads off on her pilgrimage to Thuril, Mara drops in on the Red God’s temple in Sulan-Qu. The high priest is flattered she would visit, and thanks her for her discretion in dealing with that whole embarrassing prayer gate business when she took over the Minwanabi estate after Tasaio’s downfall.
Mara is here asking advice: in this case, on the nature of magic.
Cue the priestly spit-take!
He is suspicious at her inquiry about what the rules are for who can and cannot use magic—it’s supposed to be confined to the Assembly but some priests use it too—and refuses to help her with her war against the Anasati. But knowing she is going on a long journey (everyone knows, Mara), he gives her an informative scroll as a parting gift.
Oh and he kills a fly with magic to demonstrate that the Red God is totally not all about the dark powers. Not sure that’s the BEST way to prove that point…
COMMENTARY: Have I mentioned how nice it is that Mara’s baby is alive and well and healthy? After all she’s been through, I am really enjoying the scenes that show her getting to enjoy her daughter.
Sadly they are parting company—wahh! It’s good and important though that the story once again (as with the separation between Mara and Ayaki when she fought that desert war) acknowledges the difficulty in balancing parenthood with world-saving. Mara is a working mother and then some, and I find this writing of her very realistic and relatable.
Poor old Justin is always in another room playing swords with Keyoke. Here, he’s swept offstage in a scene that kind of implies they couldn’t get the actor to commit to this season…
But anyway. MARA GETTING ALL THE INFORMATION!
This whole chapter has something of a stage play feel about it, made up largely of two conversations, but they’re pretty crunchy conversations. Mara is obviously on the trail of something, and she’s getting braver about who she lets into her complex web of mystery-solving. She’s like a cross between Oedipus Tyrannos and Veronica Mars.
But did you notice that discreet mention of Kevin? Actually, there have been quite a LOT of those mentions peppered through this book, almost as if the authors are very firmly trying to make sure we remember how important he is, just in case… (puts hands over mouth)
Hokanu meanwhile has discreetly disappeared into the background. Pug draws the line between the dots here for us about how he is connected to both men. So was Hokanu an active player in the original Magician novels? I rely on you all to tell me these things, as I haven’t read them since I was twelve.
We’re all set up now for this journey of hers, outside the borders of Tsuranuanni, to see what she can find about alternative societies, and the secret of the cho-ja. Safari hats on, everybody! We’re going on an adventure.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy’s latest piece of fiction is “Fake Geek Girl,” a novelette at the Australian Review of Fiction, and she also writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter, sign up for her Author Newsletter, or listen to her on Galactic Suburbia!