Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
This week: cho-ja magicians and more travelling! I hope someone’s finally given Mara a pair of boots.
Chapter 21: Decision
SUMMARY: Kamlio prostrates herself before Mara, shocked that her Mistress would put a servant’s wellbeing above the safety of her own family (by not agreeing to trade Kamlio in exchange for the information she needs). She’s still clearly suspicious that Mara is being nice to her her for the sake of Arakasi, so that Kamlio will feel obliged to put up with him as her inevitable future husband.
Mara repeats what she has said before: Kamlio should not consider herself under pressure to requite Arakasi’s romantic feelings. She then follows up by totally pitching Arakasi as an awesome potential boyfriend, though to be fair it is Kamlio, not Mara, who extends the conversation in that direction.
After some fairly explicit girltalk about that one time Kamlio and Arakasi actually had sex, Mara suggests gently that if Kamlio cannot, as she say, offer the man love, perhaps she could try friendship instead. Kamlio is impressed that this might be considered sufficient gratitude for him saving her life.
Mara is summoned to the Kaliane, who presents the decision of the Elder Circle: Mara is to be allowed to travel freely through the kingdom of Thuril and to be allowed to visit Chakaha, the mysterious city of the cho-ja magicians.
Internal squee! That’s like going to Diagon Alley to buy a magic thing and being told you get a free ride to Hogwarts, right?
Accompanied only by one of her own people (she chooses Lujan) and a chatty female acolyte named Gittania, Mara sets out on yet another journey across the wintry highlands.
Mara catches sight of the exquisite crystal city of the cho-ja, made up of several colourful hives. Winged cho-ja, bright of colour instead of black like the cho-ja back home, fly overhead. Gittania tells Mara that all cho-ja magicians are colourful—the reason she has not seen then before is because they are forbidden in Tsuranuanni. (Heavy emphasis on: your people are terrible, and should be ashamed, which is the continuing theme of this particular travelogue.)
As Mara and Lujan leave their guide behind to approach the city, Mara asks Lujan about his history with the notion of honour, thanks to his time as a Grey Warrior, and he talks of how they built their own honour system. He reveals that if even one of his ‘house’ of Grey Warriors had not been included in her initial invitation (and Papewaio’s clever trick of finding familial connections to each of them) then none of them would have joined Mara’s household.
She guesses from that that they still hold to this ‘all for one and one for all’ covenant, even though they have also sworn loyalty to the Acoma. Lujan promises her that they are only loyal to their Grey Warrior kinship as a secondary concern after Mara’s needs and wellbeing.
On that note of mutual understanding, they are promptly arrested by the local cho-ja guards, and taken prisoner.
COMMENTARY: I feel that I should have been keeping a tally of gratuitous Kevin references all along, but it’s too late now. In this chapter, Mara deliberately references her relationship to Kevin when Kamlio suggests incorrectly that Hokanu is the love of her life. Mara has also started hallucinating Kevin’s sense of humour commentating the more intense experiences of this rough, undignified journey.
Mara does, still want to repair her marriage with Hokanu, but it’s also pretty obvious that she’s more invested in the Arakasi-Kamlio romance than in her own. And still sighing over the loss of her hot barbarian.
Following up the question from last week’s comments, we have an answer as to whether there are men among the Thuril magicians: Gittania tells the story of the youngest apprentice ever to become a master magician, and refers to him as male. So there’s at least one.
Gittania serves a fairly basic plot purpose, which is to escort Mara and Lujan to the cho-ja and to build up how scary they are and how likely they are to be resentful at visiting Tsurani because of how badly their people have been treated in the Empire. She’s a cheerful character, and it feels like she’s being set up for a more integral part of the story, but instead she bids them farewell after three days and we get a brief glimpse into her POV before she disappears entirely: she is wistful at parting from them, she has come to like them both, and she thinks Lujan is handsome.
Likewise we get a brief glimpse into Kamlio’s head in this chapter, though again only for a few sentences, not a whole scene. Kamlio is distressed at Mara leaving her with the Thuril, not because she is afraid at being abandoned, but because she has realised that she is loyal to Mara’s service now, having learned to respect her as a person.
I do feel a bit sad for Kamlio that she has such a low bar for how she is to be treated – that she has only just come to believe she is not going to be traded as property, even though she was told that she was not a slave months ago. Makes you wonder how many of Mara’s servants are in her household out of loyalty, and how many genuinely believe they have no choice and are basically property…
I’m quite excited by the potential story unfolding around the cho-ja and their magicians. Mara’s story of a young girl coming into a surprisingly weighty political destiny was one of the things I always liked about this story, but I managed to find quite a bit of female-centred political epic fantasy in my teens – the aspect of this story that I always felt was unique to the genre was the portrayal of the cho-ja race and their interactions with humans.
Mara’s negotiations with the cho-ja, from her conversations with both queens in the first book, to the military respect she shared with them in the second book, and the recent revelations about how much she and other Tsurani have assumed wrongly about them over the centuries, have been an ongoing theme illustrating how Mara thinks differently to others of her society, and is rewarded for this flexibility by acquiring greater resources and strategic options.
I’m glad to see that this storyline is paying off so substantially, as it makes all those previous references (which appeared to be only there for character and world building) work a lot harder towards the overall epic plot.
Cho-ja are far more complex and visually interesting than orcs or goblins, that’s for sure! I always have an image of them in my mind of being like large shiny ants, only with harder shell exteriors, so possibly more like a cross between ants and Stormtroopers (only the height of Boba Fett). What visual cues do you summon up when you imagine them?
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!