Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
This one is full of anticipation, gleeful hand-rubbing, creepy dudes making creepy plans in back rooms, and aggressive men shouting at each other in public. So, a lot like Australian politics.
See, that sounds like it would be a super boring chapter, but this trilogy has trained me to be excited whenever the fancy high-up people file into any kind of assembly hall to make serious political decisions. Assembly woo! TSURANI ASSEMBLE.
Summary: Chumaka knows what I’m talking about. He is literally rubbing his hands with glee. He’s practically breaking out into song, he’s so into what’s about to happen. Jiro, meanwhile, is having a quiet siesta with a good book, which is why he is a cut-price villain. Tasaio would at least be, like, torturing someone in his spare time.
There is a quite disturbing bit where Chumaka locates his master via his sense of smell. Let’s move quickly past that.
Jiro and Chumaka discuss their military plans, and how Mara has totally fallen for their ruse by pretending to allow her spies in with their siege engine workers. Chumaka then rubs his hands with glee again while plotting Justin’s “accidental” death. Oh, Chumaka. That’s cold. Even Jiro thinks it’s creepy to suggest that the boy gets “mistaken for a slave” and casually brutalised—he wants his nephew killed quickly and without fuss. Like a misplaced spear.
On the other hand, when the conversation turns to Mara, it’s Jiro’s turn to creep Chumaka out with how excited he gets about rape, torture, and possibly mixing the two activities up in new and inventive ways. You are equally gross, dudes. Stop it right now.
Chumaka hastened his step, loudly whistling now that he was out of his master’s earshot. “Gods,” he broke off his tune to whisper, “what would life be without politics?”
Elsewhere, the Empire is in mourning and Kentosani the Holy City is in panicked political chaos. Ichindar, Light of Heaven, is being embalmed and put on display. The new Emperor cannot be announced until the 21st day of mourning, which means plenty of time for the various factions to get all riled up and bloodthirsty. Merchants are all suffering badly as many of their produce is being casually destroyed or stockpiled by the various military forces milling around, or tossed overboard to make room for warm bodies, as people are being smuggled in and out of the city. It’s a bad time to be in business.
The various families are coming into the city, preparing for that whole assembly business, and holing up in their townhouses. Three families are notable for their continuing absence: the Acoma, the Shinzawai and the Anasati. Too much to hope all this could be sorted by a dance-off?
In the City of Magicians, a bunch of Great Ones are all sitting around the magic television, flicking between the Jiro channel and the Mara channel. Both of them are acting as innocent as possible, which fools no one. As Fumita states, they are both waiting for the other to move first, so that they can claim to be defending themselves and not breaking the anti-war ruling. Shimone and Fumita are pretty much the only Magicians on Mara’s side. Which is kinda depressing.
Hochopepa arrives to announce that one of the young hotheads in council has been advocating for setting fire to everyone. And the vote to do exactly that nearly passed. Time to do some serious talking-people-out-of-stupid-things!
The Assembly of the title, then, is not the High Council at all, but the Magicians themselves. I probably should have realised that earlier. I blame the cold and flu meds. What follows is the longest, hottest, most passionate and downright nasty debate that the Assembly of Magicians has ever partaken in. It lasts for days. They have nothing more important to do. Nothing.
Hochopepa basically does a filibuster to convince them all that they can’t just set fire to the Empire, blast a bunch of targets and push everything back into place from before Ichindar changed the world. They need to move forward.
Hocho finally retires in exhaustion and the floor is given to Mochita, who is basically a hook-nosed villainous type, probably played by Steve Buscemi. He points out that Mara of the Acoma has breached their anti-war agenda, and should be turned into jam. Others protest, pointing out that Mara needs to respond to Ichindar’s death as his closest supporter, and it is Jiro’s siege engines that obviously break the edict.
The crotchety Magicians argue back and forth about all kinds of pesky details, but one voice rises above: Tapek the Exceedingly Annoying who demands that Mara’s life be forfeit. Hochopepa weighs in on this topic again, trying to talk sense into his colleagues without making his bias overly obvious:
“I suggest we try other expedients before we obliterate the Servant of the Empire.”
He tries to encourage all to bring Mara and Jiro to the Holy City and discuss the matter sensibly rather than raining fire—and when Tapek stubbornly refuses to cede the floor for this proposal, Hochopepa literally stands on his foot. Hard. Until he agrees. Hochopepa is the greatest and the best of everything.
Hooray, crisis averted, time for the Magicians to relax and get drunk. Because there’s no way that could possibly go wrong…
Commentary: Hochopepa is the kindly uncle who should be in charge of fixing all Internet debates and flamewars. Which is basically what this Assembly meeting feels like. Ha, a literal flamewar, because of that one guy who kept wanting to set fire to people? It’s fascinating how many of the more important moments of the Empire trilogy are conveyed through large groups of people shouting at each other in rooms, but that’s a lot more interesting to me than the actual military tactics, so let’s go with that.
Everyone wants a big Holy City showdown in the Council Hall, including the Magicians, so let’s skip to the end. Great stuff! I wish I could solve all my writing problems by having a bunch of magicians whisk my characters directly to the final act. It’s a clever move.
No Mara in this chapter at all; it’s all about the manoueverings that are going to affect her. Nice to see that most of the Magicians give her some credit for probably not assassinating the Emperor to elevate the status of her son from outside the country, because that really would have been a dubious strategy on her part.
To follow on from my discussion about Mara’s ambition last week—I probably muddied the waters by talking about women who have been villified for their ambition in the history books, and by comparing her (favourably, I might add!) with Cersei Lannister. I didn’t want to imply that her having ambition should be seen as a negative thing. I love Mara’s ambition. Yes, she’s a selfless person and she embodies the Tsurani ideal of serving the needs of the Empire and her own House before her individual desires. But. She is also ambitious. She’s a person of great vision. These skills are part of what keeps her alive, because she isn’t just scrabbling to solve one minor problem at a time, she’s always thinking bigger than that. She reaches for the sky.
Mara is like one of those entrepreneurs who starts a small business while at home with the kids and ends up CEO of a massive business empire that’s still really family friendly and organic and generally a great place to work. And then everyone writes blog posts trashtalking her, and we’re back to the Assembly of Magicians as a metaphor for how the Internet can be terrible. These books were written in the early ’90s, they’re probably not really a metaphor for the Internet.
But oh, this chapter is the not good part of politics, the part with men shouting in a room and not the good part where Mara does something clever and pwns everybody. I want to get to that part now. I wonder if that’s in the next chapter?
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy recently completed a serialised novel, Musketeer Space, available to read for free on her blog, and her latest piece of published short fiction is “Fake Geek Girl” at the Australian Review of Fiction. She writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter or Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, or listen to her on Galactic Suburbia!