Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Star Trilogy!
This week we continue on with The Dragon Token. I’m breaking this book up into 100-page bits. The next 100 pages or so comprises four chapters, and very dense and chewy they are, too, full of twists, turns, and a completely new set of players.
The Dragon Token—Part Two, Chapters 6-9
Here’s What’s Happening: Part Two, and Chapter 6, opens with disaster drills in Goddess Keep. The alarm signal is a huge and very loud horn, and the refugees are not totally cooperative about the drill. What is clear here is that Andry is inflicting authoritarianism on a rather more individualistic population, and that he’s using the present crisis to do it: kind of an extremist foil of Rohan and his rule of law.
It’s also clear he’s relying on a Big Lie, and a fair bit of smoke and mirrors, to get what he wants. Jayachin is very much a part of the show, and in very showy clothes, too. Andry reflects on symbols, and on how reality has departed from his visions. The departure has to do with Pol and his dragon. Andry does not like this.
Brief, chilling interpolation from Lady Merisel’s book, about the burning of a sorcerer. We can see where Andry gets his inspiration. His interaction with Jayachin is loaded with classism and snobbery, and a suggestion of what Valeda, apparently jealous, sees as courtship.
Meanwhile, in the recent past, Yarin is up to something: He’s all sweetness, and he’s letting Tirel and Idalian out of house arrest—and asking Idalian to give arms instruction to a guest who is a proficient archer. An assassination in the making? Idalian wonders. The pupil is young, tall, and very dark, like a Fironese or an invader—a fact to which he calls Idalian’s attention.
Andry, in a lengthy and contentious meeting with his closest associates, announces that he’s leaving Goddess Keep: “I’m the Lord of Goddess Keep and can do as I like.” He’s delegated all his responsibilities—with a note on how he’s made sure no one job is confined to any one person, which is quite intelligent of him—and made plans to save the Desert. Because no one else can do it. Which won’t make Pol happy at all. But Andry doesn’t care.
Next scene: confusion between flout and flaunt. Bad copy editor, bad. (Flout means resist with defiance. That’s not what Amiel is doing by trumpeting his royal birth at every opportunity.)
Word misusage aside, this is a nice little vignette about the evolution of a snotty princeling into a well-behaved and newly married royal heir, with actual positive view of Pol being a good, fair, and not at all indulgent teacher. Then, on their way home, the young couple are caught in the war. They make it home, Amiel and his father lock horns over how to handle the situation, his wife tells him she’s pregnant, and he rides out on a pretext suggested by her: to fetch badly needed physicians. With a largeish army. Which no one (nudge, nudge) comments on.
Domestic moment: Pol telling a bedtime story to his daughters. It’s about a dragon, and the Goddess, and colors, and it has a Purpose. He wants to teach them about what happened at Stronghold, and about being Sunrunners—to reassure Rislyn, who is now terrified of the sunlight. Pol is going to kill a great many Vellant’im for that.
Another, and much more adult, domestic moment: Andry and Jayachin after sex. Jayachin tells Andry he’s her second noble lover. Riyan was the first. She refers to him as lord of Feruche. Andry does not like that. Feruche, in his mind, is Sorin’s. She’s trying to manipulate him. She’s very ambitious. But he sees through her.
She is blunt. So is he. She thinks she understands him. He tells her what he really is about—what no one (he thinks) has understood since Sorin died. He doesn’t want Feruche, or any reward from Pol. He just wants to save the Desert. He throws her out, and tells her not to try to claim he got her pregnant, because he knows her cycle.
Arrogant to the very last, is Andry.
Chapter 7: Another domestic moment, between Rialt and Mevita, who has sprung Rialt from jail. They are quarreling. She prevails on him to do something about the coming battle and Chiana’s obvious choice of sides.
Rialt meets with various people and gets information about what’s been going on behind the scenes with Chiana and Rinhoel. There are a number of dragon tokens among the bad guys, and Rialt figures out what they mean. They offer the bearer safe passage through enemy lines.
Pol reluctantly approaches Feruche, with backstory explaining that reluctance. Once inside, everyone is busy, and nobody needs Pol except Meiglan and the twins. Domestic interlude, with “thoroughly adorable” kids, and a pause for reflection on what’s beyond the sea and how the enemy has managed to navigate across it. Sunrunners’ water problem has kept the good guys’ world extremely small and limited. (One wonders how they’ve kept the population from overwhelming the island, actually, since infant mortality appears not to be a thing—every child so far has made it to adulthood, barring murder or other trauma.)
Further domesticity as Pol broods on the war and the enemy, and Meiglan is all, “You can do anything.” Pol tells her he loves her best (outside of bed) when she’s making music. She continues to be adoring. Pol patronizes her very tenderly, and talks to her as if she were a child. “My world is you,” she says. And he goes on patronizing her, oh so lovingly.
Walvis is mourning Rohan, with detailed flashback to their first meeting. (It is always about Rohan.)
Banquet scene. Meiglan does a politically astute but emotionally inept thing involving seating. Pol seems surprised at the astute part. Meiglan seems bemused by her own position. Pol has a plan for the refugees filling up Feruche, and has been using Meiglan to get it going. Meiglan may not be happy about being High Princess, but she does seem to embrace the game of manipulating people. So, with some difficulty, does Pol, who constantly compares himself to—of course—Rohan.
It’s an interesting scene: a clear division of classes between the merchants and the nobles, and a great deal of highborn arrogance and middle-class venality. Andry comes into it, in his usual role of red flag for Pol’s bull. Pol somewhat accidentally ends up getting the results he wants, with much self-doubt (if he only knew it, he sounds just like his father).
The scene ends with a truly condescending assessment of his “dear, loyal, loving Meggie,” and how it’s not her fault she doesn’t understand.
Mevita, meanwhile, has her own dragon token, a gift from Pol. Cluthine will take it and go riding out, with hopes of passing information to Tilal and his army.
Chay and Betheyn discuss the banquet scene. They compare Pol and Rohan, and discuss father-son differences in general. Chay is not impressed with Pol. Betheyn is not impressed with Meiglan’s clumsy attempt to honor her in the seating arrangements.
The new regime isn’t getting good marks compared to the old one. Nobody is happy. Everybody wants Rohan.
Pol requests an audience with Sioned. Sioned is getting royally drunk. This is a tough scene. Sioned is far down in not-giving-a-crap, and Pol is pushing hard on the “I Need You” button. (Also the “Meggie is useless, bless her heart” button, but that’s the bed he made and he has to lie in it.)
Sioned just can’t. Pol gives in, with a rare show of compassion for how bleak and lost she is. He’s stepping up there, and being the adult.
Chapter 8 opens with Tallain and Riyan concocting a diversion in the spectacular Desert landscape. (And here again we have the casual acceptance of female soldiers—as long as they’re commoners; the nobles are totally patriarchal.) They go on a bit about Merida stupidity.
Then Pol appears. Riyan has a moment of shiver at Pol’s ability to conjure starlight—proof of his sorcerer gifts. They discuss history and strategy, and what to do next. With the inevitable comparisons to Rohan.
Birioc, who now styles himself Prince, discovers that Tallain and Riyan have disappeared. He and his uncle bicker and strategize, and he arms himself in a very fancy, very old jeweled breastplate. Birioc finally has a chin scar, and also has Vellanti beard beads for the men he’s killed. There is further bickering and sneering as his brothers appear. They discover the other side’s feint, and bicker some more, until the attack falls on them.
Rialt comes back from the docks, and won’t tell Mevita what he’s done. He realizes she’s been up to something dangerous herself—just as guards appear to arrest them for “treason.”
Once they’re imprisoned, Rialt tells Mevita he’s set up the food storage to be flooded out. They take turns analyzing the results of that. Then she tells him Cluthine has gone to Tilal, but there’s been no word. They both hope Naydra can protect their son.
Noon. The battle is over, following a historic strategy. Pol and company have won a decisive victory over Cunaxa and the Merida. He and Kazander have used the Desert to destroy them. They’ve captured three of Miyon’s sons, but Pol realizes the fourth is a pretender. He wonders, insouciantly, where Birioc is, and gives Cunaxa to Tallain as regent for whichever one of the twins wants it (bearing in mind that Meiglan is the Prince of Cunaxa’s daughter).
Pol continues to be insouciant. He reveals that he is now High Prince, and declares Miyon deposed as Prince of Cunaxa. Tallain and Riyan do not like this. At all.
They like Pol’s next act even less. He traps the Merida with Fire, and the Merida’s own fear kills him.
Tallain just wants out, as Pol gives crisp, dispassionate orders to hunt down Birioc and secure Cunaxa. Then, following the same historical precedent as the battle strategy (pointing toward the barbaric past that Rohan tried to eradicate, but also subjecting them to a sentence once levied by Rohan), he has all the male survivors deprived of their right hands and cauterizes them with Fire.
Tallain is numb with horror. Pol admits that he is, too. He’s doing what he has to. Tallain is well on the way to hating him.
Chapter 9 shifts to Fessenden, and further hints of marital infidelity, as the royal heir’s brother Camanto admires the royal heir’s wife. She is in a temper over the political situation. He is manipulating her. He’s playing power games, with a hint of seduction.
In the middle of this, there’s a hint dropped about the destruction of a sorcerer by Fire. (We know it was probably Andry on one of his genocidal excursions.) What catches Camanto’s attention is evidence at the site of Lord Yarin’s presence or interest—which indicates that either Yarin is a sorcerer, or someone close to him is.
Firon is in the Veresch. Yarin is working to get control of Firon. Camanto suspects that there are battalions of sorcerers waiting to make a move—and they’ll aim for Princemarch. Camanto has his eye on the princedom. He has no use for either Andry or Pol. He’ll act on his own, for complex reasons, including desire to save the princedom. He manipulates his brother into riding to war and presumably his death, and watches him go.
Naydra, widowed and without a son, reflects on the emptiness of her life, just as a visitor comes to drop a bombshell: She’s a sorceress of royal line through her mother, there’s a faction opposed to Mireva, Cluthine is dead, and the faction needs her. She composes herself and tells him to tell her “what you think I am.”
Pol and Riyan discuss using the Desert against the enemy, and Pol swears to kill the warlord who killed Morwenna’s dragon. They discuss dragons, and how they seem to be attached to their humans. They conclude that dragons see humans as, basically, stuffed toys.
They continue to strategize, and talk about having the nobles swear fealty to Pol. Pol unburdens himself his doubts and fears, and his impostor syndrome, related to Rohan, of course. He’s terribly worried that all he’s good at is killing—then he realizes Rohan did it all before him. Riyan hits him with tough love, and gets his temper up—but also kicks him out of his pity party.
Isriam the squire plays dragon for the pack of children at Feruche, and reflects on the forthcoming exodus to Chaldona with the commoners, which he will be leading.
Sioned appears, staggering drunk. Rislyn demands a story, and Sioned agrees to take the children upstairs and tell them one. One of the servants tells Isriam she is not eating. She’s trying to drink herself to death.
Isriam goes to find Meath and tell him this. Meath agrees to try to do something about it. Meath is about done with Sioned’s performance, or lack thereof. But he realizes no one can get through to her but Sioned herself. (This with a sizable dose of Rohan-worship and former-Sioned-wonderfulness.)
Naydra is coming to terms with the fact that, after a long life of powerlessness, she has actual power. She decides to go to Tilal and Ostvel, and asks the sorcerer Branig to help. She plans her escape, organizes everything, then goes to steal Rinhoel’s dragon token—and finds young Palila doing the same thing in an attempt to comfort Polev, whose parents are in prison. (This is a great distillation of the Rawn style: cute kids, domestic details and family drama, high intrigue, and complex politics. And dragons.)
Naydra takes the token to Polev, then when he’s asleep, retrieves it, telling Palila she’ll put it back where it belongs. She makes it to the rendezvous just a little late. Branig tells her everyone is distracted: “trouble at the dockside warehouses”—Rialt’s sabotage has been discovered. As they escape, he shares information about his people: that they use sorcery rarely, that they believe in the Goddess, and that they are not horrible murdering villains.
Branig puts a guard to sleep. And he teases. This, in Rawn-speak, must mean he’s a good guy, because teasing is love. Naydra has no sense of humor. Branig apologizes, and says he’s high on dranath.
The lesson continues, along with the escape. The good sorcerers don’t like Andry. They reach the escape point, and he works a spell of invisibility. Naydra is able to sense it. Branig is polite and respectful.
The lesson goes on. As does the escape. Branig’s faction wants to follow Pol, who seems tolerant of sorcerers, and Naydra, who is the descendant of ancient royalty. He’s taking her to Tilal.
They arrive safely and unchallenged. Tilal is astonished. Ostvel doesn’t trust Branig, who says he’s the court tutor, but he does trust Naydra. They strategize, and decide to “Attack everybody.”
And I’m Thinking: Holy twisty turns, Batman! Not only do we have a whole new set of players on the already crowded stage, we’re seeing more and more moral ambiguity. Good guys are doing whatever it takes, bad guys are being bad (and getting crushed for it), Sioned is a right royal mess, Pol shows actual positive traits though he can’t really do anything that isn’t a weak shadow of Rohan, and Andry, like winter in another and even more famous series, is coming.
There are still some constants. Good guys may bicker and quarrel, but they don’t sneer or mustache-twirl. Bad guys are snide and snarky, and they’re always snarling at one another. By this measurement, Branig must be a good guy: He’s polite, considerate, and apparently honest.
He’s also, by coming forward now, throwing a huge massive wrench in the works of the already bitter rivalry between Pol and Andry. The bad sorcerers are about to make another move, too, if the speculation about Yarin’s real motivations proves true.
I’m glad Naydra gets some time in the sun (or starlight) for a change. It’s late and she’s been through hell to get here, but she finally has a chance to be important.
“Meggie,” however… She’s terribly drippy and limp, which is bad enough, but the way the whole family patronizes and condescends and is ever so careful to say nice things to her is downright gag-worthy. No one including Meiglan is ever left in any doubt as to the fact that she just doesn’t measure up.
Like Pol. Who will never, ever be as good as his father.
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.