Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
It’s all getting intense! Mara pulls off the con of the century, magicians battle against magicians in a battle worthy of Star Wars special effects, and everyone’s wearing a cute frock except Arakasi.
Chapter 31: Kentosani
SUMMARY: Mara wakes up, shortly after being blown up by the Assembly of Magicians. Turns out that the cho-ja magicians rescued her with their mighty teleportation powers, which they did not extend to the queen and the cho-ja hive which sheltered her; the queen’s memory has been preserved in the cultural bank of their species, but she herself and all the cho-ja of her hive have been destroyed.
Yes, Mara, you absolutely should blame yourself for that one.
Still, they have a corrupt magical organisation to bring down, no time for chit-chat. The mages offer Mara a chance to check in on her loved ones and allies before the final push into Kentosani, the Holy City which is the heart of the Tsurani Empire.
They show her images of Hokanu, in a war room in Kentosani, as he and his cavalry made it into the city before the siege began. He is accompanied by his Shinzawai advisors, Arakasi and… Chumaka? What the –
Mara is startled to see the Anasati First Advisor with her husband, and the cho-ja mages show her Jiro’s death scene in explanation.
This is all very exciting, but who exactly is besieging the Holy City if the Lord of the Anasati is dead? Soldiers in Omechan colours, it turns out, while our lovely Hoppara of the Xacatecas (whom, Mara is informed, was sent there by his perfect mother Isashani) defends the walls, leading the Imperial Whites.
Watching this, Mara laments that her own armies—even presuming they haven’t been destroyed by the Great Ones, which is a big if—are too far south to be of any use in breaking the siege.
The mages do the cho-ja equivalent of a snigger (it’s more of a buzz really) and point out that she has quite a substantial army willing to follow her leadership. They show her footage of the cho-ja quitting the field and rebelling against their shocked Tsurani masters.
CHO-JA ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES, BABY!
The revelation that the cho-ja were mercenaries and not slaves all along is startling for the poor dears, especially when their original ‘bids’ are returned to their treasuries and the cho-ja go off to do whatever they want.
Mara meanwhile, launches the next stage of her plan: to have her son declared Emperor. The cho-ja take her via tunnel all the way beneath Kentosani, and summon her a maid to help her frock up, then Arakasi to advise her on the current situation.
Unexpected teleporting spy-master, woo!
Arakasi is dressed as a cleaning drudge, and has been busily collecting all the High Priests he can, as they need 100% representation to be sure the wedding and coronation can not be legally challenged later. (It’s entirely possible that some of the High Priests are still in their pjs)
On Arakasi’s arm, Mara ascends to the Palace, where she is finally reunited with her cheerful red-headed son Justin, who seems to be enjoying himself. Princess Jehilia’s mother is in hysterics, apparently, and Jehilia herself threw a tantrum at being told of her intended bridegroom, until it was pointed out to her that the other options for her future husband were at least 30 years older than her.
As they approach the imperial dais, Mara gets a grin from Jehilia, at least, so it seems she’s come to terms with it all.
Meanwhile, several of the Magicians including Shimone and Hochopepa are hanging out at the doors of the High Council hall. They’re pretty sure something is up, and are lying in wait for Mara because there’s no way she’d miss an important political gathering.
Hmm. They couldn’t have… missed a key detail to today’s events, could they? Surely not.
The Magicians sense a disturbance in the Force (yes, okay, but seriously, that’s pretty much what happens) and realise to their horror that someone is setting unsanctioned wards in the palace—someone very much not of their order. Cho-ja mages!
They all flock to the courtyard outside the imperial receiving hall, and test the new wards which are unsettling and powerful.
In fury, the Great Ones gather all their might and attack.
The imperial wedding goes ahead despite the crazy show of industrial light and sound from the attacking Magicians. Some of the priests are nervous, but the others are not intimidated by the show of power from outside.
Still, the building shakes, the pillars crack, and the cho-ja mages are hard-pressed to defend the imperial ceremony. One by one, the wards fall. Mara positions herself at the doors, ready for one last terrifying bluff.
As the coronation ceremony is completed, and the protective wards on the brink of destruction, Mara orders the doors flung open, and the Great Ones summoned before the new Light of Heaven.
“We have no power left,” the Chakaha mage to Mara’s left murmured in a near-inaudible frequency.
Mara waved a placating hand. “The Great Game,” she murmured. “Now we must all play, or die.”
COMMENTARY: Are you freaking kidding me? This whole book has been an elaborate build up in the emnity and professional rivalry between Arakasi and Chumaka (Nemesis Bros!) and when they finally meet it’s in an OFFPAGE SCENE?
I am so disappointed over this, I can’t even tell you. I suppose that means we’re not going to get to see them dance-off to see who’s the best, either?
This book, it is full of heartbreak.
There’s actually a lot that happens offpage in this chapter that I personally would have liked to see—the arrangements for the wedding, conveying the plan to Justin, and so on. But I suppose Mara’s had a lot to do…
In any case, we know that her people are really good at pulling a plan together, so a lot of the procedure can be inferred from previous schemes.
What’s key here is that no one is telling Mara that her plan is a terrible idea—she expects at least a little pushback, given everything she’s ever done for the Tsuranuanni Empire ever, but the priests are in her corner, Arakasi and Hokanu are in her corner, and the cho-ja are willing to do whatever she says.
(Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of the cho-ja decided to go to Disneyland the second they threw of their shackles, instead of signing up for Mara’s war, but it seems like they’re all on the same page in this one)
And yes, we’re only a couple of chapters from the end, so there isn’t time for Mara to have any internal thwarting. Finally, all the results she has pulled off over the last three books have paid off in one giant leap of faith from her supporters.
Interesting, then, that the Great Ones are all suddenly on the same page too—Hochopepa and Shimone have been on Mara’s side or at least not actively working against her all along, but as soon as the cho-ja mages are unleashed, the entire Assembly are united in wanting her dead.
There isn’t much time for the personal in this massive chapter of Things Happening, but there are some lovely moments of intimacy—Arakasi’s reunion with Mara, and his joy at seeing her again; Justin hugging his mother despite them both wearing their fanciest court clothes; Jehilia’s grin in the face of overwhelming formality; Hokanu’s hand tight in Mara’s as they pull off the long con of the century.
And of course it wouldn’t be an important chapter of Mistress of the Empire without a Kevin reference—slightly less gratuitous than most of them, as Mara admires his genetic contribution to her son with his wide grin and glowing red hair.
Where’s the baby, though? I know Mara is busy at work, but if someone doesn’t plonk Kasuma in her arms stat, I will be very displeased. BABY.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian SF & fantasy author, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. 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 & Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia or the Verity! podcast.