Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of Skybowl!
This week no one’s plan survives contact with the enemy. The women are uppiting all over the place. Pol comes into his own, and several forms of the inevitable, inevitably, happen.
And best of all: Dragons!
So This Happens: In Chapter 31, the rogue women and Isriam wait for the enemy to come back. They discuss Isriam’s prospects and family, along with the various factions of sorcerers and what to do about them after the war. (They are happily convinced that they are going to win.) And, in connection with that, what to do about the Sunrunners. Sionell again spills the beans about Pol’s sorcerous ancestry. Ruala shares her own family secret: Merisel had an affair with Rosseyn, and she’s their descendant. (…READ MORE)
This segues into a discussion of what kind of High Prince Pol will be with all his combined bloodlines and powers, and how he will act when he confronts the High Warlord. Which in turn brings Sioned and company to a full-circle summary of all six books, with Andrade’s rings and Pol’s ancestry. Then the women get to work.
Meiglan is in Skybowl in the care of the priests. She reflects on her captivity and on the small ways she’s defied her captors, and also on how she’s come to think like a High Princess.
Suddenly Sionell bursts in and drops to her knees in relief. Meiglan gets rid of the priests, and Sionell fills her in on what’s going on—including the fact that the soup is poisoned. They didn’t realize Meiglan as well as the priests would be eating it. Sionell is incredibly glad she got there in time.
Both women burst into tears. They comfort each other. (Wow. Irony.)
Ruala meanwhile is spinning lies about dragons to the High Warlord.
Back in the tower, Sionell gives Meiglan all the family news, with a couple of signal omissions. Meiglan tells her own news in return. Including a new fact: the Plague came from the Vellant’im when a group came to recover the Tears of the Dragon, which had been stolen by sorcerers. One of them had a childhood disease, to which people on this side of the world had no immunity. Further proof for Sioned that (as Rohan always said) “there are no accidents.”
Then Meiglan tells Sionell what is supposed to happen to her and why—and what she’s done to set the enemy up for destruction. Sionell is suitably and considerably impressed. Meiglan observes that she’s finally learned how to be High Princess and a good wife to Pol. (Oh, the twist of the knife, though she doesn’t even know it.)
Sioned is having an attack of the horrors about all the things that can go wrong. Sionell shows up, and reassures her that Meiglan is all right. That calms Sioned down, and gives her an idea. She’s going to make the sacrificial victim disappear.
Arlis is having a sexual dream. Laric shakes him out of it. Laric’s steward has defected from Yarin’s camp, with news of what’s been going on. Hundreds of sorcerers are not serving him willingly, she says.
Laric doesn’t believe her. She’s a plant, he declares.
Aldiar bursts in and takes her, somewhat hysterically, hostage. She’s an involuntary spy, he says, under the same mirror spell that caught Chiana many pages ago.
When that’s taken care of, Arlis and Laric wonder how they’re going to win tomorrow. Neither has any idea.
The High Warlord ponders his plans, remembers his dead, and takes time to yearn after Meiglan. Suddenly a priest bursts in, dying horribly. Which is actually a good thing, the Warlord reflects.
He immediately realizes who must have done the poisoning—and is horribly afraid that Meiglan is dead, too. Until he finds her in a scene of carnage, very much alive.
She is perfectly serene. The Warlord is wildly ambivalent. Sionell bursts out of the garderobe, but escapes. After some confusion and a bit of Fire, he manages to capture one of the others—from the evidence, that would be Alasen.
Chapter 32 finds the High Warlord confronting Sioned. If he’s hot for Meiglan, he’s wild for her mother-in-law.
He’s bound the women with steel needles through their hands to prevent them from conjuring Fire, except Meiglan, who can’t be blemished. They’re coolly defiant (and apparently impervious to pain).
Sionell meanwhile is sincerely and lengthily regretting her lack of Sunrunner powers. She’s escaped, but she has no idea where she is. She knows she has to alert Pol.
Finally she finds the kitchen. She can’t go there, there are enemies arguing. She ponders her options at further and extensive length, and eventually decides on a direction to go.
Back at Goddess Keep, Norian wakes to find Edrel in armor. The enemy are moving.
They discuss plans and options. She gives him his marching orders. He is obedient. She goes to deal with Jolan.
Sionell, lengthily and internally monologuing, is making her way out of Skybowl through secret passages. She again wishes she had magical powers. And hopes she can find her way out before it’s too late.
Pol can’t sleep. He’s pondering his options, somewhat lengthily, but not nearly as much so as Sionell. Tobin contacts him. They have a long discussion about what he has to do and why and how, and also about family and responsibility and what his mother and the others are doing. Tobin refuses to answer that last.
As she signs off, Andry shows up in the flesh. They discuss the plan, and the enemy, and what the horses are for: a stampede. They’re brought up to come when called, you see….
This inevitably segues into the old brangle between them. Suddenly Walvis bursts in, bellowing at Sionell, who is in full armor (pause to wonder where the hell she got it and when). Walvis is Not in favor.
Sionell insists she has to speak to Pol. She tells him the news from Skybowl. Also, explains where she got the armor.
The chapter ends with them in an armor-pinchy clinch, and Sionell declaring that everything’s going to be all right.
As Chapter 33 begins, we’re back at Goddess Keep, where Torien and Jolan are taking dranath. They’re preparing a ritual for the rest of the devr’im. She’s leaning on him about how he’s the de facto Lord of Goddess Keep. He isn’t playing.
There’s some bickering and grumbling as the others come in, the general alarm having sounded. Torien ponders strategies and misses Andry. The jostling around continues. Finally they’re all in place, and Torien is appreciating the irony of sorcerers working for the Goddess.
Evarin and Andry are also taking the drug and chatting. Andry speaks remarkably positively about Pol, and about morals, ethics, and so on. Suddenly a new group of rebellious women shows up, led by Hollis. Andry is pathetically grateful Tobin didn’t come with them.
Meanwhile the dragon banner from Stronghold arrives, and Pol is asked where he’s like to show it off.
Rohannon gets a wake-up call and gives one. Aldiar’s a girl, he tells Idalian. (Ha! I knew it!)
Pol has a different set of armor for Sionell to wear: Birioc’s, which her husband Tallain won. He has an ulterior motive. She’ll imply the Merida have switched sides, and she’ll be highly visible when it’s time to snatch her to safety.
Sionell gets it, and she’s pissed. Pol tells her that if he or Meiglan dies, she’ll be Regent of the Desert. This pisses her off even further. But she takes the armor.
Pol ponders strategy and gives orders. Then Visian gives him the White Crown, with its burden of symbolism. It’s not the real one that Rosseyn wears, but it gives him a vision from that time—how all this badness has happened because of “one woman’s schemes.”
Pol ponders some more. Then he gives Maarken an order, framed as a request.
Sioned and company are in durance vile. Meiglan is with them, because she’s now sullied by contact with non-priests. Sioned ponders Pol’s plan and his options, and how her own plan has failed in ways that make his much more complicated. Also, she ponders her plan to kill the enemy, and the disconnect between ideals and pragmatism. It’s a very Rohan kind of dilemma.
The High Warlord arrives. Meiglan is haughtily defiant. Sioned is anguished: he’s wearing Rohan’s favorite earring.
They go out. Sioned ponders the situation. Rohan would be proud of Pol, she reflects. She allows as how she might be, too.
Alleyn and Audran are up to mischief, incited by Jihan. Rislyn is in on it, and so are the rest of the magic class, Meig included, but not Tobren because she’s Andry’s daughter. They’re heading to the Attic.
Alasen is bound and in pain. Meiglan is free, and confident that Pol will rescue her. Alasen takes in the scene and the characters around the crater that is Skybowl. The High Warlord is magnificent in white and jewels.
Suddenly Alasen hears a series of whistles. The horses are all from Radzyn, and they all know that pattern of calls. It’s dinnertime! They start galloping off. Sioned is laughing out loud.
Chay is disappointed. Only a tenth of the horses got away. His sons agree that it was worth it: it’s got the enemy off balance. Now it’s Andry’s turn.
Hollis and company settle in to be Andry’s power source. They talk about it, with some by now standard sneering at the superstitious enemy. Jeni adds a sneer at their side, with her glare fixed on Sethric. She’s quite out of sympathy with him.
Then she collapses, along with Chayla. Andry’s working has begun.
The children are all together in front of the mirror. They talk about whether there’s anyone in it. Jihan has other plans, involving Rislyn’s dragon and the light outside.
Meig tries to conjure the man in the mirror, but there’s no one. They discuss this. Meig shrugs it off. Jihan is busy with her other plans. Meig goes to sleep. (Meig is very young.)
Chapter 34 begins the deliberately falsified ritual. Sioned reflects on this. Ruala is translating the High Warlord’s speech. Sioned regrets the way she’s treated Meiglan—and the so-clever trap she laid, which created this sacrifice.
Ruala keeps on translating. The Warlord blames Pol for the priests’ murder, because mere women can’t carry that level of responsibility. He’s going to sacrifice Meiglan himself, the way he sacrificed his eldest son to purify the ships. The women are horrified.
The Warlord looks at Sioned and smiles. And she realizes he doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. It’s a game—and he plays it better than Pol. More ruthlessly.
She sees him as like her. Then hears Rohan’s voice begging to differ.
The Tears of the Dragon are brought out. None of the good-guy magic users feels their power, but Sioned does.
The enemy bring out a white cloth that hides Meiglan and the Warlord from the women, but Sioned can see the shadows, and a knife lifting. Sioned tells the others to wait.
Finally Andry makes his move.
Andry realizes he needs more power. He grabs at Sioned, runs into the needles. Sioned tells him to find Riyan and use him as a shield against the steel. Andry gets to work, conjuring an army out of (fake) dragons’ teeth.
Andry is absolutely full of himself. Then it dawns on him that the women he’s drawing on are in agony. The sorcerers are shielding him but not them. That brings him down abruptly. He ramps down his conjuring, and sees the women with their bleeding hands.
Pol and company admire Andry’s dramatic conjuring, though Chay is gruff about it. Then the working collapses. Andry is in a rage about the women and the needles.
Pol is seriously unhappy, too. This shoots down his own plan. He can’t shield Meiglan, herd the enemy away with the ros’salath, and avoid a battle and killing.
He forbids Maarken to use his powers. He’ll be a non-magical war commander today. Then he orders Andry to give him control of the ros’salath, because the sorcerers won’t help unless Pol is in charge. They argue about it. Chay shuts them up by reminding them of the time.
Maarken puts on a show of bravura. Pol and Andry shut up and listen as he rallies the troops. Pol tells Andry they have to work together, as usual.
Andry leaps on his horse and gallops off to make his own speech. Pol is furious. Andry starts to out him as a sorcerer.
Pol takes charge. He doesn’t say who his mother was, but he admits to his dual heritage. And states that he’s High Prince., and he belongs to his people. He rallies them.
Andry tries to call him on it. Someday he’ll have to own up to his mother. “Never,” Pol says.
The argument shifts to discussion of what’s happening in Skybowl. Pol is terrified for his Meggie. They bicker over the details of Pol’s plan.
Pol explains why he has Andry and the Sunrunners here, though he doesn’t really need them: to present a unified front. He demands that Andry not fight him. They stand together against the enemy.
In the Attic, Jihan is fretting about her plan. She doesn’t know enough Sunrunning to do it, so has to rely on Rislyn’s dragon to see what’s going on in Skybowl.
The dragon doesn’t understand. Then Azhdeen shows up, and he’s in a rage. So are all the other dragons. Jahnev says they’re talking through colors—and then Lir’reia fixes on Rislyn.
Edrel takes stock of the troops lined up at Goddess Keep and the enemy coming on. The Sunrunners are all safe inside, of course. He reflects on war, loyalty, and responsibility. He does his best to focus on the coming fight.
The Warlord reflects on his knife, his ritual, and his enemies. He appreciates Sioned’s understanding of what he really thinks. He reflects on his sons, and on Meiglan, whom he wishes he could take home with him and marry. “Such a waste.”
Chapter 35 shifts to Andry, who reflects grudgingly but pragmatically, and at length, on the show he and Pol are putting on, and the fact that Pol is making sure Andry keeps his Sunrunner’s oath. Then he realizes Pol’s crown is starting to glow.
Andry goes Sunrunning to Skybowl. Meiglan is serene and the black pearls are glowing. He takes stock of the rest, and sees Betheyn (age 30) making eyes at Isriam (age 17). Nooooo! Sorin’s Chosen, Choosing anyone else? A kid? Noooooooo!
Andry puts a bookmark in that one to come back to later. With Fire.
The High Warlord strikes with his golden knife, and meets a wall of sunlight. Andry laughs.
Meanwhile, back in Goddess Keep, the ros’salath is in trouble. Too much steel. Torien cries to Andry for help—and Jolan gives him all the Sunrunners. He uses the sorcerers among them as best he can, to shield the rest from the steel. But he’s not Andry. He sends his plea on sunlight to the Desert.
The Warlord is in shock. He can’t kill Meiglan. And he’s glad, glad I tell you. He wants her to choose him over her husband.
She, of course, isn’t even on the same page. The Azhrei, he decides, has to die. Right Now.
The enemy is preparing a charge. Pol beats Andry to the ros’salath. His is nonlethal—and Chayla is loudly outraged.
Andry is just about to deck Pol when he gets Torien’s plea for help. And he knows what to do. He grabs hold of the killing spell back at Goddess Keep.
Now we get a lot of short takes—brief scenes on all fronts. Edrel sees the enemy coming. Pol and Andry duke it out magically. Sioned realizes she can use her pain to hone her power.
Pol is furious but (as usual) helpless. Andry is in control, and killing. Then Sioned contacts Pol and gets the update. And gives him a tremendous gift. “What is you want, then, Rohan’s son?”
Sioned takes power from Alasen and Ruala and gives it to Pol. Pol uses it to pull in Sunrunners from all over the continent.
Sorcerers aren’t so easy. They don’t trust him. Suddenly a great white power offers itself. Through that power, hundreds of other sorcerers come in. They see Pol as their ruler. He can use them. He’s “High Prince for everyone.”
Sionell and Dannar, though they’re halflings without actual power, can see the light around Pol’s head. Sionell determines to find out where it comes from.
Then the dragons come. (Dang. That gets me every time.)
Pol and Andry are duking it out again, magically. Pol just about has the upper hand when the dragons shoot it all to hell. Though not flaming. Yet.
The Sunrunner and sorcerer children in the Attic are in a trance. Jahnev wakes up Meig and tells to him to go get Audrite, and stay out of sunlight. Our omnipotent narrator tells us this is how the brothers will be for the rest of their lives: Jahnev without gifts, using Meig’s gifts but telling him to be careful.
The dragons have conclusively taken over. It’s out of Pol’s hands. The one unnamed dragon claims Andry, and the bloodlust spins out of control.
Pol fights to control Azhdeen and defuse the rest of the situation.
Andry is blind drunk on dragon power and Sunrunner power and dranath. He barely even notices when it starts to fall apart.
Sioned starts to come to. She takes stock, and decides to fight through pain and burn off Isriam’s bonds, so he can find a physical weapon and use it.
Pol’s got it. He’s got them all. Except Andry.
The viewpoint shifts to omnipotent. Dawn sorts out the Sunrunners from the sorcerers. Maarken, ordered not to use his powers, gets to work being Battle Commander. He and Chay discuss this, with some sparks flying. It’s hard on Maarken: he has to conclusively choose between his brother and his High Prince.
The ros’salath is killing Vellant’im. Then the dragons come, and Sionell gallops up. She says it’s Andry killing, and demands that he be stopped. Then Maarken’s dragon pulls him into a nonlethal ros’salath.
Isriam frees himself and sets Betheyn to freeing the other from both ropes and needles. He’s going after Meiglan. Betheyn declares her love and sends him off to the High Princess.
Sioned is in awe, and afraid, of what Pol has created.
And Andry. Andry and his dragon are key. So are the sorcerers. Thalassante is having a wonderful time.
Meiglan is absolutely starry-eyed about Pol. The Warlord apologizes. There’s no Fire left to protect her. He kills her.
Pol, meanwhile, combines sorcerers and Sunrunners to overwhelm the Vellant’im.
And I’m Thinking: Well, that was wild. So many threads, so deftly woven. Great writer-craft there, on a par with what Pol manages to do.
Of course I saw Meiglan’s death coming. Like an oncoming dragon, it came. In another, more emotionally ambiguous world, she’d live and the love triangle would persist and continue to complicate Pol’s life. But major characters get their perfect marriages, goddammit, and marital infidelity is for bad guys.
Pol is half bad guy, of course, and Sionell is safely a widow, so they could have their one night of sex and their ongoing sexual tension. But if Pol’s going to be the great all-encompassing hero, he has to be one hundred percent good guy. And that means no active love triangle.
Meiglan is explicitly a sacrificial lamb. Of all the women in this series, she’s the weakest. She has her moments, and she does some important things, but ultimately she’s knife fodder.
The High Warlord, for me, is one of Rawn’s very best characters. He’s right up there with Sioned, especially post-Rohan Sioned, for depth, complexity, and ferocious self-awareness. Unlike the other villains, who mostly sneer and bicker and twirl their moustaches, he makes complete sense in his own context.
Pol is mostly plottus ex machina. I understand why Rohan can’t be the live adversary, he doesn’t have the magical powers or the sorcerous bloodlines, but the way he’s written, he’s the High Warlord’s most convincing male match. Pol is a dumb jock until he isn’t, and then he’s all great unifier of the world. So, yeah. Whatever.
Pol’s actual match isn’t Andry, it’s Meiglan. Two weak characters who do what the plot says. Grand high drama here, and heart-thumping adventure, and stunningly gorgeous visuals.
But when I step back, it’s the Warlord and Sioned that I remember. They’re interesting.
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, a blue-eyed Heart Dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.