Rereading Melanie Rawn

(Re)Reading Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Trilogies: The Final Frontier

Welcome to the last weekly Wednesday post on the (re)read of Melanie Rawn’s two Dragon Prince trilogies!

A year and a half, six books, thousands of pages, hundreds of characters. Romance and adventure, war and magic, deep themes, dark moments, happy marriages and adorable kids, gleefully awful villains, heart-stoppingly gorgeous heroes, amazing women characters. And, of course, Dragons.

And now we’re done.

I began this project intending just to reread the first trilogy, but my indomitable commentators persuaded me to go on to read the second. I’m glad I did. You were all so very right. The craft of the books improves visibly, the structure and plotting are much tighter and more impressively in control, and we get to see the overall arc of Rawn’s themes and characters.

I called for questions from the commentators last week, and got a bunch of really good ones. I’ll answer these, then wrap up with a few thoughts of my own.

Feleron had some seriously chewy questions:

I’d like to read a little bit more of your opinion of Meiglan. She was my favorite character out of the second series – I do usually seem to prefer characters that start off young or naive and you get to see them learn and grow.

I do see that. In Skybowl she really steps up and finds a way to be strong without actually being strong. Which paradoxically adds up to serious strength.

But mostly she’s just annoying. It’s not even so much that she’s excessively drippy as that she contrasts so dramatically with every other woman in all the books. It’s as if the author said, “Ha! I hate this creep who has to exist after Rohan dies, so I’ll give him the drippiest, weakest, feeblest female I can possibly give him. And he’ll pick her because he’s too stupid and arrogant to pick a real woman.”

Of course as the story evolves, so does she, and she comes out reasonably well in the end. But she just doesn’t fit—and the family is constantly harping on this. They patronize her horribly, when they’re not dissing her. Next to Chiana, she’s the most dissed female in the book.

Then again, Chiana never evolves at all. Meiglan does. So there’s that. I admire Meiglan at the end. Chiana…well. Poor thing never catches an even break. I end up feeling sorry for her.

In Sioned’s death scene she hears voices of all the dead including one that calls her mother. Who do you think that was?

As noted by another commenter, I believe that would be the baby she never had. All her dead are flocking in, and she’s literally hearing from them all.

What are your thoughts on Pol and Sionell, specifically their future? I never really saw them as a good fit and think that while Pol may have wanted a strong wife during a crisis but when things calm back down he wouldn’t be happy with her. 

I dunno. On the one hand, they bicker a lot, and Pol has a distressing tendency to choose weak over strong so he can play Mr. Big. And yet, if he’s matured as much as we’re told he has, it’s quite possible he’ll realize he can’t do his job alone, and there are things that are best done by a High Princess. Meiglan realized this. Pol may come to.

Whether he then Chooses Sionell, I believe that’s left to the reader. I’d like to think he’d get smart, because she’s a solid match. Then again, Pol doesn’t usually take the smart road. If he reverts to type, he’ll find himself another wet puppy.

Then there’s Sionell, who is nobody’s fool. She may realize that she’s better placed where she is than if she subsumes herself into Pol. That’s a lesson I believe she might take from Sioned. He’s going to keep pushing, I think. Will she eventually give in? Time alone is likely to tell.

This series deals a lot with power and its misuses and limitations. With that in mind, what do you think of Jihan as heir?

That’s going to be a serious challenge—and might be one good reason for Pol to find a strong partner. But Sionell has no powers, so she’s not going to be able to reel Jihan in in any effective way. Somebody is going to have to keep her under control and bring her up right. Best candidate might be Chayla, if she were only older. Or possibly Camigina?

Now that would be an interesting development, don’t you think? Could Pol possibly even fall for her?

Hmm.

You really seemed to like Tobin in the first series, what did you think of her here in the second series where she was partially sidelined by the stroke?

Tobin is fricking fabulous. The stroke barely slows her down. She fights her way through it, uses her magical powers to excellent effect, and keeps everybody in line. She’s a great example of how to write a disability in a magical world, and she’s also a great role model for Rislyn.

I’ve seen arguments that fantasy worlds have a tendency to erase disability—“Let’s make the deaf girl a telepath”—but I think Rawn uses her world’s parameters well while not downplaying the seriousness of either Tobin or Rislyn’s disability. They both have to accommodate, and they’re both still dealing with challenges. It’s well done.

Do you think if you had read the second series back when you originally read the first series your opinion of it would have been different?

I was already a full-time working writer by that time, so I’d have gone into editor mode regardless of when I read the books. In that way I think my reactions would have been similar.

What I might not have done was appreciate just how groundbreaking Rawn’s use of the female gaze was. I wouldn’t even have known to use, or ponder, the term. Her clearest predecessors would have been Dorothy Dunnett and Katherine Kurtz, with their gorgeous blond heroes who made a thing of letting people underestimate them, and I see a strong connection between Dunnett’s strong women, especially Philippa, and Rawn’s whole brigade of same.

Now, as a much older reader and writer, and also as a observer of and participant in the long fight for visibility of women writers in genre, I think these trilogies are outstanding examples of epic fantasy from the female point of view.

And note, they’re often described (and dismissed) as “romantic fantasy.” Because romance is girly and icky and just not as good as robust male wish-fulfillm—excuse me, epic fantasy.

I do see why they’d be described as such. There’s such a powerful and pervasive current of heterosexual love and passion through all the books (other variations wouldn’t have been on the radar for many writers at the time, nor would a writer have generally thought they should be). And domestic details are given at least as much value (and airtime) as war and politics. In fact battles are often elided or offstaged, while personal interactions and romantic entanglements occupy front and center.

And yet, as I look back at all the books, I see the sheer scope of the story. It is epic. Rohan is an epic hero, self-doubts and all. And Pol is a pretty classic warrior prince.

As for the women—hoo boy. Sioned alone could carry this thing, but she’s supported by a huge cast of assertive and competent women.

So. Yeah. I think my reaction now is tempered by two additional decades of reading, writing, and cultural shifts. I see more of what’s exceptional here, and I also see how these books stand against the books and series published in the interim. They stand up–and they stand out.

Then Azhrei asked:

I forgot to add this, but in the wrap-up post, I’d like to see more of what you think of Rohan. I know you were annoyed by the constant references to how clever he was and all the other attributes they kept praising him for, but I’d love to see what you really thought of him.

Heh. I didn’t change my view by the end. Nor did I alter my belief that from the beginning to end, he’s the actual protagonist.

I know Sioned is the chief viewpoint for so much of it, and all six books begin and end with her (minus the Epilogue of Skybowl). But everything is about Rohan. I don’t believe there’s a scene that doesn’t either mention him or hark back to him in some way. His influence pervades everything.

Sioned is completely subsumed into him. Everything she does is about him or for him or, very rarely, in spite of him. Then in the end, she’s hearing his ghost—and there’s a strong suggestion that she’s not imagining it. He’s literally there. When she realizes he’s gone, what can she do but go after him. She has no functional existence outside of him.

It’s interesting to me in this context to see Pol’s romantic choices as a form of rebellion against his parents’ complete symbiosis. He’s going to be a traditional Strong Husband, by damn, and get himself a nice, weak, soft little wife to protect. Will he eventually give in and become a symbiote with Sionell? Maybe. Or Sionell herself might say No Way and hold on to her independence.

I do not really see Pol as ever being independent, or alone. He’ll find someone to warm his bed, and most likely marry her, because he’s all about the convenience.

So anyway. Rohan remains, for me, irritatingly perfect. He’s not my fantasy hero. Clearly he is Rawn’s, and she loves him from start to finish. All the way to the end, complete with visible resentment of the son who has, for reasons of plot and the natural passage of time and human life (which is a major theme of these books), to supplant him.

Andry is also someone I’d like to hear you chime in on, more than you have. So many people bizarrely defend this character and the horrible things he’s done, and it’s really refreshing to see that at least one other person out there sees him as I do. I don’t see how, but he actually is a really divisive character and I’d like to hear from you about it, from his being put into a position of power at so young an age (and Chayla even younger! Though since she never wanted it prior to the war I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of what she’ll bring to Goddess Keep) to his actions on the battlefield.

Andry is a rare character in these books, in that he’s truly neither good nor bad. The only real match for him is the High Warlord—and the Warlord has a much clearer moral and ethical sense. Which I believe is deliberate, as well as ironic. In the context of Andrade’s original and seminal plan for breeding Sunrunner rulers, Andry is a textbook case of “be careful what you wish for.”

Andry is pure ego. Everything he does comes back to that. As arrogant and egotistical as Pol is, he has much more self-awareness than Andry ever begins to have. And the Warlord—who I believe is Rawn’s best male character—is by far the better human being.

Maybe if Andry had a Sionell to pull him up short, he might have turned out better? Or if Andrade had lived to do the same? Nobody else ever has, or tries. Could Sorin have done something about him, if he’d lived? Ultimately I doubt it. Andry is too much of a runaway locomotive.

But then as you say, there’s Chayla demonstrating that it’s not excessive power too young that’s Andry’s real problem. I think he’s just bent. He has all his parents’ stubbornness and headstrong righteousness without any of their wisdom or self-control.

Chayla doesn’t worry me, because she’s been to hell and back and lived to overcome it. Andry never has, or does, not until the very end. Chayla has a much more solid sense of what the world is and what it can do to her, and a much more solid ethical sense as well. She has both the experience and the overall personal strength of character to keep from going overboard the way Andry did. She’ll rule well and she’ll take advice, and I believe she’ll be self-aware about her mistakes.

Jihan now…Jihan could go the Andry route. I can hope her caretakers realize this, learn from it, and shape her in a productive direction. That those will have to include sorcerers I think is a given. They’re the only ones who can really slap her down if a slapdown is needed.

Damn, I want to read the book that shows us what happens as sorcerers integrate into the Sunrunner-centric culture, and what about Kazander’s wives, and what happens to Chiana in the Vellanti Isles and and and…!

Kaila asked:

What do you consider the climax of the series?

Now that’s a good question. Emotionally I think one major climax is Rohan’s death. Another is Sioned’s passing. And then of course, Pol’s emergence at the end as the culmination of Andrade’s breeding program, though she never knew how many lineages would actually go into it.

Structurally I would say the High Warlord’s end climaxes the second trilogy, as the end of Roelstra’s heirs and ambitions tops off the first. But again, the real culmination is Pol as High Prince, re-igniting the Flametower and bringing us full circle to the beginning.

 

I’d love to hear what answers others have for these questions, and how you feel about the different characters, story arcs, and so on.

As the (re)read winds down and my thoughts get thinkier (quite like Rohan in that respect), I’m especially inclined to think that these books are important in and to the genre of epic fantasy. They represent a different slant on what constitutes epic, and a shift in perspective from fellowships of men (and the occasional token woman) achieving goals based on war and conquest. They demonstrate the validity and power of women as well, and the importance of women’s traditional roles.

Somebody, after all, has to raise the children, and someone has to cook the meals and keep the accounts. Rawn’s women do all of these things, assisted by the men, while also being powerful magic users, rulers, and even soldiers.

That all this happens in the midst of high romance, grand adventure, and a very interesting and complex magical system, not to mention some of the best dragons out there, is a significant achievement. These are genuinely important books in the history of the genre, and deserve much more attention than they’ve received.

I’ve really enjoyed this long expedition, and especially the commenters and readers who have accompanied me along the way. I’ll miss you all.

But! I will be back. I’m taking a break for the holiday season, then in the new year I’m beginning a new reread of another very important and frequently forgotten series: Chronicles of the Deryni by Katherine Kurtz. Come along and join me?

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.

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