#LastSunReadalong Week 2: Chapters 5-8

Posted 23rd November 2019 by Siavahda in Promos, Queer Lit / 0 Comments

Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, Urban Fantasy

I had a lot of fun livetweeting this section, and you can find the thread here, but now it’s time for the weekly recap!

Chapter 5 opens with us getting a little more of a glimpse of how Rune and Brand’s normal, day-to-day life goes; Rune likes to sleep in, and Brand is apparently the kind to put his socks and underwear in the dishwasher when the washing machine is broken. (Why, Brand? Why on earth?) Rune calculates that, between a repairman for the washing machine and property taxes, both their payments from Lord Tower for the raid on the Lovers Court and their search for Addam will pretty much disappear.

It’s a surprisingly human moment (if we put aside the fact that Rune isn’t, actually, human) in a city assembled out of haunted buildings and ruled over by tarot cards, and it’s one of those tiny details that makes Rune and Brand feel so much more real. Most readers don’t have much experience with magical detective work and people trying to kill them, but it strikes a chord to have heroes who have the kind of everyday problems we’re familiar with – as well as the other kind. It also helps drive home that Rune is really, really not living the same kind of life as other scions (children of Arcana). Atlantean society ostracises its victims, but Rune is separated from his peers by more than what he’s survived. I’d bet hard money that other scions never worry about the washing machine being broken.

(I bet they don’t even know when the washing machine is broken. Laundry is what servants are for.)

Brand has continued to be his terrifyingly competent self and has nabbed the school records of Addam’s partners in his company. Rune and Brand, it seems, have a backdoor into the servers of the Magnus Academy, the school most scions attend, and this is another tiny detail mentioned in passing that raises a pay attention! flag: they have a backdoor? How? How often do they have to check scion school records that rather than hack in every time, they just left a permanent back door in their systems? And which of them has the skill set to do that?

Anyway, the noteworthy bits from the school records reveal that Geoffrey – Rune’s ex – would have been able to summon the golem that attacked Rune and Matthias, but Ashton has done post-grad work in Poland. And Poland, it happens, is one of two magically radioactive zones destroyed in the Atlantean World War; it’s now a training ground for hardcore spell training. I’m particularly fond of the line ‘The camps had very good PR staff. I knew this because the human world never asked what they were training for.’

But Rune describes training there as being like a tour of duty, so it definitely means Ashton has hidden depths they’d better watch out for.

*

It’s then time for them to go to the Enclave, a huge beachside property where all the Arcana Courts have private suites. Despite the Sun Court’s destruction, the suite belonging to Rune’s family still exists, and it’s where they go with Matthias while waiting for Rune’s appointment to talk to Lady Justice, Addam’s mother. There’s a giggle-moment when it’s revealed that one of Rune’s precious, priceless sigils is not a piece of jewellery, as most sigils seem to be, but takes the form of…well…

“It’s a cock ring,” Brand told Matthias.

“Godsdamnit,” I said. “It’s a sigil. I have a Shatter spell in it. Do you know how few scions can pull off Shatter?”

“His magic cock ring,” Brand said.

I challenge my fellow readers not to cackle.

The most noteworthy part of this scene, though, is probably the fact that Matthias has clearly not been to the beach before, despite being the – supposedly – favourite grandson of Lady Lovers, a ruling Arcana. Rune is starting to piece together the bits of Matthias’ backstory, and he doesn’t like it one fucking bit.

(Neither do I. It’s fast becoming easier to forgive him for being a bit of a brat right after the raid).

It’s then time for Rune to make his way to Lady Justice. Rather than simply go openly to her suite, he uses a Camouflage spell (functionally an invisibility spell, but, apparently, less energy-intensive and more versatile, which says something about how Rune uses his magic) to make his way there undetected. On his way he glimpses Ashton doing paperwork, and Michael, another of Addam’s business partners, playing Frisbee with his younger sister and using a sigil spell to make her keep missing and dropping it. Even without Rune’s aside about how wasteful most scions are with their magic, after seeing how carefully Rune hoards his own sigils against need, it’s almost rage inducing to see such privilege spent so frivolously. It’s another deft, quick moment driving home how different Rune is from other scions, and to be honest, it’s very difficult not to see Rune’s way of being as infinitely better.

Which does raise the troubling question of: could it actually be a good thing, in a bigger-picture kind of way, that the Sun Court fell? It was horrific, and not something I’d wish on anyone, but at the same time – would Rune be just as arrogant and pretentious and wasteful as other scions if he’d been raised within a Court, not just as an average scion but as his father’s heir? We’ve yet to meet a single other scion (bar Matthias, who has also clearly not lived the normal scion experience) who reads as an even reasonably decent person. Would Rune be as awful as the rest of them if he hadn’t been forced to grow up in the ‘real’ world?

It’s an uncomfortable question.

Rune meets briefly with Ella, Lady Justice’s daughter, and Diana, Justice’s sister. Ella is described as very skeletal, either seriously ill or anorexic (not that anorexia isn’t an illness – but it’s not clear whether Ella’s sickness is something that requires medication or therapy, or both), and it’s telling that Diana’s first reflex, upon realising Rune is present, is to use a sigil spell to make her niece look healthy. The implication that it’s more important to make sure Ella looks healthy than actually is healthy just reinforces the shallow values scions seem to live by: appearances are far more important than substance.

Poor Ella.

Neither of them have anything useful to share about Addam, so Rune moves on to his interview with Lady Justice. This is our third time meeting an Arcana, but only the second time we see an Aspect (although we’ve been introduced to Lord Tower, we haven’t seen his Aspect, and you know what, I’m kind of glad. I’m pretty sure the guy who wears warhead-proof pyjamas is going to have an utterly terrifying Aspect). I find it interesting that Lady Justice’s Aspect is of, more or less, a giant spider, complete with web – spiders aren’t something you typically associate with justice, but every detail in this series is so full of meaning I refuse to believe KD chose it at random. I’ve seen spiders associated with creativity, secrets, dreams, fertility/motherhood, good luck, order, mystery, fate/destiny, and patience. But justice? Not so much.

Hmm.

Maybe it’s the Order angle; Lady Justice, after misstepping and being called on it, calls Rune ‘brother’, as in, her brother Arcana – since he is, sort-of-technically, Lord Sun. Since he hasn’t claimed the Sun Throne, her calling him that is an immense piece of courtesy and respect that maybe isn’t that warranted, unless she does genuinely regret stepping out of line. It makes me think that she – not relies on patterns and protocol, exactly, but that they’re important to her and she takes them very seriously. She was discourteous – she broke protocol – and that is distasteful to her, so she leans into it instead to make up for it.

Of course, she also tells Rune that Addam is definitely fine, because she has spells on all her children to tell her if they’re hurt or dead. At least we finally have an explanation for why a powerful Arcana in her own right isn’t tearing the city apart looking for her son…except it also becomes apparent that even without that spell, she probably wouldn’t be looking that hard.

“I am loathe to involve myself in my children’s affairs, even in matters of harm or peril. They must be strong if they are to survive outside my walls. New Atlantis would pull my children down. It is the nature of ruling.” She paused. “I would also have you understand this: if you discover someone did hurt my son, you are to tell me. While I am sparing in my protection, I am very generous in my reckoning. Such is the nature of Justice.”

I could analyse that bit of dialogue for days, but it comes down to

a) Lady Justice is not anyone I would allow to have or raise children, ever, fuck you, lady, and also

b) I’m pretty sure KD is talking about more than just this one character with the line ‘Such is the nature of Justice.’ Because – yeah, actually, that kind of is what justice is. It’s an attempt to balance the scales after the fact – not any kind of preventive measure. Justice doesn’t stop bad things from happening, it just hits back after the bad thing is done. I’ve spent the last few years coming to the conclusion that we hold the concept of justice too highly, when maybe we should care more, and work harder at, preventing there being a need for justice.

I guess Lady Justice doesn’t agree, though.

Afterwards…after the interview, Rune gets caught in someone’s siren-song, a mind-control spell that leads him down corridors to a man who puts his hands on Rune’s face. It turns out to be Lord Tower – and Rune turns out to not be all that mind-fucked, because he has his sword against Lord Tower’s stomach before Tower knows what hit him.

Watch me breathe a sigh of relief. But also

“At least you didn’t banter before the killing blow this time,” he said lightly.

‘This time’? ‘THIS TIME’?! How many times has Lord Tower done something like this?

Enough that Rune’s learned to identify who’s controlling him and gut whoever it is. That’s… Good, I guess? Kinda?

None of these Atlanteans make good parental figures, do they?

Rune makes his report to his employer, and in the process one of Lord Tower’s water elementals – I’m unclear on whether they’re purely constructs or whether they have some kind of sentience, but I’m hoping for the former – is suborned by an outside force and tries to kill Rune. Lord Tower saves him, and pre-emptively destroys the other elementals, and at first wants to write it off as ‘wild magic’ – the same thing the police deemed the cause of the golem attack earlier. Rune is unimpressed, but there is the question of: who the fuck would be able to break through Lord Tower’s control to suborn one of his constructs? Someone stronger than a ruling Arcana?

Not any of the scions, Addam’s business partners, that’s for sure. Which means the Big Bad is even worse than previously suspected.

Rune really can’t catch a break.

*

Christian, the eldest of Lady Justice’s children, is sick in hospital. This is strikingly unusual, because with all the resources at a Court’s disposal Christian should have been ill for all of five seconds if he got sick at all. Since Lady Justice was pretty close-mouthed about the situation, Rune and Brand go to New Saints Hospital to look up Christian themselves, since with both her older siblings out of commission, Ella has a shot at her mother’s throne. If that’s what she wants, she definitely has motive to get rid of her brothers, although I can’t help wondering if she’s healthy enough to hold the throne, never mind do all the scheming necessary to get to that point.

The problem is, Ella’s definitely not badass enough to take control of that water elemental, any more than Addam’s business partners. But any of them could have contracted someone – or something – who is strong enough, so they’re all still suspects. It’s just that there must be someone or something else involved that’s a hell of a lot scarier.

Rune and Brand debate everyone’s motives, but nothing really adds up. Ella probably couldn’t hide killing her brothers from her mother. Addam’s business partners get far more out of him being alive – with all his connections – than they would with him dead. And if there’s someone on the playing field strong enough to break through Lord Tower’s power, why isn’t Rune dead yet?

At the hospital, Brand goes off to find Christian’s room number…and someone goes psssssst! at Rune.

This is Quinn, the youngest of the Justice siblings. And he wants to talk to Rune.

“I’m Quinn. I think people are going to die if you don’t come with me. It’s not far. I don’t know why we can’t talk here, but we can’t. The floor’s not right.”

He smiled at me as if what he said made perfect sense.

Rune readies his sword and sigils and follows Quinn, deciding that if it’s an ambush, he’ll be ready for it, and if it’s not, he might learn something important. (Brand is not impressed to find Rune missing. He literally texts ‘THE FUCK’ in all caps, which delights me beyond reason). Which, in fairness, he really does.

Because Quinn? Is a genuine seer. More, he sees probabilities – meaning that he sees all possible timelines, not just one, as it’s implied most seers do. This is an incredibly rare, incredibly dangerous gift, and instantly explains why Quinn is more than a little weird. But he’s also bouncy and sweet – very like a puppy, really – and he wants to help.

We already know that Rune hates seers. Now we learn a little bit of why: there was apparently a prophecy made about him as a baby. He will be the most beautiful man of his generation. It’s come back to mock him too many times – and that’s entirely aside from the fact that most seers are useless at best, and cause the disasters they foresee at worst.

It’s pretty apparent to me that you’d much rather have someone who can see probabilities on your side than against you, though. But Quinn needs to learn some boundaries fast; he asks why Rune never kissed Brand ‘again’ (it happened when they were 13), and then gets very nervous at the look on Rune’s face.

“You really don’t want to read my thoughts, Quinn Saint Nicholas.”

Despite the fact that this book is written in first-person, we don’t always know what’s going on in Rune’s head. We didn’t know he recognised Lord Tower’s mind-control, or that he was ready and able to defend himself. This feels like a similar moment. Out of context, ‘You really don’t want to read my thoughts’ could be a very different kind of warning – ‘my head’s a dark place, it’s not good for a kid to be in there’, maybe.

In context, with whatever’s on Rune’s face, it reads more like the moment Lord Tower found Rune’s sword against his belly, ready to gut him.

But Quinn bounces back from his nerves, announcing that Rune likes him (which probably means, will like him) anyway. It definitely doesn’t hurt that he does his best to give Rune important clues about Addam, saying that it’s not the who or why that are important right now, but the where. He says he sees a desert, broken glass, a dried river and ghosts. And that Ciaran will know more, and is waiting for Rune. ‘Make sure to bring Max.’

Rune recognises the name Ciaran, even if we don’t yet, but it takes a few seconds to sort out that ‘Max’ is ‘Matthias’. Rune makes the mistake of accidentally touching Quinn’s bare skin, and receives a more personal prophecy – albeit one that still doesn’t make any kind of coherent sense, even if it does sound scary as hell. But what’s heartbreaking is that when Quinn comes back to reality, he’s waiting for Rune to be mad at him. Everyone, it seems, is mad at him for seeing what he sees – except Addam. Addam is the only one who really takes care of him, it sounds like, even if Quinn claims that his other siblings don’t resent him for being a ‘runt’ (which is. Insane??? How is it possible that Lady Justice can’t see the enormous potential in Quinn’s gift? I’m kind of stunned that Quinn isn’t being treated like a prince, with a full honour-guard and his every whim instantly met, rather than running around in ragged clothes unaccompanied. What the hell? Is this about Lady Justice not protecting her kids? I’m so confused). But Quinn ‘won’t make it’ if Addam dies. Every timeline ends in suicide for him if Addam doesn’t come home.

It’s really fucking heartbreaking, and I’m pretty sure everyone reading instantly adopts Quinn. He and Max both. They’re both messed-up kids who need protecting and love, damnit.

Right about then is when Brand and Ashton – Addam’s business partner, the one who did a stint in Poland – show up, Ashton apparently visiting Christian after Rune’s enquiries. What’s really fascinating is that Quinn instantly switches from very sweet puppy to ice-cold.

“Why don’t I know why you’re here?” Quinn asked bluntly.

There’s a red flag if there ever was one.

Quinn can’t work out that part, why Ashton’s here, because

“The attack is too loud. Oh. We’re about to be attacked. They have grenades.”

Brand doesn’t wait to be told that Quinn’s a seer; he already has a knife out. Ashton – who’s done a tour of duty? – is far slower to react. Rune and even Quinn have already deployed sigil spells before Ashton gets started; at once point, Brand picks up one of the grenades thrown their way – by unidentified assailants – and throws it back, and even once Ashton starts fighting, he’s not nearly as creative or versatile as Rune. Ashton does have some offensive spells stored, but it’s just not as impressive as Rune and Brand’s work.

Quinn gives Rune a sigil – one with a Door spell inside it, which sounds like a kind of teleportation – and then makes himself a bomb-shelter dome out of a Shield spell, saying that everything will go wrong if he leaves with Rune and Brand. It’s only because they can’t get to Quinn through his spell that Rune and Brand – and Ashton – leave.

They’re not safe yet, though; if anything, things get worse. Now in the tunnels under the hospital, the three of them are attacked by recarnates – which are not zombies, but seem kind of similar; some kind of reanimated dead, anyway, which have Brand reaching for special knives of coral and coal – some of the only kinds of materials good against the dead (I’m unreasonably pleased that there’s no call for silver bullets. It’s really cool to see something genuinely original, especially when Rune explains that it’s the different classical elements involved in the materials that make them work). Rune continues to showcase quick thinking and efficient use of sigil spells, while Ashton continues to be pretty useless.

And then.

Then there is a Thing.

It’s like a recarnate, but it’s not. It uses magic – strong magic – which we later learn is impossible for dead things. It’s fascinated by Rune even as it’s trying to kill him. It rips through reality.

Maybe this is the Big Bad?

*

They do get out.

*

Once they get home – and go through a lot of healing spells – and also verify that Quinn is alive but in hospital care, Rune and Brand hash out how little they know and how impossible what the Big Bad did is. How impossible its existence is. Brand is also quick to point out that Ashton was utterly useless, but more important is that the recarnates were using guns.

Guns were anathema in our culture. You didn’t bring bullets to a magic fight; it bruised our sense of spectacle. You needed a special dispensation to even own guns, like Brand had.

This is actually really cool on multiple levels, not least because it gives a reason for New Atlantis to not use firearms. Guns can be plenty dramatic on a screen, but they don’t pack the same cinematic punch on a page, not alongside swords and magic. This is something urban fantasy as a genre often seems to struggle with – the question of what to do about guns, how to handle them, whether to include them. But KD has come up with a real reason for why they’re (mostly) not present, and given us an excuse to revel in all the cinematic magics without the nagging question of ‘but bullets???’ bugging us.

Also, this is not how I saw gun control happening, but I’ll take it, I guess?

Rune and Brand – along with Max, brought along because of Quinn’s earlier insistence – head out to look for Ciaran. They start with a bar known as Cubic Dreams, where he’s apparently been seen lately, and where Rune can try very hard to forget to forget Brand taking him aside to tell him Max is totally crushing on him.

It’s starting to look a lot like Max was sexually abused. That, and Quinn’s age (he’s 17, remember) is plenty of reason enough to be incredibly uncomfortable with the crush – which Rune is. But it becomes clear that there might be more to it than that, because Rune covers himself up in a tweed coat to go clubbing and awkwardly deflects the bar-tender’s flirting when they get to the club. He’s clearly not comfortable with anything sexual; even if Quinn were older, untraumatised, and not in a position of dependence on Rune, I think Rune would be more than uninterested, he’d be…let’s stick with ‘awkward’.

Considering what he’s been through, I don’t think anyone can blame him.

Max gets a (non-alcoholic) drink on the house, and Rune settles in to look for Ciaran. Who makes quite an entrance.

Lips as red as carnage. Damn, I love that line.

Ciaran is a Principality. That term flags for me because it’s one of the ranks or castes of angels, and angel mythos is kind of my thing. Here, it means that Ciaran is as powerful as one of the Arcana – but rather than a tarot card he’s a wild card, unaffiliated and unpredictable, with no Court but nothing to hold him back from what he wants, either. And what he wants is apparently to trade in secrets – which, it just now occurs to me, is very like Lord Tower, who also deals in secrets.

Ciaran reveals that Quinn is in a coma, at which Brand materialises (where was he listening from?) to demand more info. Ciaran takes offense, and uses a ‘little’ mind-control spell to make Brand go away and dance so Rune and Ciaran can talk alone.

Rune reacts with what I think is completely justified rage. Mind-control should be treated like something horrifying, and Rune…well.

It doesn’t exactly make Ciaran behave. But he reins it in. A bit. He and Rune go through what Quinn said, and Ciaran helps Rune work out where Addam is – some place called Farstryke Castle. And when Rune is ready to call it a day and get the hell out of dodge – Ciaran reveals that Quinn says that Brand will die if he enters the castle with Rune.

Every time.

Every timeline.

It’s enough to draw out Rune’s Aspect. It’s enough to make Ciaran shake. Because Rune is struck by what might have happened, what his world would have looked like, if he’d worked out where Addam was on his own and gone in with Brand. He would have lost his Companion.

Rune has to go be alone for a little while in a corridor before he can function again, after that.

When he’s functional again, he goes to collect his Companion and his ward. Brand is annoyed but shrugs off the mindfucking – which is kind of odd, suggesting that Rune’s hatred for mind-control is unique to him, or at least not something that Brand shares (I’m sure Brand doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t waste time getting worked up about it, either) – but Max, it seems, has been drugged.

Brand doesn’t shrug that off. He promises not to kill the bartender, but one has to wonder what he does when Rune and Max are out of sight, after the bartender’s admitted that he fucked Max up because he recognised Max as part of the Lovers Court – the Court which, it sounds like, caused the death of the bartender’s boyfriend.

Max looks at a mop and sees a tiger, and somehow it’s just. It’s awful. Somebody give this kid a hug, please, because he’s not just seeing fun things, he understands too much of what’s going on and remembers too much of whatever he’s not telling Rune and Brand, and I’m not sorry if Brand breaks every one of that bartender’s fingers.

Somebody give Max a hug, please.

*

The last chapter of this week is just a few pages, where Rune and Brand talk about what Rune’s pieced together of Brand’s backstory, and Brand has to deal with the fact that, despite his reason for breathing being keeping Rune safe, he can’t go into Farstryke with him. And for such a short chapter, it packs a whole lot of punch; we have two badass guys talking about their feelings, and their feelings for each other, being open and honest in way we just don’t get to see that often. Action heroes don’t talk like this. They’re not this honest about how they feel. They don’t admit that the world would be over if one of them died.

New Atlantis may be messed up, but Rune and Brand, at least, seem to be completely missing all the toxic masculinity bullshit I’m so used to seeing. And it’s wonderful.

Also, no, what? I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying.

*

That’s this week’s summary wrapped up! Don’t forget to check out the #LastSunReadalong hashtag on twitter for a lot more reactions than just mine, and you can leave your questions for this week’s Q&A here for KD to answer!

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