The #LastSunReadalong kicked off over on Twitter last Monday, and it’s been a complete delight to reread one of my favourite books in such great company! You can read my livetweeting threads here and here for silliness and gifs, but for this post, I’m gonna write up a more thoughtful and detailed recap. Feel free to comment, or write up your own – I’d love to read it if you do!
Leigh Butler, writing the Ruin of Kings readalong for Tor.com, makes a damn good argument for the opening of a book being the most important part of it.
The beginning of a story is vital. I would argue, in fact, that the beginning of a story is more important than any other part of it, including the end. Which may seem like nonsense, but think about it: if you aren’t intrigued enough by the beginning of a story to keep reading, it doesn’t really matter whether the end is good or not, does it? You’ll never get there to find out. A story without an audience is no story at all.Leigh Butler, Reading The Ruin of Kings: New Beginnings (Prologue & Chapter 1)
If you’ve already read Last Sun, then you know one of its signature characteristics is its damn potency – how every sentence feels concentrated, the power of ten pages distilled into every one like coal condensed down to diamond. It’s perfect, then, that the prologue is just six sentences long, because the reader immediately learns just how much of a punch Edwards can pack into a handful of words.
All the mugs of beer in the world can’t compare with one shot of jewel-fire Fae liquor.
This is an Urban Fantasy, the blurb promises us, but the prologue promises us something legendary; something Epic, in the truest sense of the word. “Among those who matter I am known and notorious,” Rune Saint John tells us. “I am the Catamite Prince; the Day Prince; the Prince of Ruin.” Epithets and titles that belong to prophecy, that send shivers down our spines and make the hairs on our arms stand up.
I’m sure some people put the book back down. But the rest of us didn’t, don’t, because what sounds like dissonance to others – the contradiction between the Kate Daniels-esque urban fantasy we were expecting and the grand, mythic promise of that opening – is music to us.
Of course, then the grand and glorious Prince of Ruin opens the story proper by wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his tux and flicking shrimp tails into the potted plants at the party he’s attending – so perhaps we’re not going all-out Mythic quite yet.
(The first sentence introduces the concept of a talla, even if we don’t learn exactly what that is yet. Someone who cares about/looks after someone else, is implied. Still, take note: first sentences are important.)
We learn a lot very quickly, but deftly – it doesn’t feel overwhelming or confusing. It’s a party, but there’s going to be a raid. One servant is suffering frostbite to chill drinks; others are ‘young, drugged, and blankly beautiful.’ The people running this gala don’t seem like the good guys; any moral qualms I had over the idea of a raid are fading fast. We haven’t met Brand yet, but knowing ‘He’d probably want to kill everything in sight too’ honestly makes a good impression in this context.
The prologue tells us the Sun Court – Rune’s father’s Court – fell; a ghastly woman claiming seer blood expands on this. We learn that Rune went through a horrific sexual assault the night the Sun Court was destroyed, giving a new meaning and nuance to his earlier declaration that ‘I am, before anything else, a survivor’. He means it, though; when he hears this harpy turning his story into tragedy-porn, rather than running away or even staying quiet, he pretends to foretell her future, scaring the absolute shit out of her; ‘I see you crawling on a field of blood and char, with bone shards in your hair.’
(And we’re back to chills running down our spines.)
The raid goes down beautifully, speaking to the cold badassery of all those involved. In an aside, Rune explains why the raid is happening, why the Heart Throne – the Lovers Court – is being dismantled by 12 other Arcana: the Lovers Court has become something corrupted and sick, irreparably fucked-up. What’s interesting, though, is a passage I highlighted on my ereader: Worse, they crossed borders to do it. They compromised our treaties with the human world and put all of New Atlantis at risk.
This is noteworthy because it’s a small piece of worldbuilding with a lot to unpack. Most cultures would react more violently to the abuse of their own than the abuse of another people, but New Atlantis seems to take the opposite approach. Fucking with Atlanteans is bad, but hurting humans is worse – maybe not ethically (do ethics come into it?) but because of the political ramifications. New Atlantis isn’t so interested in the Atlanteans that are victimised.
And personally, I lit up like a firework when Rune tells us We’re a society, after all, that embraces the idea of group marriage, that finds pure heterosexuality as abnormal as pure homosexuality. Normalised queerness is my jam, and something we don’t see nearly often enough, and I approve immensely.
Brand, a human bonded to Rune as his Companion, makes an impact even before he’s present as more than a voice over a comm. His and Rune’s dynamic, and devotion to each other, are quickly made evident, between Brand’s fierce protectiveness and deadly competence in guiding Rune through the raid and having his back even from a distance.
Course, then Rune has to put himself in jeopardy by following Lady Lovers instead of getting the hell out when his part is done. But this does allow us our first real glimpse of an Arcana, and what it means to be one, as Lady Lovers unleashes her Aspect – the true form of her power, the might that hides beneath her normal-looking skin – and gains a promise from Rune in exchange for a sigil, a near-priceless magical item made even more valuable to Rune because he has so few, most of the Sun Court’s sigils having been lost in its fall.
Rune makes the promise – to safely deliver a package whose contents are neither illegal nor dangerous – and then it’s time to get the hell out of dodge.
The problem? When he and Brand make it home, the package is waiting.
And it’s a 17 year old boy, Lady Lovers’ grandson, whose ‘destination’ is his 21st birthday.
Matthias Saint Valentine, potentially the last Scion standing of the now-defunct Heart Court, is…kind of a brat. But in fairness, as Queenie, Rune and Brand’s housekeeper, points out, he has just lost everything he ever knew. And Rune and Brand take a minute to realise that and go a little gentler on him.
If the first chapter demonstrated Rune’s brand (no pun intended) of badassery and gave us a crash course on New Atlantean culture and the Companion bond, chapter two is all about showing us the context of Rune and Brand’s lives: a more detailed rundown of the Sun Court’s fall, and a glimpse of how they live now, in a tiny house where money’s tight and space is tighter. We see Rune’s precious handful of sigils, and it’s a little easier to forgive him for being such a twit with Lady Lovers and making open-ended bargains; another sigil really will make a huge and important difference to his life.
Then Lord Tower – Rune’s ex-protector and somewhat-mentor, on whose behalf he was at the Lovers Court raid – calls, and it’s time to take another job.
Chapter three quickly sketches out for us the creation of New Atlantis, pretty literally setting the scene for the entire book. Rune decides to bring Matthias with him to meet Lord Tower, and although Matthias’ intro was not favourable – he came across as very bratty – Queenie’s point stands, and Rune’s much gentler with him now he sees Matthias as another survivor. It’s hard not to be sympathetic, even though Matthias fights hard to be allowed to leave, unwilling to be a burden on Rune (or perhaps, not trusting him, which, given Rune’s part in taking down the Heart Throne, seems fair). Rune’s not having that, though, both because of the oath he swore and because he’s not letting a teenager run out onto the streets with no resources or support network.
Rune – and Brand – might snark, but they’re very clearly good people. Even if they maybe don’t know quite how to handle a hurt teenager.
Lord Tower is introduced, and again, we get a little aside about his role, power, and history. Lord Tower, in turn, gives Rune (and us) some of Matthias’ background; this is the man who was the spymaster of Atlantis’ royal court, and it’s clear he still hears everything worth hearing. It’s equally clear that he’s not shy about using his power and influence; mid-conversation with Rune, he answers a phonecall by ordering someone’s death, and Rune guesses that the magic woven into the man’s pyjamas could stop bullets. This is someone to treat with wary respect.
This is also where the plot properly kicks off, as Lord Tower asks Rune to look into the disappearance of one Addam Saint Nicholas, second son of Lady Justice – and Lord Tower’s godson. Despite the fact that Addam deliberately goes off by himself for days at a time semi-regularly, Lord Tower is genuinely concerned and asks Rune to proceed as if Addam is, in fact, missing and not on one of his ‘walkabouts’. Rune, like me, clearly trusts Lord Tower’s instincts and sources, because he agrees to do so, despite the fact that Addam’s family doesn’t seem concerned.
At this point, we’ve seen Brand run point on an official Arcana raid, demonstrate jaw-dropping sniper (and snark) skills, and display his martial training and thinking in a variety of other small, subtle ways. In chapter four, he manages to gather a ton of information on Addam and the business he’s set up with a number of other Scions (children of Arcana) while Rune takes a nap.
I think it’s pretty clear that Brand is damn good at what he does.
However, when he and Rune set out to visit Addam’s business partners… Matthias sneaks after them. Not that it’s very good sneaking, or that Brand doesn’t know he’s following the entire time, but still: this is the most agency Matthias has shown yet. Is he being devious? Or just trying to learn more about the Scion who now has guardianship of him? Has he heard of Rune, who’s more than a little notorious in New Atlantis, and trying to figure out what, if any, of the gossip is true? Or is he trying to keep himself safe, because knowledge is power?
It’s not clear, but when Brand decides it’s time to catch him and dump him on Rune to deal with, Matthias is quiet and apologetic in the manner of a badly abused/traumatised young man – and panics at the thought of anyone from the Heart Throne learning that he’s still alive. He does not want any of his family to know he’s breathing, and that sets off deeply concerned alarm bells in Rune.
Just what has Matthias gone through?
(There’s a phonecall from someone Rune doesn’t know, and it’s bizarre and clearly plot-relevant. “Is it time for us to meet yet?” Not quite, apparently, but it feels like a safe bet that that time will come soon, whoever the stranger is.)
It’s too late to send Matthias home, so Rune and Brand bring him along to Addam’s company, where Addam’s business partners are entirely unhelpful – and one is Rune’s ex, a relationship that did not end painlessly – but a handy spell reveals that Addam was, in fact, taken from his office the other night, and by something very, very bad. Addam’s business partners may not believe (or seem to care), but for Rune and Brand, this is confirmation that Lord Tower was correct, even if it’s not immediately clear what they can do about it.
Apparently even that small discovery is too much, though, because when they go to leave and figure out their next steps, a powerful, near-indestructible magical construct attacks.
No one at the raid, bar Lady Lovers, was a real threat to Rune, so this is the first time we see him really fight – and damn, it’s impressive. As a part of this, we also see sigils in action, as Rune unleashes the spells stored in each one to fight off the construct, or gargoyle (despite it looking nothing like the ones you find on old churches). But Rune, though impressive, is not one of the Arcana; not a living god, and he knows it. He does the smart thing and tries to get the fuck out of there, but alas, he and Matthias are sealed in.
Matthias clearly doesn’t have Rune (or Brand’s) kind of training, but he does his best – more than I would have expected from a teenager as inexperienced and traumatised as this one. He breaks several chairs in attempts to get the (magically sealed) windows open, and at one point even jumps between Rune and the gargoyle. It’s incredibly brave, and stupid, and why would he do that? Has he already come to trust Rune so much, just because Rune’s doing his best to talk to him gently and refuses not to take care of him?
It really doesn’t say good things about where Matthias comes from, that so little can earn so much of his devotion so quickly. I think it might say good things about Matthias, though.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the fight – other than the fact that it’s clearly an ambush, which means whoever took Addam knows what they’re up to and isn’t interested in letting them continue – is that we learn that Rune has an Aspect too. His eyes glow. It may not be as gloriously, frighteningly impressive as the Aspect of Lady Lovers – the Aspect of a full Arcana – but it’s definitely noteworthy, especially since it’s implied that not all Scions have any Aspect at all, even one as small/subtle as glowing eyes.
Rune’s not just a Scion, though – he’s the heir to the Sun Throne. That has to count for something.
Brand saves the day – it’s clear that’s going to be a pattern, and also that Brand really is not interested in rules or laws or anything else when Rune is in danger – the police make it clear they want to treat the whole incident as a random manifestation of wild magic, and Rune puts the pieces together and calls Lord Tower. Who has, indeed, mentioned to a select few that he’d hired Rune to look into Addam’s disappearance.
“I see. Just out of curiosity, did you introduce me by name, or just call me Bait?”
I doubt Rune missed the fact that Lord Tower doesn’t give him a straight answer. I guess it’s kind of a compliment – he’s stood as Rune’s protector and patron, so presumably it’s not that he doesn’t care if Rune gets hurt. More like he knows Rune can handle it.
Still says a lot about their relationship and dynamic, though.
That’s our recap wrapped up, with all the high points (hopefully) noted. But look for the #LastSunReadalong hashtag on twitter for the discussion threads that will go up later today – and go here to leave your questions for KD Edwards! He’ll be answering them today and tomorrow, and next week, we start chapter five!