The Son of Summer Stars

Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Copyright Date: 1996

On to the third book of the Firebringer trilogy. Written in 1996, The Son of Summer Stars clearly connects with Dark Moon with little in the way of continuity flaws, though there are still things the author did in Dark Moon that I thought had little or no point and ultimately had no ulterior purpose in The Son of Summer Stars, which meant that they really should have been trimmed out of the already wanting middle book.

As I had hoped, the The Son of Summer Stars improves over Dark Moon by the return to a more familiar setting. Indeed, someone who has read Birth of the Firebringer will benefit from having read the first book in that issues, locations, etc. touched on in the first book are expanded upon in a manner largely consistent with what we knew before (beyond any changes introduced via Dark Moon and a couple exceptions with the wyverns). And, thankfully, the plot threads leftover from Dark Moon are answered, probably due to the two books having been written more closely together and obviously with one another in mind.

I admit that when I read that Teki was not Tek's father in Dark Moon and that her father was a Ringbreaker, I had a passing thought that it might have been Korr, but dismissed it because that would mean that Jan and Tek were now having an incestuous relationship as half-siblings and you just don't have those between main characters in a young adult novel. Well, after finally chasing his father miles upon miles from the Vale, through the Plains, and out on to the distant Salt Wastes, Jan finally wrests the secret from Korr that supposedly drove him insane in Dark Moon.

Apparently Korr pledged himself to Jah-lila while she was still hornless and when later chickened out after she became a unicorn (possibly because the transformation was not complete?). She then followed him to the Vale, by then pregnant to the point it was showing, and Teki sheltered her when Korr refused to acknowledge her. Rather than bring him out, she kept her silence at Korr's request. Not a bad story except that in Birth of the Firebringer she says she saw the unicorns and wanted to join them but couldn't until Korr showed her the way, which implies she saw the Vale before she met Korr, whereas in the new continuity Korr is the first unicorn she sees.

So how to avoid the incest situation? Well, Ses is obviously Jan's mother because in the first book she says she had a vision of herself giving birth to a little flit of flame, heralding the fact she would give birth to the Firebringer. So that leaves Korr, who, it turns out, is not Jan's father. Apparently Korr was not the only one having a pre-maritial fling. Prior to pledging herself to Korr, Ses had a one-night stand with a unicorn of the Free People, the plainsdwellers from outside the Vale. And this unicorn, Calydor, whose name means "Summer Stars," is Jan's father. Korr never knew. (And unsurprisingly, as soon as I knew his name meant "Summer Stars" I knew he was Jan's father due to the title of the book. I had hoped there was a more poetic meaning behind it.) But problems with Calydor being Jan's father is that it once again invalidates that unicorns are the color of their sire. Jan's original color was mud brown and his current one is black, neither of which match the star-splashed blue coat of Calydor. While in Dark Moon I could somewhat argue that Jan's newborn son Dhattar did not match him because the Hallow Hills had not yet been won, so maybe the color running true had not truly factored in yet, but if Jan is not of the royal lineage (because it runs through Korr, not Ses) then Dhattar by rights should be the same color as Jan. This whole heredity problem just escalates.

The funny thing about the whole nonexistent incest problem is that Jan tries to come to terms with it for over half the book. He doesn't discover he's not Tek's half-brother until the very end when Ses finally reveals her own secret to the herd. So when the story ventures out of familiar terrain into distant lands that were only touched on before, we meet two peoples have either cast aside the taboo on incest or never had it in the first place.

For the first time the red dragons are an active presense in the story, and their society is much like an ant colony's. A queen dragon is the only one with wings and is sister to all her contemporaries. Her mate is the lone brother born in all her mother's clutches. For them, it is a matter of biology that causes sibling to mate with sibling and as such they have no taboo against it. The dragons are perhaps the longest-lived creatures in world, and the current queen, Wyzásukitán, is the daughter of Mélintélinas (spelled Méllintéllinas in the first book), who greeted the scouts of Halla when the wyverns first met the unicorns four hundred years ago, and it's the scouts that pose the more interesting observation.

When the wyverns settled in the Hallow Hills, the Princess Halla was suspicious of their true intentions (with good reason), so she sent four scouts to the red dragons to see if these wyvern "cousins" of theirs were on the level. From Birth of the Firebringer we know that one of their number died and two were held hostage, the fourth being allowed to return to carry word to Halla. In The Son of Summer Stars we meet the descendants of those two surviving scouts, who now number in the hundreds and still call themselves the Scouts of Halla. Given that they only had two ancestors, all these unicorns are the result of what at one point had to have been an incestuous relationship, and it shows. The Scouts of Halla only come in four colors (possible in biology if both parents are heterozygous and more than one gene is involved in coat color) and are shaggy-coated and stunted in comparision to those of the Vale and the Plains. It's not discussed whether or not the concept of incest was later reintroduced to the young generations of Scouts, but if it hasn't that would make for an interesting case during their reintegration with the rest of the herd, which is something the Scouts have been awaiting ever since the way back had been closed to them. But that would go beyond the scope of the story and though the Scouts participate in the final battle, they leave to retrieve their noncombatant family members before they can really be questioned about where they came from and who they are.

Though I never thought of the fate of the two scouts left with the red dragons as a loose thread since it really had no bearing on the overall plot, it was a pleasant surprise to discover what had happened to them. Also, since they had been out of the loop for so long, it was a bit of a surprise for their descendants to discover that their beloved Halla had actually lost to the wyverns.

For my final bit on the incest matter, I'm surprised that Teki did not say anything, and it's not clear if he knew. Ses did know Korr was Tek's father, just as Jah-lila knew Jan was not Korr's son, so neither of them had any reason to discourage Tek and Jan's pledge to each other (which apparently is why Korr went ballastic--he thought his two children were commiting incest and he could do nothing to stop it without revealing his own transgression). Since Teki was presumably Jah-lila's confidante at the time, I would be surprised if he didn't figure out Tek was Korr's daughter even if he wasn't told outright, but he would have no business knowing Jan is not Korr's son. Since he never said a word against the pledging, I have to either assume he knew nothing (which I have trouble believing), that he knew everything (which I have even more trouble believing), or that he had no problem with incest (which I really can't believe). There is potentially another problem with Korr being Tek's father. Again along the lines of color. It was easy to believe Teki was her father because they're both pied, though she's rose and black and he's white and black. Korr on the otherhand is solid black. Jah-lila was roan, but is now red due to a change in her diet since coming from the land of the two-foots. So how the heck did Tek wind up being pied?

I've wondered why Meredith Ann Pierce bothered with all this, working so hard to make Jan not Korr's son, and I think part of the reason is that in trying to fulfill the prophecy of the Firebringer, she got tripped up in the myths of the first book. There were three seers who predicted the Firebringer, though two of them were generally considered fakes. Part of the problem was that in the first book, the original prophet's words came true, but so did one of the fake's. So where did that leave the third? That one predicted that the Firebringer would come from outside the Ring. Jan was obviously born inside the Ring, Pierce couldn't change that without making it an entirely different series altogether, but if he was conceived outside the Ring by a sire who was not of the Ring himself and never had been, then I suppose he would still fit the prophesy--barely. But what I was disappointed in is that other parts of the Firebringer prophecy were not fulfilled. The signs of the Firebringer are:

The only requirements brought up in The Son of Summer Stars though are the wyvern's belly, foaled at moondark, and being sired by the summer stars, the last two of which I am 99% certain were not mentioned at all in the first book. It's understandable that not all the details should be brought up since they are quite lengthy and not required by the story, but the fact that Pierce uses a prophecy not mentioned until the very end of this book as the basis for giving Jan the heritage that he has is rather irritating to say the least.

Also, the unfulfilled part of the prophecy is what irritated me the most. The Firebringer is supposed to be a dreamer like Zod, who was a far-seeing dreamer indeed to know of a hero who would be born four hundred years into the future. In the first book, Jah-lila called Jan a far-dreaming seer for having seen her prior life among the two-foots, but since then Jan has not dreamed much at all, which is strange because that dreaming trait was such a vulnerability for him in the past that when he was a child Jah-lila removed his ability to dream at all so as to perserve his sanity. (She gave it back to him near the end of the first book.) He dreamed a little bit in Dark Moon, but given that he spent nearly the entire book far away and without his memory I didn't think that was a bit deal. He had a couple dreams, and that was satisfactory.

But in The Son of Summer Stars his twin foals are now old enough to talk and run about on their own and they are the seers in this book. They're the ones that tell Jan that because he survived the sting of the wyvern queen he's forever immune to the venom of all serpents, they're the ones seeing deep into the future and making predictions. Aside from the fact it's irritating having the equivalent of a five-year-old making wise sayings (already a terrible cliché), Jan is supposed to be the dreamer, and he only has one vision the entire book, and it's not really a significant one at all. Dhattar and Aiony (the two hardest names to remember in the entire herd of unicorns) easily could've been left as normal unicorn children instead of know-it-alls that sound more like mouthpieces than characters. Probably the greatest flaw in making them twins is that neither of them can stand alone as characters. Their dialogue could be exchanged one for the other and no one would know the difference.

There is also some discontinuity when Pierce gets to the wyverns, and the worst part is that from an angle it even looks contradictory from within The Son of Summer Stars alone. Lynex, the wyvern king who drove away Halla, is still alive as we knew him to be at the end of the first book. However he's actually complaining about how his queen's eggs were destroyed by unicorns and he's complaining about how stingless wyverns are being born all the time. Within the context of The Son of Summer Stars this fits perfectly because we are told that Lynex was the first wyvern with stings and that he inbred massively with his own people to ensure that all wyverns would have them. His queen looked down on the stingless ones and her own prits would no doubt have stings or be eaten upon birth. But in Birth of the Firebringer the queen (perhaps more properly referred to as his concubine, the term used in the first book, because he didn't want any children with her) dislikes how soft Lynex has become. She schemes to usurp him through the birth of her children, heirs to the king who would have none, and complains about how he lets stingless prits hatch because a weak people are easier for him to rule in his old age.

Either Lynex and his consort never saw eye to eye about things or someone just stumbled over a continuity error. Oddly enough, there is one conversation between two no-name wyverns that discuss the queen's planned overthrow of Lynex, but the rest of the time Lynex is set up to be disproving of stingless wyverns and very much in favor with his former queen's tactics.

Lynex also must've gotten stupid in his old age because he actually let his fire, the last of the all the wyverns' since the firebowl was put out in Birth of the Firebringer, go out and for no real reason. His main head was sleeping and the younger ones too busy arguing to pay attention to the flame. With brains like those I'm surprised the flame lasted as long as it did.

At least the final battle between the wyverns and the unicorns made up for it. Pierce knows how to narrate a good fight. All the unicorns' weaknesses from their last go-around are covered through Jan, one way or another, so even though they're still outnumbered, they can do a lot more damage. I just wish Jan himself arrived sooner than the very end of the battle. I, and Jan, had been lead to expect that he would lead his people in recovering the Hallow Hills, instead of being the enabler that allowed them to do so.

I also had a bit of a problem with Jan being called by his true name "Aljan" throughout the story. Readers introduced to the series via Dark Moon or The Son of Summer Stars would probably think nothing of it, figuring that Jan is just a nickname, but in Birth of the Firebringer it's established that no one except the unicorn and his/her dam are supposed to know a unicorn's true name, because as in most fantasy settings where this is practiced, true names give power over one's self. Jan fell under the spell of the wyvern queen partially because she had divined his true name and used it against him. But in The Son of Summer Stars Jan starts spouting off his true name left and right regardless of the potential consequences. It's just strange.

But at least Jah-lila seems more like herself again in the prologue narration. The ending is still one big stumbling block for her, but at least the prologue was good since it set the mood for what was to follow. The only thing that disturbed me a bit was how she described that even as she told this tale, Jan was busy unmaking the world. Part of the problem with that, apart from the godlike implications it bestows upon Jan, is that it puts a timeframe on the story. I had assumed that she was telling the story far into the future when she is an old mare, and that's perfectly reasonable, except that by saying he's unmaking the world as she's telling the story she makes it sound as if the events have just happened and since Jah-lila takes an active part in the battle to win back the Hallow Hills that's rather confusing. I think what she meant though, once I got to the end of the book, is that Jan is unmaking the world via forging these new alliances that never existed before. His is the dawning of a new age, and they are seeing that new age and undoing of the old.

Also on the note of Jah-lila, she's now considered good luck to the Vale, the whims of the herd apparently as mercurial as humans are with human witches. Rather irritating in my opinion. I liked it better when the general nature of the unicorns seemed different from humans.

One of the things Pierce did well though was incorporating an easily forgotten line from the first book. The name "Firebringer" conjures up images of a red-orange flame on a twig, but as the goddess Alma pointed out to Jan in the first book, there is more than one kind of fire. It's easy to forget that in the light of the flame that sprouts everywhere, but in the end Alma explains that his real purpose, other than to rescue the Hallow Hills, was to light the flames in the unicorns' minds and hearts. They've been locked in their Ring of Law for so long they had sealed themselves away from the outside world, but now that is no longer true, and that's the most important fire.

As a story, The Son of Summer Stars is still a good book, and written much closer to the fashion of the first. I just wish it had followed the original's continuity a bit better.