And it is now time for LKH to remind us why some of us once greatly enjoyed her books. No, we don't go back to the plot. That's been pretty much abandoned forever. Nope. But we're about to plunge into intrigue that...actually works.
And it comes with character development.
I know. I can't believe it either.
Andais asks if "the ring chose a couple". It did: Nicca and Biddy. Merry admits this.
Andais proceeds to flip her fucking shit. She grills Merry about who she's screwed (Mistral) how many guards she's "brought" (Everybody who was in the hallway when she and Mistral "rode the storm") and how many people she's brought back into their powers (everybody she's 'brought'). Merry answers everything with a lot of groveling and a lot of "yes" and "no" answers because Andais enraged usually means somebody dies.
And it's actually working. Once again, kids, this is what I came to the dance for. And for once, I don't actually mind Merry being a Great Vag of Holding. The fact that sex with her can return a fae's powers is actually putting her in danger right now--it's a MASSIVE threat to the queen and having it be common knowledge--they're pitching their fit in a public place for some reason, so every single Fae is hearing this--both helps Merry and hurts her. It helps, because it gives her a bargaining chip with the other fae, but it hurts because her aunt is psychotic, jealous and toxic and can kill without any consequences whatsoever and the odds of getting out of this are going down, fast.
Several of the Fae nobles who have hated Merry step forward and say that if the ring really is bringing fertile love matches together, they'll follow her.
In terms of this world, that's HUGE. She's consistantly had no support. Having Fae nobles throw in behind her is a game-changing event. So again: It might help her become Queen, but it also might get her killed in the next five minutes.
And then the Fae nobles START CALLING ANDAIS ON HER SHIT.
GODDAMN IT LAUREL WHERE WAS THIS BOOK FOR THE LAST HUNDRED OR SO PAGES.
Random nobles point out that fertile love-matches should be honored, that Andais and her son are probably both infertile, that Merry quite obviously is fertile because the ring works and the goddess is moving through her (no, but I'm ignoring it right now) and that Andais needs to knock it the fuck off for the good of the Faerie.
And then, for the first time in about ten books, a Laurel K. Hamilton character does something selfless. She says she'd rather make sure every faerie pairing gets a child than have children herself.
There are a lot of issues with this--there's the whole binary pairing thing, the whole "only fertile couples count" thing, a thin veneer of homophobia that's kinda squicky in its own right--but this is the first time since, say, chapter three that this book has not been outright painful to read. It's actually interesting, and it's moving in positive directions. We've managed to escalate the tension, strengthen Merry's political position and put her in acute risk of death, all by having somebody blab to Aunt Andais about the Great Vag of Holding.
Then Andais completely loses it and accuses a known loyalist, Barinthus, of being a traitor. Merry talks her out of this pretty much the way you'd talk a lion out of a temper tantrum, and manages to survive. Andais then realizes that she's been listening to the wrong person and...
...yeah, the tension is starting to disappear.
One of the dudes that tried to kill Galen is Kerian, who belongs to a noble house lead by Blodewedd, a woman made from flowers. This is actual myth, and a permutation I really like. It specifies that Blodewedd didn't like being given to a hero like a party favor and joined the Unseelie court because the Seelie court's the one that passed her out. Sadly all she does is stand up and talk about things that are about to be totally invalidated.
She wants to protect her people, and that means (GASP) making sure that Kerian's wife is guilty before Andais goes all medieval ruler on her ass.
Kiran gives a speech about how Merry is bad. Frankly, if my choice were human ruler or inhuman blender, I'd overthrow the whole thing and elect a puppy or something so my species could have a couple generations to decompress, but that's just me.
Merry figures out that Kerian's wife is hiding something and orders her to be searched. LKH implies that this search borders on pornographic but mercifully does not describe it in detail. It turns out that the wife has a charm to make Andais listen to them favorably. They say they dared to do this because people have tried to kill Merry and Andais let them live.
Andais says "See what being merciful gets you?" and the chapter ends.
So on the one hand we have an actual, plot and series relivant chapter for the first time in ages.
On the other hand, it's segued into another chance for LKH to wax eloquent about how mercy and kindness to your enemies and all that jazz is bad, and killing them out of hand in terrible ways is good, and either way I am NOT looking forward to the next chapter.