Riverside Read-along: The Fall of the Kings (week 3)

Book cover: The Fall of the Kings - Ellen Kushner & Delia ShermanBasil believes he is shining a light on the past and exposing its secrets.The Serpent Chancellor knows that shining a light on a secret robs it of its power.  But neither he nor Basil truly believe in the power of magic. As spring approaches, it may become impossible for anyone – least of all Theron – to deny the magic of the Land.

Oh dear people, no. No. NO. NO!

That’s what reading The Fall of the Kings was like this week: one character after another doing or saying something that could only end badly. There will be tears before bedtime, and I’m very much afraid they will be mine (and my fellow readers’).

‘Ware, spoilers. They’re unavoidable at this point.

Let’s start with Basil. I said from the first that I wasn’t particularly fond of him, but by this point it’s abundantly clear that he is not himself. What’s harder to tell is the cause of the change: Theron, the Book, or the Land itself, woken by Northern meddling. Regardless, Basil appears to have almost no control over his thoughts or behaviours. He can barely recall the fairly straightforward formula for calling out Crabbe, and he still manages to do the one thing he promised Rugg he wouldn’t whilst doing so: make it all about wizards.

Talking about wizards is treason, so it’s just as well for Basil that the Serpent Chancellor appears to have changed his mind on enforcing the law. Or has he? Arlen is the Serpent Chancellor, so it goes without saying that he’s a subtle, twisty fucker. Nick Galing – after checking his ego (and his libido; well, maybe not his libido) – certainly thinks Arlen is playing the long game. And given the rest of Basil’s behaviour this week, that game looks a lot like giving the good Doctor enough rope to hang himself and as many of his students as possible.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Basil insists on reading those spells that are ‘just gibberish’ out loud. His thoughts about Theron aren’t just abusive, they’re unstable, and they’re starting to sound homicidal (remember my concern about King/Stag parallels and what that might mean?) – unless I’m being melodramatic and lacking imagination on what else pouring out Theron’s blood for the Land could mean.

I really want to feel sorry for Basil in the middle of all this, as I’m pretty sure none of this is his fault. But as I never warmed to him in the first place, I’m mostly just scared for Theron and Basil’s students.

Theron, in the mean time, is trying to ‘surprise’ his lover by becoming respectable, settling down with a wife, and liberating himself to do as he pleases behind closed doors.

No, I’ve got nothing.

Wait, yes I do.


Firstly, Genevieve Randall deserves better. Theron is clearly attracted to her, and she to him, but she genuinely believes he’s looking for a life partner – not just a shield to blunt the gossip and manage his affairs.

Secondly, even if he weren’t turning into a crazed wizard who thinks he owns Theron, Basil would never accept sharing Theron is a Good Thing – and there are way too many chips on his shoulder about noble privilege for him to respond well to being taken for granted like this.

Thirdly, Clarence Randall looks like the sort of boy who’d resort to duels over his sister’s honour. Hell, I’m tempted to cheer him on.

And then you get to Nicholas Galing taking one look at Randall’s lineage and spotting the Northern connection.



I’m reminded of a scene from Daggerspell, in which a loaf of bread is torn in half and used as a metaphor for a loving marriage (is half a loaf better than none?). But unlike Brangwen, Genevieve has options. If Theron marries her, he is selfishly removing them, and while I think he could come to love and cherish her – there does seem to be attraction and respect on his side – he could equally easily come to see her as a shrew and a hindrance if she objects to him running off to see Basil. She does not deserve this. But hey, given what else is going, the marriage may never get a chance to happen…

It’s all becoming a race to see what can unravel first. I was pleasantly surprised by the evolution of Henry Fremont, who appears to have a conscience and the spark of human kindness in him after all; and, as always, delighted by Michael Godwin’s minor contributions to common sense. It must rub off – young Peter Godwin also shows signs of promise, assuming his slightly naïve championing of truth doesn’t kill him.

Honestly, I don’t know what to expect of next week. I still don’t know what is happening in terms of the Land and its rituals – or what Theron saw on Last Night. I don’t find myself rooting for the Northerners or the return of the Kings (let alone the bloody wizards), even though I’m not a huge fan of the current political structure. I don’t even know what a happy outcome looks like at this point. I think I’m just hoping for as little collateral damage as possible.


I might just have to stock up on chocolate before next Sunday.

Our reactions as we read are captured on Storify (thanks @effingrainbow!).

We will be livetweeting the final part of #TFOTK (and our last Riverside Read-along until the autumn *sniff*) next Sunday night (May 6th) at 9pm BST.