Recent Reading: At the Feet of the Sun

Okay, so, I read this (very long) book slowly. Very slowly. I started it … when did I start it? Before Christmas Break started. Around the middle of December, I guess. I’ve been working on Tano, as you all know, and that slowed me down a lot, as I mostly opened At the Feet of the Sun at bedtime, read a little bit, and then turned off the light.

Of course this was a book I anticipated with great excitement, and then all your comments here made me anticipate AtFotS in a completely different way, as various commenters had every reaction from very disappointed to very pleased. Now, having read it myself … I see where everyone is coming from in their various opinions, but overall I liked AtFotS quite a bit, but not as much as THotE. Let me see if I put my thoughts in some sort of order.

Okay. Some spoilers ahead, starting mild but also at least one spoiler that could be considered serious. I’ll warn you when I get to that one.

First reaction: Where the heck is his Radiancy?

I was impatient with the long, long, long beginning, the whole lead-up to the reappearance of his Radiancy / Fitzroy. The relationships between Fitzroy and Cliopher was the part I was most interested in, by a mile, so when Fitzroy didn’t turn up, and didn’t turn up, and still didn’t turn up, that was super frustrating for me. When Cliopher went off on a side quest to a parallel world, that frustration peaked and I quit for several days. You all helped me get through this part of the story by telling me when Fitzroy appears (37%) and telling me that other elements of the story were really appealing (I’m guessing you meant Cliopher finding Basil, because that was indeed really appealing).

Second reaction: This is very episodic.

The first book, The Hands of the Emperor, is not episodic in the same way. Repetitive, yes, but that’s not the same. That one is a slow build of Cliopher from the secretary in chief of the offices of the lords of state, as close to his Radiancy as anyone, but still held at a great distance, to viceroy and, as much as anyone can be, an actual friend. In other words, Cliopher grows into himself in the first book, and into a role that his Radiancy creates for him. This is thoroughly compelling. It is also all one story. When we hear about Cliopher’s ambiguously long journey across the Wide Seas, we hear about it after the fact – it’s all part of the same story – it’s not like Goddard drops Cliopher unexpectedly into the Wide Seas during the story and the reader is taken along on this voyage in story-present, as a separate episode inserted into the main story.

But that’s almost exactly what does happen in AtFotS. Twice.

In AtFotS, we have the main story, which goes like this: Cliopher, sans his Radiancy, is beginning to gradually hand over power. Then circumstances cause him to hand over power abruptly, freeing him to go off to find Basil. While he is with Basil, his Radiancy appears. Then they work out their relationship. The end.

But during this basic story, we have two moments when Cliopher is dropped into another world. First, there is the side-quest that I found so frustrating. Granted, that turns out to be short, but it’s not at all clear at the beginning how short that episode will be. Second, the reader is pulled away from the main story for a much, much longer episode where Cliopher and Fitzroy fall into Sky Ocean, this and that occurs, and then Cliopher goes on a long solitary quest to the mythic House of the Sun via a journey through a fairy-tale world.

So there are the real-world sections and the mythic/fairy-tale sections, and they are very separate from each other.

I don’t mean there aren’t connections, because of course there are. Things Cliopher learns about himself on his solitary quest to the House of the Sun lead to his ability to bring himself to finally claim high status at home, not without the occasional bobble. But the mythic fairy-tale world of Sky Ocean is so distinct from the real world that moving back and forth creates a feeling of repeated disjunction to this novel that does not exist in the first novel, where the mythic intrudes into the real world from time to time, but no part of the story takes place in the mythic realm.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the thing with the pile of corn very much.

Third Reaction: Whew, dodged a bullet, that’s a relief.

This is the big spoiler. If you don’t want that spoiler, skip down to “Overall Reaction.”




Look, I like romances. I really do. I don’t object to romantic relationships in novels. In this particular case, if Goddard had decided to take the relationship between Cliopher and Fitzroy in that direction, I would have gritted my teeth a lot, but I would have accepted that. But I’m glad she didn’t do that.

Instead of doing that, Goddard specifically expressed all the things I wanted her to express about the validity of intense non-sexual relationships. This made me very happy.

I know some of you found the angst and fuss over how to define this relationship and what word to use and the concern about what other people would think about using that word and so on tedious and annoying. I see why. Because I knew about that reaction, I was braced to feel that way, but I don’t think I did, and I think there are two reasons for that – at least two. First, I was, as I say, happy to have the relationship not be sexual, but still central for both Cliopher and Fitzroy; and for that to be seen as remarkable, but workable. Second, I do think that the shift from god-emperor/statesman to Fitzroy/Cliopher was a huge shift, intrinsically difficult, so hitting repeated high-angst moments while working out that relationship felt reasonable to me.

The thing that actually did bother me (somewhat) was that in THotE, Cliopher did not ever think about anything to do with the word fenoa or about his youthful dreams of finding, in the emperor, this kind of, basically, soulmate. Now, I can see various ways to justify that. But there is still a disconnect between how Cliopher really did feel about his Radiancy in the first book and the way Cliopher now feels about that relationship in retrospect.

On the other hand, I did like how that relationship worked out and overall did not find this felt too angsty to me, nor even too repetitive. I mean, there was a repetitive nature to this interaction, but I felt that was reasonable and didn’t mind it nearly as much as the repetitive elements in Cliopher’s interactions with his family and friend in the first book. In AtFotS, the repetitiveness felt natural to me, even necessary.

Overall reaction: Maybe four and a half stars instead of five and a half.

I just loved The Hands of the Emperor so much. It would have been hard for At the Feet of the Sun to hit that high a mark for me, and it didn’t. I liked it a lot. But when I re-read it, I’m pretty likely to skip lightly through various sections, including most of the stuff in Sky Ocean.

Not the part with the corn, though. That was delightful.

Final notes:

–The thing with Rhodin and his peculiar delusion did not work for me. Way too silly.

–But I really like Ludvic.

–Wow, is Victoria Goddard amazing with description. AMAZING. Every time I see anyone asking how to work description into a novel, I’m going to point at these books.

I hope you will all comment about your reactions to this book! I’m really interested in how everyone felt about it!

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13 thoughts on “Recent Reading: At the Feet of the Sun”

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! I’ve been wondering what your reaction would be since I was at that first “WHERE is His Radiancy??” stage of the book.

    Personally, I loved the Sky Ocean stuff. I guess I was a little anxious to get back to everyone else and the rest of the plot, but for me that just felt like extra tension/incentive to read fast and feel excited. I loved the sea witch and the lady at the bottom of the tower, and I loved all the weird impossible magical stuff, and I loved Cliopher winning the negotiations with the Sun (I was genuinely laughing out loud and punching the air at that). In general, I’m a huge sucker for the thing Goddard does across a lot of her books where there’s something you first think should be taken metaphorically/poetically, but later it turns out to be literal, so the whole Sky Ocean section was a delight for me.

    Re: “fanoa” showing up in this book but not being in HotE – Victoria Goddard did an AMA on her fan discord server where she talked about that. She said something like, when she was working on AtFotS, she wanted a word for their relationship because having a word makes it a Thing and easier to talk about, so she came up with this one and tried to fit it into the gaps in HotE with the justification that Cliopher is someone who avoids thinking about things that are too important to him. (I’m paraphrasing very heavily, plus it was a live verbal conversation so I’m relying on my memory, hopefully that’s close enough to not be misrepresenting what she said.)

    When I was reading, it seemed pretty obvious to me that it was something new that she had added since HotE, but it felt sort of like she had written the first book and then readers had seen something there that she hadn’t really intended, but instead of going “F*** you, I’m sticking to my plan,” like some authors might, she was more like, “huh, you’re right, I might have done that subconsciously, but it’s definitely there… let’s see what happens if I really lean into it…” I definitely don’t mean to suggest that creators should always listen to the fans, lots of the time “that’s interesting, but I like my original vision better” is the way to go, but I thought in this particular case it ended up being a great decision.

  2. I thought there was a large disconnect between how cliopher’s friends perceived his relationship to the emperor (hidden passage, really?) and how clear it was in AtFotS that the emperor could not be touched. One of Godard’s short novels afterwards also involved Fitzroy’s own difficulties with that facet of being emperor. So for me: romance, yes. Sex: yes. Romantic feelings but no touching? Yes, but in this case Imo, extremely hurtful for Fitzroy. The word fenoa did seem quite artificial. Are the two of them to have meaningless sex with other people? Is Fitzroy restricted to having sex with deities only? The whole thing made me cringe. Like Elise, though, I found the side trips enjoyable, descriptive, and probably necessary to give Cliopher that sense of accomplishment necessary for him to see that his is a fit partner for Fitzroy (again cringe! As if changing the entire government isn’t enough!) .

  3. Is there much government-related plot in *At The Feet Of The Sun*? I enjoyed *The Hands of the Emperor*, but I was constantly distracted by thinking about the feasibility of Cliopher’s governmental changes (they did not seem feasible to me given the world / economics of the book). It’s the main thing that has kept me from reading the sequel, even though I enjoyed the rest of the book.

  4. Kriti, there’s not much, but people do keep mentioning how keen the annual stipend is, and if that’s what you have in mind, I too have my doubts about this element. It’s probably easy to make that work in fiction by authorial fiat. In the actual world as presented in the novels, well, I just read past those references and moved on. But we didn’t hear about anything else specific to the government or bureaucracy.

  5. My overall reaction is “mixed, leaning barely toward more positive than negative.” Finding Basil, the piles of corn, absolutely not going a sexual direction for the relationship: all great. (I will probably like Aurelius Magnus and Elonoa’a more on a reread, because at the time I was as horrified as Cliopher that it might be the way his relationship with Fitzroy was supposed to go.)

    The Sky Ocean and House of the Sun quest, eh. Fine, I guess, but I was mostly waiting to get back to the part I cared about, aka the Fitzroy/Cliopher friendship. I did not dig the fanoa thing, because it was not ANYwhere in the first book, and I didn’t feel it reflected Cliopher’s initial expectations and desires for going to Astandalas as described in HotE. Eh. I also felt like a few important pages at the end were missing that would tell us how being fanoa really works, socially. Can Fitzroy take lovers? If he can, how does being fanoa differ from being, you know, the deepest of friends? If he can’t, then I’m not 100% sold given how important touch is to him. Not that friends can’t touch. I dunno. Maybe I’m just offended that someone would think “friend” couldn’t be a deep central relationship on its own and needs a special name to gussy it up.

    Ludvic, agree, he is wonderful.

    Rhodin…I spent the entire book, almost to the last pages, expecting hyperintelligent telepathic dinosaurs to make some sort of appearance. I couldn’t believe it was actually intended to be a silly delusion.

    On the stipend, I just glide past with some amusement that the author loves the concept of UBI more than I love rainy nights and cozy blankets.

    (Am still convinced there should have been hyperintelligent telepathic dinosaurs.)

  6. Maigen, I was also waiting for the telepathic dinosaurs! I mean, why not? There’s everything else! And Rhodin had never struck me as silly before, so that rang a little strangely to me.

    I enjoyed the alternate universe side story and thought it was integral to Cliopher’s development, and I very much enjoyed the trip to the Sun and the corn and the sea turtle etc. Then I thought it just kept going on a bit too long—when Fitzroy raised the island I was rolling my eyes a bit: she gives them all these amazing, superlative, epic experiences, and then she adds more superlative amazing things, and after a while they stop being superlative because there’s just so many of them!

    Elise, I think you’re right about the process of coming up with ‘fanoa,’ and I’m quite happy for her to have responded that way to her fans. I thought the development of their relationship was well-done. Like Maigen, I am interested in the logistics of how this non-sexual life partnership is going to work, because yes, Fitzroy definitely needs and deserves some sex. And with Pali, preferably! That’s my big question at the end: there’s been a lot of development of the Fitzroy-Pali romance, so I want to see how that’s going to work out, and how it will fit in with happy male domesticity in the house in Goryo City. (I would love to visit that house!)(The last part of the book reminded me a lot of Höst’s Gratituous Epilogue, with all the architecture and housewarming parties and making sure we know what’s happening with all our favourite characters.)

  7. HYPER INTELLIGENT telepathic dinosaurs, and me too!

    Kim, I think the parallel world was made to be important — I mean, well integrated into Cliopher’s character arc. But I was so frustrated at hitting a parallel world at all, it could not have worked for me.

    It actually never occurred to me that Fitzroy would not be able to have sexual relationships that are also important to him, just as both of them can have friendships with, say, Ludovic, that are important to them. As that never crossed my mind, the lack of clarity about that did not bother me.

  8. I rather wanted Rhodin to realise, after the source for his myth showed up, where it came from (maybe with a few gentle hints from Cliopher or later, his Radiancy). I guess it’s a lot more realistic for someone invested in a myth to not be able to see (or allow themself to see) the things that would disturb their belief… but it’s a bit disappointing for an intelligence gatherer to be this blind to his own fantastic bias, as well as his preconceived, continuing sureness that his correspondent is an impostor, even after other signs of Fitzroy’s old company start surfacing. It makes him look a lot less intelligent than expected, weakens him as a member of the core group: more an indulged junior than a team member who carries his own weight.

    I did enjoy the way Ludovic’s story developed, and loved the bit with the sea witch and the corn. It was so perfectly in character for Cliopher, and something the other Kip would not have had the patience for; and it was the key that unlocked other possibilities.

    I also agree with Kim that the alternate universe was key to Cliopher growing into his status within his own community. It also casts his travails in his first time-lost storm-wracked trip back home in a slightly different light, in that some of that may have been engineered by his trickster god, because Cliopher remaining humble for a long time, and thereby becoming the adept manipulator and patient negotiator he is, was important to reaching the resolution that his god wanted (retrieving the godess’ wrap), instead of becoming the rather arrogant, impatient leader he also had potential to become – who would never have been able to pull off that fantastic negotiation with the Sun.

    I think Cliopher’s childish boast that he was going to marry Jullanar of the Sea from Fitzroy’s company might be a foreshadowing of a solution for his Radiancy’s need for physical affection and sex – if the three of them get married, Cliopher can maintain his mostly a-sexual preference while also sharing being part of the close emotional bond, and Fitzroy and Jullanar can share the sexual bond. She seems like a loving and flexible person who might be able to thrive in such a trio. Fitzroy did love all his company before, and if he manages to absorb the idea that wanting Pali won’t ever come to anything fulfilling, he may be open to widening his view of possible partners.
    Pali seems too rigid and inflexible, and I honestly don’t like her all that much.

  9. I liked this quite a bit but didn’t love it as much as I did THotE. I got a bit bored in the Sky Ocean section, but suspect I will enjoy it more on reread.

    I was surprised that Kip hadn’t previously realized that His Radiancy was Fitzroy Angursell. There was a scene in the first book where Kip says, in answer to a question from His Radiancy, that he thinks that of all men Fitzroy Angursell should be free. I had taken that to be his indirect acknowledgment of something that shouldn’t be spoken. I did feel the repetition of oh, he didn’t tell me, I’m not that important to him was a bit much. Some, yes, because that’s Kip, but not so stuck on it.

    I liked the architecture and the settling into the house.

  10. Thanks for answering my question, Rachel. I’ll probably pick this up at some point.

    My memory is a bit fuzzy, but the annual stipend was only part of it, I think I was also irritated by how (relatively) easy it was to get people to give up power and make radical changes in the government. Cliopher was presented as a genius, and it was hard for me to believe that when the things he was doing seemed to work by authorial fiat instead of actually making sense for the world presented.

    I enjoy learning about history and how real governments evolve, so I notice flaws in those topics in books pretty quickly (although I wouldn’t, for example, notice flaws in how dogs were handled because I don’t know much about dogs).

  11. I wish I could edit comments! I think it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m bothered by flaws in those topics more quickly rather than noticing them more quickly.

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