Chapter 67: Mind Against Metal
This is a long one. Not, surprisingly, a filler chapter, but still just as moronic. In this chapter Paolini quite succinctly summarizes everything he does not know about warfare, battles, medicine, or balancing action and description.
We cut back to Roran yet again, for another chapter that interrupts any suspension that may have been achieved between the preceding and following chapters.
Roran and co. are still fighting in the city, against a massive well-trained army, and apparently not doing too well.
“The battle was going badly. That much was obvious. he and his warriors had remained close to the outer wall for at least a quarter of an hour, fighting off the advancing soldiers”
Holy hell, a continuous stream of so many soldiers that the rebels are tactically pinned to the walls, that lasts at least fifteen minutes? Where are all these soldiers sleeping? What do they eat? And where are all the bodies going?!
“but then they had allowed the soldiers to lure them back amongst the buildings. In retrospect, that had been a mistake.”
Tactics 101, people!
So, the battle’s going badly, the rebel force is spread out, divided and confused. And then we get this gem for Added Drama:
“Worse… magic no longer seemed to be working as it should”
DUN DUN DUNNNN
So, an elf trys to kill a soldier, only to have the spell redirected to one of the Varden soldiers.
With all of the talk about Galbatorix’s many complex wards and massive stores of dragon-heart power, nobody thought maybe using magic in a city inhabited by Galbatorix, against soldiers employed by Galbatorix, might not be a good thing?
And then we get some description of how Roran had seen Barst, the mini-boss, rampaging around near the main gates, clubbing everyone with his massive
Apparently the dwarven king and the elven queen are fighting nearby as well, which Paolini completely ruins by having Roran narrate everything instead of actually showing us.
“Roran had seen King Orik and a group of dwarves hewing their way through a group of soldiers. Orik’s jewelled helm flashed in the light as he swung his mighty war hammer, Volund.”
Okay, first: one does not wear a jewelled helm into a war jone. Maybe afterwards, but not during. Why? It draws enemy fire like flies to your rotting jewl-enhelmed carcass. Also, do I really need to spell out why you might not want to have something that splinters into glass-sharp shards when smashed, right next to your brain, in a battlefield full of people wanting to smash them?
Second: Between the lack of battle-logistics (where are all the dead soldiers going? Are they being piled up to one side so that the fighters can move freely?) and the inappropriate amount of description of arms and ornate armour and heroic poses, one might be forgiven for wondering if Paolini has ever watched any movie or read any book that actually involves a battle.
We get another paragraph of save-it-for-later description, including Islanzadi’s flying red cape and “shining armour as bright as a star amid the dark mass of bodies”.
And then this:
“A cluster of five soldiers charged around the corner of a house and nearly ran into Roran. Shouting, they levelled their spears and did their best to skewer him like a roast chicken. He ducked and dodged and, with his own spear, caught one of the men in their throat. The soldier remained on his feet for a minute more, but he could not breathe properly and soon he fell to the ground, tangling the legs of his companions.”
Paolini, stop. Stop right there for a moment. Let’s back it up is bit.
You seriously expect your readers to believe that Roran, with no superhuman skills and minimal military experience, can dodge five spears at once, each of them being thrust by a different soldier? You expect your readers to believe that those soldiers wouldn’t have spread out and attempted to surround him? YOU EXPECT YOUR READERS TO BELIEVE THAT FOUR TRAINED SOLDIERS WOULD JUST STAND THERE DUMBLY FOR A MINUTE WATCHING THEIR FRIEND DIE, AND THEN NOT, Y’KNOW, MOVE OUT OF THE WAY SO AS TO NOT BE TRIPPED?
Seriously. Trained soldiers would have moved to surround and outflank him. Five spears being weilded by trained soldiers who have been trained to work together cannot be outmaneouvred by a single man with no training for that exact situation. The moment Roran was distracted by his kill, at least one of those soldiers would have immediately moved to flank him and get him from the side or behind, while his spear was still stuck in another person’s throat and therefore temporarily useless. Trained soldiers would not just stand there and wait to be tangled up.
I think Paolini’s forgetting that this is not supposed to be a game, and his NPC soldiers should not be operating on AI from low-budget 90s RPGs.
The military tactics used by Age of Empires computer-players is more sensible than this wreck.
Deep breath, Torylltales. You can do this.
So, Roran takes the opportunity to “stab and cut with abandon” when the soldiers are tangled up in their dead friend’s limbs, before one of the soldiers “managed to land a blow on Roran’s right shoulder”. Roran’s wards absorb the damage, but Roran still takes a moment in the middle of an unresolved fight scene about how the unpredictability of magic in the area means he “dared not risk leaving himself open for even the slightest blow”
Another thing Paolini doesn’t understand about battle: the best and only way to train effectively for combat is to train as though you do not have armour. Even in a full suite of plate one should not leave oneself open to “even the slightest blow”.
It’s such a basic, fundamental concept that it should be written in bold text on the front cover of the Battle Tactics 101 handbook: DO NOT RELY ON YOUR ARMOUR TO PREVENT INJURY.
And then Angela rushes in with “a blur of steel” and decapitates the remaining two soldiers with her sword-staff. They have a meaningless conversation while continuing to fight, that I suspect Paolini meant to have the same effect as that old movie cliche where the dashing swordsman pours himself a drink mid-duel. Or thew swordfight between Wesley and Inigo where they continued to chat even while duelling. It comers off as pretty shallow.
There’s a bit more empty fighting – and I mean empty as in the characters are all there, but there’s no meat to it, no spirit in the characters. It’s like a pantomime of a battle. Baldor (remember him?) loses a hand in the fighting, but Roran doesn’t want to spare any warriors to escort him out of the city to the elven healers. Instead of sending someone with a clear motivation to do the job correctly, he decides to send someone with no connection to him, and an Urgal. It has been established that urgals are better warriors than pretty much anyone except Roran. So why does he send a great warrior away in order to keep a untrained but passable one on the field? And then, despite all of the racial-sensitivity stuff Paolini wrote in Brisingr and earlier in this book, the Urgal is portrayed with unashamed racism as a dim-witted creature who only understands physical dominance and glory for the tribe.
I’m beginning to regret sporking this chapter.
There’s a bit more fighting, and then Roran takes a moment to have a breather and listen to the sounds of battle.(Put you right to sleep, don’t they just?) There’s another blatant demonstration of Author Armour, as Roran moves from the step a split second before a chamber pot is emptied directly where he had been sitting. A woman from the top floor calls him a murderer, and closes her window.
Bad move, Nameless Background Extra. If Roran were the bad guy in this story (yes, I know, but Paolini’s still trying to convince us he’s one of the good guys), he would have bashed in that door and proven her right.
As he is walking away, he spots a soldier being chased by “a pack of yowling housecats”. Not werecats, but housecats. How does Roran know this? We don’t know. They are immediately followed by a group fo dwarves who yell that they are being chased by “a few hundred” soldiers. Although we don’t see him, I’ll go ahead and assume there’s a minstrel in the background playing Yackety Sax.
All of this fighting, and there’s still enough soldiers for a few hundred to leave the main fight to chase a handful of dwarves, without being missed by the main body at the gates? Riight.
Despite getting an arrow to the
knee LOWER SPINE, Roran is still able to move even while his back is spasming with intense pain. He realises that they cannot outrun the soldiers, so he commands everyone to stop running and form rank, so they make a line with Roran and the key players at the front. Even with how fast the soldiers are running toward them, there’s still time for a quick conversation with the dwarf to the left of him. The soldiers keep on running, and just smash mindlessly straight into them. There’s a scrum that lasts long enough for Roran to retreat to the rear several times (!) to rest his arms and get his breath back, and then the seemingly endless supply of soldiers push them back into the main part of the battle at the gates.
They are now surrounded on all sides by enemy soldiers.
DUN DUN DUNNN.
They climb up the nearby buildings, and manage to get to a few defensible locations before any of the soldiers who were chasing them actually do anything (what, do these soldiers wait their turn? Is this turn-based combat? How many moves do they get per turn? Most importantly, where’s the Mountain Dew?).
As they are fighting the soldiers trying to climb the stairs after them, “Roran dodged a spear and kicked its owner in the belly”.
How long are these spears? A standard medieval infantry thrusting spear would generally be estimated at around 6 to 8 feet long; pikes and other pole weapons were considerably longer. In order for Roran to kick a spearman in the belly, he would have to step at least three feet inside the spear’s range. While other solders with spears attacked him from further down.
Barst is demonstrated to have wards against arrows and other projectile weapons, as all the arrows and projectiles that go near him explode just before resaching him, and then Paolini proves in only three sentences that he has never suffered a broken rib. “[Roran] coughed and spat; his spittle contained blood, but he thought that was was just from where he had bitten the inside of his mouth and not form a punctured lung. At least he hoped so. His ribs felt sore enough that one of them might be broken”.
If Roran had a broken rib, he would not be able to stand, let alone continue fighting. Unless he was seriously drugged up to prevent him feeling pain. Broken ribs (hell, even merely bruised ribs) hurt like nothing else, and I have seen a grown man, a strong, hard worker who never complains about anything, who has shrugged off displacing one of his knuckles halfway up their hand, who has shrugged off wood shavings in the eyes and pneumatically-fired fencing nails clean through his fingers and hands, be struck absolutely helpless, unable to move or even form coherent sentences, from the pain of a broken rib. Roran is not going to be standing and thinking “oh, I hope I don’t have a broken rib. They are pretty sore”. He would be screaming in agony, lying flat on the ground and barely able to breathe for the pain.
Anyway. Moving on.
Barst continues to fare better than Sauron at the Last Alliance before Isuldur came along, striking down multiple charging horses at full gallop with a single swing of his mace, and quickly enough that four of them, being ridden by oh-so-special super-reflexes elves are all felled before they can even slow down.
Paolini really doesn’t seem to have any sense of scale or proportion, does he? Reality seems to go right out the window whenever he tries to make things more epic or more dramatic.
Speaking of dramatic. Barst laughs at the remaining elves, who are circling him much like ninjas in a terrible 80s action movie, and Roran “could see that [Barst’s face] was broad and heavy-browed, with prominent cheekbones”. It reminds him of an Urgal. Barst kills the other four elves, and then a squad of halberdiers take the opportunity to “run screaming toward Queen Islanzadi and her companions”. They are immediately killed.
Let’s pause here for a moment, shall we? I just have one quick question. Where the hell are the “seemingly endless” crowds of soldiers who were attacking the Varden moments ago? Has everyone just stopped fighting to watch Barst? This isn’t even a game anymore, it’s a cutscene. A cutscene that makes no sense and can’t be skipped.
Good lord, we’re playing Starcraft in Middle Earth.
So, the Elf Queen calls for Barst to surrender because “there are more of us” (Again, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SCORES OF SOLDIERS WHO WERE JUST HERE?), so Barst demonstrates his strength by throwing a horse one-handed, and running toward the elves, slaying some of them and their horses. The missing soldiers FINALLY reappear, having taken five to freshen up and have sandwiches, I suppose. Angela makes an oh-so-subtle remark that she knows how to turn herself into a nuclear bomb, but Roran declines her offer when told of the consequences. Instead of a merciful ending to this chapter and book, we are treated to Elf Queen and Barst fighting. I don’t even want to go into it, but thankfully the fight scene is short, there’s a spell and some kind of light when their weapons meet, and Islanzadi is killed. Her final words were “thus I curse you, Barst, son of Berengar!” Immortal words that should be carved under her statue.
Page 685 ends with “And all was still”.
Was it really? Why has everybody else stopped fighting? Is this another cutscene, or is this the moment of transition between cutscene and game? And when will this chapter end, already?
Not yet, apparently. The Varden has lost hope, men are throwing down their weapons and fleeing, and even in the heat of battle against Barst, five of the elves manage to transfer Elf Queen’s body onto their shields and carry her away.
Roran thinks up a plan to kill Barst (because of COURSE it will come down to Mini-Boss PC versus Mini-Boss NPC), and Angela agrees to help him. Roran refuses to tell anybody what his plan is until everybody is assembled, and of course we readers only get “he told them his plan”.
An elf casts a Sonorus charm (oops, sorry, wrong kind of magic) to make Roran’s voice louder so that “everybody can hear [him]” All the fighting has stopped to watch (another cutscene?) as Roran challenges barst and calls him a “maggot-ridden cur”. Roran notices the “sly intelligence” in his eyes, and the “small, mocking smile that lifted the corners of his mouth”. He calculates in a glance that Barsts neck is “as thick as Roran’s thigh”, and, like every named character in this series, Roran is distracted by the shiny lights reflecting off Barst’s armour.
Then follows the most epic shut-down in the entire series:
“No man scares me, Stronghammer. Or should I say Lackhammer, for I see no hammer upon you”.
Roran responds by calling Barst a “beardless bootlicker”, and the fight is on. Before either can attack, thought, Roran thinks “Now!” as hard as he can., hoping the elves are monitoring his thoughts. “Six stone projectiles” and a “half dozen javelins” (six of one, half a dozen of the other, you know) descend directly onto Barst, cracking and bursting on his wards just like everything else does. Somehow, though, this overwhelms Barst’s wards and flattens him. He’s still alive, but now he’s unarmed and winded. A group of urgals start bashing Barst, trying to drain the dragon-heart that is powering his wards, and eventually they start to break through.
“For a number of heatbeats” it looks like the urgals are about to win, then Barst miraculously recovers ALL his strength, and starts throwing elves and urgals around like ragdolls again. What, did he manage to take a Potion of Minor Restoration or something? Oh, but his wards against damage are still gone.
Roran is hit, and we get a description of a dislocated shoulder that actually reads like it was written from experience. Hurray! The moment is ruined by two things: ONE: Again, like all of Paolini’s characters, Roran finds himself mesmerised by the intricate details of a yellow rock “veined with coiled branches of red agate” . He stares at it for a moment, and then TWO: He manages to pop his shoulder back into position BY HIMSELF, ONE-HANDED. We are also treated to, unless I’ve missed something earlier, one of the only (possibly the first?) mention of Roran’s mother. It’s a throwaway mention of her teaching him how to deal with this exact situation, but at least it’s something.
Barst is standing in a ring of dead werecats, and this is the first time that Roran is disgusted in the whole chapter, despite the thousands of dead rebels and soldiers continually being stacked neatly out of the way of the main characters. There’s Paolini’s weird pathology again, dead humans okay, but dead animals are sick and disgusting and wrong.
They start fighting again, and it is all so very dramatic and messy. To be fair, it’s not a bad fight scene within the chapter, it’s messy, realistic, and it’s not bogged down by heavy descriptions. There’s a certain clinical element that removes a lot of the tension, but that’s endemic in Paolini’s work anyway.
By the way, I’m just ignoring the white raven that’s been flapping around in the chapter, the one that usually accompanies the now-dead elf queen, because it’s nothing more than an annoying avian asterisk. Anyway, a few pages ago one of its wings were broken by Barst’s mace. Now it’s back up and flying again.
Out of the very few elven healers in the battle, how many would stop what they were doing to heal a bird, instead of themselves or fellow rebel warriors?
Anyway, so Barst and Roran are fighting, the bird is shouting “Die! Die! Die!” (Remember, this bird can speak English, but usually only in nonsensical, stupidly-rhymed riddles), and Roran keeps going by thinking “Katrina” to himself as a source of strength. That detail is actually quite nice, and it doesn’t distract too much from the action (which is distracted enough as it is with awkward descriptions of gory details.) Roran’s ribs are properly broken this time, but he doesn’t even notice it. it doesn’t hinder his movement, much less register on his pain threshhold.
Oh yes, and we get another use of “orb” instead of “eye”. Lovely.
Finally, the last page of the chapter. Roran’s got Barst in a bearhug, and even with a recently-dislocated-then-relocated shoulder, and all of his other injuries, he’s still strong enough to crack the eldunari under Barst’s breastplate.
Strong enough to crack a dragon heart-stone from sheer pressure, even through a steel protective covering. While being aggressively elbowed in his broken ribs.
… I’m not even going to start on that.
The cracked dragonball starts glowing, I assume with heat as well as light, because Barst is “pulled rigid, as though chains had pulled every limb to its farthest reach, and he began to shake uncontrollably […] then the blaze ceased, leaving the world darker than before, and what litttle remained of Lord Barst tumbled backward and lay smoking on the cobblestones”.
Roran faints, and surprisingly that isn’t the segue to the next chapter. He awakens in safety, surrounded by the most important of the NPCs in the Varden.
Then he faints again, and NOW it’s the end of the chapter.