Part 11: A Portent of Evil

Chapter Eighteen – Awakening

Adrina wakes and immediately starts babbling about someone who’s hurting and needs their help, and a ship never arriving in Alderan. Father Jacob dabs her head with a damp towel and tells her it was only a dream. Adrina asks for Keeper Martin, because he will believe her. Jacob explains that everyone has already left. Adrina grabs his arm and says that she spoke to Prince William in her dream, and he needs her help. Father Jacob says that he believes her, but she’s in no condition to travel.

Adrina regarded Father Jacob with serious eyes. “Are you patronizing me?” (page 235).

Well, yes. After all, it’s not like he can slap her and tell her to shut up. On the other hand, she did just have a horse fall on her.

Father Jacob caves like a house of cards and goes off to arrange travel accommodations. Adrina gets up and wobbles around the room for a bit until everything stops spinning. She gets dressed in riding clothes and is waiting when Father Jacob returns. He says that he was hoping to find her asleep. He tries again to make her get back into bed.

Adrina stepped deftly passed Father Jacob (page 237)

It’s past, not passed.

Then we get this bit:

“It was only the voice at first, calling out, but then I started to see things. It was as if I were traveling a great distance. There was so much I know I saw that I cannot recollect, so much, Father Jacob… The vision first led me out to sea, then to the southern coast – ”

“Did you?” asked Jacob. “No, of course you didn’t, did you?”

“Did I what, Father Jacob?” (page 237).

I can only assume that that this kind of dialogue makes sense in Robert Stanek’s mind. Stanek, I assume, knows what Father Jacob says when he says “Did you?”, and he might even assume that his readers know what he means as well. We don’t, of course. It doesn’t make any fucking sense.

Of course, Jacob doesn’t reply to Adrina’s question because in Ruin Mist no one ever directly replies to a question. Instead, he changes the subject to Captain Brodst’s unfortunate accident. Yes, he had an accident. Remember back when he asked someone why that someone left ranks? Yeah, apparently he had an accident. Just what happened will never be explained. I think Stanek was trying to insinuate that a traitor took Brodst out, but being Stanek, he’s not able to insinuate something.

It’s actually pretty simple. Here’s how you do it:

Brodst looked at the shadow in confusion. “Captain, why did you leave ranks?” he asked.

The club whistled out of the darkness. Brodst ducked too late. It caught him flush in the helmet. Brodst slid off his horse and fell to the ground.

Simple as that. We still have the mystery of not knowing who Brodst’s assailant was (although we suspect one of the other captains is involved), and now we know there’s a traitor among them. There’s now some tension in the story, and later, when we find out that everyone believes that Brodst suffered an ‘unfortunate accident’, it will only raise the tension further, because the traitor is still undercover.

It stuns me that Stanek doesn’t even know the most basic fiction writing techniques.

Jacob explains that Captain Trendmore took command of the garrison and headed south for Alderan.

Adrina’s face turned deathly pale. Now she understood why the detachment had turned south for Quashan’. Now she understood why so much was at stake in Alderan (page 238).

That’s great, because I don’t.

Adrina tells Father Jacob about her two meetings with the mysterious lady. Father Jacob starts putting everything together. Here’s another good place to insert some exposition so the reader can figure out what the fuck is going on. Stanek doesn’t bother.

“Just let me stand here a moment, child.” Father Jacob paused, took a deep breath then added, “On second thought, let’s sit. Perhaps over on the bed…” (page 238)

Get your mind out of the gutter.

Jacob mutters about various messages for three or four paragraphs, and finally says that Adrina’s right, they can’t wait.

Actually they can, until the next morning, at least. The baron of Fraddylwicke (the castle where they’re staying) tries to talk Adrina out of leaving until she says that her royal father will be most appreciative of any assistance they can give her. The baron gives her a stately wagon drawn by four horses. He also tries to send a few soldiers with her. Adrina declines, because there aren’t enough extra horses for the soldiers to ride, and foot soldiers will only slow them down. This means two things:

  1. They never even considered the possibility of letting a common soldier…I dunno, ride in the wagon with them?
  2. Remember the previous chapter, where everyone was freaking out because their lives are forfeit if anything happens to Adrina? The princess? The girl they’re sworn to protect? Yeah, apparently they left and didn’t leave a single soldier behind to look after her. Not a one. Consistency, consistency, where art thou consistency?

They take off.

Soon they’re back in marshlands. Father Jacob is driving the horses as fast as he can. Nothing happens for about three pages. Suddenly he looks at Adrina, who’s chalk-white. He stops the wagon, wraps her up in blankets, and whips up the reins, keeping the team to a “careful gallop”. I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a careful gallop when you’re pulling a wagon along a muddy road in the middle of a storm. Sure enough, one of the axles crack. The wagon still holds together but it’s only a matter of time before the wheel breaks. Father Jacob immediately has a mini-crisis of faith:

The air around him, which was already cold, grew icy as the storm raged on. Father Jacob wanted to curse, wished his vocation would allow him to curse. To scream aloud just once would have satisfied all his pent up frustration. Instead he found the wisdom of his faith and prayed to Great-Father for guidance. Briefly afterward, the will of the Father flowed strongly through him, but then it was as if the storm sucked away the renewed vitality as readily as rain and wind beat down upon him.

A portent of evil filled his mind like a sickness, yet even in this he attempted to find good. The will of the Father had found him even in this hellish squall. Faith maintained, he continued his scan of the vicinity, his eyes wandering along the adjacent trail while the heavy downpour obscured his vision (page 246).

I swear I got chills reading this. Stanek’s eloquence describing the storm’s effect on Jacob’s faith is rivaled only by the superb wordplay in the works of Jim Theis and Christopher Paolini. Although admittedly, only Jim Theis managed to get published on his own merits.

After awhile, the axle cracks and the wagon tips over a short distance outside a small village. Father Jacob picks up Adrina and carries her towards the village. Leaving the horses outside harnessed to a tipped-over wagon in a storm. Classy guy. He goes up to a door and bangs on it.

“Go away!” said a meek voice from behind him (page 247).

I’m pretty sure there’s no way to order someone to leave meekly.

Jacob says that he’s the First Minister to the King and he needs their help. The guy tells him that he has to leave, and if he truly is Someone With Capital Letters, then he knows how dangerous it is to accept strangers during such an evil storm. Aaaand…chapter end.

Chapter Nineteen – Magic Shield

We return once again to Vilmos and Xith, and random, nonsensical sentences which were undoubtedly written without a short pause to consider the logic behind them:

A trek that would have taken many days by foot would be substantially shortened by wagon (page 248).

Not true. Wagons, by and large, travel at approximate walking speed. It’s entirely possible that over an even and level road they might travel at slightly above walking speed, but wagons weren’t built for speed, they were built for transporting heavy loads. Even a nearly empty wagon pulled by a pair of strong horses isn’t going to substantially improve your speed. Not to mention that with a wagon, you have to follow the road, so you can’t travel as the crow flies. Not to mention that you’re also at the mercy of the terrain, and a wagon can’t take a shortcut through a forest. It would be far faster to abandon the wagon and just ride the horses.

Xith thinks about how he can sense time running out. This simple sentence ratchets the intensity of this chapter up tenfold, just in time for another interesting quote:

Xith looked at the innocence spread out simply on Vilmos’ long face and was saddened by it (page 248).

Vilmos is many things, but innocent isn’t really one of them. Naïve, certainly, and as dumb as a rock, but he’s also bitter, cynical, and he knows that most of the people in the world want to kill him for being able to use magic. I think he has a pretty clear idea here of what he’s getting into.

Xith begins breathing in the air and starting to glow. Vilmos notices that he’s glowing and, as one would expect, asks what he’s doing. Xith fulfills his requisite role as the Wise Old Mentor Who Never Reveals Anything and says now is not the time.

They travel for a while. Stanek describes the curving roads and the hills around them. It’s not horribly written but it’s not particularly interesting, either, and it makes me wonder why, in such a short book, Stanek wastes pages on long, boring descriptions instead of characterization. [Answer: it’s easier to write]

Finally, Xith starts to think:

Caught in the dilemma of how much he could teach Vilmos, not knowing if the boy was fully ready to begin the lessons, and, if he were, how fast was too fast to progress, Xith tried to reach a decision. It seemed there was time for one last lesson (page 249).

So…at first Xith wonders if Vilmos is ready to begin receiving lessons…and then he decides there’s time for one last lesson. Um…does this make sense to anyone? (Of course, later in this chapter, he’ll explicitly say the lesson is lesson number two, implying there are more lessons to come…rendering both of these invalid).

Eventually Xith decides he will, indeed, teach Vilmos this one last lesson. And then he takes some time out to think about the moon:

It was an autumn moon, a moon that was not quite full and loomed low in the sky with the distant, unseen sun casting a cool orange luminescence upon its face. In other times Xith would have called it a blooded moon and the portent would have been one of ominous foreboding, but under the current circumstances it merely moved him into a somber introspective mood (page 250).

Finally, Xith starts the lesson – which involves him picking up rocks and throwing them at Vilmos and telling him to figure out how to stop them with his mind. And I’m struck once more by the remarkable similarities in the thinking of Robert Stanek and Christopher Paolini. In both books, the Wise Old Mentors believe that the best method of training their young, clueless protégé is to beat the crap out of them and expect them to figure out how to defend themselves while in pain.

Personally, if I was going to train someone how to use the Force to create a wall and stop rocks from hitting them, I’d sit down and explain the concept and try to give an example of how to think the energy into doing what you want it to, then I’d give a demonstration, and then we’d start by tossing small pebbles and practicing until we had the technique down, and then move on to larger rocks.

That would make sense, though, and things that make sense have no place in this book.

It doesn’t help, really, that Vilmos doesn’t exactly inspire pity. One would think that if your crazed master was hurling golf-ball-sized [this is was after golf] rocks at you, leaving bruises all over your body, and yelling at you to use magical force fields to defend yourself, you might at least try to ward them off. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Instead, Vilmos stands there. A rock hits him. He says “I don’t know how to do this.” He continues standing there. Another rock hits him. He says “I don’t understand.” Another rock hits him. This goes on for pages. I’m not exaggerating at all. Finally:

It took a stone hitting him square in the face, knocking him to the ground, before he decided this was no longer a game ( pages 253-254).

Like I said. Dumb as a rock. Vilmos finally gathers energy into himself and glares at Xith:

“Continue,” Vilmos said simply, haughtily (page 254).

I’m just going to call this one ‘Adverb Fail’.

Vilmos tries to ward off a rock…and it gets warded off. Yeah. He didn’t need anything else. He just needed to make a half-assed attempt at something and it worked. So the past two and a half pages of him standing there like a dimwitted sheep getting pelted by rocks were…pretty much exactly that.

They spend the next three pages bouncing rocks off invisible force fields. It’s not interesting and we learn nothing new about either character. Finally it ends, they harness up the horses, and take off. Xith tells Vilmos that he did extremely well and learned some very hard things. Yay for Vilmos!


  2 Responses to “Part 11: A Portent of Evil”

  1. Father Jacob immediately has a mini-crisis of faith:
    I understand he’s trying to do the rising above advercity thing here but is the fact it’s wet, probably cold, there is mud everywhere and a axle wheel is broken a big enough reason to have one?
    If you’re trying to pull off that cliche, there are loads of better ways to do so. It usualy involves a dangerous situation where death is likely and it looks like the bad guys might win after all. Usually toward the end of the book where author is trying to build tension. Not sure whats its doing here.

  2. That’s what I was thinking. Father Jacob having a faith crisis, even a small one, over this, makes me think he was so ridiculously sheltered and protected all his life that he never knew even minor problems.