Chapter Five – Realization
When we left Vilmos, he was sitting in his bedroom imagining he was in a valley. Now, he’s doing the exact same thing. I love that when something interesting is about to happen Stanek jumps forward over whatever it is, but when a character is sitting around daydreaming, he sticks with them to give us every last word.
There was a finality in his thoughts that frightened him, and it was only this that ended his feelings of complacency and propelled the urge to return home to the foremost thought in his mind (page 81).
Very poignant, Stanek, but I can’t help but feel that that paragraph would have been better served by either advancing the plot or providing character development instead of being about nothing.
This next bit is rather odd, as I’m not sure whether it’s about Vilmos walking back home from the valley or just imagining himself walking back home from the valley. Instead of just opening his eyes. The text isn’t really clear on what’s going on in reality and inside Vilmos’s mind, and it’s not because Stanek is deliberately trying to blur the line between imagination and reality. This is bad. This is why editors are a good idea. They read something, realize that they can’t understand what’s going on, and make the author rewrite it.
His father is off at council, so Vilmos heads out and helps his mother clean the house. We have many sentences describing what he’s doing. It’s now midday, and he’s been working for several hours, so he goes to the kitchen to get something to eat.
“Vil-MOS! What are you doing?” Lillath asked. She tried to hide laughter with her hand. “Never cease eating do you?” (page 83)
It’s midday. Lunchtime. Vilmos hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and he’s been working for several hours. So no, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Maybe Stanek is trying to add a touching moment between mother and son. Maybe he’s telling us that Vilmos is a glutton. Regardless, it doesn’t make sense.
His mother tells him they’re off to the service in a bit. Church, in other words. Vilmos hates church. He gets some food and takes off, but not before his mother tells him to study his history. He grabs the Great Book and the not-making-any-sense continues:
Vilmos turned back to his mother and asked “Mother, are there other books? I mean, surely all knowledge cannot be contained in one book” (page 84).
This is a perfectly reasonable question you’d expect a kid to ask, especially a kid who has only ever seen one book in his life. There are plenty of logical, rational responses to this question.
“Don’t ever let your father hear you talk like that.” Lillath paused and stared at the boy. Her tone became milder. “Books are a rare, rare thing in the land. It takes years, lifetimes, to pen a single tome. And only a true book smith can press scrolls into a leather binding as befits the Great Book.” (page 84)
…I take it Vilmos’ father would get furious if Vilmos ever wondered if there are other books? Or he believes that this book contains all the knowledge in the world or everything worth knowing, so strongly that he would get angry if anyone even wondered otherwise? And he’s supposed to be one of the village counselors?
Vilmos opens the Great Book and it – for some reason – opens up to a particular couple of pages, a section he’s never read before. I’m guessing that this is a Coincidental Broadcast, except in book form, and this section will have some special relevance to the plot:
Basically, a long time ago there was lots of war. Mostly Man’s fault. Great-Father (whoever he is) didn’t intervene. Because All-Father knows that time evolves in great circles. Are Great-Father and All-Father the same? Who knows? Anyway, All-Father picked out a few children and gave them special powers and talents. And:
To balance it all, there was one who was both good and evil, fated by destiny to become part of time itself… (page 85).
Fifty bucks says that this special one is Vilmos. And…why is there only one who is both good and evil? Don’t the rest of these people have free will?
Later, his father comes home. The bear attacks have continued at a neighboring village. I was under the impression that bears tended to avoid humans. But maybe this is a special Stanek-bear. What if the bear got territorial? Anyway, the point is that because of the bear nobody is going anywhere, including to church. Vilmos gets to goof off. So…he goes to his special place inside his mind. He’s tired and starts to dream. He sees a creature of darkness from the Great Book. The creature begins monologuing about how evil it is. Vilmos looks into the evil one’s eyes, and then reaches out to help it.
Seriously. That’s his reaction. Look, there’s the Dark Lord, the bringing of destruction, and despair! I should give him a hand!
Pain hits him and then hours later he wakes up freaking out in a cold, sweated corner. I have no idea how a house can sweat, but apparently this one can. He screams “No, no!” for awhile. I don’t know why he’s so terrified. Obviously meeting the Prince of Darkness is no big deal for him, so why is he so traumatized?
He spends the rest of the night thinking about something he’s trying to remember but can’t. The next day, after doing his chores and eating breakfast – during which, I take it, his loving mother doesn’t notice anything odd about Vilmos, who is apparently horribly distraught over something. Anyway, Vilmos goes to his special place. I’m starting to get sick of that name.
He takes over the eagle and catches a hare, because he wants to kill it. The hare squeals for a bit and Vilmos decides to let it go. Um…yeah. Then a voice speaks directly into his mind and asks him if he knows what he’s doing.
Vilmos was startled (page 88).
Yes. That’s an entire paragraph. Stanek has not mastered the art of showing, not telling. I want to see Vilmos be startled. I want this to shake the foundations of his little self-created world. I want to see him spiral out of the sky and crash-land onto the ground, searching wildly for the someone who’s projecting a voice into his head. But instead, he’s startled.
Vilmos says no, and realizes that the voice is vaguely familiar.
“It is called non-corporeal stasis, an out of body experience,” said the other with evident wisdom (page 89).
One of the things that isn’t all that hard to do when writing fantasy novels is to avoid modern-day sayings, phrasings, and slang. This is important because it helps distance the setting of the book from the present day, it creates an otherworldly feel, and, generally speaking, since most of the rest of the book is written in a more archaic style, it keeps the book internally consistent. Thus, hearing a typical stock fantasy character from a typical stock fantasy novel talk about non-corporeal stasis is remarkably jarring and pulls you out of the book. Not that this book really sucks you in at any point.
I also dislike the “evident wisdom”. We’re seeing this through Vilmos’ eyes – I think, although Stanek is known to randomly switch POVs within sentences of each other. If he thinks that the voice has wisdom in it, fine, but let us know why he thinks that. And since Vilmos’ first question is to ask what the voice is talking about, he obviously has no idea what the voice is saying, so the voice might very well be babbling nonsense. Therefore, this becomes Stanek telling us that the voice is smart, and any time when the author pops in to let us know that a character is especially smart without bothering to show it, it’s bad writing.
The voice tells Vilmos to look around, and then to look outside the valley, to extend his thoughts and his mind. It sounds appropriately mystical, unspecific, and rather like the Force. Vilmos sees nothing. The voice tells him to try again, and this makes Vilmos angry. Two pieces of instruction, and Vilmos starts getting angry. This isn’t going to be the last time.
Vilmos looks and sees himself, lying in his bed. The voice explains that his body remains on the physical plane and his spirit goes elsewhere. However, this leaves his body open to attack, and any spirit that liked could climb inside and take over. Vilmos freaks out a little bit. Suddenly he recognizes the voice.
“It is you! This is what I was trying to remember” (page 90).
Awesome. So the voice that Vilmos didn’t remember is now talking to him. Where did he hear this voice before? Why was he trying to remember it? What significance does this hold? Don’t worry – Stanek isn’t going to bother to tell us.
Waiting to hear the voice again and ensure he wasn’t just daydreaming, Vilmos remained absolutely still. Only his own gasping breaths broke the silence, nothing more (page 91).
There’s a reason why people tend to hold their breath when they’re listening intently, and that’s because you can’t hold absolutely still while you’re breathing. You really can’t hold absolutely still while you’re gasping. Try it sometime, if you don’t believe me.
Suddenly the voice pops up again from behind him, and asks if Vilmos is looking for him.
Startled, Vilmos jumped (page 77).
See, while this is still not perfect, it is slightly better. Stanek is actually showing us what Vilmos is doing, rather than just telling. Of course, it would be much better if Stanek assumed that his readers weren’t total idiots. See, if someone suddenly says something from behind you, and the next sentence just says “Vilmos jumped”, we can use this remarkable thing called a brain, read between the lines, apply our own human experiences, and actually realize that Vilmos has been startled without Stanek even needing to beat us over the head with it!!!
It’s amazing, really.
“I will not hurt you,” said the now charismatic voice from behind him (page 91).
How exactly is this voice suddenly charismatic? The voice decides to start off terrifying and then switch itself over to being charismatic? For that matter, Vilmos is terrified. It’s unlikely that he would suddenly realize that the disembodied voice has become charismatic. Vilmos is also a reasonably stupid 12-year-old boy. He probably doesn’t even know what the word charismatic means.
Vilmos turns around a few more times and finally sees an incredibly old man standing there. He looks like he’d blow away at a stiff breeze:
The aged man leaned his weight against his long, misshaped, walking stick, edging poised lips closer to Vilmos’ ear. “Do not let the body fool you boy,” he whispered, “I will not blow away in the wind” (page 92).
I can’t think of any reason to emphasize the word blow unless Stanek was trying to cram even more subtle homoeroticism into that paragraph.
Suddenly a wind starts up, blowing Vilmos to the ground. He’s standing near a ledge and has to grab the ground to keep from going over. He asks the old man to stop it, but the man says that only Vilmos can stop it. Vilmos says he doesn’t know how.
“Then surely you shall perish.” The man spoke sternly, his voice lacking any hint of remorse.
Vilmos trembled. “Do you mean die?” (page 92)
That is generally what perish means, Vilmos.
He looks up and sees that the man is standing there without the wind affecting him at all. Stanek continues to not even bother trying to keep his character’s style of speaking even remotely consistent:
“I do not deny that you have powers beyond my grasp,” began Vilmos, “but I don’t understand the point of the test. I don’t know what to do” (pages 92-93).
Sounds just like a 12-year-old talking, doesn’t he?
Old Guy tells him to use the powers within him. Vilmos tries and can’t. There’s a weird bit of formatting here with a blank space between two sentences; I’ll chalk that one down to the book being self-published. Vilmos begs the guy to help him. Old Guy tells him that all the power is within him. Vilmos begs the guy to help him. Old Guy tells him that the power is within him and he needs to do it or die. The Old Guy tells him to hurry. Vilmos thinks about it. The Old Guy tells him to hurry again. Vilmos thinks about it. The Old Guy tells him to hurry again. Vilmos tells himself that magic isn’t evil. I’m so glad he has evidence that points towards this, since so far he’s used magic to seriously harm other people. The Old Guy yells at him to hurry up and do it. Seriously, this has been the entirety of the last two pages.
Suddenly a new voice pops into his head and tells him no. The Old Guy yells at Vilmos to hurry up and do it. The new voice tells Vilmos to look and see the Old Guy’s true form. Vilmos feels the power building in him. The, uh, power. We’re never quite sure of what this stuff can do. It’s basically the Force. And suddenly a third voice pops in:
“Vilmos, in the name of Great-Father, I command you AWAKEN!” (pages 95-96).
He doesn’t awaken. Instead he looks at Old Guy and asks him if he’s the evil one. Immediately afterward he realizes that Old Guy IS the evil one.
“You truly are the evil one,” said an amazed Vilmos. As he spoke, both strangers disappeared (page 96).
This would make sense except there’s only one stranger, the other two are disembodied voices.
Vilmos wakes up in his bed. He’s very confused:
The sepulchral dream had ended, though its images were still held in his mind’s eye (page 96).
First – what is the word “sepulchral” doing in here? Not only is it entirely out of place in a 12-year-old’s vocabulary, it’s entirely out of place in a book marketed for ages 10+. Then again, this entire series’ marketing strategy relies on tricking people into buying the book, so what do I know?
Second – what does that even mean? Sepulchral has several meanings, either relating to a tomb or burial, or sounding hollow or deep. I’ll assume the latter, and even that doesn’t make sense. Why would a dream have a tone to it? More specifically, why would this dream be describing as having a hollow sound to it?
Third – I’m guessing this dream is supposed to be deeply significant in some way, but it might help if we had some idea what the hell is going on. We have an ‘evil one’ trying to get Vilmos to use magic – I’ll guess that he’s the Dark Lord, although since he’s supposed to be in a different realm I don’t know why he can project himself into Vilmos’ thoughts. Then we have another disembodied voice that can project itself into Vilmos’ thoughts telling him not to do what the Dark Lord says. Then we have a third disembodied voice telling him to wake up.
Vilmos thinks about things and decides that it was just a dream. Even though he’s in physical pain.
He’s a sharp one.