Chapter Three – It Begins
We’re back to Adrina now. We’re told in a small sentence, almost as an afterthought, that Adrina was unable to listen outside the chamber doors. Now, when we left Adrina, she was heading off to try and eavesdrop. When we rejoin her, it’s already days later and we’re casually told – oh, remember where we left you hanging last time? Yeah, that amounted to nothing. This is annoying. If a character is going to do something and then the scene ends, when we return to that scene it should pick up where it left off or immediately address what happened next.
Word in the halls was that it had been a personal message from King Charles of Sever. Something was terribly wrong in the small Kingdom of Sever, though none knew what it was. To Adrina it seemed servants knew more about the visit than she did. She had always been adept at gathering bits of information and tying them together, finding connections between the smallest of occurrences (page 50).
This is what I like about Stanek. He finds all sorts of creative ways to pack intense amounts of stupidity into very small bits of text.
Our first problem is King Charles, and Sever. We know nothing about them, and thus, we have no reason to care about them. We don’t even know what their relationship is to ‘Great Kingdom’, or why anyone here should care about this. This is where a competent author would insert a small line, if this was a MacGuffin, to give the reader a quick reason why this matters. Something like ‘The Kingdom of Sever was allianced with Great Kingdom, and if Sever was under attack, Great Kingdom could shortly be mobilizing for war’. Boom. Twenty-three words, and we know why this matters.
Second – the king called for a closed council and even reminded Captain Brodst to post guards at the doors. It’s likely that he wanted the meeting to be secret. And now all the servants have an idea, at least, of what the message is about. This isn’t too bad – it’s not hard to figure out where the messenger’s from, and if he arrived suddenly from a hard ride, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he’s carrying bad news. Still, this doesn’t speak well of the king’s security.
Third – Adrina is practically masturbating to her ELITE detection and information-gathering skills. Of course, being the princess, she probably has even more opportunities to get places and eavesdrop than everyone else. And yet in the same paragraph we learn that even the servants know more about what’s going on than she does. I suppose this could be the author’s way of telling us that Adrina has a wildly over-inflated opinion of herself, but I think that’s giving Stanek way too much credit.
Right. On to the chapter’s second paragraph.
Adrina is having her dress hemmed by Lady Isador, her governess.
The clatter of hooves against the stones of the outer courtyard caused Adrina to jump and turn.
“Stand still, Young Highness,” said Lady Isador. “Look, look what I’ve done. I have to begin again.” (pages 50-51)
Sewing might be an exacting art, but I highly doubt a teenage girl jumping up to her feet would be enough to make you mess up. And even if it was, there’s no way in hell you’d have to begin again. At the most, you might have to take out a single stitch.
More importantly, why is Adrina standing there why you hem her dress? I’m not an expert in sewing, but is it really necessary to have someone wearing the dress while you hem it? And if it is, can’t you put it on a servant-girl and make them suffer through it instead?
Adrina looks out the window and sees a sweated mount. That word looks funny. I prefer lathered, but maybe I’m just being nitpicky.
Lady Isador tells her that she mustn’t stand on her tiptoes. I wonder why the windows in the princess’ bedroom are so high she has to stand on tiptoes to look out?
Adrina asks if they can finish the dress tomorrow. Isador points out that Sixthday is only a few days away, and they don’t want to disappoint his lordship, now do they?
- We don’t know what Sixthday is, or why it’s important. Do they have special feasts on Sixthday? Is that the day when all the suitors come? Are there religious connotations?
- Sixthday is a set day, I’m guessing. Hence, it should be a set number of days away, not “a few”. Possibly nitpicky. I don’t know why I’m like this, it’s not like I don’t have real things in here to mock.
Anyway. Lady Isador is Adrina’s governess, charged by King Andrew to turn his daughter into a more ladylike princess, ready for courtship, marriage, and having babies. Since Adrina’s always on the lookout for her, it’s reasonable to assume she’s pretty efficient at trying to make the princess toe the line, at least. And so, with the heralds sounding an arrival, Adrina suddenly leaping up and looking out the window, and then immediately asking for an end to the day’s ladylike activities, it’s not unreasonable to expect Lady Isador to figure out what she’s up to and say no.
However, I’m guessing that the plot demands that Adrina leave and go figure things out, because Lady Isador says yes.
Cut to the Elves. Seth gets back from his bath. Which means that during the ensuing time Seth was taking a bath with Brother Galan, the ‘female’ that he recently started having inappropriate sexual thoughts about. That’s…nice.
He gets a message telling him that the Queen Mother wants him to wait in the antechamber outside High Hall until he’s asked to enter. So he heads off and sits there. Hours pass. Nothing happens. I get the feeling that he shouldn’t be wasting time, as he’s been studying a lot recently to prepare himself for his journey. So maybe the Queen Mother shouldn’t waste what little time he has left. Or Seth should have brought a book along. Finally the doors open and he’s beckoned inside. There’s tons of people in there.
Seth was beckoned to the fore, not by the flow of words or feelings to his wildly spinning mind but by the briefest stroking of his intuitive senses, a presage bundled in the form of a picture and thrust upon his mind, which was done for effect. It was such an overpowering tool that only Queen Mother would have ever resorted to its use, for any other would have provoked open wrath in the recipient and retribution would have been called for. Sure, Queen Mother could have sent simple thoughts of hot-cold and thus directed him, but any child could have done that. She wanted to stun him, and she had (page 53).
What was this for? Not explained. What did she send him? Not explained. Why did she do it? Not explained. What effect does it have on Seth, besides stunning him? Not explained.
Queen Mother announces she is sending Seth to the land of Men, which sparks immediate protest, as Seth is one of the Queen’s bodyguards and thus shouldn’t be sent away. Everyone argues for awhile, but the Queen Mother is resolute – for some reason. I don’t know what that reason is. I mean, it makes sense that you wouldn’t send one of your bodyguards, unless you happened to trust that bodyguard implicitly, or believed that they were more likely to succeed than everyone else at whatever you were sending them to accomplish. And if that were actually the case, why wouldn’t the Queen Mother…I dunno, just say that? It would make sense within this book’s internal logic and would also make sense to the reader. But Stanek doesn’t like logic and he doesn’t like explaining things, he likes having his readers as confused as possible.
It is as it must be; no others could make the journey. What lies ahead is preordained for you, said Brother Liyan, whether you want to believe it or not, you know in your heart it is the truth (page 55).
If I could choose one phrase that I hate above all others, ‘you know in your heart it is the truth’ would be at the very top. In the top ten are ‘this has been preordained for you’ and ‘no one else can do this’. All of these have become such utter clichés that they should be handled with extreme care, if not abandoned entirely. More importantly, there still needs to be a reason for it. If the Queen Mother can see the future and has seen that Seth is the only one who can accomplish this and therefore she is sending him because he is there only hope…then why the fuck doesn’t she just come out and say it?
Also, Seth doesn’t know in his heart that this is the truth.
Seth apologizes to everyone, accepts his mission, and asks who’s going to go with him. The Queen Mother says it’s his choice, and ends on a phrase I would be very happy to never again read for the rest of my life:
You are the chosen one (page 56).
I am filled with intense smoldering hatred for this book.
And I still don’t know why Seth is being sent somewhere. Or what he hopes to accomplish. Or what difference it will make if he accomplishes whatever it is he’s being sent for. Or why the Queen wants this difference to exist.
We’re now back with Vilmos. He gets home and explains he was confronted by a giant bear and used magic to defend himself. His mother sweeps him up in her arms and starts calling him a poor dear. Sweeping someone up in your arms sounds like you’re picking them up. Picking up twelve-year-olds really isn’t that easy.
Vilmos’ father put aside the Great Book and directed angry eyes at him. “Bear or no bear, there is no excuse for magic.” (page 56)
We’ve been over this. Let’s assume that for magic-users, the penalty is death. You use magic, they execute you. So when faced with a certain death, you can either not use magic and be eaten by a bear, or use magic and take your chances with them not noticing you. This is pretty reasonable, even if the punishment is a fate worse than death. Most people won’t casually accept being eaten by a bear just to avoid possible ramifications for saving themselves.
Vilmos points out that that he has no control over the magic, it comes to him without him wanting it to. His father continues to jam his head further up his own ass:
“You must resist the temptation to use the forbidden. It is the work of evil. You will spread it to the land and you will be damned!” (page 57)
Vilmos just said that he wasn’t being tempted, it was completely involuntarily. A more logical argument for his father to make would be that Vilmos needs to avoid situations that would cause the magic to appear: life-threatening scenarios, for example.
This is the first mention of him being damned, which is quite interesting. Does this mean their religious beliefs say magic users will go to hell? This would be a legitimate reason to avoid using magic – even letting yourself die rather than use it, if you’re afraid of being damned. Don’t worry though – Stanek isn’t going to expand on this at all.
“Now don’t be harsh on the child, Vil.” Lillath called her husband Vil to keep words directed at father and son separate (page 57).
I think we can figure out what “Vil” means, especially since we don’t even know that Vilmos’ father is called Vilmos yet. And what happened to “honey” or “Junior”? And – more importantly – if you believe your child is heading down the path to eternal damnation, you might have an actual reason for giving them a lecture.
Vilmos’ father responds by launching into the ‘lesson’. Which is apparently the lore of peoples. It’s…how to describe this? Interesting.
“Salamander dweller amidst flames; Sylph light and dainty as air; Elf of forest and water; Gnome under mountain and stone; inhabitants of the four elements no more. All because Queen of Elves took pity on Gnome and so wed King of Gnomes under Solstice Mountain. Unknowingly she brought with her the gift of Elf magic. Elf magic in the hands of Gnome – pure evil” (page 57).
Lore, in these times, seems to be passed down from person to person. Why, then, do all of these sentences sound like nothing that would ever come out of a real person’s mouth? What, exactly, is wrong with the word “the”? And why is Elf magic evil in the hands of Gnome? Is it just unnatural? So therefore evil? No Gnome could possibly, ever, in the slightest, most insignificant little way, do some good with Elf-magic? Ah, racism. Or is it xenophobia?
Vilmos Sr. continues waxing poetic about lore, saying lots of things that we already know not to be true, about Elves and Gnomes not existing anymore. He then finishes and tells Vilmos to go and contemplate the ‘lesson’ and the error of the ways. I really don’t see this ‘lesson’ as needing a lot of contemplation. It basically says ‘Magic is bad and if you use it you’ll end up exterminating your entire species’. But Vilmos sulks off to his room and sits staring at the ceiling. After awhile his mother comes in with a feast:
…a plate full with breakfast foods: still-warm black bread, honey cakes, country jams, dark yellow cheeses and three varieties of smoked sausages (page 58).
Vilmos’ family’s financial situation hasn’t been expressly stated (actually, nothing in this book has been expressly stated) but we know that they live in a small village, they have a small house, and no servants. It’s reasonable to assume that they’re not rich people by any stretch of imagination. This breakfast is way too expensive for them.
His mother begins to read out of the Great Book. It’s about someone she refers to as He and Him, and about how if they use magic, He’s going to escape the darkness and return to the world. Vilmos is bored and thinks this is all idiotic:
The Dark Lord had perished a millennia ago. How could he return by the simple use of magic? (page 58)
Wonderful. We now have a Dark Lord. Exactly what this story needs.
Vilmos says he tries not to use it, but he slips up occasionally. His mother tells him he can never use it. Vilmos says that he can’t do anything to stop it. Wait…if he can’t do anything to stop it, then how does he try not to use it? That doesn’t make sense.
Vilmos’ mother says the wise have foretold that someday the Dark Lord would return – but only if people kept using magic. So here’s a legitimate reason to keep someone from using magic by any means necessary. One might even suspect that extremely concerned people would take drastic measures to control those who can’t control the magic. Not killing them, necessarily (although that’s what the priests do), but maybe keeping them indoors, away from anything that would make them use magic. In other words, his parents sort’ve don’t want Vilmos to use magic and summon the Dark Lord back from the otherworld realm to enslave the planet, but it’s not really that important. Seriously. It’s like a parent saying “Now Junior, we’d really rather you stopped trying to build that nuclear bomb in our back yard, because if it goes off it’s going to level the city and kill millions of people, including all of us. Put down that plutonium right now. Junior! Don’t make me ground you…”
Vilmos asks his mother if she won’t let the priests take him away. She says no, of course not:
In his heart Vilmos believed her. She wouldn’t let them take him away, yet if they came he knew she would have no choice. They would take him away. He would never see the Kingdom of Sever again (page 59).
In his heart Vilmos believes that his mother won’t let the priests take him away but if they come she won’t have a choice so she will let the priests take him away. Yeah, that totally makes sense.
This is also the first reference to Vilmos living in the Kingdom of Sever. He doesn’t seem to have a very good concept of where he lives. I’m guessing that he hasn’t traveled much. Never seeing the Kingdom of Sever again is not something that a 12-year-old boy would think. He’s more likely to think about never seeing his village again, or his house, or family. It’s also just tossed in as a throwaway line and easily missed.
His mother leaves and Vilmos angsts about not wanting to leave home, or leave his mother. He doesn’t even think about his father, so I take it they’re not on particularly good terms.
Vilmos closes his eyes and goes to his special place – visualizing himself as an eagle flying around. He continues to angst, thinking about why the other children won’t play with him. Two years ago he’d been out playing. A kid had taken offense to losing, so he held Vilmos down and beat him until Vilmos had used the magic. There’s another discrepancy here in Vilmos’ thoughts – at first he ‘mistakenly’ used the magic on the other kid, and then a paragraph later he deliberately used it as a last resort to defend himself. I think Stanek is setting up Vilmos as one of our heroes, so he’s probably not deliberately trying to make Vilmos sound crazy. I’ll chalk it down to Stanek not knowing how to write. Or not having an editor who would make sure that consecutive paragraphs agree with each other.
Vilmos sheds a tear over not having any playmates, and then immediately decides he doesn’t care and it doesn’t matter. Besides, now that everyone hates him, he doesn’t have to attend celebrations or study with the other counselor’s sons. His father has to hire private tutors to continue Vilmos’ education, which is very difficult since few people can read and write.
Okay. So Vilmos continually endangers the lives of his entire family, risks damnation, and possibly is summoning back the Dark Lord who will destroy the entire world. Vilmos’ father is fairly harsh on him, barks orders a lot, and orders him around. It’s pretty likely that the main reason he does this is because he doesn’t want Vilmos dragged off and beheaded. He also goes to great time and expense to make sure his son gets a good education. And how does Vilmos repay him?
A mocking grin broke the internal corners of his mind. […] Many tutors had come and gone since that terrible day. Yet his current teacher, Midori, was warm and generous. She did not overtax him with studies like the others. And although Vilmos did like her, he still had tried to frighten her away with his use of magic, as he had those before her. He had even resorted to his most resourceful trick – levitation: the floating of objects. The prank had only brought laughter and was ignored, to his utter dismay and befuddlement (pages 60-61).
We have two versions of Vilmos here: one, the innocent little boy who claims to have no control over his magic and is unable to stop it from manifesting, despite his attempts to keep it at bay. The other is the one deliberately spits in the face of his father’s attempts to provide for him, the one who uses his magic deliberately to scare people. And the thought of frightening people away amuses him. He finds this funny. Vilmos is a little shit.
Midori, incidentally, is Princess Adrina’s exiled sister. You may not remember her name. I’m vaguely ashamed that I do.
Vilmos thinks about how scaring away another tutor will repay his father for chastising him. And:
He would use the blue flames, the blue flames that he had unleashed upon the unsuspecting boy, the blue flames that scorched and decimated, the blue flames that stemmed from his anger. He allowed the thought to settle upon his mind in a fanciful way (page 61).
To recap: Midori is a very nice teacher. Vilmos actually likes her. However, to show up his father for giving him a lecture, he wants to use his magic to set her on fire. Like he set a boy who was beating him up on fire.
A paragraph later, Vilmos thinks about how nice Midori’s been, and decides he couldn’t really hurt her. However, the fact that he was even considering it makes my mind up. Vilmos is a sociopathic little prick. He’s a bully, he has no respect for his parents and their attempts to provide for him, and he fantasizes about hurting other people. He reminds me of Eragon, actually. And that’s not a good thing. At all.
Back to the Elves. Seth is confessing to Brother Liyan. After the council meeting, Seth wandered around for awhile until going back to meet up with Galan. He sat down next to her and suddenly kissed her. Then he ran out of the room to find Liyan. Probably without even giving Galan his phone number.
I have to say, this would have been a pretty interesting scene to see, with a bit of character development, perhaps, but of course we don’t actually get to see it. We don’t even get to see Seth confess it to Liyan. No, we get Liyan thinking about what Seth has said after Seth has finished saying it.
Liyan tells Seth it’s not a big deal. Seth feels terrible and says that Man’s ideals have corrupted his way of thinking. Brother Liyan begins to think and realizes that Seth has never really traveled anywhere and is afraid of venturing out into the world. Which means that Seth really isn’t a good choice to go on an all-important mission.
We finally get a bit of explanation. Okay, not really. We get something that might pass for an explanation but really just raises more questions:
With Elfkind mating instinct often skips generations for reasons only Great-Father and Mother-Earth truly understand (page 64).
Okay. So lots of Elves have no interest in sex and the opposite gender. Fair enough. However, we do know now that there is mating instinct in certain individuals, and they are attracted (I assume) to the opposite gender, which means that some Elves, at least, must have a concept of gender. And since some Elves do, it’s logical to surmise there is literature about such things inside Elven culture that any well-educated Elf would have to study, just in case they’re one of the lucky few who get to pass their genes on to future generations.
Also – and this is really just an unimportant little question – if the mating instinct skips an entire generation, how, exactly, does it return in the next generation? Because without the mating instinct…there is no next generation. Right? That’s kind of what the word ‘generation’ means.
Brother Liyan tells Seth there’s nothing wrong with his feelings, and suggests that Seth follow his instincts. Liyan warns him that these feelings may never come to Galan, though. This is very bad advice, then. Seth’s ‘instincts’ – or, perhaps, ‘impulses’ – led him to kiss Galan. Who may very well not even have a concept of romantic attraction, let alone the mental capacity to consent to things. So it’s like Seth is making out with a toddler. That’s disgusting.
Now over to Adrina. This is the fourth POV jump in this chapter alone, and, thankfully, the last. She goes down to her father’s council-chambers and sees guards posted outside. She walks past, winking at one of them:
She also knew how to make most of them talk, especially the younger man on the right. A number of ways to touch his heart and stir his tongue crossed her mind. Perhaps she would use some of the ploys and deceptive promises she had so recently been taught (pages 64-65).
I don’t think there’s any way to read that paragraph and not assume that Adrina is going to whore herself out for information.
Adrina walks up into a tower and waits there, looking down at the garden. It reminds her of her dead mother. This saddens her, so she comforts herself by thinking about a pompous courtier and laughing at him. Yes, laughing at other people always helps me forget the pain over my dead parents. Finally, the guard shows up.
“Guardsman Emel,” Adrina said several times. She said this to slight him, and Emel knew this very well, just as he knew they had been friends practically since birth. This was her way of reminding him of his place and also reminding him that he had something she wanted (pages 65-66).
So they’ve been friends all their lives, and how does Adrina go about trying to ask him for something? By acting like a snob, making fun of him, and pointing out that she’s more important than he is. Adrina’s a right little bitch, isn’t she?
Emel doesn’t think much of this so he starts to leave. Adrina says if he tells her what she wants to know, she’ll call in a favor and make sure the sergeant Emel’s currently filling in for is kept in the other city permanently. Emel thinks she’s lying, but doesn’t really care because at this point she’s pressing against him and she feels very warm. Uh…right. Good thing this book is recommended for ages 10+, I’d hate to have a 9-year-old ask me what this meant.
Emel says there was a squabble between the kingdoms of Sever and Vostok, and then stops talking. Adrina apologizes for letting him take the all the blame for the last time she talked him into giving her information and let him get sent away for six months. Wait…so King Andrew found out one of his guards is giving out secret information overheard from closed council doors, sent him away for six months, and when he returned Andrew assigned him to guarding the council doors AGAIN?! These people really are idiots.
Anyway, this reminds Emel that Adrina is a jerk and so he starts to storm off. Adrina begs him not to leave and Emel looks into her eyes and is overcome. He makes her promise not to tell, and spills the juicy information:
“King Jarom is supposedly behind it all, that is according to that page of King Charles, if you can believe him. He seemed the trustworthy type though. Yet, his kingdom is at stake. Quashan’ garrison is to be roused to full alert status” (page 68).
Holy shit! This means…well, for the average reader, it means jack shit. If you flip to the back of the book and your copy of the book happens to have a glossary you can spend ten minutes flipping back and forth and figure out a basic overview of what is going on. Apparently Sever and Vostok are squabbling, and Jarom, King of Vostok, is behind it. So King Charles of Sever has sent a messenger to Great Kingdom. And…that’s it. This is the most thoroughly uninteresting bit of gossip I have ever heard, and I can only understand it after paging through the book to try and remember who a couple of random characters’ names are and where they’re from.
Adrina is delighted because this means strife or something, which enlivens things at court. She kisses Emel’s cheek and strolls off, feeling very smug.
When she reached the far end, Adrina stopped for a moment and looked back toward the upper balcony. Barely visible amidst the deepening shadows was a single figure bent over the railing with arms crossed. Adrina knew it was Emel and she paused for a moment more. The conversation they had just had hadn’t been a conversation between good friends. She had always intended to make up for what she had done to him, but the time had never seemed right (page 69).
Like I said: she’s a bitch.