Chapter Twenty – Refusal
We’re back with the Elves. When we left them, Galan had just disappeared underwater. Keeping with Stanekian tradition of skipping the most exciting parts of the story, Galan is now back, safe on the raft. She exposits to Seth that he pulled her out of the water. That would be have been an interesting scene to actually read.
Seth tells Galan he doesn’t want to survive any longer because he feels guilty. So he has survivor’s guilt. This would be some really great character development, except it comes out of left field. Seth has been lying awake, consumed by the all-encompassing idea that he has to stay alive and finish what he started. And now he doesn’t want to live. It’s a complete 180, and we have no idea why Seth has changed.
Then again, keeping characters consistent is not one of Stanek’s strong points.
The sea gradually grows choppier. Seth decides they need to lash themselves to the raft. Galan doesn’t respond as she’s slipped back into unconsciousness. So Seth has to tie both of them to the raft. This is something that is best done while the storm is approaching. The great thing about storms is that even when they come up quickly, you still have some time to prepare. Seth doesn’t use this time, he waits until huge waves are washing over the raft before he starts.
Finally at Galan’s side, Seth cradled her in his arms. He held her tenderly and firmly, as one might hold a newborn babe if they were afraid it would slip between their fingers. Tears came to his eyes (page 261).
Keep in mind, this is after huge waves are crashing over the raft. Instead of immediately tying her in place with rope…that he got from somewhere…he cradles her, cries a little bit, and thinks some dramatic thoughts.
Finally he ties her down, and then ties himself down as well. He thinks about the rules of life for awhile before drifting off, and when he wakes up the storm is gone. And:
His only thought amidst mounds of confusion was to maintain his will and keep his vigil. He would not let lose the thread, that last simple thread of life and will (page 263).
I think Stanek means “loose” here, but the point remains: Seth is back to clinging to life. No longer miserable and hopeless, filled with despair and ready to die. So the survivor’s guilt was mentioned and then discarded. So much for character development.
Chapter Twenty-One – Crossing
We begin, as chapters should, with a lovely quote:
“A curse upon them, Father,” Jacob said (page 265).
Let’s keep in mind that this guy is a priest. While it would be very interesting to have a priest who constantly pronounces curses upon people who he dislikes, nothing is really done with this. Father Jacob is a very good, righteous person. He is not someone who is constantly doing the wrong things, or someone who is wracked with guilt. And for those of the faith, generally speaking, pronouncing a curse on someone is a big deal. You’re essentially using the name of your God, who you fully believe in and have devoted your life to, and asking him, for whatever reason, to rain down punishment and torment upon someone. This is not something that should be taken likely. But like most things in Stanek’s work, it’s not something that is developed or used for anything.
He carries Adrina back towards the wagon:
He began to chuckle to himself as an increased downpour ironically washed the muck away (page 265).
I do not think that word means what you think it means.
A few steps later he hears a voice. Jacob turns and sees someone standing in the doorway, beckoning him to come inside.
“I won’t forget this Father! I will never forget this,” Jacob called out to the sullen sky. He revoked his ill-spoken curse (page 266).
And that is that, none of this is never thought of or referenced again.
He carries Adrina into the house, strips her naked, and then wraps her with blankets. He then asks for some damp towels, which I wonder about, because when someone is soaking wet and very cold the one thing they don’t need is damp towels. The man who invited them in introduces himself as Master T’aver, setting the standard for a very long line of characters who have random apostrophes in their names. Master T’aver addresses Father Jacob by name, although he also indicates that he doesn’t know him. Which is odd, because no one was around when Father Jacob introduced himself the last time, which means this man shouldn’t have any idea what his name is.
Father Jacob ignores him and prays for strength and faith. After a while he begins to feel the power flowing through him and starts the prayer or healing. It’s very strong within him. Some interesting character development here would be for Father Jacob to not be able to tap into his power because a few minutes ago he was cursing people, but luckily, that’s not a problem. He does this for a few hours and the length of a page, and at the end of it he succeeds and knows that Adrina will be alright.
Which robs us of any suspense.
Then he falls asleep.
The next morning he wakes up. Adrina is gone. T’Aver explains that she’s been directing his sons with fixing the wheel on the wagon. Which surprises me. Princesses generally aren’t trained as wainwrights, and if Adrina does happen to have extensive skill in repairing wagon wheels, it’s never been mentioned before.
T’aver explains there are things Father Jacob needs to know if he wants to continue his journey. Jacob asks how he knows about his journey. T’aver ignores this and starts explaining about how a few days back he received a “portentous” message from an old friend in a magically sealed scroll.
Remember T’Aver? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t – he was mentioned once, 150 pages ago, by Xith, who gave Midori a scroll and told her to give it to T’Aver.
Apparently this scroll told T’aver things he didn’t want to believe, and couldn’t believe until Father Jacob and Adrina arrived yesterday. And then he’s interrupted by someone carrying a tray of food. We cut forward to Father Jacob and Adrina heading away from the village. Yes, that’s it. Stanek isn’t going to bother explaining the significance of this scroll or why T’Aver matters.
We also switch back to Adrina’s POV. For some reason switching between POVs within a chapter bothers me. Unless it’s kept consistent, I like POVs to be restricted to a specific chapter so we can be clear who’s narrating the story and understand which perspective to keep things in. With Stanek, we can’t really hope for any kind of real unreliable narrator depth, but it still bothers me.
Adrina watched Father Jacob guide the wagon repeatedly (page 270).
This makes me think that Father Jacob only guides the wagon occasionally and then drifts off and lets the horses just take the wagon wherever they feel like.
Adrina’s face flushed with sudden color, turning from the ashen pale it had held to a rosy alabaster as sea breezes blew against her cheeks (page 270).
Alabaster: a translucent white.
Rosy alabaster: a complete lack of understanding of the English language.
The sea makes her think of Lady Isador, who spends her days pining for southern breezes and tall grass. This would be slightly more meaningful if Stanek had mentioned that Lady Isador spends her days pining for southern breezes and tall grass. Or if Adrina actually cared about Lady Isador instead of despising her.
Adrina thinks about Prince William, and then spends a paragraph psyching herself up to ask Father Jacob a question. Finally she gathers the nerve:
“Do you believe King Jarom would try to kill my brother?” (page 271).
This, and the following paragraphs, are the single best examples of Robert Stanek’s stunning ability to write a book that does not make any sense whatsoever. His ability is truly exceptional, and almost entirely due to the fact that he does not have an editor, as it is an editor’s job to recognize when random passages are inserted into the storyline and the reader has nothing remotely resembling a frame of reference or any idea of what these sentences are supposed to mean.
Good authors, if they have complex storylines, lay out their storylines carefully, introducing concepts and characters in steps, allowing the reader time to get used to each new piece of information so everything comes together to form a cohesive whole. Authors like George R.R. Martin have insanely complex stories yet present it in such a way that you can understand what is happening as each scene progresses and keep track of the different factions, or at least have a decent idea of how the pieces fit together. And when you study it, it all makes sense.
Mediocre authors, such as Christopher Paolini, lay out their complex storylines and they’re reasonably easy to understand and you understand what the author is trying to say as you read the story. However, the story and the characters begin to fall apart with the application of logic.
Horrible writers, such as Robert Stanek, have complex storylines and present them in such a way that the reader has no idea what is actually going on and has to frequently go back and intensely research the situation in order to have even a basic grasp on the storyline. And then, once you have comprehended what the author intends the storyline to be, applying even the gentlest logic will make it crumble like a poorly crafted sand-castle.
So let’s begin. Adrina is thinking about Prince William. You might not remember him, because he hasn’t really been mentioned that often: on page 131, the lady in the forest mentions him indirectly as the heir to the throne of Sever, but we don’t learn his name. Then on page 158 Adrina thinks of him and we get the first mention of his name. She’s only met him once and he has blue eyes. Then, on page 234, she dreams about Prince William being in trouble. And so naturally, when she thinks of William, this makes her ask Father Jacob if King Jarom is going to try and kill her brother, Prince Valam.
Jacob seemed to sense her anguish. He put the reins for the team in one hand and with his free hand touched hers. “That is a question I have asked myself again and again, but I told myself I did not want to answer. The fact is that King Jarom murdered King Charles and that obviously he wants to stop Prince William from reaching the North to bring word of this terrible deed to King Andrew.”
“What could King Jarom possibly have gained from killing Charles?”
“It could be that he wishes to restore Vostok to its former glory.” (page 271)
Okay, great. But this doesn’t answer Adrina’s question, which was why Jarom would want to kill Valam. William is not her brother, he’s her distant cousin.
Also, since everyone seems to know that King Jarom killed King Charles, so why does Jarom need to stop Prince William from telling King Andrew? If you murder a king and then plan on invading his country, word gets out.
“If King Jarom took Sever, what would be next? Would he go beyond the disputed lands?”
Jacob’s mouth dropped open. Adrina had never seen him at a loss. It was clear he hadn’t considered this (page 271).
I love it when children have profound thoughts that grown and supposedly intelligent adults have never even considered. Especially when the thought is probably the most obvious thing in the world. You have a power-hungry king murdering the ruler of a neighboring kingdom and planning an invasion, and you have never even entertained the thought that maybe he’ll take a second step and invade your kingdom as well?
Jacob thinks about it for awhile and tells Adrina that he doesn’t think so, as that would mean all-out war. He then adds that there might be all-out war once King Andrew hears what William has to say. Which means King Jarom isn’t particularly concerned about the possibility of all-out war. Which means Father Jacob is an idiot.
They spend a couple pages traveling. It’s quiet, which unnerves Adrina. The day passes. Suddenly, off in the distance, they see a cloud approaching. It’s a group of riders. They briefly consider trying to hide, but there isn’t really anywhere to do so. Father Jacob has Adrina wrap a scarf around her head and they bundle up in blankets, hoping to look like a couple of boring peasants traveling. It works.
Not raising her downward gaze, Adrina saw only the riders’ mounts, a blur of hindquarters and forelegs, as they passed. She closed her eyes and nearly fell asleep until Jacob nudged her to tell her everything was all right (page 275).
You’re worried about people being enemies and possibly stopping to abduct or kill you, and you almost fall asleep? That Stanek. Always ratcheting up the tension.
More time passes. Suddenly they hear sounds behind them and realize the group of riders stopped and are coming back towards them. Well, either that or it could be a totally different group of riders. Adrina grabs the reins and whips the horses, who take off at a gallop. They jolt along for a bit, but the riders are moving faster than they are. And then suddenly a rider materializes next to them and tells them to halt. Adrina stops the wagon and starts crying because they were so close. Close to what, exactly?
The man gets off his horse and walks over and is about to grab Adrina when Jacob grabs the reins and whips the horses, making them take off. The man is knocked to the ground with a fatal crunch. Adrina grabs the reins back from Jacob. Jacob sees another group ahead of them, meaning they’re trapped. He tries to take the reins back but Adrina slaps his hands away. They careen along for awhile and then suddenly a mailed hand punches Father Jacob. Wait, so a heavily armored soldier on horseback manages to ride up on people in a galloping wagon, people who know people are chasing them and so are on the lookout for anyone, jump from his horse on to the wagon, and then punch Father Jacob, all without being seen?
The soldier grabs the reins from Adrina and stops the wagon. He pulls her out and throws her onto the ground. He then picks her up and shakes her, calling her a “treacherous murderer”. And:
Frustration and despair lead Adrina to tears (page 279).
Adrina starts to fight back, so the soldier pulls out a knife and puts it to her neck. And then…Emel shows up. He tells the soldier to back off, and pulls Adrina away. The soldiers says that Lord Valam will hear of this. Emel says that it’s quite likely, considering that he just assaulted Princess Adrina. The soldier, naturally, immediately starts blubbering his apologies, falls to his knees and clutches at her feet.
“By Great-Father,” moaned Emel in a low tone, “say something to him please. If they think you took offense, he’ll get lashes. He is a family man. Do you know what that’ll mean to him?” (page 280).
To recap: he assaulted the Royal Princess, threw her out of a wagon onto the ground, picked her up and shook her, dragged her around by her hair, and then put a knife to her throat. Whether he knew it was her or not, in many places he’d be boiled alive in oil for half of that.
But Adrina accepts his apology and tells him to treat a lady as a lady should be treated. And then she turns and looks down at the shore. There’s a figure there lying on the beach surrounded by wreckage. Adrina immediately knows it’s Prince William and so she takes off running with Emel in hot pursuit. But when they get there, the person is dead. She asks Emel where Valam is. Emel explains that they circled Alderan and found nothing, so Captain Trendmore sent Emel’s detachment north and proceeded on to the city.
Adrina explains what happened to her. Emel grabs her in a bear hug, and caught up in the moment, she kisses him on the lips. Romance! Emel returns the kiss for a moment, then turns away and starts talking about how clearly Captain Trendmore is the traitor. While I don’t doubt that this is true, I have no idea how Emel arrived at this conclusion.
Suddenly a strange small man and a boy show up. Emel draws his sword and asks what they’re doing here. Xith says that they were drawn here, and walks towards Emel with his hand out.
So Emel stabs him, and Adrina screams.
For a Spunky Princess, she spends a lot of time screaming.