Chapter Twenty-Three – Stark Reality
All Vilmos can hear is screaming. Then he realizes he’s actually hearing laughter, which is easy to mistake for the screams of men dying in anguish. Plot twist! When last we left him he’d set them aflame and seen them writhing and screaming, but they’re actually completely fine and unharmed by the flames. Why they bothered faking for a few seconds is beyond me. Presumably because Stanek thought it would make for a dramatic plot twist.
One of the men, who is apparently a demon, strokes a medallion and says Vilmos is “the one”. They grab him, gag him, tie him up, and put a sack over his head, and drag him off.
Okay. I’m really getting sick of this. All Vilmos is doing is getting captured, escaping, wandering aimlessly, angsting, using magic ineffectively, and then the entire thing repeats. For the love of Christ, can something fucking HAPPEN?
She wonders what is going on and what people are keeping from her. She doesn’t come to any conclusions whatsoever, because she has the mental aptitude of cabbage.
Myrial brings in some food while Adrina bitches about her father not telling her anything.
“He shouldn’t have dismissed me like that,” she said, breaking the silence. “I’m not a child.” (page 253)
I really wonder about Adrina’s character sometimes. She’s incredibly unlikeable, has absolutely no redeeming qualities, and is kind of like a female version of Joffrey Baratheon if he was a girl and had no real power. If this series was written by someone else I’d wonder if the author was setting her up for some extremely harsh lessons about the Realities of Life, or if she was actually the villain and destined to be shoved into an active volcano and ignite into a spitting fireball of grease. But this is Stanek, and judging by the hundreds of glowing five-star reviews I’ve read, Adrina is one of the protagonists, and the favorite character of literally dozens of people who have probably not read the books.
Myrial knows something, of course, because she’s heard “whispers”.
The whispers must be saying that the House of Alder was weak and that it’s time had come and gone.
Adrina didn’t like the stark reality that she was faced with (page 254).
Nice, subtle insertion of the chapter title.
Adrina wonders if her father was weak. And the section ends. Well, of course. We couldn’t have Adrina actually thinking about events that have happened, or spending a moment exploring any topic below the surface. What I’d like to see, and what I think really any author worth his or her salt would do, is have a scene where Adrina actually thinks through a problem. Instead we get this:
Was her father weak? (page 255)
That is literally it.
An interesting, well-written scene would have Adrina searching her memory for things that happened to demonstrate whether her father was a weak or strong king, and by seeing these memories we could draw our own conclusions about King Alder. Or maybe she’d think about specific scenarios where people made comments from which she could infer how they feel about her father. Instead, this book is a piece of fucking shit.
They travel. The “shadow walker” in his mind tells him to relax but Vilmos doesn’t because even though he’s surrounded by strange events and mystical forces that have been saving his life, he still ignores these mystical forces because of Reasons.
They travel some more.
They put him in a box. They travel some more.
They put the box on a wagon. They travel some more.
They travel some more.
“Seth?” asked Valam. “Do you really think you could teach me how to…block…my thoughts?”
“It would be a grand hope,” Seth admitted (page 257).
That isn’t actually a response, you know.
After being asked again, Seth says that inside your mind you put up a wall and you keep your thoughts inside. Valam doesn’t understand. Well, duh. Maybe try asking? Suddenly an arrow shoots across the yard towards Valam, but Seth picks it cleanly from midair like a fucking ninja.
A moment later a couple soldiers come over dragging a man between them who I guess is supposed to be the would-be assassin. He spits at Valam.
Duty and honor required that he kill the man on the spot, letting his blood spill on the training field as a sign to all who watched (page 259).
Setting aside the fact that only a truly fucked up concept of “honor” would lead him to assuming that swift, immediate death is the correct course of action…say, without asking a few questions of the observers to make sure they’ve grabbed the correct guy, or giving him a chance to confess, or accept last rites from a priest…ignoring all that…what the sweet slithering snakes is wrong with this fucking country? Actually, there’s no reason to even ask this question. This is why. If this country is truly being run by people who, immediately following a close assassination attempt, their first thought is to honor-kill the assassin without even bothering to interview him, try and find out who he’s working for, or really anything, maybe even ask him what his favorite breakfast dish is so you can tell his accent…this is why this country is in such a fucking mess.
I fully support the insurgency. The Alder reign needs to come to an end. They’re all idiots.
“My life before your hands,” whispered the attacker, accepting his fate and falling on Valam’s outstretched blade (page 259).
“My life before your hands,” the training master whispered as he handed the blade back to Valam. “I have failed you. Let a rebel into our innermost sanction.” (page 259)
These people really have a thing for honor suicides, don’t they? At least some of the time. There’s been a half-dozen occasions where you’d expect random incompetent people to pull out a knife to commit seppuku and yet they haven’t done it. It almost feels like a weird, mildly stupid concept the author didn’t actually think through.
Valam says that he’s not going to kill him, and orders him to do a good job at training all the men. Valam and Seth roll out and Seth realizes that this entirely normal, sensible course of action has meant that all of the men are now the prince’s men and will follow him. Compared to before when I guess these handpicked guardsmen weren’t loyal at all?
Chapter Twenty-Four: Guiding Fools
Adrina hears voices talking about people leaving tomorrow, wondering if the prince will be with them, and then she takes off running and bursts into her father’s council chamber. Father Jacob is discussing teaching the soldiers how to shield their minds.
She tries to interrupt but they glare at her. Plans are finalized: Valam is going south with Seth where supposedly there will be fighting. I assume they’re trying to Accomplish Something but that won’t actually be discussed or elaborated upon in any way because this is a Stanek novel. A few other people are going to go as well. Suddenly a page pops in and lets everyone know that Father Tenuus has suddenly died, with no apparent signs of foul play. The news makes Adrina completely forget about these mysterious voices she randomly heard that may or may not be plotting to murder her brother and runs out of the room.
He’s still inside a bag inside a box on top of a wagon and now he’s having bad dreams.
“Find the strength of Uver,” said a voice filtering into his dream. “In Zadridos you will find the key to the City of the Sky and there you can right the wrongs of the past.” (page 268)
I don’t know what any of these places are or if they’re supposed to be significant in some way.
Vilmos spends two pages dreaming about people standing around doing nothing. Eventually he starts running which happens every time he dreams so this is super fucking exciting.
The caravan heads out. Emel’s responsible for keeping the peace and stuff. A young apprentice (called a cart, for reasons that are unclear) gets killed when he’s kicked in the head by a mule.
The coachman responsible for the young cart’s apprenticeship received five lashes with the whip (page 273).
Because he should have trained the kid not to do dumb things or something.
Later, a wagon overturns and crushes another kid under the coachman’s responsibility, which makes an angry mob gather. Why these people care about the fate of some random orphans is beyond me, but the concepts of motivation and cause and effect are wholly foreign to Stanek.
As the law, Emel has to intervene, but it’s a touchy situation. Fortunately…
As one, the riders put their hands to the saddles and did handstands. Some of the angry shouts turned to cheers. It was then that Emel realized what the ridemaster was doing. He was putting on a show, the show of his life – or at least the show of the coachman’s life (page 274).
Wow. What are the odds that a group of medieval horsemen are also circus performers capable of doing handstands on horseback and they’d randomly notice that some random schmuck who’s let two children die from carelessness was about to get fucked up by an angry mob and decided out of the blue to save his life by launching into their act?
Pretty good, apparently.
Father Tenuus is buried. Adrina cries a lot even though she despised him, which makes sense. After all, everything we know about her points to her being a cold emotionless bitch without empathy or understanding.
We learn that Adrina has bonded with Seth recently.
She had been sitting on the edge of her bed, feeling desperately alone and crying when he had come to her. He had approached her without saying a word and embraced her. He had just held her and comforted her for a long, long time (page 278).
The next day she takes a bath. Afterward, Valam comes in. He whispers to be quiet and leads her through a secret door in the wall. He explains that everything they’ve done for the past few days has been for the “whisperers”. Hmmm. So they’ve been playing a charade to fool the spies that fill the kingdom. Well, that explains all that subtle foreshadowing – oh wait, there hasn’t been any foreshadowing whatsoever.
Valam says she needs to play along and pretend like she knows nothing, which I’m guessing won’t work. She asks about the elves. Valam says they’ll figure out a way to rally support for the elves. Which…if the kingdom is about to implode into civil war I kinda doubt you’ll have the support you need to fight a war with the elves.
But it will probably happen anyway.