Chapter Twenty-Five: Blessed Sight
The crown prince is in bed with a young woman named Soshi. They’re kissing and cuddling and blissfully post-coital, sparing us the awkwardness of reading a Stanek sex scene.
Suddenly he hears a voice coming from the darkness in the corner. This doesn’t surprise Valam, because he knew the old woman was there. Um. Ew? Sure, it’s revealed that she’s blind, but still.
Soshi says that she serves the old woman as much as she serves Valam, which pissed him off. She exits quickly.
“Anger follows pity now,” the woman said. “Understanding will come, this I promise you.” (page 281)
I really doubt that. Whenever old people show up to talk in riddles, it never leads to understanding.
This is the same old woman who rambled to Adrina several hundred pages ago, if you’ve forgotten, who still hasn’t had any effect on the plot.
“I once asked your sister to smell the wind. She didn’t understand, but do you?”
“The winds of change,” he said without hesitation. “Winter comes. The land grows weary. The old will pass, the new will come.” (page 281)
I really don’t understand the fascination with Wise Old Mentors who refuse to speak clearly about literally anything. Just once I’d like to see a Young Hero ask the Wise Old Mentor what the fuck is going on the Mentor spells it out with admirable clarity, possibly with a few graphs and charts and a map or two, just to solidify the situation, and then moves on to dying only after they’ve bothered sharing their wisdom.
Blah blah, talk about change, the old woman says she was his nanny before Isador. They talk about nothing, like if Valam will accept change or fight it, if he’ll be ready when the time comes, that the old ways are all but forgotten, the gods have changed, that eyes get in the way of true sight. Cliché after cliché boils up until she says she’ll give him the gift of blindness and chucks some white powder in his eyes. Hmmm.
He takes a drink.
The cool, clear water tasted pleasant against his palette (page 283).
Palate, Stanek. A palette is what a painter uses.
Vilmos spends awhile staring at his reflection and wishing he was bigger and stronger and tougher. Then he sees a wild stallion he attempts to tame. Not joking. It’s pretty evident he’s still dreaming, and therefore, it’s another two pages of nothing happening.
Valam flails around screaming in pain asking why she’s doing this and she rambles about how he can’t let them break him and he needs to see the world as it is. Soshi comes back in and they tie him to the bed.
The old woman placed a blood mark on the prince’s wrists and ankles. It could have been Soshi’s imagination or the fact that the prince struggled mightily against the bonds, but to Soshi it seemed tiny creatures moved within the red streams of blood (page 286).
Apparently, this shit is called the Cleansing, although they don’t expand on what exactly is happening. Soshi leaves the room and prays to the ‘Great Father’ to not let Valam die, and that if there is to be blindness, to give it to her, so Valam can see. Awww. True love!
And now she’s blind. Well. Hopefully she thought that prayer through.
The old woman says her work is done and now Soshi can take her place. Soshi asks what will come of Valam, and the old woman has helpful information to share:
“What you choose to do is up to you, and while you could have the hearts and minds of a thousand such in your time, sight will come and you will see the truth of it all. You won’t have questions then, only answers.” (page 287)
It’s about as unhelpful an answer as anyone could give without deliberately trying to fuck with someone.
The old woman falls down, her body turns to bone and then disintegrates into ash. How Soshi knows this, considering she’s blind, I’m not sure. She strips naked and crawls into bed and waits for them to come and smash the door in and grab the prince.
Chapter Twenty-Six: A Gentle Madness
Adrina freaks out because Valam’s eyes are cloudy white. Of course Adrina happens to be there. Valam says it’s his own fault for not seeing, which makes sense. He washes his face in a basin and then he can see again. Whew! Good thing that wasn’t permanent or we might’ve had some actual character development!
Valam asks about the old woman and Adrina mentions her own run-ins with her. Valam thinks for a while and then starts smiling.
“A gift, don’t you see,” he said. “We’ve been given a gift. A glimpse at what could be. We’ve been given a choice. Change comes.” (page 290)
No. I don’t see. What gift, precisely? The old woman told you that change is happening, winter is coming, and he needs to do what needs to be done. We already know that change is coming because there’s a war threatening to break out. We know that winter is coming because they have a goddamn calendar. And we know that Valam will try to do the right thing because he’s the fucking prince and a protagonist. What we don’t know is HOW to do any of that, and unless Valam got a magical mystical vision full of useful exposition that he’s not going to share with the audience we still know fuck all about the plot of this book.
Unrelated: when we last saw Valam he was telling Adrina that everything they’d been doing was for the benefit of the whisperers. Assuming this old woman nonsense is important, why are they openly discussing it where these spies could presumably overhear everything?
Myrial goes about her daily duties. She used to have a crush on Valam, now she has a crush on Garette the swordsman. We get a couple pages about her duties which are thoroughly uninteresting. Eventually Adrina comes in, rambling about how she’s never seen him so shaken and she’s lost him and stuff.
“Valam will recover. I know he will.”
“Not Valam, Emel.” (page 293)
I feel like I need to diagnose every character as schizophrenic and bipolar, but really, that’s mostly just due to Stanek’s writing. You’d think, after a huge momentous scene impacting her brother, one of the people that Adrina cares the most about in the world, that Adrina would want to talk about that, since that would naturally be on the forefront of her mind. That’s what normal human beings do. But nope, she’s back to thinking about Emel, who left a while ago and she hasn’t been thinking about at all.
Alternately, maybe in the original draft things made more sense and Stanek just randomly scrambled things around out of order for no discernable reason. Either way, trying to comprehend this is making my brain actively try to kill itself.
Suddenly an alarm goes off. Guards pour into the room, surround the princess, and escort Adrina and Myrial through the palace. We move abruptly to Adrina’s POV. She hears a whisper about the king being attacked and starts freaking out and then screaming hysterically. Myrial says they’ll get through it together and Adrina recovers rather quickly because she doesn’t have real person emotions.
They head to the great hall. Adrina thinks about how if her dad is sitting in the throne, everything’s peachy, and if Valam is sitting in the throne, her dad’s dead, which doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. They head inside and she sees Valam and a strange woman.
She understood then, but she didn’t want to (page 296).
Guessing this doesn’t get explained.
She starts freaking out so they help her into a chair outside the great hall instead of inside, which doesn’t make sense since the door was just open and they should be going through but whatever, I don’t care that much. Garette gives her a stout beer to drink to help clear her mind. Adrina says it tastes awful.
Garette grinned. “Good to see you’ve regained your sense, princess. Trying times test a person’s mettle. What kind of person are you?”
At first Adrina was taken aback by his directness, outrage followed. How dare he speak to her as if she were a commoner. How dare he speak to her in that tone. Her friends could speak candidly but Garette Timmer was a stranger to her. “Guard your tongue,” she shot back, her face flushed with emotion (pages 296-297).
On the one hand, that’s a little forward for a palace guard to address the princess. On the other, I really, really hate Adrina. Are we truly expected to find this arrogant, self-centered brat likeable?
Also, I find it funny that she thinks that her friends can speak candidly when she’s pulled the “I’m the princess, how dare you speak to me that way” card on her ‘best friend’ Emel multiple times.
Eventually they decide to go in. The doors open and she sees Valam.
He took a step toward her, opening the view to the throne. It was empty (page 297).
Spoiler alert: Her dad is fine.