Chapter Five – The Competitions
Vilmos wakes up alone, and eats some gruel that Xith left him while he looks out the window at the city below him. He decides he wants to go out exploring, so he does. Now, while we didn’t see Xith didn’t tell him to stay inside the room and not leave, it’s pretty heavily implied. Nice going, Vilmos.
So Vilmos, a naïve twelve-year-old, heads out into the streets. He wanders around for a bit and eventually a guy asks him if he’s lost. At first Vilmos is nervous, but then the guy asks him if he’s looking for the competitions.
Vilmos’s eyes lit up as if the man had just offered him a piece of candy (page 59).
I’m getting some serious child molestation vibes here. I guess, if nothing bad happens, Stanek’s point here is that it’s actually okay to talk to strangers. [Spoiler alert: Nothing bad happens]
Vilmos pretends that his name is Vilam. And then:
“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me,” said the man, grinning as he tugged at the stubble on his chin. “I’m not supposed to be here either. Maybe we can both do the thing we’re not supposed to be doing together” (page 59).
First, you can’t really tug at stubble, it’s hard to get a grip on. Second…well, we know Stanek isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and it’s entirely possible the subtext here flew completely over his head, but under no circumstances should that line ever be used between an adult and a twelve-year-old.
The man introduces himself as S’tryil, but tells Vilmos to call him Greer. Vilmos is still a little suspicious, so the guy tells him that if he was going to rob him, he would have done it already by picking him up by the ankles. He demonstrates by grabbing Vilmos’ ankle and dangling him upside-down, which would be funny if this chapter wasn’t tainted by molestation vibes.
Vilmos and S’tryil head off towards the competitions, which apparently is dueling matches or something like that. They get ringside spots and start watching a fight.
Eventually someone dies. An announcer gets up and starts asking who the next challenger is. Vilmos starts asking questions. S’tryil tells him to shut up. Vilmos keeps asking questions until S’tryil puts a hand over his mouth, which almost makes the announcer think that S’tryil volunteered for the fight. God, Vilmos is a fucking moron. I almost wish that S’tryil would have been forced to fight and been brutally killed so Vilmos could get a real taste of what being a dumbass can do to people.
There’s more dueling. None of it is very interesting. We get some vibes that S’tryil knows more than he’s letting on, but Stanek has vibes like this on nearly every page and none of them ever come to anything, so I’m not holding out hope. But now it’s time to remind us what a genius Vilmos is supposed to be.
“There, you see the one stepping back into the circle? He is Shcander: quick and sharp. His attack is his best skill, not very good on the defense.”
“Do you know all the fighters?”
“Quick, aren’t you?” (page 65)
Right. Someone talks about all the fighters with great detail. It’s not that hard to assume the person knows them or knows a lot about them.
“If he’s not very good defending, how come you think he will be the victor?”
S’tryil grinned. “You’re smart, aren’t you?” (page 65)
Uh…no, not really. That’s a pretty obvious question. You predict a winner and then mention they suck at something, the first question out of anyone’s mouth with a pair of brain cells to rub together will be to ask why.
Then Xith shows up. Vilmos thanks S’tryil for taking care of him and they leave. Typically, Stanek doesn’t bother showing us Xith tearing Vilmos a new one. Instead, we cut forward to them back at the inn. They pack their saddlebags full of supplies. Then Xith explains that he has one more thing to do, and if he’s not back by twilight, Vilmos needs to take the horses and head south on the Kingdom road.
Well, that would have been a pretty exciting chapter if anything had happened.
Chapter Six – A Fitful Transition
Keeper Martin waltzes into Adrina’s chambers. Adrina asks him about the elves, and instead of answering, they talk about nothing for awhile. Martin asks about what happened with the arrow, and Adrina explains that Galan reached inside his body and fished it out as if his body was fluid. You know, like that scene in The Matrix: Reloaded where Neo fishes the bullet out of Trinity?
Yeah, that one.
Eventually, the conversation gets around to the fact that Galan probably won’t live through the day. And then they stop talking about that, and move on to random shit that doesn’t make any sense. You know, I frequently talk about how little Stanek makes sense, but sometimes you just need to block quote and let it speak for itself.
“With Father Jacob, I heard it. That could be it.”
“Go on,” urged Keeper Martin.
“In my mind I heard it and I saw his face. At first I thought it was Prince William that I saw, but it wasn’t. It was Seth. He called out to me and that is what brought Father Jacob and I to the coast.” She put a hand to her mouth suddenly remembering something else. “That is what the Lady spoke of.”
“The Lady? I’m not following you, child.”
“The Lady of the Forest, the Lady of the Night. I met her twice now: once on the way to Alderan, once on the return to Klaive. It makes sense now; it all makes sense.”
“Slow down Adrina so that I may follow. What of this Lady? Can you tell me more.”
“No,” said Adrina as she hurried away, pulling Keeper Martin behind her. “Seth is the link and the key. Don’t you see?” (page 70).
No. I don’t. Pretty much everything Stanek writes is extremely unmemorable, so I actually went back and re-read the relevant scenes in, just in case I’d forgotten about it. There is NOTHING in that scene that is even remotely relevant to whatever Adrina is blathering about. And, of course, we never saw what happened in the second scene with the ‘Lady’.
We cut to Xith who is traveling south with Vilmos. Remember that epic cliffhanger we left them on, where Xith told Vilmos if he didn’t show up to head south alone? Now we’re past that, because Xith showed up, no problem. It was written to provide a cheap cliffhanger for the chapter end and is not referenced again.
They walk along for a bit until they’re on top of a hill and Xith stops and speaks a string of magic words that look like a cat walked across Stanek’s keyboard. Suddenly they’re in the between. Then that fades and they’re on a dirt road, and Vilmos realizes they’re in Under-Earth.
How he knows that I don’t know.
We cut back to Adrina. This is where you might expect Stanek to explain what the fuck Adrina was babbling about in the last scene, right? Nope, Adrina is asleep, we’ve moved on. That entire scene with Martin will never be explained or ever mentioned again.
Adrina wakes up the next morning. Isador greets her and reminds her that she (Isador) is leaving for South Province. Isador mentions that Adrina hasn’t eaten in days. They talk about nothing for a bit, and Isador heads off to bring Adrina some breakfast. Then she brings Adrina some breakfast. They talk about nothing for awhile longer. Adrina thinks about how she’ll miss her. This continues for FOUR AND A HALF PAGES until finally Adrina opens a door and walks in on Seth, sleeping. Thanks for that, Stanek. I would have really liked to read about whatever the hell is going on with Seth and the Lady…you know, the actual main conflict and plot in the story. Instead, you delight me with Adrina eating breakfast and helping her nanny pack. I can see why you’re an international best-selling author.
And we’re back with Vilmos and Xith. Stanek spends a page and a half describing the dust and the foliage and the landscape, and finally some green monsters leap out of the trees at them. Hooray, another cliffhanger!
Chapter Seven – The Awakening
Keeper Martin ushers Adrina out of Seth’s room. Adrina tells him that if Seth wakes up, she wants to be the first one to know about it. Then she walks around for awhile. Nothing happens for a page and a half until she meets Emel on patrol. She wants him to stop and talk to her, but he says he can’t since, you know, patrol and all that, but if she follows him they can walk and talk.
Adrina stormed away, running back to the stairs and out of sight before Emel could respond. He had been avoiding her since the return to Imtal and that cut into her heart more than anything (page 80).
Uh…right. He offers to talk to her and she goes off in a huff because he won’t stop performing his sworn duty? What a bitch.
Cut to Adrina taking care of Seth. And….holy shit we get some explanation!
The company had barely left Quashan’ when it happened. The attack coming in the middle of the night as they made their way north. The poison in the darts was the same poison that took King Charles (page 80).
Nice! Sure, this explanation came 47 pages too late and it’s being told in a boring flashback instead of an actual scene, but it’s something, at least. Here’s a helpful hint, Stanek. These are the types of things that people actually like reading. Maybe if you spent more time writing exciting battle scenes instead of scenes with a princess talking to her nanny, your books would actually sell a few copies. You might also try structuring your story chronologically so it actually makes fucking sense. You can get away with playing with chronology when you’re actually a good writer, but…you’re not.
Seth wants to see Galan but Adrina says he’s too weak. Nothing we haven’t seen before. Adrina feeds him some soup and that’s that.
After she leaves she yells at the her bodyguards because she’s mad that they follow her around, y’know, protecting her life and all that. It almost works because it’s natural for royalty to dislike bodyguards because you don’t have much privacy and they’re constantly trying to follow you around when you’re misbehaving. On the other hand, Adrina has been able to give them the slip approximately whenever she feels like it, so I’m not sure why she doesn’t do that now. And, of course, Adrina has been having armed guards tail her around for her entire life, so she probably would be used to them by now.
Ironically, it’s at that moment that the dark figures leap out of the woodwork and attack. Yes, kidnappers have managed to get inside one of the most heavily fortified palaces in the world. One of them yells “Long live Oshywon!”, which would make more sense if we knew who that was, but it’s also pretty fucking stupid to yell that unless you’re on a suicide mission because that way, the other side knows who’s responsible. And naturally, as both sides get ready for a battle to the death, it’s time for the dialogue to start:
One of the attackers approached out of the darkness, saying, “We will not harm her. This is a kidnapping and not a killing. Had we wanted her highness dead, it would have been so. Lay down your weapons and you will return to your families.” (page 83)
Surprisingly, this doesn’t work. They all start fighting. Adrina watches, then decides to do something. The knights have throwing knives on their backs. This sounds unlikely, but let’s go with it. If this were the case, the knives would be in sheaths with the handles protruding above their shoulders so they could reach back and grab them. Which mean that for this next bit, where Adrina grabs a couple of knives, Adrina has to carefully time her moves with two men who are having a furious sword-fight, leap at least a foot and a half in the air, grab two knives with two hands off two different people, and pull them upward out of the sheaths. I’m calling bullshit.
Then, she throws them. Adrina has no experience with throwing knives. The first knife misses because the leader of the kidnappers dodges, but the second one kills him and the other kidnappers slink away into the shadows, dragging their fallen comrades. Uh…and they just vanish. Out of the palace, which is inside a castle, carrying a bunch of dead guys over their shoulders…and they just disappear without a trace.
Finally Emel shows up.
Adrina feels bad about being a douche to the knights who are now dead from protecting her. She asks Emel a couple times if they had families. Emel ignores the questions, but Adrina realizes that the leader had some magic amulet that meant no one could hear her calls for help and that he dropped it. So she starts talking about how they need to go back and find the amulet. Emel tries to stop her, but Adrina keeps babbling so he slaps her across the face.
Give me a moment, I need to visualize Emel slapping her. Not because it’s realistic, because it’s not, but because it will make me happy.
Okay, I’m done. And so is this chapter.