Chapter Three – An Unexpected Discovery
Vilmos and Xith travel on a long journey from one city to another. It’s not that interesting, mostly because nothing happens. Considering that nothing happens, I wonder why Stanek didn’t spend a single sentence on it instead of a page and a half, but I think that’s called padding.
Eventually they arrive at Solntse. There’s an awkward moment where Vilmos almost follows a hot babe but Xith stops him. Vilmos is twelve. He really shouldn’t be following hot babes. But eventually Xith gets fed up with it and tells Vilmos to follow him and do exactly what he does, or he’ll leave Vilmos to fend for himself. This entire scene is odd, because Vilmos has been following Xith for some time now, they’ve been in new and interesting cities before, and this has never before been a problem. Stanek doesn’t explain why there’s a change here, so I’ll chalk it up to author inconsistency.
They keep walking. Vilmos hears shouting and swords clashing and tries to run towards it, but Xith grabs his hair to stop him. I’m honestly not that surprised that Vilmos is running towards danger, because he’s kind of an idiot, but again, this is all out of the blue. With no explanation, Vilmos is suddenly behaving like a rambunctious five-year-old who is running around wildly and Xith has become the frazzled parent who has to keep pulling the kid out of traffic and away from woodchippers. Maybe one of Stanek’s kids was going through this phase and he thought it was so adorable that he gave the traits to Vilmos. Best explanation I can come up with.
They stop at an inn which is kind of a dump. Vilmos isn’t pleased, which I can understand. After all, he grew up with silk sheets and every whim being catered to – wait, sorry, that was Adrina. Vilmos grew up a peasant and has been sleeping out in the elements for the past few months. So this makes no sense.
Xith goes off and buys supplies. Later, he and Vilmos go to a small pub and get bread and gruel to eat. While they eat, Vilmos watches everyone, and eventually focuses on a heavily armed man:
and an auxiliary blade of considerably smaller size sheathed in the man’s belt (page 46).
Technically, Stanek is using the word ‘auxiliary’ correctly. Although, let’s not forget he’s writing this scene from the point of view of a twelve-year-old peasant boy with very limited education. And this book is being written for young readers who, like Vilmos, would not have any idea what the word ‘auxiliary’ means. So technically, he’s also using it incorrectly.
The heavily armed man is talking to a woman:
The dress had lace at the top that swelled around ample breasts, flowing down her arms in an open and obviously revealing fashion that caused Vilmos to blush and avert his eyes until she passed in front of him (page 46).
I’m not even going to touch this one. Although I do wonder if the lace is flowing down past her arms or the breasts are.
Eventually Vilmos asks Xith about them and Xith says the warrior is indentured and the woman is of the street, and Vilmos doesn’t need to spend any more time thinking about that. Vilmos disagrees. After they get back to their room, Vilmos is quiet and thoughtful, which concerns Xith. Vilmos asks why there was so much pain on their faces. Which, if there was pain on their faces, would have been something Stanek should have mentioned previously in the chapter when Vilmos was actually looking at them.
“He is a debtor. Once caught in the cycle, it can never be broken.” (page 47).
Never is a very long time. Xith should know that.
The chapter ends here. I have no idea what the point of all this was. Hopefully Stanek is actually going somewhere with all this.
Chapter Four – Return to Imtal
We’re back inside Emel’s POV, and he is angsting:
He was frustrated, angry, and tired. When the garrison troops left Imtal, they numbered in the thousands. Now, those that returned – the survivors – numbered in the hundreds. How did one explain such a thing to the King? How did one explain such utter failure, followed by more failure? (page 49).
Right. I feel like we’ve been over this ground before. To recap: the soldiers were sent out on a mission to meet a ship and, presumably, protect Prince William. On the way, a couple of Great Kingdom’s allies betrayed them and attacked, with the intention of destroying their armies, destroying Imtal, and then killing the men, raping the women, enslaving the children, and taking over the entire fucking kingdom. Guess who stopped them? The garrison. All of these troops should be returning home to an enormous ticker-tape parade followed by promotions, recommendations, land grants, alcohol, and loose women with enormous breasts. This was not a failure, this was an enormous success and could not possibly be considered anything but a success. I have no idea what Stanek is smoking here, unless there were chapters and chapters of material that he’d originally written for the first book that he then deleted but didn’t bother re-writing all the material that referenced it.
Actually, I suspect he was just smoking something.
Emel didn’t envy his father this day. Ansh Brodst was sure to be stripped of title as King’s Knight Captain and the land grant that had gone with it. Emel himself, promoted in the field to Fourth Captain, Imtal Garrison, doubted the promotion would stand (page 49).
Spoiler from the future: None of this happens. None of this is actually ever referenced again.
They arrive at Imtal. No one is there to greet them. The heralds don’t even signal their return. Which is total bullshit. The families of the soldiers, at least, would be there, and it’s the heralds’ job to signal the return, triumphant or not.
Eventually they arrive at the High King’s Square – and are stunned to see the streets are lined with people to see them. Are the people cheering? Booing? Throwing rotten vegetables and feces? We don’t know, because Stanek doesn’t bother to tell us these trivial details. I guess they’re just standing there.
Impulsively Emel looked over his shoulder at the carriage behind his father. “Two dead elves won’t please his majesty, that is for sure.”
“Dying, not dead.” (page 50)
Wait…what? Why are the Elves dying? They were fine the last time we saw them.
[Explanation from the future: THIRTY PAGES from now, there is going to be a quick line about how the garrison was attacked on their way home, and the Elves were hit with poison darts. Remember last chapter, where there was a short confusing bit about Emel running some attackers down? Yeah, that was the incident Stanek is referring. He just, for reasons I cannot fathom, decided not to actually write about it actually happening. Or explain what happened. Until thirty fucking pages later.
Here’s an illustration. Take The Lord of the Rings. You suddenly jump into a chapter and Aragorn is brandishing a flaming torch and a Nazgul is running away. You’re immediately confused because you have no idea how a Nazgul and Aragorn are in the same scene because there was no build-up to that happening, no explanation on how the Nazgul were coming towards them, but before you get any further the scene abruptly ends and you cut away to other random shit happening. A few pages later, there’s a scene where Glorfindel is approaching Rivendell and he’s worried about Frodo dying. “Wait, what the fuck is going on?” you ask yourself. “Who the hell is Glorfindel and why is Frodo dying, the last time I saw him he was fine!” But then the scene ends. Finally, a few chapters later, during the Council of Elrond, someone randomly mentions “Oh yeah remember when you got stabbed on Weathertop by the Nazgul, Frodo?” and if you were very, very carefully paying attention you might be able to piece together the bits of information and retroactively put together these basic plot points. That’s what this is like, except worse.
Robert Stanek is a terrible writer. He’s worse than Gloria Tesch. The man has absolutely no fucking idea what he is doing. He’s so bad that I’m sitting here trying to come up with rational explanations for why he writes the way that he does, and I think I might have found it: I think in Stanek’s mind, the story makes sense, and as he’s writing he’s thinking to himself of writers who don’t spell everything out and make readers fill in the gaps. “Ah-hah!” Stanek says to himself smugly, “I know what I’ll do! I’ll just take out entire sections of the story! That’ll make my writing very deep and meta.” However, because he has absolutely no skill as a writer, the story ends up making no fucking sense and the reader, assuming they’ve gotten this far, just tosses the book aside in annoyance because there’s no reason to put that much time and effort into figuring a book out unless you’re a loser like me.
But I digress.]
I’m also going to point out that even assuming that THAT had happened…why would they be disgraced? Because there was a sneak attack and some random elves got poisoned? As long as the King’s daughter is still alive, I think you’ll be fine.
But it turns out that everyone is actually happy to see them, because…duh! Emel starts grinning because he didn’t expect this, but that’s because Emel is a fucking idiot. He talks to his father about some random duties which aren’t interesting and that is that.
We then skip over to Adrina. As you recall, when we last left her she was squaring off with a mysterious figure that had crept into her chamber. Stanek left us on a cliffhanger, but now he’s finally going to explain what all that was about:
Except for the unexpected encounter, Adrina’s return to Imtal was uneventful (page 51).
Yes, that’s it. It’s not explained. We don’t know who the mysterious figure is, or what they want, or why they crept into Adrina’s chamber. The entire thing is skipped entirely over and served no purpose whatsoever. I’m not even slightly exaggerating here. This is literally what is happening in this book. Robert Stanek is writing entire multiple-page scenes where events happen that involve the main characters of the book and none of these scenes make any sense, explain anything, or are even related to the book’s plot. It’s like he randomly writes a scene, shoves it into the middle of the book at random, and then never references it or even acknowledges its existence again.
Not to mention…as we have just established, THE GARRISON WAS FUCKING ATTACKED AND THE ELVES WERE POISONED!!! How the fuck is that uneventful? I didn’t think it was possible for a writer to be this bad, but Stanek has truly lowered himself to depths that never before been touched.
Adrina is annoyed that the knights that Rudden assigned to protect her won’t leave. Because she’s a Spunky Princess, remember? Despite being completely helpless and utterly reliant on men to save her.
Adrina takes a bath that is drawn by her servant, Myrial, and asks Myrial if she thinks it’s going to be cold tonight. After Myrial doesn’t respond, Adrina grabs her arm and repeats the question:
“We played together as girls,” whispered Myrial. “I remember Queen Alexandria holding my hand and yours. We’d walk through the gardens until we got to a new section and then she’d set to planting and we’d pretend to do the same. I was a fool in childhood to think we could be friends – I was a fool as a girl to think that by serving you well you would return my family honor. But you don’t even remember who I am, let alone my name. So yes, yes I think it will be cold tonight, but you will not feel the chill of it – only I.” (pages 52-53).
You probably don’t remember this, but this was actually foreshadowed, way back in the first book, during Adrina’s meeting with the old woman in the forest who bitched her out for not treating her servant-girl well. Story-wise, it was three hundred and twenty-one pages ago, and it hasn’t been mentioned once since then. I would almost commend Stanek for attempting to give Adrina some character development, but what I would really like would be a scene inside Adrina’s head where she remembers what the old woman said, feels guilty about it, and then eventually musters the courage to ask Myrial the question. Plus, that would solve the problem of the readers not remembering a small, unmemorable scene that happened 321 pages ago.
I feel I would be remiss in not pointing out that there really is no reason for Myrial to be so bitter about this. First, as a maid to the princess she has a pretty cushy job – she could always be out slaving in the icy-cold mud with the rest of the peasants, trying to grub out a living while avoiding gang-rape. She really should be thankful for the position that she has instead of being angry about not being best buds with the princess. Which is also unrealistic, by the way. Children get used to things very quickly. It’s pretty simple: castes don’t mix. As a servant, Myrial would very quickly learn that regardless of what happened when the girls were extremely young, Adrina was a princess and they would be separated and lead very different lives and that would be that. It was the way of life during those times and Myrial would, sooner or later, understand that. Almost certainly sooner, because another servant would beat it into her head.
I also have no idea why Myrial thinks that serving Adrina well is going to bring her family honor – unless the ‘honor’ she refers to is being promoted within the ranks of the servants of the king’s household. Which is an honor for someone of Myrial’s class, I will admit, but it’s not like Adrina has much control over that. Promotions of servants tend to take place from the steward of the king’s household, with some exceptions, and it’s ridiculous for Myrial to think otherwise, just like it’s ridiculous for Myrial to think this entire idiotic monologue.
But she does. And Adrina is hurt. And feels bad. They exchange some random dialogue for awhile, including an anecdote about Adrina being bitten on the nose by a bee – I think you mean ‘stung’, Stanek – and Adrina tells Myrial to address her properly, which of course she means by her old nickname, which is Dri. They talk some more. Myrial mentions how awful her life is and how she has to sleep on dirt sometimes. Yeah, that’s awful. Sleeping on dirt. INSIDE a palace. 95% of the world’s inhabitants would give a kidney to be in your place. Quit whining and start thanking whatever god you pray to.
Adrina says she’s going to set things right and heads off for the housemaster’s quarters, Myrial in tow. Inside, he’s lazing about, but Adrina asks him what he’s doing in Housemistress Myrial’s quarters and if he doesn’t start becoming useful she’ll send him to the gallows. It’s a hilarious scene that is also unrealistic. Let’s face it: princesses have very little power. The king has to sign off on anything, and you can bet your ass that her father isn’t going to have the housemaster (that, with all likelihood, HE appointed) sent to the gallows because of some stupid whim of his daughter’s. For that matter, Adrina’s governess should be following her around and overruling all of her demands, because young and naïve princes and princesses tend to be ignored by their elders because they’re young and very stupid.
In any real palace, the housemaster would give her a curt smile and order a couple servants to escort the princess back to bed, but naturally everything works out and it’s all smiles and puppies and unicorns and none of this is really ever mentioned again. What, you thought that maybe her father would bring this up in future chapters? Think again!
Anyway, Adrina tells the housemaster that from now on he is Myrial’s manservant, and assigns a guard to Myrial. Which is probably a good idea, considering there are some people who now have an incentive to slip a little arsenic into Myrial’s soup.