We're introduced to somebody named Kale, which just makes me think of a giant vegetable. A masculine vegetable, since Kale sounds like something you'd name a cutthroat but lovable mercenary with lots of stubble. Well, this Kale is not a lovable mercenary, stubbly or otherwise.

She's more a high fantasy Bella Swan, but louder.

Anyway, Borecole... I mean, Kale is riding on a farmer's cart, but she's going half-assed about it by not riding the cart all the way into the city. Since suburbs rarely exist in Ye Olde Generique Mediaevale Land, I'm not quite sure why somebody would want to go right up to a city and not go inside.

Kale hardly heard the farmer’s question as she stood beside his wagonload of barley grain.

I hope he's got it in some sturdy sacks, because like most grain, it's hard to just pile it in a wagon without it, y'know, seeping through.

.... and if I were a farmer with a cart in a generic medieval fantasy, I'd probably charge fare. I mean, people are always hitching rides for free on a farmer's cart.

The sun sparkled on Vendela, a city of sheer white walls, shining blue roofs, and golden domes.

... and presumably filthy slums, squalor, illness and starvation in the less glamorous quarters of the city.

Many spires and steeples and turrets towered above the city, but in a vast variety of shapes and colors.

Including fuschia trapezoids? I've always wanted to see a fuschia trapezoid turret. Or an electric-lime dodecahedronal steeple with a bunny weather vane.

More than a dozen castles clustered outside the capital, and more palaces were scattered over the landscape across a wide river.

... okay, stop.

  1. A city does not spawn a whole bunch of castles. Castles are not like big mansions - medieval towns could not contain several of them, because the town generally grew in a ripple effect AROUND the castle. A castle was like a small town unto itself.
  2. "Castle" and "palace" are not interchangeable. Versailles is a palace, but it's not a castle. Trim Castle in County Meath is a castle, but not a palace. A palace is basically a huge luxurious house for a wealthy person (often noble, but not always), and it's a much more all-encompassing term than "castle" is - a castle is a fortified structure which is used as a private residence as well as a military presence. Got it?
  3. Okay, let's just say that in Paul's Generic Medieval Fantasyland, it's socially normal to have a bunch of enormous castles cluttering up the city. Where the hell are they getting the raw materials? Castles take up a LOT of resources, especially in quarry stone. And to build it, they'd need a whole army of workmen working nonstop for many, many YEARS. On EACH ONE. Did they level a freaking mountain?!
  4. Why the hell would the castles be OUTSIDE the capital city? Manorhouses, sure. Not castles.

Seeing Vendela reminded Kale her life had changed forever. Her hand rose to her chest and rested on the small pouch hidden under her clothes.
I have a destiny.

Hooboy, one of THOSE. Is it too much to ask to get a hero/ine who DISCOVERS their destiny, or even has no specific destiny and just deals with what they're dealt?

I guess there's always Arya Stark.

The thought scared her and pleased her too. After being a village slave all fourteen years of her life, she’d been freed.

... and is being a village slave very different from being a metropolitan slave? Do you get beaten with less regularity or something? I think Paul meant a slave FROM a village, but since that's not what she said...

Well, sort of free.

Being legally free is like being pregnant. Either you are, or you're not.

One week ago she’d left River Away, her village of two dozen homes, a shop, a tavern, and a meetinghouse.

.... a "shop"? What does the shop sell, quaint curios and handicrafts? Why bother building a whole separate meetinghouse - do they rent it out to pottery clubs? Are we suddenly at a Renfaire?

Oh, and we finally figure out why she's dawdling around outside the city - apparently she thinks that if she walks right in, she'll be overwhelmed and go insane from all the noise. Apparently Broccoli... I mean, Kale is some sort of empath or telepath who can't cope with all the mental noise. Wow, that came outta nowhere. Thanks for not really introducing it or anything.

Anyway, she thinks that it would be fine if she just diddled around in the butt end of nowhere until she got used to THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of people all thinking at the same time. Yeah, a week sounds about right.

On a side note: I hope she's carrying a LOT of food, because apparently Kale is going to be roughing it for several days without being anywhere near a tavern or whatever.

It was easy to say you were glad not to be a slave any longer.

So is she a slave or is she NOT? What the hell is going on here?

It was hard to walk alone into a place you’d never been before. Nobody knew or cared about her in Vendela.

... yes, because people think SO MUCH about random slave girls in their villages.

In River Away, most everybody cared, even if the caring revolved around whether or not she worked hard.

So she's wangsting about people not "caring" enough to treat her badly?

I'd rather be anonymous, if you don't mind.

Anyway the grizzled kindly old farmer tells her she should just ride with him, because of course farmers are always kind and gruff in these sorts of books.

She smiled up at him, feeling some affection for the gruff old man. She’d ridden the last leg of her journey beside him on the wide wooden seat. He’d been kind to her, sharing his bread and cheese and stories of all the wonders in the great city.

I knew it, our dunce of a heroine doesn't have any food with her.

Anyway, the old guy asks if she's headed for the Hall (whatever THAT is - all this faux-suspense is bugging me), and Kale immediately clams up and rudely refuses to say anything one way or the other.

To say yes would give away more about herself than she intended. Not such a good idea, trusting someone outside your own village, even a grandfatherly, talkative old farmer.

Good Lord, she just rode on his fricking WAGON across the countryside. I don't know about you, but I only ride in the cars of those I trust because who knows, random motorists could be ax murderers or rapists or terrorists or whatever. So she trusts him enough to go tooling across the countryside and eat food he gives her, but suddenly she DOESN'T trust him when he asks a perfectly innocent question.

Since grizzled farmers are ALWAYS kindhearted, he just winks and tells her that if she needs help she should go to a friend of his.

Among an hour’s worth of advice, Mistress Meiger had said to keep her focus on what’s ahead.

Better hope nobody stabs her in the back, or she won't be able to acknowledge it because it's BEHIND BEHIND DON'T LOOK BEHIND! Seriously that's not meant to be taken literally.

Kale sighed. Mistress Meiger knows best.

Yeah, like we're gonna believe THAT.

For the record, I don't know what the hell is going on here. I don't know what the Hall is, what the heroine's destiny is, who Mistress Meiger is (a dominatrix?), or anything about what is going on here. Presumably this is to inspire a sense of mystery, but guess what: you should reveal even a SMALL part of what's going on so people are interested enough to continue.

The hill nestled right against one of the mountains.

Doesn't that mean the hill is actually part of the mountains? Usually when you call a hill a hill, it's... well, away from the mountains, not RIGHT UP AGAINST IT.

Farmer Brigg had known the names of all the peaks in the Morchain Range. His stories of how these names came to be fascinated Kale,

.... but don't bother to tell us any of those names. We wouldn't want to distract people from all the information we're getting!

She sat with her back to a gum tree, her bare feet propped up on a stone outcropping.

We're getting some very contradictory plants here. We have gorse, which is native to Europe and northwest Africa, and we have gum trees which are better known as eucalyptus, which are native to Australia.

Anyway, our heroine just sits there staring at the city and thinking about how awesome it is. Wanna bet there's a Rightful King whom everybody just wuvs?

The twisting spires and floating spheres were beyond anything she had imagined.

Wow, I wonder how they make the spheres float. BILLY, YOUR BALLOON GOT AWAY.
Has Paul never seen a castle.... or a picture of a castle? Or a city?

Pulling the thong at her neck, Kale drew out a soft scarlet pouch.

She has underwear around her neck?

She placed it between her hands, gently rubbing the material, enjoying the satin finish,

Wow, fabric porn.

And we finally find out what's inside the stupid pouch: an egg. Wow, I'm getting Eragon flashbacks, although fortunately Broccoli is not carrying it in her lap while riding a horse. Oh, and said egg is apparently telepathic: The egg warmed, responding to her excitement. It thrummed. The gentle vibration communicated joy and anticipation through Kale’s sensitive fingers.

That sounds a bit familiar.

Here's a question: how come dragon eggs in all these various dragoncentric stories do just fine when bandied around at room temperature, even though all actual eggs (even platypus eggs) require careful incubation and should by rights be carefully guarded by mama dragons? I'll tell you why: so the superspeshul heroes can have dragons from square one with nobody telling him/her what to do, that's why.

And we finally find out what Kale's personal goals are... and they're not very high. Apparently once she gets to the Hall (whatever the hell that is) she'll be a servant of the people instead of a slave. So... is that like a civil servant? It's not exactly a glamorous job.

"Fancy food, fancy clothes, fancy education.”

It's reeeeeeel fancy, yesirreebob!

She also has a silk scarf given to her by her dominatrix friend, although we're not really sure WHY she was given it. Is it the custom when a slave is freed? To strangle people as a new-minted assassin? To snap at people during pool fights?

She's also the first'n'only person in her village to sent to the Hall, which I suspect will become an aspect of Suetry.

“We’ll travel and do Paladin’s bidding.” She grinned at that. “Sounds pretty high and mighty for the likes of me.”

... and who is Paladin? A really rabid WoW player? One of Charlemagne's lackeys? SOME DETAILS PLEASE.

Anyway, this city is apparently a SUE CITY, because not only is it crammed with castles and palaces, and all the people crap jewels and gold, but even the BRIDGES are in jewel tones. Who knows how? I suppose it's Magical Fantasy Stone that can be any color you want... or just a good paint job. Apparently there's one for each "high race," which sounds a bit like segregation.

The wall in the River Away Tavern had a mural of a brotherhood marching across a mountain pass.

... on the way to Mordor, before they had to go back and find a new way in because the damn Caradhras covered them in snow.

Each of the races was represented.

... because of course all races get along whenever a Fantasy Quest is involved. Hey, wanna bet this will happen later on?

Crudely drawn, the figures nonetheless looked excited to be adventuring.

.... so they giant Cheshire-cat grins on their faces? That's the only way I can think of for "crude" drawings to look excited.

And there's some random dropping of various species names, which are different from those of just about every fantasy series ever.

“Bantam doneels, giant urohms, the elegant emerlindians, fighting mariones, tumanhofers, swift kimens, and o’rants.”

... well, I'm gonna make a random guess and say that emerlindians are probably elves or something similar, since elves are always tall and gorgeous and elegant. As for the rest, I haven't the faintest. If you're going to infodump stuff that your audience doesn't know about, you should at least drop them some hints!

This is especially true because apparently Kale herself is an "o'rant," which sounds like something an embittered Irishman would let out after a few too many beers. I'm sure this is meant to be VERY significant, but the impact is totally lost because we don't know what this means. Does this mean she has scales? Pointy ears? Three eyes? A centipede body? I wouldn't know!

“O’rants, like me. Chief Councilman Meiger said he thought I was an o’rant though he’d never seen one. Another reason for me to go to The Hall, he said.”

.... evidently Chief Councilman Meiger, who has a freakishly elevated title for a guy with such a small job, is an idiot. A person who's never animals can point at a dog and announce that it's a cuttlefish, but that doesn't mean they're right.

And then a dragon shows up and... is totally not described. We know it's a large dark shape, we know it has a dark silhouette, and it flies. So it could look like a giant bird, a giant bad, or a giant pair of flying underpants.

Since nothing has actually been said or done in this chapter, and there's absolutely no suspense about anything, Paul finally introduces the Generic Orc Ripoffs, hereafter referred to as "grawligs." Apparently they were sitting right around the next bank, and she didn't realize it until she practically fell on them.

Oh, and they have all the required Generic Orc Ripoff characteristics:

  1. Hairy
  2. Stinky
  3. Stocky
  4. Poor hygiene
  5. Hardly any spoken language.
  6. Various unflattering characteristics like tiny eyes, big nose, etc.

And yet despite all this, we're not actually told of any characteristics that are explicitly inhuman. These "ogres" might technically be another species, but they might also be big ugly men who frequently drive ahead of me in pickup trucks and throw lit cigarettes out the fucking window.

Seriously, just once I'd like the evil grunts to be elegant and pretty.
"I'll have you know, I was a child model!"

Anyway, they show their Generic Mild Evilness by tossing her through the air like a volleyball, which sounds like something I once saw in a mosh pit. Then one grawlig decides to keep her and goes running around with the others chasing him. Oh, those kooky grawligs, always playing games!

They’ll kill me! They’ll play with me, then kill me.

And everybody HATES playing with grawligs! They knock over your sand castles, cheat at checkers and even steal your Monopoly money!

Seriously, if you're gonna have the heroine be threatened with rape, use the actual word. Prettying up the concept with a G-rated term like "playing with" is just plain insulting, as well as really stupid. I guess in a Christian fantasy you're not allowed to use the actual words or deal with the concept... which is just another reason to loathe it. Come on! Why should a religious theme keep the authors from dealing with nasty topics?

"The rape horn"

"The rape horn"

Anyway, the grawlig starts whirling her around like a kid who hates his teddy bear, which is actually a pretty hilarious image. They also start calling her a "stupid o'rant", which would be a lot more impressive if we KNEW WHAT THE HELL AN O'RANT WAS. So then toss her around a bit more and twirl her around like a cane in a bad musical, and she finally passes out.

I say "finally," because that means the chapter is over.