Where were we last time? Oh yes:
Kale stood in a panic. This little doneel was not what he seemed. Where could she run?
But wait, you wonder. Why is she planning to RUN before she even knows what the hell he means by that comment? It's because she was ORDERED to go to the Hall, and for some reason she's OBSESSED with doing as they say.
She’d been told where to go by the elders of the village. To Vendela. She must follow their instructions.
Our heroine is kind of a dumbass, isn't she? So apparently she's incapable of making ANY decisions for herself, even if the conditions change. She must have been a really lousy slave if they had to babysit her tiny brain.
Always before, she had only to listen to instructions and do what she was told. Nothing complicated ever came her way.
... so she's freaking out and trying to run away because she doesn't want to deal with anything as "complicated" as making a decision for herself? This is starting to get stupid and offensive. If this were the way that actual slaves thought, slavery would still be alive and well because according to Paul, nobody who has been a slave can think for themselves or even WANTS to.
Maybe being a slave isn’t so bad. If I can just get to The Hall, I’ll be a servant. That’s enough like being a slave that all this adventure with grawligs and doneels, running from danger and battles, will just cease to exist.
Okay, we have officially gotten into stupid and offensive territory, and we have bought a house there with CASH! I could understand the heroine being disoriented and upset by all this crazy shit... but not enough to decide that BEING A SLAVE, having no freedom and constantly being mistreated by a whole village of assholes, is BETTER. It would need to be a LOT worse than this to make an ex-slave wish they were back where they came from and a slave again.
I mean what, does Paul think that slaves have some crazy form of Stockholm Syndrome where they idolize their owners, are obsessed with obeying them even after they're freed, and look back nostalgically on the good ol' days when they could be treated like shit by their owners because they can't cope with reality? It's like Paul thinks that slavery is comparable to the Dilbert cubicle lifestyle - bad, but not a huge deal. WHAT THE HELL?
So she sits there thinking about which way she should run, and a dragon arrives with Leetu Bends.... which sounds like a Star Wars character's name, but I digress.
Again the dragon called with a round melodious tone. Dar waved a greeting. The whoosh of the last beat of Merlander’s wings ruffled Kale’s hair like a spring breeze.
- How can a sound be "round"?
- I'm pretty sure that if dragons large enough to carry people would need more than a "spring breeze's" worth of air to move around.
And so any hint of tension can be removed, she immediately bitches at the doneel, “Dar, what did you say to her? ... What foolishness. How clumsy.” Nice. She automatically assumes the worst.
“I’m sorry.” Leetu turned to Kale. “Dar teases, among other disreputable things. Think of him as an older brother who has no sense of decorum."
... and apparently no sense of teasing. I mean, teasing isn't very effective if it doesn't end with a laugh or a "Just kidding!" at the end of it. If I tease you by saying, "You have a bloodsucking leech on your head!" (which isn't funny), and you freak out for ten minutes ripping at your hair and pouring salt on yourself... only to discover that there is no leech.... then it's not really teasing. It's being a lying asshole. If I said the same line but almost immediately said, "Just kidding," that would be teasing. And you would probably still punch me.
"Or no sense, period. Paladin has urgent need of your skill. That is why you must turn aside and leave going to The Hall until later.”
I love how she doesn't even pause between bashing Dar and talking about... a paladin? So... one of Charlemagne's warriors has need of her.... does she have any skills? And why didn't Paul make a LITTLE pause or transition between the two subjects?
Kale stood rigid in her confusion. This was the commanding voice she had heard as the grawligs battled—the one who said they had come to rescue her.
Yes, I can see why it would be VERY confusing that a person who rushed in to help her... has the same voice as the person who was helping her telepathically. Did she think she was just hearing voices? Is that normal for her?
She did wear the colors of The Hall. Her tunic was a mellow, golden tan of ripe wheat, and her breeches, the rich brown of the earth.
And you're only noticing this NOW?
Also, wearing "colors" that are painfully common and easy to duplicate is kind of a stupid idea, because it totally defeats the point of wearing recognizable colors. I mean, is it that unusual in a medieval society to wear brown pants? If they were wearing black and deep purple it would be a pretty convincing set of colors, but... brown and tan?
But how could Kale know for sure who Dar and Leetu were? What did they really want? Were they here to help or hinder her?
And is Kale smart enough to know what's going on?! Did they just buy some generic clothes in generic medieval stores? SO CONFUZZED.
Leetu Bends came up only to Kale’s shoulder, yet she had a dominant presence.
Thank you for SHOWING us instead of telling us. Is she carrying a whip and demanding to be called "mistress"?
White-blond and blue-eyed in a slim frame,
... so her hair and eyes are in her frame?
Leetu did not look a bit delicate, but rather tautly muscled, ready to spring into action.
So you can't be both?
She was a young emerlindian.
Shouldn't this be the first thing that a person notices? If I were rescued by an elf or whatever, the first thing I'd notice is "He's an elf!" and THEN things like hair color and muscle tone. Especially if I'd apparently never met one before.
Chin, nose, eyebrows, and ears all slightly pointed, her beauty was sharp, drawn with clean lines.
So... are these characteristics of emerlindians? What ARE emerlindians? Well, it's time for an infodump:
Kale had heard stories of emerlindians. The race was born almost pure white. As they aged, their skin, hair, and eyes darkened. They lived a long time, hundreds of years. Wise brown grannies were both male and female and cherished by the younger generations. But even older than grannies were a few black grands, emerlindians who supposedly neared a thousand years in age.
I will give Paul credit: this is not something I've read in other fantasy novels, and it doesn't immediately make me think, "I saw this shit in Generic Fantasy Novel by Fantasy Author." I do like the idea of their coloring changing with time.
But here's the question: why are the older males called "grannies"? "Granny" is a term used for females. The male equivalent would be.... grampy or something. And except for Suetry, why exactly would the younger generations make such a big deal of the grannies? How old are the grannies anyway? Paul doesn't say!
Generally thought to be noble, kind, and benevolent, the emerlindians possessed interesting mental powers.
- Remember what I said a little awhile ago about showing and not telling? IT STILL APPLIES.
- So, they're basically color-changing elves.
- "Hmmmm, these mental powers are very interesting. Yes, I am interested in their mental powers. They provoke my interest."
- Apparently Paul was leaving the Sue door open, because she doesn't bother to tell us what those powers are.
Kale winced at the knowledge. This Leetu Bends reads my thoughts. She knows I don’t trust her. Kale cast her eyes down to the forest floor, concentrating on the leaves scattered at her feet.
Is it possible to block her reading my mind?
Leetu laughed. “Yes, it is. And it’s a technique I’ll teach you as part of your training. For now, you can’t throw up a barrier.”
Have I mentioned that I really fucking hate it when characters read other characters' minds without permission? It's not a charming or awesome character trait, it's the sign of a sociopath who doesn't give a shit about others.
So Leetu sits there, not moving and radiating warmth and friendliness which sounds pretty terrifying. And Kale continues freaking out over the HORRIBLE PROSPECT of... actually making a decision!
Could she trust these two? The elders had told her to go to The Hall. Did she dare put aside Councilman Meiger’s instructions?
Since she allegedly isn't a slave anymore, why does she give a crap about the Councilman's instructions? I mean what the hell can he possibly do since she's never going back to that village?
Why would Dar want to keep her from going where she was supposed to go?
There are salmon with less single-minded stupidity than this girl. Hey lady, if you're being told by employees of said place that you don't get to go there, you AREN'T supposed to go even if some hick told you to.
Leetu said Paladin needed her skill. What skill?
I ask the same question.
Kale let herself collapse in a rather undignified heap on the ground.
Undignified is right. It's so stupid that the slightest bit of uncertainty not only turns her into a gibbering paranoid loon, but she also COLLAPSES. Seriously is it too late for Leetu to be the heroine?
So Kale lies there being hopelessly pathetic, while Leetu is sympathetic. We get another whine about how Kale can't cope with reality because she's a slave, and life was so nice and simple when she was a piece of property who could be treated like shit by the villagers.
Excuse me, I need to chew on something like an enraged beaver:
So we get another lecture about how Kale needs food, which sadly will not make her grow a brain. And Leetu drops a bomb on her as well: "Well, you wouldn’t know that yet, but you’ll learn. Your skill is in finding dragon eggs, and there is an egg that must be found.” Leetu, you really suck at exposition. And no, Kale doesn't react to that information at all. It's like Leetu never said it.
So despite the fact that she ate some biscuits just a minute ago, and Dar is STILL cooking a little fish, Leetu pulls out a parnot fruit (which sounds like a small furry mammal) and gives it to her.
“We’ll eat and talk,” she said. “You can ask as many questions as you like, and then we’ll start off on our quest.”
It sounded so rational, and yet it didn’t.
WHAT IS NOT RATIONAL ABOUT THAT? It's perfectly rational. Not very HELPFUL, but not irrational!
Cue more stupidity - Kale was a slave, she was told to do something and she can't cope with plan changes, she's an idiot, she trusted the elders who OWNED HER, and she's therefore obsessed with doing whatever they say even if the situation changes.
She trusted the elders, for although they had never acted as parents to her, they had treated her fairly. They saw to it that she had food, something to wear, and schooling, such as it was. They allowed no villager to take advantage and work her too hard.
So apparently the life lesson here is that even if you've been ENSLAVED, as long as they don't work you to death and give you some shabby clothes and food they are wonderful people who are treating you fairly.
... WHY WAS THIS FUCKING BOOK PUBLISHED?!
She was free now. Well, sort of. She still had to go where she’d been told to go, and when she got to The Hall, she would probably still have to do what she was told to do. But it was different somehow. Being a servant was better than being a slave. Wasn’t it?
Yeah, because you can say, "Screw you, screw this job, I quit." But that really doesn't matter because apparently in Paul's mind, anybody who has to obey others doesn't make any decisions for themselves, doesn't WANT to, and can't cope with reality. That is really offensive, really stupid, and really unrealistic..
Leetu Bends had said she could ask as many questions as she wanted. In River Away she had never been encouraged to ask questions. That much was different at least. But a problem remained. Would she know what questions to ask?
I mean, where does Paul even get the idea that this is a good idea? Making her heroine a dithering weakling who LIKES the idea of being owned because she's too much of a wimp to ever make her own decisions - why did she think anybody would like that?! What kind of person would admire a heroine like that? I understand that maybe Paul is trying to start out with a pathetically weak heroine and make her stronger over time, but... she has to have at least ONE characteristic that is positive. To date, Kale has done these things:
- Gotten captured by inept orc-substitutes.
- Had God bail her out of trouble.
- Kidnapped baby dragon eggs.
- Ran away like a pussy during the battle scene.
So in summary, she's stupid, doesn't look where she's going, relies on others to do shit, a kidnapper, a whiner, a loser, and a coward. If she were any more pathetic, she would be living in Forks.
So they... don't talk. They just sit there and eat, and then Dar takes out a footlong harmonica and starts playing it. We don't hear what he takes it out of, but I'm assuming it isn't a pocket because... IT'S A FOOT LONG. And this guy is tiny already. We're also told that it's "digestive music" and that doneels play music for... everything they do. So do they have battle music? Do they bring bands to war? Do they have housecleaning music? Child discipline music? Postcoital music? Pest extermination music? House-painting music? Pooping music?
So Kale sits there internally whining about how I never had big things to think about in River Away. Is this what I really want? To be surrounded by people I don’t know, who might be friends or might be foes?
Yo Kale, shut up about what a horrible burden free will is, because it doesn't make you seem like a credible slave - it makes you seem like a whiny little wimp who complains about everything.
So Kale The Former Slave Who Cannot Snap Out Of Her "Slave Mindset" sits there wangsting while the other two WASH THE DISHES and pack their gear. Yeah, obviously she can't cope with asking QUESTIONS because you know she's a SLAVE, but watching other people washing dishes is no big deal.
“You must ask your questions,” said Leetu. She gestured with a graceful hand at the three gathered around the doused campfire. “We must be on our way.”
"But asking questions is HARD! Free will SUCKS!"
But despite all her wangsting, Kale is able to easily dash off a question:
"Where are we going?”
“First, to find Wizard Fenworth.”
Have I mentioned that Leetu really sucks at exposition? She doesn't say that "we're going to Place X to get wizard named Fenworth for this reason blah blah blah," which might have actually TOLD Kale something instead of confusing her AND the audience.
Kale didn’t know one wizard from another. Weren’t there wizards enough at The Hall?
Apparently Paul hasn't figured out that being dumb as a brick is not endearing.
“He has been chosen to take care of the dragon egg once you have found it.”
“How do you know I can find it?”
- What dragon egg? SHE HAS EIGHT ON HER PERSON!!!!!!!!
- It would help if we knew ANYTHING about how Kale was saying this. Curiously? Suspiciously?
“You have the gift,” said Dar. “Didn’t you walk right to the egg you carry in the pouch? Didn’t you put your hand on it before you even knew why you were reaching?”
Oh hell, another magical gift that just IS, doesn't require any skill or intellect or even work to refine it. Then again, we couldn't expect Kale to have any other kind. And how come these two haven't noticed that she has SEVEN MORE EGGS under her shirt? They noticed she has an egg POUCH but not a giant scarf filled with other eggs?!
So Kale starts fussing about how it "wasn't fair" that they know about her and are confident, while she's a pathetic dumb bint who wanders around stealing dragon eggs and whining about how awful it is to have free will. So, how do these people not only know who she is and where to find her, but what her magical powers are? Well:
Leetu slapped her hands on her knees and shook her head. “Paladin knew. We can’t tell you how Paladin knows things. He just does.”
- Well, that reaction was.... random. What is knee-slapping and head-shaking supposed to be?
- Ah, so Paladin... who's Paladin? And why that NAME?
- So Paladin just... knows things. Mysteriously. That are relevant to the plot. He's like a walking deus ex machina, huh?
- Okay, to be fair, Paladin is apparently supposed to be Ye Olde Medieval Jesus or something like that, so you would expect him to "know" stuff. But here's the thing: Jesus is a hard person to integrate into a book because he's GOD and he knows everything, which takes a lot of tension and mystery from your storyline. It turns God into a Deus Ex Machina!
Kale blinked at Leetu’s agitation, but having been given permission to ask questions, she just couldn’t keep from asking another.
Yes, this is SUCH a natural progression from "I'm a slave so I can't ask ANY questions even if people invite me to!"
“Why am I the one Paladin has chosen to go look for this egg?”
Leetu stood and paced. “Another question that we cannot answer. Once you have been in his service for a while, it will cease to amaze you that he knows so much.”
In other words, don't expect any natural exposition from this. Just announce that Paladin said so, and don't pester us with annoying questions because we aren't smart enough to have any real sources of knowledge. Don't think, just let Jesus tell you stuff.
“Let me tell you about the egg, and why it is so important.”
“First, it is a meech egg.”
Dar jumped in. “The highest order of dragon, the most powerful. A female meech may lay three eggs in her entire life span, over five hundred years. The eggs are rare.”
I'm sorry, I can't take this exchange seriously. MEECH? It sounds like some eel-like thing that you'd find clinging to the bottom of a rowboat. It doesn't sound dragonesque at all. Can't she come up with something a LITTLE more... dignified than that?
Leetu put up her hand to stop Dar’s lecture. “This egg was taken by Risto.” “Who?”
Have I mentioned that Leetu really, REALLY, REALLY sucks at exposition? And by extension, so does Paul - it feels like she's padding out this chapter by having Leetu constantly say stuff that she KNOWS won't make any sense to Kale, just so Kale can ask what she's talking about, so Leetu can shrug it off. Does serving Paladin make you a dolt who assumes that everybody else knows everything too?
Dar squirmed with his lips pressed firmly together as his eyes darted from Leetu’s face to Kale’s. He just couldn’t keep quiet and burst out with the information Kale needed. “An evil wizard! Risto’s an evil wizard.”
- And why wasn't Leetu telling her? Did she just sit there after Kale asked "Who?" and not answer just to be a bitch?
- Why is Dar so excited by this?
- Aaaaaaannnddd we have an antagonist. And since it's not a Dark Lord Of Generic Evil or an Evil King/Emperor, we get an Transparently Evil Wizard.
Leetu cut him off with a look. “Risto does not wish to hatch the egg, but to use the power of the egg to cast a grandiose spell.”
"The power of the egg"? What, are dragon eggs magical? OF COURSE THEY ARE.
And so his spell is... ridiculously big and flashy? OF COURSE IT IS. What other kind of spell would a cartoonish villain cast?
“Of course,” said Dar. His ears twitched, and he licked his lips as he stared at Kale. “His spells are evil.”
What other kind would a 2-D antagonist cast?
The little doneel’s eyebrows came together in a fierce frown. “If he needs the power of a meech egg to get it done, there’s no telling what contemptible transgression he’s plotting.”
So, if you need a dragon egg's power to do something, it must automatically mean that you're evil? The assumption is that any magic that requires a lot of power MUST be evil? Well, that's pretty stupid.
I mean, what if he's planning to cast a spell to end all disease worldwide? Or to make everybody in the world live for thousands of years? Those would require a lot of power, but apparently by definition they're EVIL because you would need a dragon egg to cast them.
In fact, this is SO illogical that Kale even calls them out on it. And what is the explanation they give?
Dar bounced to his feet, flinging his arms wide. “Because it’s Risto. He doesn’t do good things. He has all the evil traits that taint the seven high races. Pride, greed, deceit, faithlessness.” Dar sputtered in his outrage. “He’s cruel, power-mad, cunning—”
"He kicks kittens! He takes candies from babies! He leaves hotel rooms in a mess! He stiff you on the restaurant bill!"
Oh come on, it's one of THOSE. The Villain who is Villainous for no actual reason. He doesn't have a motive, he doesn't have a real goal, he doesn't have a reason to act the way he does, and he NEVER does anything good, selfless, or even morally ambiguous. Why? BECAUSE HE'S EVIL. Screw characterization! Screw logic! Screw psychology! HE'S EVIL AND THAT'S THE ONLY REASON EVIL PEOPLE DO EVIL THINGS!
“He’s evil,” Leetu interrupted. “In the use of power from the unhatched egg, Risto will destroy the life within.”
Okay, I'm gonna leave the moral implications of that whole thing on the table.
But one thing I'd like to point out: we have not been told exactly where on the life ladder the dragons are. Are they equal to people? Dogs? Chickens? Because people have no problem destroying fertilized chicken eggs, you know. And if the life inside an egg is considered sacred, WHY is it okay to kidnap them?!
“You see,” said Dar, stamping his foot for emphasis. “Evil! No respect for Wulder’s handiwork. Risto must be stopped, and Paladin sends us to do it.”
- Who the fuck is Wulder? Nobody told us anything! It just flew out of nowhere!
- I assume that since dragons are referred to as Wulder's "handiwork" and and since this is a Christian fantasy, that Wulder is supposed to be God.
- So... if you kill ANYTHING that God made, you are evil and have no respect for anything God has made. It doesn't even have to be sentient or anything - it just has to be his handiwork. You squashed a cockroach? You're evil. EVIL I SAY! It's like that crappy scene from that crappy Karate Kid sequel where the girl gets shunned by cartoonishly stuffy Buddhist monks for trying to kill a bug.
“With Fenworth,” Leetu reminded the doneel.
Dar screwed his face into a grimace of disgust. “Having that wizard along will lead to disaster.”
“Why?” asked Kale.
Leetu sent Dar a warning look before answering. “It’s best you wait and see, Kale.”
Yeah, Leetu REALLY sucks at exposition. Not only does she make these stupid statements that don't actually tell the listener anything, but she also refuses to tell Kale anything halfway interesting. Damn I hate these characters.