I don’t know if my confusion comes across in these recaps. I’ve been trying to boil the plot down to its most basic to cut down on that fever dream subreality that this book has to it but even then I’m sure it’s bleeding through. It’s a rather common problem among writers, one I’ve seen in my own projects plenty of times.
In this case, it’s a tonal issue. See, we keep switching between a slow moving sci-fi story with a mystery to a run and gun action thriller. Sometimes well within a couple of paragraphs. Now with the addition of Barry is it going to be a buddy cop style action novel or what?
There’s nothing wrong with mixing things up a bit but there has to be some consistency here. Not even Robson’s characters have any of that and they’re all we have to ground us in the story. One minute Lila is upset because she saw Dar again, the next she’s looking after him like he’s her long lost brother.
Then there’s the matter of Barry possessing Lila. She should be freaking out and trying to exorcise him. The very fact that Dar mentioned Barry could try to control her makes it a possibility and he’s clearly not one of the good guys. And it’s not like Lila doesn’t know how to get rid of him, just blast herself with X-Rays and kill Barry’s spirit. She even threatens him with it so I know the thought has occurred to her. But Robson doesn’t even give us a flimsy reason why she’s allowing Barry to stick around. Just because has become the mantra of the book.
Anywho, we join Zal for the very first time in the book. And though we’re over halfway through the story before Robson felt like taking a chance and moving perspective, she didn’t go too far. She has Zal waking up after some enchantment wears off and finds himself in a bubble prison. He surmises that it must have been cast by “the lady” herself and was being maintained by some of her underlings. I’m going to guess that “the lady” is of the lake, queen of the elves and the same wet tart that gave the sword over to Arthur.
I’d like to mention that a shift in narrative now feels extremely ungainly. The entire book so far has all been third person following Lila. And truth be told, it’s the only damn consistency we’ve gotten out of Robson other than ‘elves are pretty’ and ‘Lila and Zal are special’. Because we’ve spent so much time with Lila, and only Lila, it’s jarring to suddenly join another character. If Robson had meant for this to be a changing perspective then why not go to a couple of other characters throughout?
Then a female elf, Arie, speaks. Being as she’s evil and an elf, can you guess how she talks? If you said so sweetly she could induce diabetes you’d be right. Because author forbid the bad guys ever sound like people. She’s not there physically but she does use her remote chat feature to chew Zal out for dressing like a demon and blah blah blah. Zal then asks if she’s about to start talking about the “great spell” which will wall off elfland and protect them from outsiders.
Arie says sure but that he’s here to face crimes against elves. Two nameless guards appear, frisk him and march him off. Zal thinks about how Arie knows his name but not his TrueName™ so she can’t control him. Of course he doesn’t know hers either as if that’s somehow relevant.
Then Zal examines the palace and tells us how it wasn’t always so huge. Apparently it was once just a really big underwater house. Now it’s palace sized and done to show off the power of the royal family and to make people feel puny. Finally they get to the courtroom and Zal notices that everyone is gathered.
Apparently his family should be there but most of them aren’t so he mentally start crossing off Christmas cards for this year. Then he tells them to just skip the trial and the justification of the sacrifice and just call him guilty. The queen then statsrunning down a list of transgressions, saying he betrayed them to the demons and probably to the humans. He also disobeyed orders, which I think would be a lot less worrisome than treason. That’s like charging someone with murder and then adding the theft of gas as an afterthought.
Then the queen offers clemency because Zal has new abilities and powers since he went AWOL. If he comes back and rejoins the force he can redeem himself. And for the first time in any book I’ve read, the protagonist accepts the offer from the bad guy and pulls them down while working from within. Or not. Of course Zal refuses, Robson wouldn’t want us to face a character without a spine, would she? Unless it’s important to the plot of course.
Oh, and Arie is the queen. It wasn’t all that clear to me at first because Robson kept saying “the queen” and then having “Arie” speak. The only thing I could imagine was that the elves had a strange tradition where royalty didn’t speak for themselves unless it’s important. She tries to persuade Zal to come back, with a pretty please and a demon on top.
Then Zal looks at everyone and asks why they are there. Arie has been ruling for centuries, dragging the elves down and blah blah blah. It’s all her fault that the elves hate other races and even the dark elves. Zal then senses everyone’s andalune and can tell that they don’t like being part of this but they’re under Arie’s control because of her powerful glamour.
Arie says there’s a gate beneath the lake which could provide them with limitless power. That would allow them to fix the “dying lands” and mend the issues between the various shades of elf. Zal says that’s too dangerous to do while the realms are connected. Arie says they don’t have a choice because the land is dying.
Zal agrees and says that the land has been dying for some time, it’s been happening for a while and getting worse. And Zal really wants to do the right thing and rejoin the elves because he gets lonely. But then Zal reminds himself that he doesn’t believe that the problems in the realm come from the dark elves or the demons. And his “demon self” knows that it’s not their fault and that the other elves have just become afraid. So he smarts off at them and they get angry.
Then Zal senses someone sick nearby. He says that the elves have all sorts of healing skills that stop short of death and that they shouldn’t allow someone to suffer like that. Because the whole court has just fallen to petty squabbling in the time Zal has been away. I’m surprised that elfland didn’t fall into a Mad Max anarchy without him there to keep it on track.
Just in case you didn’t think Arie was supposed to be evil, she talks about Zal’s goals and how ridiculous. Apparently they learned of Zal’s desire to prove everyone across the realms as equals. Because she’s at least a traditionalist in believing that al elves are just better than everybody. Zal’s retort is to point at the sick elf and demand they help him then to ask how they got that way. Which way, Zal? Snooty or sickly?
Arie says she’ll do exactly that if Zal tells her his name. Not only that, she’ll release all of his imprisoned friends and anybody else he wants to see go free. Then she give him the ultimatum; join them or they’ll use his blood to open the aether well buried under the lake. Zal shouts that it’s not a well but a weakness in the realm that opens into the aether which leaks wild magic which only seems natural after it filters up through the lake. But otherwise it’s a dangerous source of power that’s too dangerous. That’s because it comes from Lavos, Zal.
Arie says that they have found a way to cap the well once it’s opened. They learned from BP’s mistakes and have backup measures waiting. Zal says that touching that energy will make her invincible and Arie ignores it. Instead she says that if they don’t act soon, they’ll all end up like the suffering elf, unable to commune with each other via their spirits.
Zal tells us he could fix the broken elf with his demon power but he doesn’t want to reveal it. If he did, they would shield against it and he couldn’t use it to make his escape. So Zal simply agrees to serve her, closing the chapter.
Remember that little game I brought up where you replace random words with “penis” or “tampon”?
Zal then senses everyone’s andalune and can tell that they don’t like being part of this but they’re under Arie’s control because of her powerful glamour.
It wouldn’t be so funny if it didn’t fit so well.
so this TrueName thing, it that pretty typical of fantasy?
you know, i think Lila is ok with Barry hitching a ride because she’s gotten used to outside elements controlling her. Barry might as well be another cyborg brain.
The TrueName thing is a very, very, depressingly common convention in fantasy. I can’t pin down where it first popped up in fiction but I’m guessing it was borrowing from the ancient belief that names gave power over the things and people they belonged to. I’m sure it was once clever but like the Rolling Stones it’s well overdue for retirement.