Viewpoint change! The Red Queen of Mortmesne is waking from a nightmare. She’s been having dreams about “Queen Elyssa’s child” for a while now. These dreams also involve fires and a strange, gray man, but the Red Queen focuses on the girl we readers know to be Kelsea.
In the Queen’s dreams she was sturdy and dark haired, with a strong, determined face and her mother’s green Raleigh eyes. But unlike Elyssa, she was a plain thing, and somehow that seemed the worst detail of all, the one that conveyed the most reality.
So a woman is “real” or not depending on her level of attractiveness. Fuck you, book.
A thick, guttural sound came from behind her, and the Queen whirled around. But it was only the slave in her bed. She had forgotten about him. He’d performed well, and she’d kept him for the night; a good fuck chased the dreams right away.
Ah, yes, let’s conflate the evils of slavery with the evils of female orgasms. Fuck you again, book.*
The Red Queen considers asking some no-doubt evil dark thing about her dreams, but decides not to. She wonders where on earth Kelsea is hidden, and worries that she can’t see Kelsea’s sapphire necklace in her dreams. Then she decides to get on down with cartoon evil again, because her slave is snoring. By the way, the slave has “dark skin,” which is a sign of “Mort blood.” Oh, hey, Mortmesne is the evil kingdom, right?
Fuck you with a chainsaw, book.
So anyway, the Red Queen deals with her snoring slave by literally choosing between a red and a black button, like the fucking “Space Madness” episode of Ren and Stimpy.
Sadly, she doesn’t choose the red button and erase the book’s universe, but presses the black button, which calls her guards to her room. She instructs the guards to tear out the slave’s tongue and uvula and sever his vocal cords. Then they can give him to some woman as a human sex toy.
I get it, I get it, liking cock is a blazing sign of evil. This is like The Evil Queen: A Pornolexicology for slow readers. Now that we’ve established the definite link between women who have orgasms and history’s greatest monsters, the Red Queen chortles a bit over how she’ll have Kelsea’s head and necklaces, and goes back to bed.
And we’re back to Kelsea!
Our heroine notices that her sapphire necklace is glowing. So far, this jewel is doing jack shit other than being purty and glowy, but I assume that it will show its powers at some point. As Diana Wynne Jones says in her wonderful Tough Guide to Fantasyland, “The Rule is that it all has magical purpose… If you are lucky, your mother’s ring will merely bring out your latent talent.”
Magic, Kelsea thought wonderingly, staring at the cerulean light. Like something out of Carlin’s books.
Was Carlin a fan of Anne Bishop, I wonder?
The guards notice that they’re all being followed, and the party splits so that Kelsea and the Mace can have a chance of making it to the Keep. Kelsea gallops through some farmland on her mighty steed,** noticing the workers in the fields as she passes. All the farmhands are starved half to death and persecuted by brutal overseers. The Tearling apparently was supposed to be socialist at its founding, but it now has a system comparable to serfdom. The land is so resource- and money-poor that Kelsea gawps at a noble’s brick house, as even bricks are luxury goods.
More giant hawks attack, and one gashes Kelsea’s neck. Kelsea and the Mace change course, but then they’re pursued by Caden assassins. The Caden are recognizable by their bright red cloaks, which they wear because the Tearling has a magical depressive effect on IQ points.
The Mace manages to kill off the Caden, but then another group of pursuers show up, wearing black cloaks. Maybe try going without cloaks next time, you guys? One of these pursuers catches Kelsea.
A face loomed just above hers, a face the color of pale death with fathomless black holes for eyes and a bloodstained mouth…
Ooooooh scary! Fortunately it’s just a mask.
The Mysterious Masked Man ties up the Mace and drags him and Kelsea off, as there are more Caden coming (easy enough to spot them, I suppose). The black cloaks ride toward a river, and Kelsea wonders how they’re all going to cross when this happens.
But when she opened her eyes, she found they were incomprehensibly crossing the river, the horses’ hooves splashing with each step, yet striking solid ground.
So her horse just trotted across the water, like an equine Jesus. Is this going to come up later? Is Kelsea going to be like, “Hey, you know, I’m kind of sheltered but generally heavier things sink in water? Like, you know, horses? Also, what’s up with this glowing jewel, you guys?” Nope, Kelsea just shrugs it off.
The day had been full of wonders.
Ask some questions, you ninny!
The horsey magic trick does throw the Caden off the trail, leaving Kelsea and her one guard alone with their captors. Mysterious Masked Man shows up again, and Kelsea finally finds a bit of a voice.
“Who are you?”
“I am the long death of the Tearling. Forgive us.”
OH FUCK, DARKSTAR HAS SOME COMPETITION YOU GUYS.
“Men call me Darkstar and I am of the–what? What did that masked guy just say? I’ve been outposed!”
Kelsea passes out from blood loss, which is the only sensible thing to do when holding a conversation with the Mysterious Masked Man. Blessed unconsciousness!
* The authorial use of “fuck” does startle me, considering the previous YA-friendly tone. Are the characters cursing because Johansen didn’t want her books on the YA shelves?
** The horses, outside of their unusually low sex drive, seem to be of the breed described by Jones in the Tough Guide, which “can be used like bicycles and usually are.” I have a feeling that I will be consulting Ms. Jones’s guidebook a lot in my travels through the Tearling.