I’ve put it off for as long as I can, but let’s get back to the Tearling.
Javel, the gate guard who was hanging out with evil Arlen Thorne earlier, is now doing some more evil conspiracy shit. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy with Kelsea’s plan to stop the slave shipments—nobles who run toll roads and made regular money from slave convoys, people who are scared of war with the vastly more powerful Mort. This would be an interesting look at the opposition to Kelsea’s reforms if the people involved weren’t described in sub-David Eddings terms, so everyone is ugly, fat, drunk, and weaselly. I mean, the gang includes an evil priest and a rapist gate guard. Can’t thin, ordinary-looking people be morally wrong? Without being grimdark wrong?
Javel tries to convince himself he’s better than the men around him, and I want to empathize with his struggle, except that literally anyone would be better than the men around him. I mean, even Hitler was slender. And he was a teetotaler. And he didn’t slice up a 14-year-old prostitute (yes, the rapist gate guard did this and it’s described in loving detail). Javel, you really should know better than this.
Anyway, representatives from the evil assassin’s guild are also at the Evil Meeting, because they’re not doing so well at the whole ninja assassin thing and want to go back to guarding slave shipments. Thorne obliges by revealing a new set of slave cages. Javel isn’t too happy. I wonder if he will not turn out to be evil after all? Probably not, as he’s not balding or fat. Or weasel-eyed.
Oh, and Thorne has managed to turn a Queen’s Guard. This is going to be part of the plot, obviously, and it’s just as obvious that the guard won’t succeed, because there are still two more books to go. Sigh.
The narrative shifts to Evil Uncle Thomas, who is attempting to escape to Mort with a few guards. It’s rainy and his horses are mired in the mud, and he’s feeling rather sorry for himself.
Surprise! The Fetch and his merry band show up. Thomas realizes that the Fetch, despite harassing him and the nobles in the past, hasn’t killed any of them because he was waiting for Kelsea to show up. Now that Kelsea’s here, it’s curtains for Thomas.
The Fetch shit-talks Thomas for a while, then begins to torture him.
His thumbs jammed down harder and Thomas felt his left eye fill with hot liquid. “I’ll begin cutting you next. Don’t even kid yourself that I won’t.”
The Fetch is so hot and romantic when he’s popping eyeballs out of skulls!
Turns out that the Fetch wants information about the Red Queen. In exchange, he’ll stop gouging out Thomas’s eyes and give Thomas a painless death.
Thomas has a flashback about Red Queen and their encounters.
Fifteen years ago, he was in bed with her, the air still reeking of sex, and he had asked her what she wanted with him. Even back then, he hadn’t been able to deceive himself that she cared about him. She fucked automatically, impersonally; he’d gotten better mechanics from mid-priced whores in the Gut […] “Who is the father?” the Red Queen asked. When she turned to him in the dark, her eyes were glowing, a bright vulpine red. Thomas had reared back, scrambling to get out of bed, and she laughed, that deep bedroom chuckle that got him hard all on its own.
Remember, the evil thing about the Red Queen isn’t that she committed genocide and created a system of mass slavery, it’s that she was hot and gave men erections. Sex=evil, and don’t you forget it!
He had kept the one secret, but all other bulwarks had fallen; she’d stretched out before him and he’d agreed to find and murder Elyssa’s daughter, his niece. He even remembered entering her and gasping, “Fuck you,” to a different queen, one who’d been laid in her grave years before.
OK, let me stop here and point out that all this evil sex has begot some seriously clunky writing. I don’t just mean that the style is terrible, I mean that I don’t know what actually happened here. The first time I read this passage, I thought that Johansen had revealed that Thomas had slept with a queen of the Tearling—which must mean that he slept with his sister. No wonder nobody knows who Kelsea’s father is! That’s certainly something to hide. This would also make Kelsea’s treatment of Thomas more conflicted. Her choice to banish him doesn’t just reflect her ordained goodness, but it also means that she deprived herself of her own father. Will she feel guilty about that, or not? What will she do when she finds out about her family’s secret incestuous past?
Well, I got too far ahead of myself. Judging from the rest of the novel and a quick look at advance reviews of the sequel, I think that Johansen just means that Thomas was angry at his mom, and therefore he was having sex with the Red Queen. Just a few verb tense changes and everything could have been cleared up. Let’s give it a shot.
“He had entered the Red Queen [ugh, why do we have to have this train-in-the-tunnel language] and gasped ‘Fuck you. The words were not for the living ruler in his bed, but meant for a different woman, one who’d been laid in her grave years before.”
I mean, it’s still bad, but at least I know that Thomas wasn’t sleeping with Elyssa and fathering Kelsea.
Anyway, back to the text we have, if not the text we deserve. Thomas ponders on the situation that he’s in with the Fetch.
The Fetch was intelligent, diabolically so, and intelligent people devised intelligent cruelties.
Dude, he gouged out your eyeball. It wasn’t that complicated.
Thomas decides to tell the Fetch his secrets in exchange for seeing what’s under the Fetch’s silly mask. The Fetch takes it off, and Thomas is shocked. He knows who the Fetch is!
“But you’re dead.”
“Only on the inside.”
“Is it magic?”
“The darkest kind, false prince. Now speak.”
And… nothing more about who Thomas knows the Fetch to be. Oh, for chrissakes. We’ve been seeing things from Thomas’s perspective for almost the entire chapter; now, the moment that something interesting is happening, Johansen blocks us from his revelation. It’s the cheapest trick in the book. Why is Thomas around as a character, anyway? Why can’t Thorne have been running the kingdom as “regent” in Kelsea’s absence? If Thomas isn’t even a conduit for getting information to the readers, then what’s the point of him? No wonder he felt so sorry for himself.
Also, the Fetch is an emo little fuck, but for once that’s not the most atrocious thing happening.
Thomas tells the Fetch his secrets. Again, we’re cut off from what he’s saying, just allowed to know that he feels emotionally better for unburdening himself. Then the Fetch unburdens him of his head.
Ugh. Well, I’m glad Thomas is out of his misery. I’m not, though—still have a few chapters to go.