Now I guess it’s time to find out what dear old Axis SunSoar and his dumbass love interest are up to. Brace yourselves, guys – the first book might have been mostly a big pile of boredom and clichés, but this is where it really starts to get ridiculous.
The book opens with the Prophecy again, just in case we’d managed to forget it. It’s still stupid. Then we get a prologue from Gorgrael’s point of view. He’s in Borneheld’s bedroom in Gherkinfort Keep – the whole place is deserted now Borneheld has evacuated everyone.
Somehow or other Gorgrael is about to sense the emotions that had been in the room, and he sniffs the bedsheets and picks up Faraday’s scent. This makes him shriek in “anger, frustration and desire” because he hates and wants Faraday “almost as much as he hated and wanted Axis”. Um, what? Between this and the description of Gorgrael’s “anger and desire”, I’m getting the feeling that he wants to fuck the pair of them. Which is shall we say just a bit uncomfortable.
Anyway, Gorgrael thinks about how he knows the Prophecy like the back of his hand. He also knows that Axis has escaped to be with their father and will soon be “a far more formidable opponent”. Will he be strong enough to counter Gorgrael’s command of “the Dark Music”? Maybe. Also, that’s seriously what it’s called. The Dark Music. It sounds like the title of a bad metal album.
Time to crank up YouTube and make some magic, you guys.
And Axis is due to become more “formidable”? The guy who wipes out the Skraelings single-handedly like he’s swatting flies? Dude, isn’t he already ridiculously overpowered? (Apparently not).
Anyway, so Gorgrael thinks that the third verse of the stupid Prophecy gives him “the key to destroy Axis” and “the Prophet [has] been kind”. Why? Because if Gorgrael can get to Faraday and “destroy” her – oh GODS this is rich. Seriously, brace yourselves for this, everyone. Axis is “vulnerable to nothing but love, and eventually love would prove his destruction”.
*takes a deep breath*
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Oh man that’s priceless. We’re seriously supposed to buy it that Axis is so In Love with Faraday – the girl he barely knows – that the Bad Guy can use it to destroy him. Pardon me while I wipe this tear from my eye.
Gorgrael shrieks again, gleefully this time (seriously – this guy acts like a toddler), and thinks about how he’s going to use Timozel to get to Faraday. He also apparently learned a lot from being in her bedroom – uh, how? – and blah blah blah, he’s gonna get revenge on her for helping Axis destroy his troops in the last book, and he’s gonna shred her like he just shredded her mattress.
This is a) Infodumping, b) Boring, and c) Makes the Big Evil Villain look like an ineffectual child. An actually effective villain wouldn’t be standing around posturing at the reader about how he’s gonna do this that or the other thing. He’d be out there fucking doing it. But then no-one in this series is particularly proactive, I’m afraid.
Instead we just get more infodumping. Blah blah, Borneheld has fled to Jervois Landing with Faraday and five thousand soldiers, and is going to make a stand by the river. Then, in a bit that actually made me gigglesnort out loud when I read it, we find out why Gorgrael and his followers don’t like running water:
“It made music from beauty and peace, not darkness. It tinkled.”
Guys, the Big Cheese of Evil just used the word “tinkled” in all sincerity. Am I really supposed to be taking this book seriously?
We then learn that the Skraelings are hopelessly undisciplined and keep wandering off to eat more people, and the SkraeBolds weren’t able to rally them to attack Borneheld’s troops. On top of that the Deus Ex Machina Axis used at the end of the last book has badly weakened the Ghost Army, and it’ll take months to gather the forces to keep going.
We now learn that Gorgrael has a mentor in the form of the Dark Man (oh come on), and said Dark Man had advised him to wait another year or two before attacking, until he was stronger. The Dark Man also taught him how to use the Dark Music… I swear I can feel my braincells dying as I type this. Either way this Dark Man guy is the reason why Gorgrael is so powerful. Now Gorgrael is worried about having to report back to him and admit that he fucked up.
So not only is Gorgrael a complete idiot with the temperament of a spoilt five year old, but he’s also been someone else’s bitch this whole time.
So you’re thinking this Dark Man is the real big villain now, right? So the author’s gonna pull a bait and switch on us – it only looked as if Axis was winning easily, when in reality the Skraelings were a distraction from the real threat, which is genuinely dangerous and horrifying.
The prologue ends, and we now begin the first chapter, imaginatively titled “Jervois Landing – Arrivals”. Why not quit while you’re ahead and just use numbers, author? Because your chapter titles suck.
Anyway, we’re with some guy called Ho’Demi (great, another crap fantasy series with useless apostrophes in the middle of people’s names). Ho’Demi Moore is waiting for Borneheld and his army to show up, and thinks about how he doesn’t like it down South and misses the “northern wastes” where he used to hunt “icebears” with his tribe. Because he’s a Ravensbund, hence the stupidly clichéd “tribal” name.
But boo hoo, the Skraelings who lived there banded together under Gorgrael and drove his people out. The refugees apparently stopped at Jervois Landing and had offered to help Borneheld fight, but Borneheld laughed them off and said he commanded a “real army”. Yeah, he’s an idiot. At the very least he might have considered using them as scouts or cannon fodder. I might sympathise with Borneheld for the shabby treatment he gets from the author, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a moron.
And we’re still infodumping! I’m halfway through the damn chapter and it’s been literally nothing but this jerk shoving exposition down my throat. This is exactly how the first book opened. How many chapters of this am I going to have to put up with before something actually happens? Ugh, I’ll try and skip over as much of it as I can get away with. Wouldn’t want you lot to get bored too.
Blah blah, infodumping about the Ravensbund. Ho’Demi is their Chief (what, just the one chief? I thought they were a bunch of different tribes, not an homogenous group). They’ve known about the Prophecy for “thousands of years” (there’s that ridiculously exaggerated timeline again), and nobody’s more loyal to the StarMan than them. So we can rest assurred that the moment Axis shows up they’ll all ditch Borneheld and go running straight to the Sue. For now, though, they’ll accept Borneheld’s command. Yeah, that’s not gonna end well at all.
Cut to Borneheld, who’s been travelling for two weeks since evacuating Gherkinfort. A lot of people have died on the journey thanks to the cold and “nibbling attacks” by the Skraelings. We’re seriously still using the word “nibbling” to refer to the supposedly scary monsters, author? This is as bad as Paolini’s constant use of the word “squished” in his "epic' fight scenes.
Something else happened on the journey: Ogden and Veremund, the obnoxious comic relief Sentinels, have disappeared.
THERE IS A GOD!
Borneheld and Co. kept expecting to be attacked properly, but weren’t, and don’t know this is because Axis wiped most of the enemy out. I’m trying not to think about that, thanks.
Meanwhile Borneheld is sulking because it’s not his fault Gherkinfort was lost – he was screwed over by a bunch of traitors, most notably Margarita, his senior commander who ran off to join Axis and took half his soldiers with him.
And Borneheld is absolutely correct. Margarita’s actions were absolutely betrayal and possibly treason as well. But instead we’re probably just supposed to see Borneheld as a sore loser.
Like me he’s hoping Axis got eaten alive by Skraelings, and he bitterly reflects that after the fiasco at Gherkinfort he now trusts no-one except Gautier and Timozel. He doesn’t trust Faraday any more either, because he’s quite rightly suspicious that she’s secretly In Love with Axis. Poor guy.
We’re now given even more reason to feel sorry for Borneheld, as losing his father’s lands has wounded him deeply. We learn that he grew up in a loveless home, deserted by his mother (correct) and ignored by his father, and when he became Duke aged 14 he was happy because now people finally gave him some goddamn respect. And now you know why he’s so devoted to his position – it’s literally all he has in his life. And now it’s been taken away from him. He’s so upset – and pissed – that he’s determined to become King, so people will love and respect him.
This is probably meant to look him look power-hungry, but instead it’s actually kind of heartbreaking. The poor guy is messed up because he never had a chance. And how exactly is it his fault he grew up unloved and abandoned by his own parents? Borneheld is the only character whose motivations are somewhat explored and which actually make sense. And he’s supposed to be the bad guy here! What the hell?
We then move on to more tedious infodumping about how Borneheld is prepared to accept the alliance of the Ravensbund, and how they need to make another alliance with something called the Corolean Empire, and if “that simpering fool of a King, Priam” hasn’t thought of it, Borneheld will see to it himself. You can tell Borneheld is Evil because he's proactive rather than a lazy ass who just gets everything handed to him for no effort.
Finally Borneheld bumps into Ho’Demi Moore, who he thinks of as a primitive barbarian. Ho’Demi makes a little speech about how he’s prepared to fight alongside Borneheld’s troops. Borneheld accepts, and then declares that together they’ll make a stand at Jervois Landing and this time he’s gonna win. Yeah, good luck with that, Borneheld. In the meantime, while you’re risking your neck fighting the enemy without any Sue powers, Axis will just be off with the Icarii, living in comfort and getting magic handed to him while ogling yet another attractive woman he should be staying away from.
But again, Axis is totally the hero here. You’ll just have to take the author’s word for it.
Sure enough the next chapter goes to my least favourite character in the entire trilogy. Axis is hanging out at Talon Spike enjoying the view of the mountains. Literally no sense of urgency whatsoever.
Axis thinks about how the “wonders of his new-found powers”, whatever they are, can’t make him forget about poor old Faraday. Boo hoo. He then moves on to thinking about his new family. Apparently his relationship with his dad isn’t easy because StarDrifter is “a forceful man with powerful expectations” and makes him work hard all day. He’s pissed at him but still wants attention from him, and they had a big argument this morning which was broken up by StarDrifter’s mother MorningStar.
Do we actually get to see any of this? Of course not. We don’t get to see Axis’ growing relationship with his father, or how he comes to terms with his new surroundings, or any of that. Instead it’s all just dictated at us. Looks like Ms Douglass still hasn’t learned her lesson on that front. This is the sort of thing I constantly lecture aspiring teen authors about. But she’s supposed to be the big award-winning professional? I’ve never been more insulted.
Thankfully Azhure shows up to interrupt the tedium, and she seems to have gotten herself some Author Favour between books because now she’s “graceful” and “confident”, apropos of absolutely nothing. We now learn that Axis has super Enchanter vision, much like Eragon’s elf vision. How did he get it? No idea. Is it something you can learn, or does it just manifest all by itself? Again, no idea. It’s just there.
We’re now told that Azhure has become “a good friend” to Axis. I really wish the author would quit dictating people’s relationships rather than actually developing them, but it’s not gonna happen.
Azhure intuits that Axis and StarDrifter had a fight. He asks how she knows that, and she says it’s because StarDrifter came back to their “apartment” and immediately started bickering with Rivkah. The author then pulls something which should be punished with immediate dunking in a vat of snail slime – that is, she tells us that when Axis was reunited with Rivkah at last it was really sweet and emotional and blah blah blah and the reunion was “healing” for both of them, and how their relationship is warm and loving, etc. etc.
She then tells us that Rivkah and StarDrifter’s marriage is dysfunctional and looks close to falling apart. Feeeeel the raw emotion! I’m so sad and moved by this state of affairs!
Wait, no I’m not. Because you didn’t fucking show it to me, you damn hack! Is this really anyone’s idea of good, professional quality writing? For fuck’s sake! I know I’m ranting, but after 500 pages of this sort of bullshit and now even more of it in the sequel, I’m offically at the end of my tether.
Azhure observes that it must be hard for Rivkah to be married to a guy who looks young enough to be her son, and Axis angsts about how he does indeed have Icarii longevity (told you so), and will stay young and beautiful for five hundred years, and wah wah he’ll have to watch his grandchildren be buried. Unless they’re also Icarii Sues, and we all know they will be.
He whines to Azhure about how he’s not looking forward to sitting here one day trying to remember her face when she’s long dead, emotionlessly ending with “I do not like it. I find it… hard.” There’s absolutely no indication of his body language or tone of voice here, by the way, which in scenes like this one is kind of important.
Azhure holds his hand, and Axis adds that getting super duper powers has its perks. He sings a Magic Song and it starts to rain “Moonwildflowers”. Yeah, that’s seriously what they’re called. Moonwildflowers, pointless capital and all. What, couldn’t you at least have called them “moonflowers”?
I regret to inform you that we’ll be hearing more about these stupid flowers in the future, so if I were you I’d get used to the name.
Azhure is all “omg my favourite flower!” and Axis puts one in her hair and says she reminds him of a Moonwildflower, “hiding in darkness, desperate not to be found or touched”.
Um, Axis? You know you’re supposed to be in love with Faraday and promised to marry her, right? Why, then, do you not feel the least bit guilty about openly flirting with someone else? This guy is officially a sleaze (well okay, we kind of already knew that. Still).
Azhure wisely changes the subject, saying she’s been invited to join in with EvenSong’s combat training. Yet another infodump tell us that EvenSong is impressed by “Azhure’s extraordinary fighting ability”, as demonstrated in the last book when she somehow managed to kill a bunch of Skraelings armed with nothing but an arrow. Because fighting ability is something you just magically pull out of your arse whenever the situation calls for it.
EvenSong also apparently admires Azhure for “her cool head and bravery”. Wait, are we in EvenSong’s POV now? Because she’s not even in this scene.
Anyway, so Axis can tell Azhure’s doubtful about accepting special Icarii Martial Arts training because of the whole “being rejected for violence” thing in the last book. He tells her she did what she had to and should do what she wants with her life. Azhure admits she’d like to have a go at archery. She then gives a speech about how she’s tired of feeling “directionless” and has been living in “a deep dark well” she wants to emerge from. She adds that she’s glad she’s not an Enchanter destined for “heroic deeds” (oh you poor fool).
In a moment that’s supposed to make him look “modest” and “noble”, Axis says “I am no hero”, and Azhure thinks about how he has “moments of denial” and she can’t blame him for that because every day he “grieve[s] for those who had already died for him” and hates the idea that it’s going to happen again.
Because military commanders with supposedly distinguished careers behind them wouldn’t be already used to the idea of his troops dying in combat.
Oh, and he’s “haunted” because EvenSong blames him for the death of FreeFall, aka Mr Utterly Irrelevant Character We Barely Knew. EvenSong is also pissed because Axis is getting all this attention and also got all the magic in the family. I know, dear. Having a Sue for a brother must really suck. You have my sympathies.
But Azhure is Totally Awesome because she’s there to be friends with EvenSong, and without her “StarDrifter’s entire household might well have self-destructed”.
The Sueness just keeps on coming, as Axis thinks about how insightful Azhure supposedly is, more so than people trained as scholars or diplomats, and wonders where she got it from, immediately concluding that it can’t have been her father Hagen who was, like, an idiot, or from her mother – who he’s never fucking met – because “Nors women… thought mainly of the pleasures of the flesh and very little else”.
You racist asshole.
And we see here the particularly ugly Bad Fantasy cliché of “awesome parents = awesome offspring, stupid lame parents = stupid lame offspring”. Yeah, that doesn’t smack of eugenics or anything. But as it is I think we can safely conclude that Azhure has a “no, I am your father!” revelation in her future. And what a joy that will be.
She rather tactlessly asks Axis if he worries about Faraday, then says how Faraday “combines great beauty with great compassion and selflessness”. This despite not having so much as spoken to the woman. Axis asks how she saw Faraday, and Azhure explains about the business with the Earth Tree. Axis says he thinks the two of them would like each other.
Apropos of nothing, Azhure declares that if she was married to Borneheld “he would not have survived the wedding night”. Why, would you have murdered him for wanting to sleep with his own wife who he’s been conned into believing is in love with him? You little asshole.
She asks why Faraday didn’t come to Talon Spike too, and Axis says it’s because she wants to honour her marriage vows. Because marrying under false pretenses and then making out with another guy is definitely honouring one’s marriage vows. Axis spouts some bullshit about how he “live[s] for her”. Yeah, we’ll see how much you actually mean that, you cheating prick.
Just then StarDrifter shows up. Predictably he hits on Azhure, and thinks about how she should wear some nice dresses instead of pants.
I hate that. I hate how some men think they have the right to tell women how to dress, because they’re apparently under the impression that it’s a woman’s job to look pretty for them. Fuck you, StarDrifter.
StarDrifter wishes he was as cool and sexy as this logo.
We now move on to more Axis ass-kissing, as Axis thinks about how he hates being a student but that’s because he learns “so well, so quickly” that he wants to learn faster than StarDrifter is willing to teach, and StarDrifter is Totally Jealous of him because he’s becoming more and more powerful and will soon be more powerful than himself, and he’s always liked being “the most powerful Icarii Enchanter alive”.
This bit really just comes off as pointless and just there to make Axis sound impressive, which doesn’t work because we haven’t seen StarDrifter use any magic other than that one small spell he used in the last book, and we have absolutely no indication of what Axis’ new powers actually are other than some vague references to enhanced eyesight. So it’s entirely meaningless.
StarDrifter invites Azhure to join them for the afternoon’s training, but Azhure says no thanks because she’s promised to go with EvenSong. She leaves, and StarDrifter says “imagine the Enchanters she would bear”. Because that’s what women are for – our awesomeness is always defined by having kids who are awesome. You misogynistic asshole. He then tells Axis that before the “Wars of the Axe” a lot of Icarii dudes chose to breed with human women. Um, why didn’t any of the female Icarii Enchanters sleep with humans? Do they not count? StarDrifter adds that human blood is said to add “vitality” to the Icarii race and Axis is proof of that.
Axis is pissed, quite rightly suspecting that StarDrifter is planning to have it off with Azhure, and StarDrifter claims to love Rivkah and that he proved it by marrying her, because in the past the Icarii “birdmen” just grabbed the babies and flew off with them without so much as a thought for the mothers. Axis is “appalled” by this evidence of “Icarii insensitivity”, and finally understands why people hated them enough to boot them out of the country. You mean the eeeevil Seneschal might actually have had a point? Heaven forfend! And of course, Axis knows aaaall about treating other people and particularly women with “sensitivity”, sweetheart that he is.
The chapter ends with Axis reflecting that the Icarii have “a lot to learn about compassion”. And you would of course be the perfect guy to help them with that, right? Because you’re so very kind and loving and concerned with other people’s feelings yourself. You’re totally not just as much of a selfish misogynistic bastard as StarDrifter. If you ask me, those two jerks deserve each other. God I forgot how awful the misogyny is in this trilogy. Anyone who thinks this is a “feminist” series can kiss the darkest part of my lily-white ass.