He’s in HoldHard Pass, no doubt searching for the lost Akaviri Serpent Amulet. They’ve been travelling this way for the last eleven days, and Belial has sent some guy ahead to scout. Belial credits Magarita “and the foresight of Borneheld, of all people” to the fact that they’re all still alive. Because we’re supposed to be surprised that Borneheld is good at his job which the author flat-out stated he was in the last book? Does being eeevil make it surprising that you’re a competent commander? Come on.
Wondering how Axis’ horse Belaguez is doing? Me neither, but the author tells us anyway. Apparently the stallion is just as temperamental as his owner and has already thrown Margarita off his back twice today. Belial thinks they should just let the damn thing loose before it kills the guy. Then… why not just give Margarita a different horse to ride? Didn’t he already have one in this last book? Why is this even here?
Either way we now learn that Margarita – proper title Lord Margarita, master of all mixed drinks – was Bornheld’s most senior commander for twelve years. After which he ditched the guy to follow Axis for some very poorly explained reason. Zero remorse. Belial informs us that Margarita’s disloyalty will get him killed if Borneheld catches him – absolutely no mention of the King, by the way – but he’s been a real godsend since they all ran off to hide out in the wilderness, since he knows the area really well. They’ve also been repeatedly saved by hidden caches of food, fuel and horse fodder… which were left by Borneheld in case they had to retreat from Gherkintown.
Yeah. Not Axis. Borneheld. Borneheld is the guy who thought ahead to ensure the safety of his men. Without him, they’d all be DEAD now. Does he get any credit for being a good general who takes care of his underlings and plans for their safety and good health? Of course not. Axis is supposed to be the great commander, while Borneheld is eeeevil.
Further infodummping ensues. Blah blah, the Icarii “farflight scouts” have been keeping tabs on them. Naturally when they visited the camp, they encountered absolutely no hostility or racism from any of the human soldiers. Who were, again, raised to think they’re EVIL. Instead they’re just “curious”. Because that’s totally how it works when people encounter members of a race they’ve believed were demon spawn their entire lives. There’s no tension, no doubts, no differences of opinion – nothing.
Blah blah, infodumping… Belial finally decides the guy he sent scouting isn’t coming back so now all their plans are ruined and they’ll have to turn back. Margarita makes a comment about how “only adversity” would have stopped the guy from returning… whereupon the guy instantly pops up right behind them and “comically” answers the comment. Har har, hardee har har. And this is only the second time the author has pulled this trick, too.
The guy reports that they made it to a place called Sigholt, where everyone’s enjoying “good dark ale” with “an old cook and a genial pig herder”. Oh no, it’s Jack Simple again. I was hoping we’d gotten rid of that prick for good.
The scout guy, Arne, says he saw the same guy outside the Silent Woman Woods in the last book, and he’s “involved” somehow. Yup, it’s Jack Simple. Fuck. I’m hoping this is the book where he dies, because fuck that guy.
Oh yeah, spoilers – he’s totally gonna eat it in this trilogy, and boy am I looking forward to it.
Apparently Jack has told Arne
Finally Belial says they’ll head over there ASAP, and Arne spits and says “If you had been an enemy, the first you would have known of my approach was the feel of my blade in your neck. Perhaps it is as well you only have a cook and a pig-herder to battle with at Sigholt.”
HAH! Epic burn. And he’s right. If Belial is the second in command of The Best Army Ever, which is so awesome it’s the stuff of legend or some bullshit like that, why the fuck is he so incompetent that he didn’t notice someone riding up right behind him until the guy said something? So much for the legendary AW.
Mercifully the author cuts to them arriving at Sigholt, where – groan – they meet up with Jack. Jack tells Belial the fort is his now, addressing him as “Belial TrueHeart” apropos of absolutely nothing. To his credit Belial is suspicious, but Jack just does the glowy eye thing like something out of an anime and says he’s a Sentinel. Naturally, after this no further questions are asked. Boy, it sure is lucky the Sentinels aren't secretly EVIL and secretly using the stupid prophecy for their own nefarious purposes. Otherwise these guys would be screwed.
Belial does however ask why the Skraelings haven’t attacked Sighold when they have destroyed nearby Isengard- I mean Hsingard. Jack says it’s a long story, so prepare yourselves for even more infodumping. Hooray!
For now we cut to Axis in the next chapter, and I’m going to be fair and say there isn’t quite as much POV-jumping in this book as there was in the last one. At least, not within scenes. Axis is watching the Strike Force show off their aerial gymnastics. He’s sitting with the Crest-Leaders, aka Icarii generals, and thinks about how the Strike Force is “more gorgeously decorative than practically potent”. Could that possibly have been worded any more clumsily? Either way, brace yourselves for the author’s attempt at proving Axis is an amazing military genius.
Typically, Axis starts putting the Icarii army down, smarmily asking if they really think it’ll be remotely capable of harming Gorgrael “in its present state” (no, jackass, that’s why they’re asking you to help). He then demands to know what sort of experience and “battle honours” the Strike Force has. Well, since you’re asking, what sort of “battle honours” does the AW have, Axis? They’re supposedly the Awesomest Army Ever, but where’s your proof? Where are your credentials, you smug prick?
One of the generals (fuck calling them “Crest-Leaders”), a guy called SharpEye, is understandably insulted, but Axis just sneers back that he’s “Axis SunSoar” and he has the “experience of a successful BattleAxe” behind him.
Axis also pulls rank, all but bragging about how he’s a SunSoar so do what I say. He asks, again, what the Strike Force’s “successes” have been. He doesn’t get an answer.
Yup, the Strike Force is just that useless.
Axis then has a go at them about the little matter of the Yuletide slaughter, essentially telling them they’re a bunch of incompetents who couldn't beat a chicken in a game of Tic Tac Toe, and then gives them a lecture about what he would have done in their place. He then asks how the hell they were ever driven out of the country by the AW in the first place. FarSight mumbles that the AW were “too fierce”. Axis replies that he knows the AW and what they’re capable of (such as?) and there’s no way they could triumph over enemies who can fly, so why did they lose?
FarSight says it’s because they lacked “resolve” and don’t have “the instinct to attack and defend”. Then how the fuck are you lot even still alive? Does the author not realise that having the instinct to attack or defend oneself is also called the survival instinct, without which animals just lie down and let themselves become dinner? (And I bet we'll never see any evidence of this anyway). Why not just do the obvious thing and say the Icarii have become complacent after centuries of peace? At least then you wouldn't be insulting my intelligence.
Axis, keeping on with the arrogance, (I think he’s supposed to be coming off as “assertive’ but he’s really not), offers to tell them their “other major flaw”, which is that their pride makes them underestimate their enemies.
Wow, he seems to know an awful lot about the Icarii considering he’s barely even met them.
Also I’ve just been skipping over the Azhure praise in this conversation, but trust me, it’s there.
Axis just keeps on going, thinking that he’s gonna give them “just one more humiliation” before he “rebuild[s] their hopes”. What the hell for? Because if you want your new allies to resent the shit out of you, you’re doing a fantastic job of it.
His idea of rebuilding their hopes? Telling them to put him in charge and he’ll turn them “from birds of paradise into hawks”. He doesn’t say how he’s gonna do that, of course. He just says to put him in charge. Also, how does he know what a bird of paradise is?
And that’s it. He doesn’t even really make a speech. He just demands to be made Supreme Commander General of Everything. Of course the generals instantly roll over and let him have it. Am I supposed to be cheering for Axis at this point?
Now somebody asks him what his plan is, and Axis says he’ll need to watch the Strike Force train. He’s then asked how they’re gonna fight Gorgrael. His big plan? Uh… just do what the Prophecy says and join up with the Avar and the humans.
And I just have to ask what the point of forming a mililtary alliance with a people who don’t believe in fighting even is. What exactly are the Avar supposed to contribute? Are they gonna negotiate Gorgrael to death? I’d better get an answer to this, I swear.
Finally FarSight tells him about how they’ve been keeping in touch with Belial, and Axis is all “WTF why didn’t anyone tell me?!” and FarSight says he hasn’t been accessible. Um, so in all the time he’s been here Axis never bothered to ask? And apparently it’s impossible to just… send a message over to him? Way to make both of them look like blithering incompetents. And Axis’ only reaction to being exposed as a moron who can’t be bothered to keep tabs on his own soldiers is a to smile “a little guiltily”, like a kid who forgot his homework. I wouldn’t trust this guy to run a garage sale.
Cut to Azhure. (This oughta be good.) She’s on her way to archery practise, and we’re informed that she’s now at expert level already. After what, a week at best? Give me a break. And then… oh no. A creepy voice addresses her from behind, and my first thought was that it was StarDrifter on the prowl. But nope, it’s actually worse than that. It’s fucking Ogden and Veremund. And in spite of the author’s description of their “kindly” faces, I’m still getting “creep” vibes from the pair of them.
Who wants to bet they’ll soon start calling Azhure by patronising pet names like "darling" and "sweetie"? Azhure is surprised at first, but they remind her who they are and ask to be escorted to Axis. She says okay, end scene. Excuse me, but what was the point of this scene at all? Couldn’t we have just cut to Axis and then have them show up with Azhure to usher them in?
We cut back to him regardless, and apparently he’s just off his session with the generals and is feeling “physically and emotionally” exhausted. Why? What’s he being doing? I don’t know. It doesn’t say. As usual the author skips over whatever she couldn’t be bothered to put down on the page, even if it’s kind of important.
He rejoins StarDrifter and MorningStar and – oh, for fuck’s sake – apparently as of this afternoon they’ll have taught him everything they know. Really? It’s possible to master Icarii magic in – what? – a month? I’m not sure if this makes Axis look like an even bigger Sue or if it makes Icarii magic look pretty pathetic if it’s that fast and easy to learn. Or both. But right now I’m leaning toward option two.
MorningStar is about to teach Axis a song called the Song of Harmony, which makes people chill out. I’m betting he won’t be using it on himself at any point. But then as she’s just about to sing it… Axis starts singing it himself. Despite never having heard it before in his life. MorningStar and StarDrifter are all OMG Shocked!, because of course this is impossible. MorningStar’s face “harden[s]” and she thinks it’s “what she had feared”. Yes, MorningStar – your grandson is a Sue. And an asshole.
Just then Ogden and Veremund show up with Azhure. Axis is inexplicably pleased to see them and even thanks Azhure with a kiss for “lighten[ing] [his] day”. I’m still not clear on when he went from finding these guys annoying to being pals with them. In fact, he now says that once upon a time he would have pushed them off the mountain and they were “lucky to survive my temper, gentlemen!”
Wait, is this supposed to be charming? Because it’s really not. And I really wish he’d stop calling them “gentlemen”.
The Sentinels both seem interested in exchanging more trite pleasantries, but MorningStar, bless her, steps in and calls out the bullshit. Naturally, being an Icarii, she values ettiquette and politeness very highly. Which is why she starts “snarling” and shouting at Veremund. No I am not going to let that go.
She points out that it makes sense that Axis would be a great Enchanter given that he’s the StarMan, but it doesn’t make sense that he knows all these songs already, because that’s fucking impossible. Thankyou, MorningStar. Will you get a sensible explanation? Probably not. She tells Axis she thinks he’s already been trained when he was very small, and is simply being reminded of what he already knows. Axis is all “WTF that couldn’t have happened” and MorningStar says he must have been trained when he was so young he doesn’t remember, and now his past has been “unlocked” it’s all coming back.
Dude, that is not how early childhood memories work. At all.
But if his babyhood teacher wasn’t MorningStar or StarDrifter, who the hell was it? Because it has to have been a SunSoar. Therefore there must be another SunSoar enchanter in the neighbourhood, and StarDrifter says that must be who taught Gorgrael as well.
They ask Ogden and Veremund if they know anything about it, but they got nothin’ because they basically just know what the Prophecy says and that’s it. Wow these guys are amazingly useless.
MorningStar appeals to Axis, who as usual loses his temper (seriously, somebody get that guy some anger management counselling now). He says all he knows is that over the last few months all sorts of memories have been coming back to him.
Well, on the plus side at least this means we don’t have to spend the entire book on tedious training montages. Gods know we’re all sick to death of those after slogging through the Inheritance Cycle.
They all speculate that whoever this mystery Enchanter is, he must be powerful as shit since he knows both Good and Evil Music. Azhure hugs Axis around the waist and he thinks that she’s “a good friend”. Hoo boy. (Sadly, in crap fantasy a straight man and a straight woman are never allowed to be "just good friends". It's True Love followed by hot sex or get out).
StarDrifter claims that the mystery Enchanter couldn’t possibly be his kid because he’s “only borne two children”.
Um, jackass? Women bear children, not men. And you have THREE kids, two of whom you didn’t know about until last week. So don’t even think about playing Mr Innocent. Naturally, of course, no-one calls him out on it.
The chapter ends with StarDrifter musing about whose side the mystery Enchanter is on. Finally, a genuine puzzle that isn’t given away in the next paragraph and isn’t spoiled by the Prophecy. Will this actually affect the plot in any meaningful way? Not really, no. Sorry 'bout that.