Alister is distracting the chimera in a manner that just so happens to require Charlotte to take her clothes off. Probably we’ll see how Victorian her undergarments are at some point. For now, Alister is swearing poorly.
This is the most eternally damned thing I have ever done.
Trying to adapt swears from regular English, where they’re largely religious, to worlds with different religions or none at all can be tricky, but it’s not just that “eternally damned” doesn’t roll off the tongue very well. Translate that into regular Earth swears and look at it:
This is the most goddamned thing I have ever done.
Clearly, CJ Olsen is just continuing his tribute to Brandon Sandersen by imitating his inability to swear from Sandersen’s early career.
We’re still doing that thing where we pivot between viewpoints rapidly.
Charlotte tugged Alister’s long black coat tight over her sopping wet body.
You probably thought this meant I’d have to eat crow over my earlier assertion that the book would feel the need to describe Charlotte’s underwear. You naive fool.
Underneath she wore a drenched silk shift and long white stockings, clipped at her upper thighs.
How Victorian is her underwear? Middlingly. She isn’t wearing a corset and pantaloons, but she is wearing something noticeably distinct from a modern bra and panties. How see-through is that underwear right now? Well, the shift’s color isn’t described, but it is silk and the stockings are explicitly white. Maybe it’s like Hollywood white fabric that magically becomes a half-inch thick when exposed to water. The narrative seems to consider Charlotte pretty scantly clad, though:
Charlotte looked down at her near naked figure and turned to sneak back down the staircase.
“Hey you, halt right there! [sic]
Charlotte stopped. Panic-stricken, she bolted for the stairway dropping the bulky coat from her shoulders.
Once she’s discarded Alister’s coat for…some…reason? She even feels the need to cover her chest. If we want to be really charitable, maybe it’s a low-cut shift and she’s worried about cleavage. Really, though, I don’t see why we’d be charitable to the book on this issue at this point.
I realize I called a moratorium on this kind of thing in the very last post, but I also reserved the right to comment on it if, instead of merely restraining itself to commenting on Charlotte’s breasts significantly more than any other part of her body (including the parts she uses to actually do things), it got even worse about conspicuously sexualizing our female lead in a story that is not particularly about sex or decadence or whatever. This is worse. Having set that new standard, however, it’s hard to imagine the book going even lower without becoming outright pornographic.
“Ahem,” he cleared his throat again. “My Lady Harthum, what are you doing out so late and…” He looked at her shift and stockings meagerly hidden behind the coat. “Well… um yes. Why are you here so late at night?”
Charlotte gulped, what should I do? “Well you see constable I…”
A man walked up the staircase wearing a deep crimson high-necked coat that reached to his knees. His eyebrow lifted in surprise, then he smiled wickedly. “Going out for a midnight stroll Milady?”
If this guy’s someone I’m supposed to recognize, the narrative did not do a good enough job sticking this “deep crimson high-necked coat” of his in my memory. In fairness, it takes me like two chapters of continuous exposure just to fix a character’s name in my memory. Like, the little sarcastic epithets like “Daddy Sauron” are only partly because I’m trying to be funny. They’re mainly because I don’t want to flip back a few pages to look up the name of a character who hasn’t shown up for a bit.
The book then decides to shift to the chimera’s perspective.
Must find, must rip. No, must find, must keep, no eat, must keep. The creature scuttled across the ceiling of a corridor.
Smell manifesting as colors of smoke, the rainbow of scent filled each corridor’s hall. The hound’s head, planted on the back of the monstrous spider-like form, sniffed fiercely, following the scent of its prey.
I disapprove of the precedent this sets. I do not care and cannot be made to care what this chimera is thinking.
The narrative then shifts back to one of the protagonist’s perspectives where it goddamn belongs, Alister kills the chimera. The scene is a good start to a confrontation, it’s got a reversal, and it’s even got a thing going where Alister escaping the chimera is set after the point when Charlotte is found by constables, so it’s not like they’re out of the woods yet. The problem is, the threat that was the constant focus of these first seven chapters wasn’t the constables.
But yeah, Alister’s running down a corridor with a bunch of skylights, and he waits for the stalker to start walking on a skylight and then shoots the window out. The stalker plummets to what appears to be its death, and even if it later turns out to be alive, this defuses a lot of tension.
“I understand, Seed of Eternity, that the Lord Eternal fears for your safety,” the Crimson Guard said in a self-assured manner. Charlotte knew him. Gregor. He and his brother were high members of the Order.
So, literally all people in crimson coats are members of the Crimson Order? That may have been established at some point and I just forgot, so I’ll give a pass on that since I don’t know if it’s actually the book’s fault or not, but still: The Crimson Order is also not the main antagonist these first seven chapters have been building up. This Gregor guy didn’t leap out of the shadows to devour a dead concubine.
The fight scene where Alister takes on the constables, Gregor, and a few pet golems that Gregor conscripts mostly works. It does suffer from more of that problem the chimera had where too much tension is relieved before the fight is actually over. Alister takes on the constables hoping the golems will go catatonic without anyone to command them, but Gregor knows how to get the golems to listen to him even though they don’t know him. This would be significantly scarier if the narrative hadn’t been making frequent reference to a weapon called a “golem cleaver” practically every time Alister was mentioned, starting with his introduction (it works by vibrating golems to pieces on contact somehow). When the golem cleaver overheats with only one golem left to go, that’s the first time the bad guys get a reversal in their favor that actually feels like things are going their way. Alister guns down Gregor and takes his special golem-commanding whistle, and that’s not a bad way to end the fight. Alister even gets a free golem out of the deal, plus a golem-commanding whistle.
Charlotte’s got a fear of heights and is therefore terrified of flying. See, now that I see where that whole “fear of heights” thing was going, it’s not a bad direction. Its problem is that it was introduced in one of the very few ways that immediately made it a nonsense trait for Charlotte to have. Not only is she scared of heights now, but she’s probably going to be getting over it at some point, which would be great, except that the book for some reason established that Charlotte’s favorite library has absurdly tall bookshelves that require ladders to climb.
After getting Charlotte on board the discount Millennium Falcon, discount Han Solo blasts away from the discount stormtroopers firing on him. No, really, exactly that scene is in this book:
Firing up the engines, he jumped in surprise as bullets cracked the upper right corner of the window. Looking out, he saw the clerk’s cries had managed to call forth a number of constables. They lined up, firing at The Ephrait. Alister flipped a few switches then pulled on the collective. The engine sprang to life and the ship lifted from its position at the dock.
This kind of brief reference falls more under the umbrella of homage than rerun, so I’m not complaining (at least, not in this specific sentence), just pointing it out.
I keep trying to put a moratorium on this book’s prefixation with Charlotte’s chest, and I keep finding reasons why I really should continue to talk about it. Although in this case, only because that’s the context the book has when it introduces us to Alister’s rock-hard pecs.
Oh, my, she thought to herself as she stared at Alister’s muscular torso covered in scars. She had never seen a man with his shirt off. She noticed the newly sewn wound on his shoulder. On his collarbone, he had what looked to Charlotte like a small brand. She realized that she was staring and quickly averted her eyes.
These two are, clearly, meant to be falling for one another, which wouldn’t make me sigh with exasperation had Charlotte not been internally professing her love for some whole other guy almost as soon as she was introduced. Given that context, now is not a bad time for the narrative to notice that these are people that the audience probably wouldn’t mind seeing naked. So what I’m getting at is that if the narrative had handled Charlotte the way it handled Alister, I wouldn’t have complained, even though that’d mean describing her topless at one point.
Alister and Charlotte have a couple of conversations where Charlotte lays out the quest: Head to the pirate port of Prawle, hire a guide to take them to the Blight where the Founding War was fought and which is apparently still full of alchemy monsters, and there discover the titular immortal cure. She actually doesn’t divulge that last bit, just says she’s headed to the Blight. Regardless, the best thing you could say about the chemistry between Alister and Charlotte is that it is better than the chemistry between Jonathon and Charlotte. It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly gripping, either.
Charlotte and Alister arrive at Prawle, and bring their new pet golem with them. Alister has named it Geoffrey.
Did I just refer to a golem as a him? By naming the golem, Charlotte felt that Alister had given it an identity. Silly thing, naming a golem.
I am immediately reminded that alchemy runs on human souls and wonder if the golem does, in fact, retain some kind of consciousness from its former life. In which case Alister has straight-up murdered two of them just for being in his way. None of this occurs to Charlotte.
Charlotte finds a golem standing in an alley and tries out the whistle on it, but no good. Apparently the whistle only works on Crimson Order-brand golems? But that would have to mean that someone else is out there making golems, and the Crimson Order’s whole thing is making sure no one else can use alchemy. Are there rogue alchemists? Callan seems fresh out, but it is the capital of an evil empire.
Charlotte also hires their guide, Giovanni. He’s uninterested in helping them on account of it being a suicide mission and all – until he hears that their goal is to kill Harthum. For unstated reasons, this convinces him to join the party.
While Charlotte’s doing that, Alister is listening to an “Abaric” man ramble on half-drunk.
“By Honor, I chased the man down. Took a good three months to find him. But as Honor dictates, ‘a blood oath cannot be broken.’” The bald, bearded man who spoke sat with his back toward Charlotte and Giovanni. His accent, dark skin, and yellow scarf gave him away immediately as one of the Abaric.
“Your god’s name is Honor?” said another man with drunken eyes. “What kind of name is Honor?”
Larje folded his massive arms. “If you were one of the Abaric, I would have to duel you this instant. But seeing as you’re one of the Honorless, I will look past your stupidity.” He smiled slightly as the men at the table bought him another drink. “Honor is our god. Long ago he left our people side. Honor ordered us to seek him out by wandering the world. The man who finds Honor will be made a god among us.”
The men at the table looked at him in fascination.
A bunch of ship rust, Alister thought in derision. There’s no god named Honor. It’s just an excuse to look down on those different than them.
They hate us for our freedoms.
Those two pirates that were chasing Alister down back in chapter 4-ish wander in and Alister starts a bar fight to get away from them. He ends up getting sucked in – side note, why do bar fights always spiral outwards in stories? Aren’t most bar fights between two specific guys and pretty much stay that way? Why are Fantasyland bar fights so reliably prone to expanding to include everyone present that guys like Alister can start them and expect their pursuers to be sucked into them just by proximity? Anyway, Alister ends up getting sucked into the fight himself and calls on his golem to bail out Charlotte using his codeword “cannonball,” as he has unfortunately neglected to instruct it with any codewords to bail out Charlotte and also himself. The chapter ends with the golem coming crashing through the wall.