The Dark Tide Chapter 1 Part 1

With a final burst of speed, the young buccan Warrow raced through ankle-deep snow, his black hair flying out behind.

… okay, this is a decent way to open a book, but we still have some problems:

  1. It’s hard to “race” through ankle-deep know, because since it’s ANKLE-DEEP, you need to yank your feet out of it with each step. This is not helpful in running.
  2. Flying behind what? The snow?
  3. What’s a Warrow?

 
In one hand he carried a bow already nocked with an arrow,

I would LOVE to know how he does this, since nocking an arrow requires TWO hands. Maybe it’s a really, really tiny bow.

What’s a Warrow?

 
clots of snow flinging out behind his flying boots

I have never in my life heard of “clots” of snow. It may be a correct use of the word, but it sounds weird.

What’s a Warrow?

 
yet little or no sound did he make, for he was one of the Wee Folk.

… which tells us absolutely nothing. So he’s small. Why does that make him quiet? Aside from the fact that JRR Tolkien came up with the idea of hobbits being stealthy as tiny hairy-footed ninjas?

So this buccan Warrow – whatever the hell that means – gets to the log and draws the bow that was supposedly already nocked. Then he starts shooting one arrow after another. After another, after another, after another….

Oh, and since the author takes his sweet time explaining what a Warrow is, I’ll give you a quick summary: they are basically hobbits. He changes a few details to make them Sueier and less… well, explicitly hobbity. They don’t have big hairy feet (which, judging by “The Halfling House,” he thinks are disgusting), they have pointy ears, and they all have giant sparkly jewel-toned eyes that no other species does.

Ever see the Lord of the Rings movies? Well, all the Warrows – whom I shall call Wobbits – are Elijah Wood if you shot him only from the ankles up.

loosing the arrow with a humming twang of bowstring.

What’s the point of being a Tiny Ninja if your bow is so noisy?

 
“Whang! Right square in the center, Tuck!” cried Old Barlo as the last arrow thudded into the mark.

  1. Given how fast an arrow travels, it would be pretty hard to say it AS it happens.
  2. Also, this is the first instance of McKiernan using Batmanlike sound effects, as if we don’t know what various actions actually sound like.
  3. Also, an interesting fact is that in WoW there is a NPC called Old Man Barlo. I think McKiernan’s book predates it, but it’s interesting.
  4. As for Barlo… who he is? Well, imagine if you had Bilbo Baggins with the personality of a more boring Grunkle Stan. Yes, his whole personality is that he’s a crusty old tit.

“That’s four for five, and you would’er got the other, too, if you’d’er held a bit.”

Enter folksy rural accent! Wanna bet that a whole bunch of the faux-hobbity characters in this story will have them? And here’s the funny thing… they mutate regularly! (The accents, not the characters)

 
Old Barlo, a granther Warrow, stood up to his full three feet two inches of height and turned and cocked a baleful emerald-green eye upon the other young buccen gathered on the snowy slopes behind.

  1. What the hell is a granther?
  2. Why is he looking baleful? A minute ago he was praising Tuck, and how he’s glaring angrily at random other characters?
  3. On the snowy slopes behind… what?
  4. Why are we being presented with all these words that don’t mean ANYTHING to us?! These are the first pages of the first chapter, and I have no idea what’s going on! I don’t know who or what these people are, or what they’re supposed to be doing! EXPLAIN, BOOK!

Anyway, Old Bilbo… I mean, Barlo gives them some folksy wisdom about archery which really doesn’t tell you a whole lot, except that you shouldn’t waste arrows. Thanks for the piercing insights, Gramps. Are you also going to tell them not to set themselves on fire too?

Then he calls some kid called Tarpy (don’t worry, you’ll hate him soon) to try shooting as well. Apparently this is some kind of training exercise, but there’s nothing much about what they’re training for. For all I know, Hobbit-knockoffs love running aimlessly in the snow and shooting inanimate objects.

 
Tuckerby Underbank

… is he serious?

No really, is McKiernan FUCKING SERIOUS here?! He named his character “Underbank”? Which happens to be almost identical to Frodo’s fake surname “Underhill”? He’s naming the hobbit-ripoff protagonist of his story UNDERBANK. I think I just suffered another brain hemorrhage, because I cannot BELIEVE anybody would have the chutzpah-infused balls to do this.

 
slipped his chilled hands back into his mittens and quickly retrieved his five arrows from the tattered, black, Wolf silhouette on the haycock.

Uh, where were these mittens a minute ago? And why is “wolf” capitalized? Are they talking about one specific wolf, or somebody named “Wolf,” or what?

So Tuck sits down on a log and watches Tarpy running and shooting. Personally in his case I’d want to go home because apparently it’s fricking FREEZING outside, but for some reason nobody really seems to care that it’s cold.

 
As Tuck watched little Tarpy sprint toward the target to fly arrows at the string-circle mark

Uh, wait, I thought it was a silhouette, not a circle.

Then Tuck’s buddy Danner Bramblethorn  tells him that it’s not fair that Barlo only gave him four out of five for the shots he took. This is to establish Danner as a grumpy yet lovable sidekick, or something of the sort. But Tuck brushes it off by saying that he didn’t do his best and that Barlo is really a nice old fart. No, we never see evidence of him being nice deep down. He’s an asshole all the time.

 
“He’s not a stingy, he just expects us to get it right—every time.”

Let’s see… nope, according to the dictionary, “stingy” is only a noun when you’re talking about stinging nettles. No further comment.

 
Tuck and Danner fell silent and watched Old Barlo instruct Tarpy, and they carefully listened to every word.

Wouldn’t it be more important to hear what he has to say about your own performance, rather than somebody else’s?

And finally McKiernan gives us some exposition. Apparently all the hardy youth (what about the sickly ones?) of their town have to become expert archers because there are wolves around… even though wolves tend to AVOID humans, and would probably do just the same of any similar species. They’re not stupid; they know when something is dangerous. Also, what do the hardy youth do if they have bad eyesight? Good eyes are fairly important in archery.

We also find out what young buccen are, although I’m not sure how to pronounce it. Bucken? Bussen? Boosen? Booken? Anyway, among Wobbitkind, they are apparently adolescents of some kind – and since they’re basically Suefied hobbits their adolescent phase is basically twenty to thirty. Yeah. I hear the great professor spinning in his grave even as we speak that someone has ripped off his hobbits to this degree.

Oh, and the place they live in is called the Boskydells. Nothing like the Shire, I’m sure… despite that name. Which basically means “wooded areas” + valley. Nothing Shirey about that.

Anyway, we have the usual vague rumblings of Something-Bad-Coming-Up in the Land Of General Evil. Apparently there are wolves, weird Men (capitalized, since apparently Women aren’t around, let alone Persons Identifying As Other Genders), and Warrows are going missing. Oh yes, and there was a Comet Of Sinister Evil Evilness a few year ago that caused mass famine and death, but I’m sure that isn’t significant to the plot and will never be mentioned again.

 
And some folks said they’d heard an awful Evil was way up north in the Wastes of Gron.

  1. As opposed to that Evil over to the west in Knockoff-of-Rohan.
  2. Or the Evil crashing on Bubsy Thumpercorn’s couch.
  3. No, this is an AWFUL Evil in a specific location.
  4. … which is nothing at ALL like the rumors of nasty evil stuff going on in Mordor. Nothing at all.


See this? I’m sure there is NOTHING like this in this series!

But that was five years ago and past, and this winter and Wolves and strange happenings was now.

… because obviously current events aren’t at all connected to past events, and five years is SUCH a long time in the grand scheme of things. Damn, these Warrows are dumb.

And then suddenly the narrative switches over to the One-Eyed Crow… which I’m assuming from the odd name is some kind of tavern. That was kind of disorienting – one minute we’re with characters that we’re just being introduced to, and then suddenly we’re yanked to a DIFFERENT set of characters who don’t matter to the plot at all.

Why is this happening? Because Tolkien wrote in a similar scene early in HIS book, which introduced us to Sam and provided some foreshadowing and backstory. Here… it’s pure infodump. And none of the characters we see in this tavern are even supporting cast in this book.

 
not only was there talk of the trouble in Northdell, but also of the Big Men far north at Challerain Keep, mustering it seems for War.

I like to Randomly Capitalize any Words that seem Even Vaguely important. It Shows that This Book is old-Timey.

 
At the moment, holding forth to a most attentive Warrow audience was Will Longtoes, the Second-Deputy Constable of Eastdell,

… which I’m sure is absolutely nothing like a shiriff of the Shire.

He’s apparently the local expert on… something or other, because he’s talked to mayors and the Chief Constable of Centerdell. And no, I don’t know if that is some kind of Hobbit-Ripoff capital, because to my knowledge it will never be mentioned again in the whole series.

 
“Now I heard this from young Toby Holder who got it in Stonehill—them Holders have been trading with Stonehillers ever since the Bosky was founded, they came from up there in the Weiunwood in the first place, they say”

Holy infodumps, Batman! And it would be slightly more impressive if we knew what the hell the Stonehillers are, when the Bosky was founded and what the Weiunwood is (aside from unpronounceable). As it stands, we’re just getting pelted with names and places that mean nothing to us… and for the most part, never will.

This is a common problem with a lot of high fantasy series I’ve read. A lot of them seem to think that because Tolkien threw in a lot of names, places and historical events into his narrative, that meant that doing the same will make it feel epic. The problem is, Tolkien kept the layout of the actual PLOT pretty simple. Plus, it was a part of a HUGE mythical world he invented and wrote about for most of his life, so if you’ve read the preceding books you’ll probably know what most of this stuff means.

But for writers who HAVEN’T devoted decades and decades to world-building, it just means they’re cluttering up the place with names and words that won’t actually mean anything. And a lot of times, they don’t actually explain anything about those names and words. We’re just supposed to accept them as part of the “world-building,” and see it as more epic.

In conclusion, that is why the Riyria Chronicles work: they’re streamlined down to just the stuff we need to know.

anyway, the word has come to Stonehill to gather waggons, hundreds of waggons, and send ’em up to the Keep.”

Yes, technically “waggons” is a correct alternative spelling.

And to reinforce that the Warrows have the thinking powers of granite chunks, they’re all befuddled by this announcement. Let’s see – war may be breaking out in that area. As we later see, there is a CITY surrounding said Keep. Cities usually contain civilians. Therefore… and I’m just stretching here… they might be planning to send the civilians AWAY from the Keep before they get slaughtered.

In fact, Will even suggests as much.

 
“Move people south, I shouldn’t wonder, out of harm’s way,” answered Will.
What? Move ’em south? With wild Wolves running loose and all?

I’d facepalm, but I currently have food in my hand. Let’s see, what would you rather have: certain death or worse from your enemies, or a remote possibility of death by wolves, who would probably rather eat each other than attack an ENORMOUS ARMED CARAVAN?

 
“Toby said rumor has it that, up to the Keep, King Aurion is gathering his Men for War.”

Uh, McKiernan said that about one page ago! Yes, we get it, they’re going to war. Inappropriately Capitalized War.

 
“Toby said the word is that the Big Folks are going to send their Women and youngers and elders west to Wellen and south to Gunar and Valon, and even to Pellar.”

Which would be more dramatic if we ever found out much about any of these places in this trilogy… which we don’t. All we ever find out about any of them is that one of them has… a language.

 
As Will took a long pull from his mug of ale, many in his audience nodded at his words, for what he said seemed to fit in with what folks had heard before.

WHAT? So they already knew that the Keep was being evacuated and thus what the wagons were for, but they still asked ANYWAY? Have these people suffered some kind of brain damage that keeps them from actually remembering anything?

“But what about the Wolves, Will?” asked Teddy Cloverhay of Willowdell, who was up in Woody Hollow delivering a waggon load of grain.

I really don’t care about Teddy Cloverhay’s hometown or reason for being there. We’re never gonna see him again.

And this brings up another question: how come the only soldiers being trained are ADOLESCENTS? I mean, you can join the army when you’re eighteen but that doesn’t mean that ONLY eighteen-year-olds join up, especially during wartime. So what are all these idiots doing in a tavern? Aren’t there any non-adolescent fighters there?!

And since Teddy is an idiot, he keeps asking about whether the Inappropriately Capitalized Wolves will attack the traveling parties.

 
“Wolves there may be, Teddy,” answered Will, “but Toby says the Big Folks are preparing for War, and that means they’re going to be sending some kith away to safe havens, Wolves or not.”

I’m starting to think that Will is the only person in this chapter with a functioning brain.

 
“Anyways, I reckon that the Wolves won’t tackle a large group of travellers, the Wolf being what he is, preying on the weak and defenseless and all.”

Uhhhh… a predator? Like, y’know, many carnivorous animals? Seriously, this series demonizes wolves more than The Grey.

 
“Wull,” responded Teddy, “there ain’t many as is weaker than a younger, or some old gaffer, or even a Woman.”

Teddy, you are a huge dickweed. Thanks for classifying women with five-year-olds and doddering old geezers. I hope your wife poisons you.

 
“Seems to me as they wouldn’t send them kind of folks out west or south to fend against Wolves.”

You’re also an idiot. Let’s poll the population: If you could choose your preferred method of risking your life, would you rather

  1. Stick around in a warzone against a more powerful foe that is DEFINITELY going to kick your asses and eat you alive?
  2. Travel with hundreds of other people and risk the off chance that a wolf pack might get desperate enough to attack?

Of course, you’re so stupid that you would probably choose the first option, thus cleansing the gene pool of your presence.

 
Feeny Proudhand, the Budgens wheelwright,

OHNOYOUDIDN’T. Proudhand? As in, PROUDFOOT?



starts chewing on keyboard

So everybody in the tavern starts agreeing that oh no, nobody would ever send their families away from a war zone if there were any wolves around, even though wolves are terrified of humans and would have to be insanely desperate to try to eat any. It’s also revealed that the HobbitRipoffs are incredibly suspicious of anything from the Inappropriately Capitalized Foreign Parts, which means that they probably dismiss a lot of important crap.

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