Hiero's Journey, Chapter Eight:
(For the previous entry in this series, look here.)
Rafting around the site of the ruined, drowned city, Hiero and co. eventually find an island formed by the collapse of a skyscraper, where they rest briefly and Luchare has a crying fit. Hiero decides to quiet the princess down with a long snog, and tells Luchare he loves her, though this probably is a bad thing because “I have been set a task so important that the last sane human civilization may fall if I should fail to carry it out” (178). Modesty is apparently not one of Per Desteen's virtues.
Continuing through the city, the rafting trio comes upon a kind of grotto formed by several tall ruins and ruined walls, in which, below the water's surface, they see what appears to be the projecting spire of a sunken building but actually turns out to be a “giant fin.” Lanier builds up to this pretty well; he may be poor at other things but he knows how to build tension.
Evading the giant mutant fish monster, or whatever it was, Hiero et al. discover a sort of shangri-la – a small, sunlit island at the edge of the city, where one of the inundated city squares opens onto the larger lake. Here, amidst wild birds and tranquillity, the author indulges in a bit of mildly misogynistic romantic fantasy. While Hiero spends his time on the island making weapons, Luchare “arrange[s] her hair” and tosses flower petals at the warrior-priest, a symbolic gesture about which even Papa Freud would say “Nope, sorry, too obvious for me.” Eventually, after a languid conversation in which Hiero belittles Luchare's “barbarous” home kingdom and demonstrates his brilliance by guessing that the princess was escaping from an arranged marriage, the two humans surrender to one another's dubious charms, and Gorm grants them some much-needed...triracial isolation.*
In Lanier's defense, one might say he was characterizing Luchare as immature and a bit spoiled (which she necessarily was, given her background), and perhaps some women find insults and demonstrations of mental prowess appealing. I think they generally don't exist outside of geeky fantasies, but what do I know? I am reminded of a scene in the movie Owning Mahowny:
Frank: Hey, Dan, let me ask you something. Why do you always dress like a douchebag?
Dan: Some girls go for that, Frank.
Since this is an action novel and not a romance, Lanier mercifully spares the readers his version of post-coital conversation, moving quickly to the next fight scene. A band of humanoid frog-mutants, apparently mistaking the adventurers for very large flies, paddles up to the island in small boats and attacks Hiero and co. However, the frog-mutants have a weakness: their flesh is mildly phosporescent, which makes it easy for the good guys to see them in the dark. They prove no match for Klootz, who charges into the Evil Frog People like a big moosy tank; Hiero and Gorm and Luchare easily mop up the survivors. (Lanier includes a nice detail here, of Klootz shaking blood from his antlers after the fight .) These were, in modern parlance, merely trash monsters, but the bosses aren't far behind.
Coming next: Campy villains and a deus ex machina or two.
* Only about five people would understand this double-entendre, but as Roseanne Barr once said, "Some jokes are just for me."