[Warning: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers everywhere]
Do you know what irony is? Irony is a man wondering if he can find a new life, and then getting killed ten minutes later – due to past sins, no less.
I don’t know if Jeffrey Overstreet intended such a morose irony, though he did write it. That was the ending he dealt out to Ryllion, the repentant villain of The Ale Boy’s Feast. Cesylle – Ryllion’s partner in villainy and ex-villainy – received a similar fate. He said there was no way out of the hole he’d dug, and the book appeared to agree with him, squashing him like a bug five pages later.
Again, I don’t know what Overstreet intended. I could only speculate, and I really don’t care to. My point is how the story came off to me as I read it. Many readers, I am certain, did not mind Ryllion and Cesylle’s fates, and some surely saw meaning in it. But I was left puzzled by their brutal deaths and the apparent purposelessness of it.
The killings accomplished little in the overall plot. The only major ramification I can think of is that Emeriene, upon being widowed, headed off into the wilderness after another man. And she may have been planning to do that anyway. The story drew nothing great from those sacrifices, and neither did the characters. Cesyr and Channy were not at all comforted to see their father become a hero at last – and in truth.
Ryllion’s death had a near-miss with significance. When he joined Auralia and the others in the dungeon, I thought, “This is good; I can get behind this.” When it turned out he was really Pretor Xa, I thought, “I can still get behind this.” I assumed the story was headed to an epic showdown beyond the Forbidding Wall, but the Seer did … nothing. And the heroes – the same. Villain: 0. Heroes: 0. They kicked off and then canceled the game.
But beyond all this, I wished the whole book that Ryllion and Cesylle could have found the renewed lives they were looking for. After watching them run after grace, I wanted to see them walk in it. Some might say the way it actually ended is more realistic, and chances are they’re right. But if I wanted realism, I wouldn’t be reading a novel about killer sticks and water that raises the dead.
I realize that much of this is subjective; I am a sucker for happy endings, and a self-confessed softie. So let me cast the vote for once-villains not dying in sad fulfillment of their doubts and fears. I never expected Cesylle and Ryllion to get a group hug, but I thought they could have gotten a second chance.