For your laughing pleasure, Esther Anne sent me this lovely screenshot:
First of all, @WHORadio is a prime example of why you need to carefully consider how your social media/web branding is going to look without spaces in it.
Second, the “some are saying” part is 100% true. It’s just that the “some” are Lani Sarem and Thomas Ian Nicholas. It’s a very exclusive group.
You can listen to interviews here if you have a high cringe tolerance.
So, when last we met, Lani Sarem was telling us about how in love her characters are, rather than showing us.
We also just saw Mac learn the truth about Zani’s magical lineage and finally got an answer to whether or not she’s immortal. She is not, which makes the fact that we’ve now spent like three chapters as some kind of leisurely stroll against the clock even more nonsensical. Upon having learned that his long-term not-yet-girlfriend is a witch, Mac says:
“Why do I feel like I am in some bad episode of Bewitched?” Are you both being serious right now?”
The mid-sentence quotation mark is present in the text, that’s not my finger slipping. This chapter has a higher-than-usual occurrence of typos.
Also, even a bad episode of Bewitched wouldn’t have had massive internal hemorrhaging. Imagine Darren inviting Larry over for dinner in the hopes of winning a promotion and Endora straight up fucking murders him.
He felt his whole world turning upside down––whether because these people were crazy, or beause what they were talking about was actually real, he wasn’t sure. Either way, he felt like he couldn’t win. He couldn’t be certain which option he preferred at the moment: did he hope everything they had said was true or did he hope they were crazy?
There’s that crazy again, implying delusion and separation from reality.
There’s a full page about the necklace that Zargon always wears and that is apparently a huge part of the story and has only been mentioned once before. I’m going to assume that since it’s barely on the page, the necklace is a super important piece of the story. Because that’s how this book works: needless detail about costumes and gifts lavished upon Lumbar, very little mention of things that turn out to be important.
Mac became fixated on Dela as she pulled at the pendant and ran it back and forth over the chain it hung on. He fixated on it because it was a nervous habit that I also had––and knew I had almost the exact same necklace, too., though mine was slightly smaller and the writing was less noticeable. He had never seen me without it and knew it was important and something to do with my family.
Ah, the random italics strike again. This is just a small slice of the description of the necklace, which takes up two long paragraphs. And Mac recognizes this nervous “habit” despite there only being one scene in which Lumps actually displays this behavior.
Charles explains that the reason no one can figure out Zoaster’s illusions is that they’re not illusions, they’re real magic. Mac asks what that has to do with her being sick now.
“When she did the Creation illusion, she built you into it. She was using you as a…how do I explain this? You were a conductor of sorts. Some magick needs to be grounded, basically, like electricity needs a grounding wire. She needed really strong energy to ground that magick and keep it stable. The magick she was doing was dark and old magick that…well…isn’t always very stable on it’s own. It’s referred to as chaos magick for obvious reasons. That’s why she wanted you to be on the board for the illusion.”
Record scratch. Hang on. There’s a lot to work on here.
No one had seen this illusion until opening night because it was so super secret. Laminate and Charles had only ever practiced it alone, with no one else in the theater. At one point, Mac was away on a camping trip when they were developing the illusion.
So, how did Ziggy “build” Mac into it if he wasn’t there all the other times she did it? Why was his absence only an issue during the actual performance and not during those rehearsals? If she’d been doing this super dangerous chaos majgikh all that time, if the excuse is that the majhgikal forces were ever so unpredictable and delicate, had it gone right every single time they’d rehearsed it? If that were the case, why would she have needed to make Mac’s presence a part of the spell?
Also, let’s talk about Mac’s involvement in this illusion. People cast bindings and hexes and curses all the time. I don’t pass judgment. Sometimes, people do magic for other people without permission. Do what you’re going to do. But this isn’t the same as casting a spell on someone. This is forcing someone to participate in your spell, as a conduit for magic or energy or whatever, without their knowledge. This isn’t using a toenail or a lock of hair. This is using an entire living person, body and soul or spirit or animus or whatever you want to call it, as an ingredient in magic that our protagonist acknowledges is super unstable and dangerous. Did she have a plan in place for what she would have done if things had gone wrong? What were the possible consequences to Mac? Did she have any misgivings about using him this way? Will any of this ever be explored?
“When did you walk off the board?” Charles asked.
“You mean during the show?
No, when you were doing the audience participation bit at that pirate-themed restaurant and your waiter forced you to “walk the plank” while everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to you. OBVIOUSLY DURING THE SHOW, YOU YUB NUB.
Never. Like I told you, after we got into our fight I was so upset that I knew I couldn’t run it, so I had Cam do it.”
Right now, he’s like, admitting to his boss that he walked off the job.
Charles and Sandwich grill Mac on when and where he was during the illusion.
He was feeling a little queasy about the fact that he hadn’t been there for me during such a critical moment––even though he’d had no idea I was relying on him in such a way.
You know what makes me a little queasy? The fact that right here is where blessed with the gift of hindsight, our narrator should examine her actions and note that it was wrong of her to have involved Mac without his permission. And then she should think about how bad it makes her feel to see him feeling bad over her actions. But that would only work in a book written by someone who isn’t envisioning their main character as a direct avatar of themself and who believes that any wrong choice their fictional self makes somehow reflects badly on who they are as a real-life person. Those types of authors tie themselves in knots trying to explain to readers that while it appears that the character has done something morally reprehensible, it’s okay because reasons. Nothing they ever do is actually wrong.
See also: Post-Obsidian Butterfly Anita Blake.
“So as long as you were in the theater, she could draw from you. It was when you walked out that the energy backfired through her, and that’s why she’s hurt,” Dela surmised from what Mac had just told her. He thought her comment held a tinge of blame––or at least it sounded to Mac like he was being blamed––but Dela wasn’t blaming him at all, just talking out loud.
This is another section where it’s clear that someone told Sarem, “You know, it seems kind of unfair that Dela is being so blamey here,” and she was like, “Ah, good catch. I’ll fix that,” and then the fix was just to throw in a line assuring the reader that what they’re reading right off the page isn’t actually what’s happening.
That doesn’t stop her from then reiterating the not-blame just a few lines later:
I was on my deathbed because of him.
Okay, like, at this point it feels like you’re really just on your inconvenience bed because there’s been absolutely no sense of urgency with regards to your condition. But either way, no, it’s not because of him. It’s because Zagina did her majghk without telling him. Dela even says that, but of course, we have to have our hero bereft that he thoughtlessly hurt the precious star of the book despite any of her reassurances:
“You didn’t know, so it’s not your fault. It’s not like she told you so you were aware. She’s a lot stronger than I knew, though. I don’t know how she made it through to finish the illusion, considering you left halfway through. It’s amazing that she could pull from you as long as you were in the theater.”
I know you’re suffering from crushing guilt because you think you killed your girlfriend but now is a great time to praise how strong and amazing she is. Just ignore the part where your spiritual autonomy was violated.
“Why would she do that without telling me?” Mac asked, sorrow in his voice and pain reflected across his face.
Because like mother, like daughter, Macswell:
“Well, I did it with Charles for years without him knowing, and she knew that. Of course, Charles was in the show, so he couldn’t have left. It’s really dangerous to use someone who is unaware without a surefire way of knowing they wont leave.” Dela was trying to reassure Mac it wasn’t really his fault, but it was only partially working.
It might just be really dangerous to use someone as a component in a spell without telling them in the first place. But this explanation allows us to finally lay the “who’s to blame?” question to rest for once and for all.
Spoiler alert: It’s Mac. Mac is to blame.
“Well, I wasn’t supposed to leave. I was just livid at the time. I let my emotions get the best of me. That’s something I don’t usually do. If only I could make it right.” Mac said the last words as he drifted off in thought. He felt more regret than he ever had about anything in his life.
Isn’t that a throbbing red flag right there? Remember what he was doing before he stormed off? Oh yeah. He was physically assaulting Lance up on the catwalk. Remember? Shaking her and hurting her on purpose? Gosh, he let his emotions get the best of him. That doesn’t usually happen. He regrets it so much and wishes he could make it right.
But back to the blame:
“[…]This isn’t exactly the best explanation, but, basically, because you caused the energy surge, you have to fix it as well.”
That’s Dela’s take on the situation. Mac is fully to blame and now he has to fix this mess. Our heroine glides right on past any responsibility for her own actions because it’s majjjekk and a different world and mortals can’t understand blah blah blah, totally absolved.
But Mac is willing to do anything to save Zunt, so he asks what he has to do:
“Normally I would sugarcoat this, but we don’t really have that kind of time. I’m just going to get down and dirty and to the point. Please try not to freak out. I have to forge a …um…well, it doesn’t matter what it really is. It’s going to look like a dagger––though it won’t actually be a dagger at all. It’s not worth explaining to you what it really is, other than it’s magick.
That’s the motto of the Lani Sarem School Of Storycraft.
At three o’clock sharp tonight, you’re going to have to plunge it into her heart on my altar outside.”
So, Mac does more thinking about how “insane” they must be and how everything he knows has been turned upside down or whatever. He tells Dela she sounds “crazy” and asks how stabbing Zappatos in the heart will help fix anything, but I’m over here like, “Couldn’t hurt to try, right?” while eagerly sharpening a kitchen knife like a cartoon chef.
“It’s extremely difficult to actually explain but, in a way, it will release the enegery that she’s battling with, plus––remember––it’s not a real dagger it’s a just going to look like one. It’s magick, with healing properties––think of it like an EpiPen. […]”
“Think of it working like this common object if that common object didn’t work exactly the way it works and instead you just kind of drove it through someone’s heart.”
Dela explains that once the energy inside of Limbo is released, she can then heal her and hopes that Mac listens and doesn’t think she’s “crazy.” Because like I said last time, this is the chapter of crazy.
Dela’s hands traced over the table out of nervousness, the tips of her fingers tracing the grooves of the tabletop in alternating slow and swift movements as the clock ticked by.
The seconds on the clock ticked by. The clock ticks but it doesn’t go anywhere while it’s doing that. And you have absolutely no chance in hell of suddenly ramping up the race-against-time drama now. Especially when Mac thinks:
Mac couldn’t believe everything that had happened in the past forty-eight hours […]
Remember when we couldn’t figure out how much time had passed? Well, here we go. Forty-eight hours. Lorde has been dying for forty-eight hours while they sit around drinking iced tea and sharing stories about the good old days. First of all, how long was that fucking story? And second, an author cannot reasonably expect us to believe that time is of the essence when we’re now on our third chapter of exposition sans heroine. No one has provided any kind of reason as to why they didn’t snap into action the moment they arrived. They just keep talking about how they don’t have much time and they have to act right away, after this quick story about their love lives and also would you like some fucking iced tea? We’ll get around to curing her at three in the morning two days later.
Mac is still grappling with the whole magic thing and he asks if Dela is sure this is the only way to save Zoloft.
“Dela’s not sure that at this point that even this will save her. Zade is pretty far gone already.” Charles’s voice resounded with pain and urgency.
Oh, now it’s urgent. After the How I Met Zade’s Mother tale of his past sexual conquests is over, now things are urgent.
“You don’t know how insane what you’re asking me to do sounds….”
WE GET IT! INSANE! CRAZY! NOT SANE! MENTAL! WEEEEE GEEEEET IIIIIIT. I think I said in the last recap that they say crazy and insane something like seven times but it feels like it’s a lot more. I realize now why that is: with the exception of it being used like once to describe Betty, it’s always being used in the exact same context. It’s always being used to express Mac’s doubt and that makes it stick out more.
“I do know how insane it sounds, Mac. […]”
Anyway, Mac says he’ll stab Lindt Zuffles in the heart and Dela goes off to forge her magical hammer or whatever the fuck it is she’s going to do.
There’s a long section where Charles studies Mac and realizes how much Mac loves Zerbert, and Mac cries because he can’t lose her and it’s all his fault. Charles is like, “you won’t lose her!” but he doesn’t say, “and it’s not your fault,” because if it isn’t Mac’s fault, it’s Zungbean’s fault and we cannot have that, dear reader. Oh ho ho, no, we cannot have that.
Mac asks Charles why he and Dela broke up and why he left Zunder’s life:
“In regards to Dela, well, the biggest reason is that I was a very stupid, ignorant man––and it’s a very long story.”
It’s not like you don’t have time. Just let your kid die a little more. What’s the harm?
He paused for another moment before he carefully chose his next set of words. “Also, I’d like you to understand that I never left them. Dela left me and took Zade away. Though, yes, it was because I did her wrong and deserved it––at least for the most part.” Pain and sorrow filled Charles’s voice and his eyes looked heavy and pierced with regret.
His eyes look pierced? Ouch.
So, Mac asks Charles to tell him the “short version” of the story. Which, you know, why not go the long route? Why not waste more time while insisting that the situation is urgent?
“Let’s just say you handled all of the information about Dela and Zade remarkably well compared to how I handled it when Dela told me. I lost it when she told me what she was. It was right after we had Zade. I thought maybe she had made me love her––which, by the way, even they can’t really do. Lust yes; love, no. Magick can help open your eyes and heart and even change circumstances to make it optimal, but it can’t force anyone to love you.”
Let’s just acknowledge here that Zade and Mac aren’t even dating exclusively and they’ve known each other for what, under a year? But Charles and Dela met during the seventies and their daughter is in her twenties. That means he and Dela were together for like twenty years before she told him the truth. And it was like, “By the way, I’ve been doing majjjikk on you without your permission for twenty years, surprise!” We really can’t blame Charles for not taking that all in stride.
“Because I wasn’t sure if I could believe her, I cheated on Dela to see if I could. When I was able to cheat, I realized that if she had put a spell on me she wouldn’t have ‘let’ me be able to do that
So, to test his theory, he had to go all the way through with it? Like Dela is going to cast a spell to prevent him from infidelity but it’s not going to stop him from engaging in the earliest stage of cheating? Like, she’s not going to remove the thought of doing it from his head? She’s going to do some spell that lets him flirt with chicks and seriously consider cheating? He had to actually cheat, like, go back to some woman’s place, make out, grope, get a blowy james, whatever they ended up doing, but he had to like, complete the act to make sure? Sounds like some desperate rationalizations going on there, Chuck.
I felt so guilty about what I had done that I started drinking heavily and even started doing drugs. Dela said she understood and forgave me, but I got to a real low point.
“To make matters worse, I also started talking about putting Zade in the show. I guess Dela saw that guy I used to be––the jerk that slept around and was power- and money-hungry. When she asked her cards, she saw that going back to my old life was one path I could take. There was another path where we would all be happy together, but she couldn’t see which of the two I would choose in the long run. So she chose her own path. She just up and left. I came home one day…to a letter.”
Because Sandwich Jones couldn’t see exactly what was going to happen in the future, she took her toys and went home? Okay.
“In the letter, she said she would come back when––and if––I had decided to take the right path, and when she saw it clearly. Her leaving made me so much worse, because when she left it made me depressed. It caused even more havoc on my thoughts; on top of everything else, I was embarassed. I never talked about my failure. I found out later, though, that she did put a spell on me to not talk about Zade––or to admit to a connection to either of them. That never made any sense to me, but I think it was because our break-up was just too hard on her. I broke her heart, so she thought it was best to push me out of her life altogheter. She just didn’t want to have to deal with our past at all. That’s the short version, anyway. Someday I’ll tell you the full one.”
There’s a longer version?
I want to go ahead and recap what we’ve learned in this chapter and how no one is responsible for it:
- Zandelion used Mac to do a dangerous spell without telling him but that’s not her fault because her mom did it, too.
- The spell went wrong but that’s not Lasik’s fault because Mac unpredictably left the theater.
- Mac left the theater, but that’s not his fault because he was really, really emotional.
- Charles cheated on Dela but that’s not his fault, he had to do it because he thought he was under a spell.
- Dela kidnapped their daughter, keeping Charles from seeing his own child until she was an adult, but that was the cards telling her to do that.
- Charles returned to his old ways, but that was Dela’s fault because she left him.
- Charles never went back to see his own child because Dela had put a spell on him to make him…not be able to tell people about her?
Yeah, back up. Charles could have contacted his daughter but he didn’t because of a spell that made him not talk about her? Also, let’s look at how really sinister that binding is: without the ability to speak to anyone about having a daughter or an ex-partner, he had no legal recourse to pursue custody. From the way the spell is described, it wouldn’t have prevented Charles from trying to contact Zeddar Leese and Deli on his own, but it definitely would have prevented him from ever getting help in trying to assert his parental rights. Basically, Dela kidnapped their kid and put a spell on him so she could never be caught.
Which leaves me at the end of this chapter wondering: why can he talk about it now? At what point was the spell lifted? When he was in the waiting room at the hospital? Why didn’t his memories show any sense of surprise that he could reveal this secret? And why is he still in love with Panini after she did something so truly heinous?
The answer is: like the author herself, no one in this book is responsible for their actions just so long as they really, really want what they did to be the right thing.