We open this chapter with him explaining how once you’re in enough trouble you stop worrying about getting in more trouble. This is as true as it is irrelevant.
There’s a Junji Ito manga Lovesick Dead, where the main character lives in a town where people play something called intersection fortune telling – you ask a stranger a question, like if you should ask out your crush, and they tell you. This being an Ito manga, it naturally gets insane from there. One woman ends up getting the advice to distract herself from her problems by throwing herself into worse problems so the original one no longer seems to matter, but then she needs an even worse problem to make the new one seem tolerable…
For a less disastery version, I’m watching Buffy with my little brother at the moment, and you can often see the exact moment she stops giving a shit about whatever her original problem was because monsters have attacked and nothing can get worse from here.
That is not the kind of thing we see here at all. Their current problems are that Lena’s family line is cursed, something he’s known for a while now, and that the curse will take place on her birthday, ditto, unless it doesn’t, again ditto. There are many ways getting in more trouble could screw them over, starting at the obvious and simple fact that either of their families will probably take the book away if they know. They could also send Emothan away (this is presumably the only safe place for Lena) or Lena could screw up with the book or Emothan might, even, since he obviously doesn’t follow any of the other rules of how magic works so why not?
It started with forging a note with one of Amma’s #2 pencils, then cutting school to read a stolen book we weren’t supposed to have in the first place, and ended with a pack of lies about an extra-credit “project” we were working on together.
And that’s why this is idiotic. Also, if the author wanted a setting where this kind of thing wouldn’t immediately be the talk of the town, maybe she could have cut out the dozens and dozens and dozens of times she insisted everyone instantly knows everyone else’s business because it’s a small town.
I could hold it in my hands— “Ouch!” It burned my hand, like I had touched a hot stove.
Just like everything else, there’s none of the important detail here – is his skin hot like an actual stove? Is he actually getting burned, and could it be dangerous if he touched it too long?
Or is it just kind of painful but there’s nothing more to it?
She looked over at me, rubbing my hands on my jeans. They still hurt.
But not in a way that maps at all onto a hot stove. You shake a burn or put it in your mouth. Rubbing is for when there’s something hot stuck to you.
Anyway, she reminds him that it’s caster-only, because when not being oppressed by the evil mundanes who judge their special gifts, casters are using those gifts to put anti-mundane pain wards on all their stuff. It’s just like how black people got a special section to sit in on the bus!
She starts to play her viola because she says if she doesn’t Pretty Suit will realize something weird’s up.
The sheer white curtains hanging at her window began to stir, and I heard the song—
Sixteen moons, sixteen years,
The Claiming Moon, the hour nears,
In these pages Darkness clears,
Powers Bind what fire sears…
Are we seriously doing this?
Look, the originals were super vague and kind of creepy, but this is getting way too close to just telling the plot in advance now. It doesn’t help that Lena herself now gives negative fucks about creepy music happening:
Lena slid herself out of the chair and carefully placed her viola back where she had been sitting. She wasn’t playing it anymore, but the music was still pouring out of it. She leaned the bow against the chair, and sat down next to me on the floor.
“Uncle M doesn’t seem to know the difference.
Okay but about the fact it’s the weird special music that’s apparently talking about you two-
And look—” She pointed over to the door, where I could see a shadow, and hear a rhythmic thump. Boo’s tail. “He likes it, and I like to have him in front of my door. Think of it as a sort of an anti-adult alarm system.” She had a point.
Oh fuck it all fine you all deserve what you get.
They’ve reading through the book with the aid of a Latin dictionary. Apparently the book also contains English, Gaelic and stuff he doesn’t recognize, but only one of all of them uses a non-Roman alphabet, and their best guess for that one is it’s some private caster-only script, because just because they have the priceless artifacts of lots of non-European places doesn’t mean they ever knew the languages.
I pulled the sleeve of my sweatshirt down over my palm and used the material to handle the Book, as if I was using one of Amma’s oven mitts.
So not only does it have anti-mortal wards but it has unspeakably crappy ones.
“In my family, before your Claiming you aren’t really allowed to know anything.” She pretended to pore over the pages. “In case you go Dark, I guess.”
You know, I really wish there was some acknowledgement that their handling of this is just so terrible.
Dark casters are apparently just monsters that prey on mortals for fun. Ethically, they’re murderous sociopaths who should be executed by the only people capable of stopping them, other casters. Educating them until they turn sixteen and go evil shouldn’t be a big deal – you should always assemble a strike force for each birthday regardless.
Conversely, dark casters appear to be basically the same person as before. By ensuring they’re magically behind at the same time you kick them out, you’re just guaranteeing that they’ll need to join up with older dark casters for survival, older casters who are probably going to be pushing them down the evil path faster. Even assuming the first option of them just being monsters, what’s worse, a bunch of individual monsters or one experienced monster collecting all the younger ones, making them swear loyalty, and sending them out according to a unified plan? You’re creating dark caster society and ensuring they’ll work together.
Back to the magic book, also there’s pictures he can’t make sense of. Okay.
Lena’s birthday was getting closer, and her powers were already growing. What if she was right, and she grew into something unrecognizable, something so Dark she wouldn’t even know or care about me?
Is that how it works? Because as the paragraphs above make clear, it still hasn’t been explained.
“… UNTIL THE DARKENING BRINGES THE TYME OF CLAYMING, AT THE SIXTEENTHE MOONE, WHEN THE PERSON OF POWERE HAS THE FREEDOME OF WILLE & AGENCIE TO CASTE THE ETERNAL CHOICE, IN THE END OF DAYE, OR THE LASTE MOMENT OF THE LAST OURE, UNDER THE CLAYMING MOONE…”
But seriously there’s more than one moon a year book you know this. Also, there’s more to Olde Timeye than stickinge ese one everythinge.
And hey, so you do get a choice?
She turned the page. “It’s English. These pages are written in English. Someone started to translate it, here in the back. See how the ink is a different color?”
So the entire book was written at once. Well, there goes the assumption the different languages are because the spells were being added when different languages were the primary one.
“THE CLAYMING, ONCE BOUND, CANNOT BE UNBOUND. THE CHOICE, ONCE CAST, CANNOT BE RECAST. A PERSON OF POWERE FALLES INTO THE GREAT DARKENING OR THE GREAT LIGHT, FOR ALL TYME. IF TYME PASSES & THE LASTE OURE OF THE SIXTEENTHE MOONE FLEES UNBOUND, THE ORDER OF THINGS IS UNDONE. THIS MUST NOT BE. THE BOOKE WILLE BINDE THAT WHICHE IS UNBOUND, FOR ALL TYME.”
And then Lena explains why this seems to be talking about choice.
“For most Casters, it’s a conscious thing, just like it says here.
So for all casters, it’s a shitty deal is what you’re saying, you get locked into being mindfucked good or evil based on what you say at age sixteen.
It does suggest why murdering dark casters isn’t an option – holding a gun to the kid’s head and telling them that seriously, pick the side that doesn’t nom on baby souls might interact badly with the will and agency rider, and evidently really bad shit happens if they don’t pick, but I’m not sure that’s it – I mean, knowing your family will disown you for your choice seems like it’s already messing with that, so I’d read it as saying you have freedom and agency in being able to declare what you want, not in getting that choice without the consequences breathing down your neck.
The Person of Power, the Caster, Casts the Eternal Choice. They choose if they want to Claim themselves Light or Dark. That’s what the free will and agency is all about, like Mortals choose to be good or bad, except Casters make the Choice for all time. They choose the life they want to lead, the way they will interact with the magical universe, and one another. It’s a covenant they make with the natural world, the Order of Things. I know that sounds crazy.”
“When you’re sixteen? How are you supposed to know who you are and who you want to be for the rest of your life by then?”
“Yeah, well, those are the lucky ones. I don’t even get a choice.”
No, actually your way sounds better, especially with how Ridley seemed to think you could tell from pre-sixteen behavior. What a sixteen year old thinks they are at sixteen, or thinks they should be, probably isn’t a good measurement of who they really are for all time.
The only advantage the deliberate decision method has for it is that it appears dark is objectively wrong and there’s no downsides to light whatsoever, and you can presumably just raise kids to pick light (or threaten them at the last second) and not have any dark casters around at all.
“So what will happen to you?”
“Reece says you just change. It happens in a second, like a heartbeat. You feel this energy, this power moving through your body, almost like you’re coming to life for the first time.”
Okay but on a more practical level, what does that actually mean? Do humans have light and dark impulses, and going lightside means the dark stuff just drains out of you, and vise versa? That seems pretty workable – you’d keep acting very similar for a while on the basis of inertia, but the positive/negative impulses behind those behaviors would be gone and you’d just slowly stop. But there’s nothing at all to back it up with what you’re saying.
“Reece described it as an overwhelming warmth. She said it felt like the sun was shining on her, and no one else.
Why must everything be exclusionary?
I was enjoying a nice lie in the sun recently. Different parts of me would get hot before others, and I could feel the temperature rise slowly. I was the only one experiencing that, since everyone else was standing and moving, and yet it wasn’t important to me that this was a me-only experience, because who cares? If someone else had been lying down too, their getting sun doesn’t diminish me getting sun.
Feeling the sun shining on you is nice. Feeling it at midnight is also really unusual. Why do you need to also feel that no one else gets this?
The sun crept across the braided rug on Lena’s floor, the orange light turning all the colors of the braid into a hundred different kinds of gold. For a moment, Lena’s face, her eyes, her hair, everything the light touched turned to gold. She was beautiful, a hundred years and a hundred miles away, and just like the faces in the Book, somehow not quite human.
Symbolism! Of some sort.
Also, I don’t think we even know if casters and mortals can interbreed, so who says she’s human in the first place?
Lena discusses aloud how their parent-surrogates’ behavior makes no sense.
If all this stuff is going to happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, why not tell us everything?”
Well, my original guess was because it’d make you go dark, but with the way the book’s been going, I’m thinking no explanation at all, even with the book pointing out there needs to be one.
But anyway, all this was much too much actual plot and effort, so now we move on to the next day at school where there’s a dance.
“Did you ask anyone to go to the dance?” Lena wasn’t familiar with Link’s not-so- secret strategy of going to all the dances stag so he could flirt with Coach Cross, the girls’ track coach. Link had been in love with Maggie Cross, who had graduated five years ago and came back after college to become Coach Cross, since we were in fifth grade.
Aw, that’s cute. And how often do you see guys crushing on older women? Admittedly, when you do it’s this sort of throwaway stuff that’ll never go anywhere, but at least it’s something.
Also is the book seriously saying they specifically have girl’s track coach? Even assuming they’re just not mentioning that her primary job is to teach some other class, they’re fielding a whole girl’s track team in addition to the cheerleaders? And what’s the status of these girls in the social ranking? Before it was cheerleader or not, but now we’re seeing girls have other kinds of sports to excel in.
Lena’s just sad because she wasn’t asked to the dance which will be her first dance ever.
Link shot me a look. He had warned me this would happen. “Every girl wants to be asked to the dance, man. I have no idea why, but even I know that much.” Who knew Link might actually be right, considering his Coach Cross Master Plan had never panned out?
Who says it isn’t? He’s jailbait at the moment, but she doesn’t seem to have stopped chaperoning every single dance or done anything at all to discourage him. Maybe she’s just waiting for him to not be an underage student because she has a grasp of morality or at least legal consequences.
“So what’s with the whole Snow Queen thing? Don’t you just have a Homecoming Queen like everywhere else?”
“No. This is the winter formal, so it’s an Ice Queen, but Savannah’s cousin, Suzanne, won every year until she graduated and Savannah won last year, so everyone just calls it the Snow Queen.”
Considering Ice Queen is a pejorative, I really don’t think people would have picked that first and only switched to Snow queen because it’s the girl’s surname.
Also please Lena don’t magic your way to victory.
Wait, what am I saying? Do it and then maybe we’ll get some delicious consequences. Absolutely do it.
It was pretty obvious Lena wanted to be asked. Another mysterious thing about girls—they want to be asked to stuff even if they don’t want to go.
It’s not really mysterious. If you ask them go to to a place, it means you want to be around them. That’s the part they want to know.
But I had a feeling that wasn’t the case with Lena.
Oh thank god Lena’s not one of those icky other girls and their mysterious feelings. No, she’s the good one who does stuff for the right reasons, those reasons being It was almost like she had a list of all the things she imagined a regular girl was supposed to do in high school because that absolutely never would occur to another girl who hadn’t been to a dance before and has her first boyfriend.
He thinks about how everyone hates them but he doesn’t care and he idly wonders if he’s under a spell.
I don’t do that.
I didn’t say you did.
You just did.
I didn’t say you had Cast a spell. I just said, maybe I was under one.
You think I’m Ridley?
I wonder if this is actually defensive guilt? I doubt it’ll turn out she actually did something, but she might be worried she did.
Then we get yet another bit about how he really likes her but does she really like him and is she really his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Lena’s eating a blood orange she got from god knows where. This is middle of nowheresville and they have fancy oranges? They once again work up to admitting they’re in love with each other, as they’ve done at least two times before so who fucking cares why did no one edit this book.