Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 1: The Magician

The chapter opens as Zade emerges from the theater, into the casino to which the theater is attached. Why she was in the theater alone is never explained, or mentioned again.

What she finds just outside the theater seems highly unlikely:

The cast and crew of the show must have totaled close to two hundred people and they were an overwhelming bunch—especially when they were all standing in the foyer of the theater.  I quickly tried to assess this large group who had been waiting on me.

That’s right,  everyone who works on the show are there, waiting for her, some rando who wants to audition for their show. You know what? I’m going to start a “the world revolves around Zade” count. This is one.

And Zade’s assessment of the crowd is that there are many people wearing “show blacks,” which, she explains, at length, are what the techs wear, and are black. She thinks “show blacks” are hot.

Speaking of hot, Zade notices that many of the techs are hot. There’s one in particular she’s attracted to, and notice how much description he gets:

He wasn’t the most traditionally handsome one out of the bunch but there was just something really striking about him.

You can tell Lani doesn’t have anyone specific in mind to play him. If she did, I’m pretty sure we would know everything about him, from his shoe size to his birthmarks

We also learn that Zade once read an article about how much you can tell about someone by the way they walk, and he walks with confidence, but also seems guarded. She finds this odd because

(Most of the time, super-confident people are much more open and free.)

I’m pretty sure Lani thinks her audience is dumb. To be fair, anyone who paid for this very well may be. 

Zade surveys the room, and we learn that there are performers in full makeup just standing around. Maybe they weren’t specifically waiting for her. Maybe they were just hanging out.

No one seemed to have noticed that I had opened the door and was standing in front of them all.

Maybe they weren’t specifically waiting for her. Maybe they were just hanging out.

I cleared my throat and softly said, “Thank you for waiting. I’m ready.” I smiled nervously and pushed the door open even wider to welcome them back into their theater. The crowd hushed and seemed to part a little.

So they are waiting for her? If they were waiting for her, why didn’t they notice when she opened the door? Why does she speak softly when she’s trying to get their attention? She does say she’s nervous, which makes sense. So we learn that Zade is not the most confident person.

A tall man with dark hair walked toward the door. That man was the infamous magician to whom the theater basically belonged, Charles Spellman. Charles was older, but still a very handsome man. I would describe him in a similar way that one might describe Harrison Ford.

I love that she named him Charles Spellman. It makes me wonder if that’s his actual name, and not a panic-induced pseudonym in the spirit of  Vincent Adultman.

And I legit thought Charles Spellman was like 70 years old, because Zade compares him to Harrison Ford, who is 75. And I also thought that Charles was one of Zade’s love interests (spoiler: he’s not), which kind of skeeved me out a bit.  (But I think he’s actually meant to be about 40?)

Zade continues to describe Charles, saying he’s a classy mofo, with, like, cufflinks, and clothes that fit well.

He looked like someone who always has an air about him that says he’s the most important person in the room—and he usually is.

Lani, let’s try that again:

He looked like someone who always has an air about him that says he’s the most important person in the room, and he usually is.

Christ, this book needs an editor.

We learn that Charles is famous, and everyone knows who he is, and that he had his own theater built at the Wynn at the invitation of Steve Wynn, and tickets need to be bought months in advance.  We also learn that the theater is round, “so there won’t be a bad seat in the house”, which doesn’t seem possible, because as far as I know, magic performers usually face the audience, and if there are seats all around, most of the audience will only see his back.

Unless it’s like a Cirque du Soleil/David Copperfield crossover-type show, but we’re never really told too much about acts that don’t include Zade.

Standing next to Charles was a much-younger woman who could easily have passed for his daughter, had she not been so tightly coiled around his arm.

Of course we have a bitchy female antagonist.

I knew very little about my father—and even less about father/daughter relationships—but even I knew that daughters don’t stand like that next to their fathers. She was undeniably beautiful, but she also looked extremely stuck-up, and looked to be around my age.

She wears short skirts/ I wear sneakers/ She’s cheer captain/ and I’m on the bleachers, etc. But now there’s daddy issues.

Anyway, Zade spends a few more lines contemplating how mean this girl looks; she gives Zade a “death glare”. The girl seems seriously perturbed at this nobody’s presence, which seems excessive but OK.  I’m going to bump up my “the world revolves around Zade” count to two, because her mere existence sends another supermodel-hot girl into fits of jealousy.

Charles greets Zade, and Zade babbles about how much she loves his work. His girlfriend continues to act huffy, and Charles introduces her as Sofia, who is one of their lead performers. Zade greets her sweetly, but Sofia interjects

“And his girlfriend,” Sofia said coldly, and mean even, placing emphasis on the last word.

Has Lani Sarem ever met an actual human being? I don’t think this is how social interaction works, but I’m no expert.

Honestly, the fact that Sofia is sleeping with her boss and is so shaken up by Zade’s presence  makes me kind of  feel sorry for her. If a better writer wrote this, it would indicate that Charles is probably known for sleeping with shiny new performers, and Sofia doesn’t trust him at all, but is taking her anxiety out on her perceived competition. In this, Sofia’s just a jealous, possessive bitch.

After this little awkward meeting, everyone heads back into the theater, and Zade gets self-conscious. Then she realizes that they’re sizing her up, the way she’s sizing them up! Such introspection. Much self-reflection. Wow.

Zade sees the confident-but-guarded tech from earlier walking with Charles and Sofia. Now we actually do get a description of him, so maybe Lani does have someone in mind for his role.

Probably in his late 20s, he was also wearing show blacks, and frowning. His sandy-blondish brown hair framed his face perfectly, and his hazel eyes seemed to sparkle. He was slender and tall, definitely six feet if not an inch or so more, with just the right amount of muscle in his arms.

We learn that his name is Mac.

Next to Mac was another man; thin, with reddish hair, he looked to be close to the same age as Charles. He also looked unhappy to be there and gave me quite the stare when we did catch each other’s glance.

Oooooh, an antagonist? Another actually-magic person? Could it be her father? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Charles officially introduces Mac to Zade. It turns out his full name is Mac Kent, and he’s the technical director for the show. We learn that he started working for Charles 11 years ago when he was 18, which makes him 29,

Next, Charles introduces the thin man with reddish hair. He’s the head illusion tech.

His name is Zeb Zagen.

It turns out Zade already knows about him:

I had done enough research before reaching Vegas to know that Zeb had designed or helped design a lot of Charles’s illusions and was well known in the magic community himself. Yet everything about him was mysterious and—even in the magic community—very little seemed to be known about him.

He’s totally real magic, right? All those Z’s have got to mean something!

Zade shakes his hand. He gets all weird, and tells her to get on with her audition.

I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t seem to be happy about me being there and yet at the same time there was something odd about his coldness.


I am so sure he’s going to either be evil, or be a surprise good-guy-wizard, Snape-style.

Zeb grumbles and walks away.

Zade stands around awkwardly, and worries about fitting in. A dude named Trig, who goes on a long rant about what it is acceptable to call him:

“Zade, hi. I’m Pete Trigger, but some people call me Trig. I’ll answer to Pete or Trig just not Mr. Trigger cause that’s my dad and it sounds like a dead horse. I’m the head stage manager, and I call the show. You know what that means, right?”

I’m trying to think of what this line reminds me of. I swear there’s a movie or TV show where someone introduces themselves in a similarly overly manner, but it’s fast and quippy.

We get another weirdly specific description of Pete/Trig, who is kind of middle-aged with a round boyish face,

So Zade goes to get ready for her audition, which is apparently taking place in front of the entire company.  She hears Mac expressing incredulity at the fact that she doesn’t have any safety gear, and we take a minute to appreciate strong-willedness:

A strong will was an admirable quality to me and I had been taught to see that as being something to appreciate about someone. Really stubborn and thickheaded, though, usually goes hand-in-hand with strong willed and is something to always keep in mind.

More life lessons from Zade. I should also do a “Excerpts from Lani Sarem’s upcoming Self-Help book” count:

  • “You can’t fight Destiny” from chapter 1
  • “It’s human nature to size each other up”
  • “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they walk”
  • and “Stubborn and thickheadedness go hand in hand”.

Charles brushes off Mac’s concerns, saying that Zade signed a waiver. Mac only relents when Zeb tells him that he shoudn’t waste his  time arguing.

And now Zade is introduced to yet another character with a one-syllable name.

He was pretty, too pretty, beautiful even. I don’t think I could ever date a guy that was prettier than me. That does sound selfish, but I just would rather be the “at least slightly prettier” one in any relationship—and he was just too perfect: the chiseled jaw, not a hair out of place, and a bright, white smile. I really never thought a guy could be that perfect looking.

I like how Lani spends so much time describing these minor characters, complete with contemplation about if she’d date them. Also, more needless quotation marks, which I’m not sure if I’ve pointed out yet. His name is Cam, which is Mac backwards. COINCIDENCE? Probably. It’s never pointed out.

As Zade and Cam walk away to get her ready for her mysterious audition, Zade hears Sofia whining that Charles remembered her name.

Charles’s [replied], “Most people’s names aren’t worth remembering.”

The world revolves around Zade count: 3.

I was impressed by his clear, measured answers. He never seemed to “over speak,” which most people—especially me—are guilty of.

You’re guilty of over-speaking? Who would have guessed? You know, Lani, there are editors who can help you with that.

Zade continues to talk about how amazing Charles is:

It was like someone had written his dialogue for him.

Wink, wink. I think this is the closest to self-aware Lani gets in the entire novel.

The man oozed charm the way most normal people sweat in the Vegas heat.

Uncomfortably? “The way most people sweat” is not attractive. It gives me the image of an old guy in a Hawaii shirt trying to catch his breath under a palm tree, but oozing (ew) ‘charm’ instead of sweat. Which doesn’t really make sense?

I’m pretty sure James Bond would look like your average bumbling Joe in comparison.

So Zade is definitely attracted to him, right? She hasn’t said it outright, so it’s hard to tell.

Charles seems to have already decided to let Zade have an act in his show, despite not having seen her perform. I’m not including this in the World Revolves around Zade count because I feel like it’s covered by him remembering her name.

Zade and Cam walk up to the highest catwalk, and she describes how much she loves heights. We learn that she thinks it would be fun to live in a treehouse.

Zade temporarily panics at the thought that she might not have the one prop she’s requested, which is a “bright red rose” Cam reassures her that it’s there:

Cam pointed to it, smiled sweetly, and commented, “You ready, girl? You nervous? Need something to keep your mind off of it?”

So Cam is gay, right? He’s described as “pretty,” uses “girl” as a term of endearment, smiles “sweetly”, doesn’t have a hair out of place? Is it bad that I’m assuming that? In my defense, Lani Sarem would totally give her self-insert a gay best friend.

The only thing that was running through my head was how any girl could ever date him, because he was prettier than all of us put together.

If Cam is straight/bi, I’m sure plenty of girls would date him. Zade’s hangups about the relative attractiveness of her potential mates is maybe a little bit pathological, but what do I know? Zade continues to think about how hot Cam is while she finishes getting ready.

When she has the OK, she throws the rose off down onto the stage, which falls for a few moments. Zade tells us that she’s doing this to show the audience that the stage is solid, and that nothing else should be able to pass through it.

And then Zade begins her trick:

I took a deep breath and leaned slowly back over the bar, bending backward until I had flipped myself over the edge.

Don’t worry guys, she “signed a waiver”. Unfortunately, I would think that if someone were to attempt a trick like this without an in-depth explanation of what’s about to go on, safety gear and someone to vouch for them, I’d think that they’d be judged to not be of sound mind, and therefore I’d think the waiver would be rendered invalid.

I was falling fast, and there was nothing to break my fall. The audience of cast and crew gasped. A regular audience might think “trapdoor” but this group knew better because they knew the theater so well.

If this is the act that Zade performs for a regular audience, then Zade just pointed out that they’ll think there’s a trapdoor. But that’s actually a good thing, if Zade wants to hide her powers. But then, as she points out, the entire cast and crew will know something’s up, and aren’t they, the people who understand how illusions work, the ones who are more likely to discover Zade’s secret? Was there really no other trick she could think of that wouldn’t involve impossible, death-defying stunts?

As I plummeted toward the stage, brightly colored sparks began to shoot from my outstretched hands. The sparks fell and hit the ground ahead of me, becoming a roaring fire directly beneath me. The fire burned a brilliant red, spreading and growing below me. As the fire burned, it changed color from bright red to a vibrant blue. I could hear the audience murmuring again, but I couldn’t get cocky yet. I was near the ground and still falling fast.

I sure do hope that the film has the budget for good special effects and stunt work. Otherwise this could look really shitty onscreen.

Then the stage turns into liquid!. Zade dives into it, and the stage becomes solid again. She surfaces in the area of the stage that actually is a pool (because apparently the magic show has aquatic bits?), the rose clenched between her teeth. She feels like she’s knocked it out the the park, but the entire theater is silent.

The entire theater seemed in shock. It was silent for what seemed like an eternity. Did they hate it? My smile started to fade and I was beginning to panic when they all applauded thunderously, and the whole cast rose to their feet.

And then Charles hands her a crisp $100 dollar bill, and Cam turns straight for her, and Zade gets a book deal that is sure to top the New York Times bestseller list, because the world revolves around Zade.

I made all of that up, but it’s actually not that far off from what actually happens.

I sighed deeply in relief. I grabbed the rose from my mouth and tossed it to Sofia, winking at her. I laughed as I said, “For the pretty lady.” Sofia glared in response and smiled with the fakest smile I had ever seen. She wasn’t amused—nor did she find me funny, in the least.

Zade antagonizes her new boss’s girlfriend, who is glaring and smiling at the same time. I think that might be an example of a contradiction. Sofia is also not amused and doesn’t find Zade funny, which is an example of a tautology. That’s fun.

“That was perfect! Just as I expected,” I overhead Charles say excitedly. “Beth, let’s have her sign that contract. That goes into the show right away. Wait until Copperfield sees this one! We’ll put out a press release immediately.”

These quotes are all copy/pasted, by the way. Zade “overheads” Charles. I would start a “this book clearly didn’t have an editor” count, but I’m pretty sure every other line would qualify.

Zade sees Mac, and notices he has his friend Tad with him.

That’s right, this chapter has introduced characters named Mac, Cam, and Tad, Zeb, and a character who is referred to as either Pete or Trig. I’ve heard people say that the names in Game of Thrones are confusing, but I’ve honestly never had such a hard time keeping characters straight as I did reading this chapter.

Also, Tad gets more description than either Mac or Cam. It’s almost biographical. I’d try to edit this down, but I think that the sheer length of Tad’s description is worth showing:

Tad was slightly stocker with dark brown wavy hair and brown jovial eyes. I would soon learn that Tad was Mac’s best friend, an all-around good guy who worked well with everyone. In theory, Mac was Tad’s boss, but they had been working together for a long time and had been friends for much longer. Tad was the kind of guy to always tell it like it is. He never believed in sugarcoating anything. He’d always tell us that his motto was, “Why take anything seriously? No one gets out alive anyway.” He said it often, and meant it. Very little got him worked up. He was the epitome of easy going. Tad was also one of those people who was naturally good at most of the things he tried. I often wonder if a lot of it had to do with his attitude. I’ve concluded that it must be that, and being born under a lucky star. I’d probably envy him if I didn’t adore him so much.

So you’d think Tad’s a pretty important character, and that’s why he gets so much in-depth description, right? Maybe he’s one of her love interests.

Nope. It’s because Lani Sarem wrote the role for her friend/producer, Thomas Ian Nichols. Currently, Lani and Thomas are the only people listed on the Handbook for Mortals IMDB page and Thomas plays Tad.

Then we meet Riley, whose over-excitability and sweet-natured naivety makes me imagine him as Denny from The Room:

Standing next to Tad was Riley, one of the youngest of the crew at the show. This was his first real job as a tech, and he’d only been working for the show about a year. “That was crazy freaking awesome!” he blurted out excitedly, practically jumping up and down when he said it.

Or maybe he’s the Tricycle kid from The Incredibles.

Tad continues to tell Zade how amazing she was, but Mac is grumpy. He is possibly the only sane person at this point, because he is the only one who seems concerned about Zade’s impossible, very unsafe trick.

 It was obvious that Mac was annoyed and disturbed that he didn’t know how it was done. He didn’t even have an inkling. He looked over in my direction and was staring right at me pretty intensely and directly. He didn’t even try to pretend that he was looking at something else.

So even though he’s the only sane one, he’s also kind of an creeper. I for one am glad that there is finally some conflict that doesn’t come from a hot girl being jealous.

Zade explains that Tarot reading wasn’t the only secret magic skill that ran in the family. Which I thought was obvious. I’m not sure if it’s been outright stated yet, but we just saw Zade do magic.

Then we get some insight into Zade’s ability to think through the consequences of her actions:

And, for the first time, I was starting to realize it was going to be harder to keep our secret from everyone. They were going to want to know, and I was going to have to keep dodging questions.

Maybe one of the ways Zade’s mom kept her from leaving was a spell that inhibited executive function? The inability to make and execute a plan would certainly help keep Zade from leaving. I think I’m going to go with that, because there is no other way someone could be stupid enough to perform obviously impossible stunts without it occurring to them that doing so might raise a few questions. Remember, this girl is supposed to be 24 years old.

Meanwhile, Tad makes fun of Mac for being confused by the impossible feat they all just witnessed, and then Tad comes over to talk to Zade. We get our second introduction to Tad, complete with remarks on his appearance and demeanor and popularity, and also our second, but more in-depth, introduction to Riley:

He also introduced Riley Wates, the youngest and newest member of the rigging crew, who seemed very nervous to meet me. Riley was young and wide-eyed, and though he was also very sweet, he lacked the confidence that came effortlessly to Tad. Even so, Riley’s energy was youthful and energetic and he had a big bright smile, which made me immediately like him.

He’s the youngest member on the crew. Even though he’s supposed to be about 18 or 19, he acts about ten years younger:

“That was incredible. I hope we can be friends,” Riley gushed. I smiled back and responded, “Thanks. I think we should be friends, too.”

This is more evidence that Lani Sarem has never interacted with an actual human being before, because no one talks this way. I’m going to add Riley’s unabashed IRL friend request to the “the world revolves around Zade” count, bringing us up to 4.

Also, notice how there’s no paragraph break between Riley’s dialogue and Zade’s? That’s a running thing in this book. Lani Sarem does not understand how to format dialogue, which is kind of ironic, given that this was originally a screenplay.

[Riley] jammed his hands in his pockets, rocked back on his heels in a very “Tad” sort of way, and blushed.

I love how Zade’s known Tad all of ten minutes and is already using his mannerisms to describe very normal behavior, like putting hands in pockets and fidgeting.

Meanwhile, Mac is still glowering

I didn’t understand why he was so angry at what seemed to be just my mere presence in his world.

I thought Zade had already identified that he was unhappy about her lack of safety equipment and finding her trick confusing. Tad also just explicitly teased him about this. But it’s already been shown that Zade isn’t an intellectual powerhouse, so maybe I can excuse this as being in-character.

Some chick named Beth comes over to talk to Zade about her official job offer, she emphasizes is the best, most generous offer Charles has ever made anyone.

Zade celebrates internally, happy that she’s finding her place in the world.

You know how she sums up the amazing job she’s just gotten where she’ll be performing actual magic in front of thousands on a nightly basis?

A somewhat normal life.

This goes back to my comment from last time, when she leaves her “abnormal” life reading tarot cards for a “normal” life as a performer  in Las Vegas. I honestly don’t think Lani put that much effort into figuring out Zade’s motivation for leaving. It would be so easy to say that Zade felt trapped in a monotonous life in a small town, and wanted to forge her own path and find her own identity. It makes zero sense to say that her life was just so weird, and that now it’s finally any degree of “normal”.




One thought on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 1: The Magician

  1. I guess I understand why Mac’s last name is Kent – because he’s a grumpy Clark Kent and every guy who works with him is Jimmy Olsen. Seriously what’s with all these young, enthusiastic guys who have nothing to do with the story? Thanks for recapping btw. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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