Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 4: The Empress

Previously, on Handbook for Mortals:

Zade met Jackson, who is a total hottie. Also, Mac perved on her while she was undressed, and when called out on it, threatened to murder her and his best friend. It was dull.

Did any of that matter? Of course not. This time, Zade begins:

Considering how much I wanted to keep my secrets, well, secret, a few days later I probably brought a little too much attention to myself.

Even when Zade wants to be discrete, she can’t help but to remind everyone that the World Revolves Around Her (this is #8).

She goes on for a bit about how she had no choice but to act, because she knew that if she didn’t someone would get hurt.

I didn’t have long to decide what I was going to do. When I get premonitions and “see things” as you might say, they come in flashes. I don’t ask for them. Sometimes I’m shown things way ahead of time and other times—like this one—only a few minutes before something happens.

So basically, she gets premonitions timed precisely to maximize drama. Or, actually, I should say that she “gets a premonition timed precisely to maximize drama,” because this is literally the only incident in the entire novel where Zade’s powers of prophecy are present.

I think it has to do with when someone actually makes the decision that affects the situation. You know, like Destiny is saying to me “ten minutes ago this tragedy wasn’t set to happen and then something changed to set the events in motion.”

Ah, yes: confused notions of determinism.

Something interesting about this novel, and particularly this chapter, is that there are so many plot-holes and under-explained events that it’s quite easy to read tinfoil-style theories into it. For example, the irregular but clearly intentional intervention of Destiny is weird and cheap if it’s literally just The Forces of the Universe trying to influence Zade, but you can theorize that what Zade thinks is destiny is actually a third magical party who is trying to manipulate Zade to act in certain ways.

Anyway,

At least, that is my theory. I have no proof, but I’ve learned enough information after the fact, when this has happened before, that I’m fairly certain that my thoughts on the subject are correct.

Hey, Zade, when you qualify your explanation with “I think,” the way you do in the previous paragraph, you don’t need to spend another paragraph telling us that it’s just your speculation, because that is what “I think” means.

Zade tells us that she thinks that if she gets a vision, she’s meant to help change it.

After all, my choices always seemed to be able to make a positive change to something that could have been tragic, which is why I thought that they were for the good, whatever that meant really.

Zade, you just told us that you thought that your visions were “for the good” because they helped you “make a positive change to something that could have been tragic”. You just defined what “for the good” meant.

Zade sees Mac, and tries to get his attention, presumably because she thinks he’ll be able to help avert it. To be fair, he’s the Head Tech, so it’s not a bad assumption. She chases after him for a bit, but he doesn’t seem to notice her. Finally, she catches up to him, and grabs him by the shirt:

I heard a slight ripping sound from his sleeve, which freaked me out, but since there was no visible damage I’m guessing I had only weakened the seams.

Zade is so special that she can rip apart shirts without damaging them. I don’t know what this detail was meant to add.

Mac gets grumpy at Zade, and she speculates about why this might be:

Perhaps because he, too, had heard his shirt rip, or because I had forced him to stop going wherever it was he was in such a hurry to get to—or maybe simply because I was the one trying to talk to him.

Probably all of the above.

Whatever the reason, I already was sure that trying to talk to him and get his help was a bad idea.

Because he wasn’t happy to see her? She probably could have predicted that, so if that on its own was enough to give her the feeling that asking him for help was a bad idea, then why did she do it in the first place?

Despite her intuition telling her that trying to talk to him won’t be productive, she continues on, and asks him if anything was off during their safety check. Mac says that everything was normal, and asks her why she brought it up.

 I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain it. Usually I would claim I’d just “had a feeling.” People generally believed it enough to just let it go. I was almost certain he wasn’t the superstitious type, though, and “I had a feeling” wasn’t going to get me anywhere with him, but what the hell. Here goes nothing.

When Zade tells him that she “had a feeling,” and he basically says she’s feels before reals or something:

He nodded his head slightly before answering me. “Sure. Everyone does. Usually they’re unfounded. People listen too much to their feelings instead of facts.”

But still, it’s relatively polite. Definitely more so than Zade deserves, because this is how she responds:

I narrowed my eyes. “Well, I get them, and mine are never unfounded, okay?” I huffed a little.

Hostility and self-aggrandizement. That will definitely convince him.

Now Mac gets angrier at her, and, to her credit, Zade realizes that he must hate her because she’s been a massive bitch to him and made his job miserable:

It was hard for me not to admit to myself that I may have hated me too, if I were him.

Mac’s reaction to Zade’s sass is, um, intense. We get a blow-by-blow description:

Both of his hands reached toward his head and he started rubbing his forehead, which he had scrunched up. His eyes were closed and he had the look of someone who had been suddenly hit with a headache.

YOU’RE TEARING ME APART, LISA!

He took a deep breath in and out as if to try to calm himself. His hands moved from his forehead to his mouth and he looked directly at me as if he was deciding whether he should yell at me some more or push me into the pool. He pulled his hands away from his mouth and pressed his lips together tightly. His hands folded together, close to his face.

The level of detail here makes me imagine it as though it’s taking place in slow motion, like dramatic tai chi.

So then Mac tells Zade to fuck off, basically, and Zade resigns herself to the fact that he won’t do anything. Even though she admits she pretty much knew this would happen before she even talked to him. In her defense, though, if I had random premonitions related to oncoming catastrophe, I would also probably talk to the tech director.

Zade decides that she’ll need to save the day on her own, but laments the lack of specificity in her vision:

The images I had seen hadn’t been as strong and were fuzzier than they usually were. Normally I got a bit more info from my visions, but this time I really felt like I didn’t know enough to even come up with a good plan.

It’s almost like Zade’s visions follow no rule except to maximize tension . And even though it’s contrived tension, that’s still infinitely preferable to last chapter’s endless, pointless dialogue.

When she tries to focus on her vision, she conveniently realizes that someone is going to fall, and that a male voice is going to yell something about “hitting the E-stop”. It’s still not enough, though, and Zade feels helpless:

I had the feeling that if I could only see who fell, I could do something.

Yeah, Zade, knowing exactly who is in danger might help you do something. What intuition.

Zade starts to panic, and, she tells us, she doesn’t notice that Riley is arguing with Sofia (Charles’ bitchy girlfriend), who isn’t wearing a harness. Because hindsight is 20/20, Zade wishes she had stopped to listen, but she didn’t, because:

. . . Sofia was always arguing about something with someone, I wasn’t even paying them any attention.

And despite Zade’s lack-of-attention paid to Riley and Sofia’s argument, she manages to reproduce it for us:

 “Sofie, you gotta put your harness on. You know the rules. You tryin’ to get me into trouble?” Riley was almost begging her.

She batted her eyes and ran her finger over his chest and his own harness. “Riley. It’s really uncomfortable,” she whined.

Of course, it’s the female rival’s carelessness and disregard for others (plus creepy touching?) that results in her literal fall from grace.

This book is so much better if you imagine Zade as an unreliable narrator, and that little exchange was completely imagined after-the-fact. But no, if we asked Lani how Zade learned about it, she’d probably just tell us that Zade did some magical detective work.

Riley says that broken necks are also uncomfortable. At the mention of broken necks, Zade turns around and becomes aware that Sofia isn’t wearing her safety harness. But just as this happens, a tech tells everyone to get into position.

But even before the tech finishes his sentence, the platform

 began to start swinging out and spinning very quickly at the same time.

Like it’s an amusement park ride. I know nothing about technical theater, so I can’t say how plausible this is, but it sounds not-very.

Riley yells for someone to hit the E-stop, and can’t catch Sofia as she’s thrown from the malfunctioning platform. Zade is also unable to help.

I knew instantly that I wasn’t going to be able to grab her either, and I realized that she was bound to hit the stage if I didn’t do something.

I like that Lani/Zade feels the need to clarify that Sofia would hit the stage if she were to fall off the platform above the stage. Sofia may have some momentum, but god damn Zade as a narrator has none.

I was still harnessed in and, from where I was, I was able to push her body as she was flying past me. She screamed as she accelerated toward the floor from fifty or so feet in the air. Because of my shove, she hit the pool and not the ground. But she slammed into the water on her back—there was a smack and then she sank.

I’m not a physicist, but her back is definitely broken, right?

Zade realizes that her vision must have been blurry because she was seeing it from Sofia’s point-of-view! But that doesn’t matter now. Instead of thinking out what she should have done, Zade comes to the conclusion that she has more important things to be doing.

She jumps off the still-spinning platform, and dives after Sofia. In typical Zade fashion, she is sure to give us only the most important information to keep the plot moving:

I could feel the water, which was always a warm ninety degrees, soak into my clothes. I usually loved the sensation of swimming, but this was hardly a fun time.

A warm ninety degrees? As opposed to a cool ninety degrees? And she didn’t just decide to go for a dip for fun?

Zade gets an unconscious Sofia out of the water, and starts performing CPR.

She may not have been my favorite person, but I certainly didn’t want her to die.

Someone should really give her a medal.

Pete, who is a tech we met a couple chapters ago, yells for someone to call the paramedics, and soon everyone is down on the stage. In an exchange reminiscent of  Chris R and Denny’s iconic confrontation in The Room, Mac demands to know what happened:

Mac grabbed Riley and pulled him closer, shielding Riley’s view of Sofia. When I glanced up, I could see Riley was wide-eyed and scared. “Riley, why wasn’t she wearing her safety harness?” Mac asked, but Riley didn’t answer. “Riley, why wasn’t she wearing her safety harness?” Mac asked again, but Riley was still distracted and not paying attention to Mac. Mac finally grabbed Riley by the arms and shook him, “Why the hell was she not wearing it?” Mac asked, looking him directly in the eyes.

Riley defends himself, saying that he was telling Sofia to put on her harness as the platform began to move.

Satisfied, Mac begins to ponder the case of the platform’s malfunction:

“The platform shouldn’t have been moving at all,” he said, more to himself than to Riley.

But then decides he’d rather not:

“The system must have glitched out with just the worse timing.”

If you’ve guessed that it wasn’t just a random glitch, but actually an attempt on someone’s life, you’d be. . .wrong. Unless the next book reveals otherwise, the official explanation is that the platform just glitched out.  Tad jumps in to comfort Riley, and Mac dismisses everyone.

In the mean time, Zade’s still been doing CPR, and finally, Sofia is revived.

I held her as she coughed. I know when someone is close to death it helps them to feel comfort from another person—even someone they may not really like. I could already feel that everything was going to be okay.

Zade says here that Sofia is close to death. Zade does not know if Sofia will ever walk again. But despite this, Zade feels that everything will be OK, which to me implies that Zade does not give a fuck if Sofia dies or is disabled.

The paramedics arrive. Riley still looks guilt-ridden, and Zade thinks that he must be replaying the situation over and over to see if he could have done anything to stop it. Zade tells us she’s doing the same thing, but tells us that the answer is “nothing.” I take this to mean that Zade is reassuring herself that it’s all Sofia’s fault.

Mac walks over to Zade, but doesn’t say anything. An unnamed assistant hands her a towel.

The temperature in the building was always kept a bit warmer than normal room temperature, so even though I was wet, I wasn’t freezing.

A theater for a show which features athletic stunts in Las Vegas is kept warmer than room temperature? Again, I don’t know if this makes sense. I don’t know why Lani would include this detail if it didn’t have some basis in reality, so maybe it does.

Tad asks if there’s anything Zade doesn’t do, and we spend more time learning about how great Tad is.

There’s a calming and relaxing energy that surrounds Tad like a bubble. Just like how some people have sporadic energy that makes them hard to be around. Tad is the exact opposite and whenever I am around him or talking to him I instantly feel it effect me in a good way. It’s a rare but delightful quality few people possess.

If I didn’t know that Jackson and Mac were the love interests, I would swear that Zade was falling in love with Tad. I’m pretty sure that Lani’s just describing her warm feelings toward Thomas Ian Nicholas, who’s set to play him in the movie.

Zade replies that she doesn’t do windows. Tad asks her how she reacted so fast, and she tells him that she just had a feeling. Zade says she’s going to go check on Riley.

I turned and walked away. I didn’t get very far, though, before I heard Tad and Mac begin to talk about me.

And our “The World Revolves Around Zade” count is up to 9.

Now, as with in the last chapter, the text shifts to italics and the point-of-view changes to third-person.

Tad asks what Zade meant when she said she “just had a feeling”. Mac tells Tad that she’d told him that she’d had a premonition before the whole thing occurred.

There was a momentary pause before Tad replied, “Hmm. Well, next time she says that, maybe you should listen.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” Mac said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. I wondered if he was angry at me—or just angry that I had been right.

So here we get Tad telling Mac that he should never question Zade, and Mac replying dismissively. We also get a single line Zade’s first-person narration, which I bolded. I realize that this is probably a mistake that would have been edited out, if this book had been edited at all, but it is part of the text, and therefore, I am adding it to the list of times The World Revolves Around Zade. It’s number 10.

“Can I tell Sofie that the ‘scene stealer’ just saved her life?” Tad joked.

“Save it ’til she’s feeling better. It’ll have more impact,” Mac joked back.

Lani Sarem spends way too much time having all of her characters shit on Sofia. At this point, they still don’t even know if she’s been permanently injured.

Tad tells Mac he should apologize to Zade, and Mac says that Zade should apologize to him. Tad makes fun of Mac for getting worked up:

 “Why’re you letting her get to you like this? You never get worked up so much over anyone. You’re always tell me nothing’s worth the stress.”

Maybe because she’s been consistently entitled and rude to him?

“She frustrates the living daylights out of me,” Mac said more softly.

Which makes sense, considering that’s she’s been consistently entitled and rude to him.

Tad laughed again. “Oh. I get it. You like her. Uh-oh. You’re in trouble.”

Mac has done nothing to indicate that he might like Zade. He covertly spied on her while she was undressed one time, but that doesn’t indicate that he likes her; all it means is that he thinks she’s hot. Friction =/= sexual tension. I know that bad screenwriters think that it does, but it is not the case.

Mac fiercely denies liking her, and tells Tad that he doesn’t date performers.

Mac asks Tad what even there is to like about Zade anyway, and Tad answers thusly:

“Lots of things, and I don’t need to tell you that. If I wasn’t happily married, I might give you a run for your money on that one.”

Ugh. As it happens, Thomas Ian Nicholas is married. I’m not saying that Tad will become a love interest if Thomas Ian Nicholas ever gets divorced IRL, but he totally will. (Also, Married Guy saying that he’d totally hit that if it weren’t for the wife = The World Revolves Around Zade Number 11).

Mac mutters about how Tad would be competing with himself, and Tad asks Mac whom he’s trying to convince.

Which is a fair question, because if Tad were competing for Zade’s affections, he’d be competing against pretty much every male character, regardless of whether Mac was into her.

Mac tells Tad to figure out why the glitch happened, and storms off to have a cigarette.

We find ourselves back in the shoes of Zade, who comforted Riley, and is now sitting out on the loading dock holding the guitar Jackson lent her. She dicks around with it for a bit, and begins playing a song by Aimee Mann called “That’s Just What You Are”.

Mac arrives on the scene, but Zade pretends not to notice him. Instead, she keeps singing the mysteriously appropriate song:

Acting steady

Always ready to defend your fears

What’s the matter with the truth,

Did I offend your ears

By suggesting that a change might

Be a thing to try

Like it would kill you just to try

And be a nicer guy

It’s not like you would lose some

Critical piece

If somehow you moved

Point A to Point B

Maintaining there is no point

Changing ’cause That’s just what you are

That’s just what you . . . are . . .

A+ passive aggression! Zade continues to ignore Mac, until he says something to her. She replies by saying:

“Oh. Hey. I didn’t hear you come out.” All the clever things I thought about saying, and yet I ended up saying something completely lame.

>Implying that Zade thought about of witty things to say.

Mac says that Zade’s song sounded like it was about him. Zade tells him she didn’t write it, but Mac says that he knows who did.

Mac is also a fan of Aimee Mann! Zade is amazed. Zade says that Aimee Mann and Ryan Adams are her favorite artists! Zade is amazed that she and Mac have something in common! They both love the film Magnolia, in which Aimee Mann exists, somehow.

Zade admits that she was thinking about Mac while she sang the song. Mac says that he ddeserved it (which is untrue).

Mac explains that it’s his job to run the show safely, and doesn’t like people telling him how to do his job. Zade tells him she’ll try to work on it.

And now Zade tells us that she’s thought he was good at his job all along!

I wanted him to be an awful T.D. so my feelings could become more justified, but instead I had quickly noticed how good he was at being in charge of the crew. He was a good boss and treated people fairly. He explained things when people didn’t understand, and he never asked anyone to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. . .

Zades sudden deep appreciation of Mac goes on for another 133 words. Mac takes out a mysteriously engraved zippo lighter which never comes up again, and Zade explains that she can’t explain her trick because it’s a family secret. Mac seems to accept this, but emphasizes that he still needs to know how to tell if something’s going wrong.

Zade is amazed that they’re getting along. The two sit in silence for a bit, and Zade looks at the stars:

I looked up and tried to see the stars. The buildings on the strip are so large and bright that it actually makes it harder to see the stars in the night sky. I guess it’s true what they say: the darkness helps everyone see the light.

It’s the Stephanie Meyer quote from the epigraph! I think it’s supposed to be thematically significant, but the only way I can think of it being so is that Zade values getting along with Mac now because she was so terrible to him at first. It’s still nonsensical, because it’s other light that’s making the stars harder to see, which means you’re seeing more light than you would with just the stars. So I guess if you translate this into the Stars metaphor, it means that more light = less darkness. Which means that if she had just gotten along with Mac to begin with, she would be better off.

Zade thinks about Tennesee and lightning bugs, and how she misses evenings there.

Mac says that he also plays guitar, watches movies, and rides his motorcycle. No Way! thinks Zade. They have so much in common!

They talk about motorcycles at length. Zade impresses him with her knowledge of his motorcycle’s specs, and with her own motorcycle, which is a Ducati Streetfighter.

“Impressive, Magi Girl”

Says Mac, who, Zade notices, has a great smile. And a great laugh. Despite this, Zade isn’t happy with the nickname:

It has such a stigma, the term Magi actually means something like “wise”, but in the magic world Magi more or less means a magician’s assistant. Mac added his own twist by adding girl on the end. I guess it wasn’t really an insult, but I still made a face that showed my dislike for it.

A word that means “wise” has a stigma? It doesn’t sound insulting.

Mac asks Zade what kind of name Zade is anyway.

“Zade is short for my full name–Scheherazade Holder. It comes from a story my mom used to read to me as a kid. It’s about a princess who marries this king who executes his bride each night so he can get a new one the next day. We’ll, Scheherazade ends up his bride. To stay alive, she tells him a story every night, alway stopping at dawn with a cliffhanger so he will leave her alive for another day. After 1001 nights he was madly in love with her and decided to keep her. And they lived happily ever after.”

Ironically, if Zade were in her namesake’s position, she’d be dead immediately. Honestly, the more closely I read this novel, the less sure I am it’s not an elaborate trollfic.

Mac says he knows the story, but it’s actually pretty dark. He says he grew up on Dr. Seuss. He questions Zade’s parents choice of bedtime story, but Zade disagrees:

I didn’t think it was a harsh story. I thought it was romantic and sweet.”

More evidence it’s a trollfic: Zade thinks a story about spousal homicide (TIL that the word for killing your wife is “uxoricide”, fun fact) is romantic, which is totally meant as commentary on fans of popular romance novels that depict abusive relationships, like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. 

Zade continues:

“It was my my parents’ favorite story. Apparently it was one of the few things they agreed on.”

Also, I think it’s worth pointing out that the story of Scheherazade is a framing device for the actual stories that make of “One Thousand and One Nights.”  Also ironically, the only reason I’m even reading this novel is because of the meta-story of Lani Sarem, the delusional narcissist, meaning that I like the framing device more than the stories she tells.

I’ve totally cracked this case wide open. Lani Sarem is actually a giant troll. This book is a work of genius.

So Zade tries to justify her parents’ fucked up choices of literature by pretending that Dr. Seuss also wrote about things as dark as medieval serial killers:

I wasn’t so sure that Dr. Seuss wasn’t dark at times as well, but I couldn’t think of a good example in the moment. I do remember reading all the original versions of Aesop’s Fables and those stories in their original forms make Arabian Nights seem pretty pale in comparison, now that I think about it.

I’m not sure what Aesop’s Fables has to do with this, but OK.

Mac asks Zade what her middle name is.

“Esther. She was another queen. She only saved her entire race,” I said matter-of-factly

Scheherazade Esther Holder. That is a bit of a mouthful.

Mac says that Zade’s namesakes are a lot to live up to. Zade jumps at the chance to feel victimized:

I had never actually thought of it that way. I wondered if my parents realized that they had given me that burden

They probably didn’t think about it that way, just like how Zade never thought about it that way until Mac mentioned it.

Zade asks why Mac is called Mac. Mac tells her it’s short for “MacGyver,” which was a nickname he was given because he was so good at fixing things. Zade asks what his real name is, and he waffles for a bit before admitting that his first name is actually “Clark.” This is significant because his last name is Kent.

So Mac’s real name is Clark Kent, which is, as Zade points out, the secret identity of Superman.  Mac’s dad really liked Superman, and somehow convinced Mac’s mother to go along with the name “Clark Kent.”

Zade finds this amusing:

“Superman and MacGyver. Those are quite the namesakes to live up to, as well.” I nodded in agreement with my own statement.

Sudddenly, Tad calls to Mac over his walkie-talkie. Tad says he’s found the glitch, and needs Mac’s help fixing it. I think it’s probably been spinning wildly out-of-control this whole time.

Zade says bye to Mac, and is surprised that she’s disappointed that their conversation is over. But before Mac leaves, He says

“By the way, ‘Red Vines’!”

Zade is momemtarily confused, before Mac clarifies that it’s his favorite Aimee Mann song, and his favorite candy. Zade celebrates that she’s reconciled with Mac, and tells him that her favorite Aimee Mann song is “Going Through the Motions” and her favorite candy is cotton candy.

Mac runs off to fix the thing.

But the chapter’s not over yet! Who should appear at this very moment but Jackson Not-Rathbone! He’s come looking for Zade to check on her, and tells her that saving Sofia’s life was amazing.

Zade takes the compliment a the way a normal person does, which is by saying “Thanks,” and thinks:

I will never be good at accepting compliments but I need to learn how to say something better than thanksThat’s always such a lame answer.

Jesus christ. If someone compliments you, they don’t expect you to do a whole song and dance about accepting it. “Thanks” is fine.

Jackson comments on the fact that she’s taken him up on the offer to borrow his guitar, and sits down next to her. Zade asks him if he’s heard anything about how Sofia’s doing.

Jackson hung his head. “She’ll never recover. Permanently damaged.”

Zade is shocked. But PSYCH! Jackson continues:

Jackson grinned. “Her ego.[. . .]Oh, you meant physically? A small concussion, the need for a few stitches, and a bruised backside, but she’s fine.”

She did a backflop after falling 50 feet. Again, I don’t know what the likelihood of serious injury is, but falling flat on your back into water from 50 feet seems like it would do more than just give you a mild concussion

Zade is relieved,

even if she was god-awful to me

and she says she’s glad for Riley’s sake, and hopes that she didn’t sound like an enormous asshole.

Jackson assures her:

“Her backside will heal–but, as I mentioned, her ego is now permanently bruised from you saving her life.”

Zade starts thinking about how poorly Sofia handled almost dying:

I started thinking about how Sofia had freaked out and pushed me away as I was saving her life–and her instant blame for it even being my fault. Even though there was no way for it to be my fault.

This never happened. I went back and checked to see if I missed anything, but Sofia says nothing between the time she’s CPR’d and the time she’s wheeled offscreen. My theory that Zade is an unreliable narrator is gaining traction.  There’s no way anyone could write this and not be aware of the fact that their character comes off as totally delusional. Unless they themselves are delusional.

So Jackson reassures her that she did nothing wrong, and tells her that they should get back. They stand up, and gaze into each other’s eyes:

I wondered what he was thinking, but he decided to share the thoughts behind the smile. “You’re pretty amazing, you know that?” I chuckled nervously and blushed. I started biting my lower lip and shifted my feet.

Jackson grinned before adding, “You really are.”

And with that, this behemoth of a chapter comes to a close.

If I’m being honest, this is the best chapter yet. It’s not good, unless Lani Sarem really is playing 4d chess and writing metafiction/doing performance art about authors who overshadow their work and unhealthy relationships. But even though its action rests on contrived visions, is full of poorly written, drawn-out dialogue, and is rife with Lani’s signature stream-of-consciousness tangents and embarrassingly switches point-of-view for a single line with no warning, there is action to be found, and there is character development.

 

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7 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 4: The Empress

  1. In regards to the ambient temperature of theaters:

    Most professional theaters have powerful AC units. If we are to believe that the show sells out every night, and that there are two thousand seats the building would need a system to, at the very least, vent all the heat the audience member’s mere presence would create. If the house is empty and the AC is still going (which there’s no reason to think otherwise), the stage should be at least somewhat cool even if the stage lights are the old bulb type. (If the building has the same AC system it has always had, but the theater recently switched over to LED lights, it would be even colder)

    I’m sorry I care so much about this very minor detail. I blame Lani Sarem.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This chapter… even when the book improves, it remains sub-par trash. I think your summary at the top of the chapter 5 review sums it up nicely. “Stuff that should be interesting is incredibly boring.”

    For the shirt rip, I think the implication was a loud sound, with no immediately visual source. So, the structural integrity was definitely ruined, but maybe in the armpit area, or something? That was the only thing that made actual sense, because I’ve unfortunately done that a few times (to my own clothes, not the clothes of someone else… I don’t think, anyway.)

    I like your idea of an unreliable narrator. It makes the most sense, considering everything else. I’m assuming some of the flaws are from switching the third person script into a mostly first person narrative, but some things still require serious delusions to accept.

    The premonition is ridiculous. Why in the world would Zade ever see the event from a different mind? Is she also telepathic? It’s just odd, even if magic could make it possible. Like, why would you only switch minds to view the future in that one moment, and why would it be super vague anyway? Surely Sophia saw Riley and experienced the harness conversation. It’s just bizarre.

    Premonition logic aside, since it’s not like there’s hard evidence for such a concept, it’s super suspicious that she told Mac about it before it happened, was vague, then pushed Sophie out of harm’s way (hah) and saved the day. Coupled with all the hate Sophia gets from her co-workers, I’d abandon this cast as soon as I got out of the hospital, if I was her. Zade almost literally throws Sophie under the bus to advance her own love life.

    Then there’s Mac’s angle. The reason for why it happened in the first place is a completely random malfunction, which is super suspicious. Mac would have taken the biggest hit and lost his job if Sophia had died. But more importantly, Zade knew about it, broke through his armor to show she’s not so different from him, when she was previously the enemy in Mac’s eyes, and one of his co-workers tells him to listen next time. If I was Mac, I’d wonder if Zade had ulterior motives, especially since she insisted that her visions are always right and everything she mentioned was coincidentally something that Mac liked or parallel (like the literary names…) I mean, the chemistry isn’t that bad, the way it’s presented, but it’s just… too coincidental.

    It’s just too perfect of a set-up for Zade. Hell, if Mac and Sophia knew Zade could use real magic, they’d definitely assume she put a curse on the machine! Even without that, considering Zade can do some crazy illusions involving diving and the pool, when no one knows how they’re accomplished, this is eerily up her alley. It punishes them and makes Zade look good.

    On the other hand, that whole thing about Mac saying most premonitions are wrong? While it could be harmless skepticism (seriously, who wouldn’t be), the situation borders on crazy. At least he did mention needing to know the signs of her illusion going wrong in order to protect Zade, but earlier on he didn’t consider that maybe it’s Zade who could be in trouble. Did he ever think that maybe she was trying to subtly imply that she’s worried about her illusions going wrong? I know she tried to block Mac from learning about her secrets, but that was a great point for her to try and give him some hints, if he didn’t dismiss her comment immediately. He really should have paid attention to how unusual that was and gotten genuinely curious, if he’d been wondering about that topic as much as he should’ve been, since it’s his job and apparently NO ONE has informed him yet! Not Charles, not Zade, and certainly not Sophia. (What if Sophia knew too much? Dun dun DUUUNNN!)

    Plus, since this premonition is pretty vague (and we initially don’t know why), it could almost evoke Mac telling her to distrust her instincts, which is damning considering Mac was watching her like a creep, and then threatened to kill her. Even if he only told a co-worker, that’s grounds for concern without some hint at his tone being genuinely playful. It didn’t sound that way to me either. If Tad went to Charles, he could’ve made a convincing case for workplace harassment involving himself and Zade.

    Incidentally, I think we were better off not knowing Mac’s side of anything. It made everything worse, not better. Because yeah, Zade being measured in her underwear would be super boring compared to actual porn, for instance, and it’s a huge breach of trust. How did they never notice him? Was he just peering through a crack in the door? Ugh.

    There is so much wrong with this one chapter, it’s just…

    And their names! I knew about Scheherazade from the Amazon blurb, but not the other stuff. Goddamn, MacGuyver and Clark Kent? It’s possible, but given Zade’s stupid ass names too, it just makes the whole scenario even more ridiculous. And while I like the Arabian Nights (and fairy tales, which are more equivalent than fables), it’s just… too much. I think it would’ve been a lot better and way cuter if Lani simply stuck with Clark Kent. It would stand out better from Cam in the roster of three letter names, and it’s as good of a reveal (and probably better known at this point) than MacGuyver, which might be a little too on the nose anyway? Clark Kent also leads into tons of Superman jokes. That could’ve been amazing (especially with the eye rolling from Clark himself), but no… Instead, we mostly have Mac. If Zade didn’t have such specific names too, maybe it would’ve been okay. Especially since her name has nothing to do with anything, it just sounds cool for some random white girl.

    And yeah… Zade is definitely following the Twilight/50 Shades trends on her fave romantic books. But your observation about the framing device is amusing.

    I think the whole Magi thing was a world building failure. Apparently there is concern about how the magician assistants don’t get enough credit as partners in the illusion, but I found that out by looking on Wikipedia. The term magi has no direct relation to this issue, or assistants at all, and it comes off as weird without further information to connect the dots. It’s like she came up with something close to the problem with the term gypsy (it’s a pejorative, but there are still a bunch of people who don’t know that or don’t care), and then Sarem abandoned it after one paragraph.

    Sorry. I never thought I’d have THIS much to say about this dumb ass book. x_x;

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  3. I’m glad you’ve been sucked into the absurd world of Handbook for Mortals, because it makes me feel less alone.

    In my time reading this book, I have come up with a few rules that make it infinitely better:

    1) Zade is a narcissistic unreliable narrator. Canonically, she definitely doesn’t tell us everything she knows (this becomes clear later), so when unbelievable things happen, she’s either interpreting them incorrectly or has possibly done magic and neglected to tell us. Also, she sometimes lies to us about her feelings.

    2) The third-person italic bits are Zade’s daydreams/fantasies (hence why we occasionally get first-person lines from Zade’s POV). So when Mac is watching her creepily while she’s undressed, that’s her imagining him being entranced by her (because she was attracted to him), and being kind of weird and dangerous. When Mac was at the bar getting hit on by Sofia in the next chapter (?) that’s right after she and Mac got on good terms, so it was her “haha, Mac likes me and not dumb Sofia” imagined victory lap. In chapter 8, when Dela is doing her card reading, that’s her missing her mom and imagining intrigue.

    3) Zeb is magic and working with Jackson to seduce Zade because, for all her personality flaws, she is a very powerful witch/tarot magic person (and maybe that’s responsible for her being a little bit delusional).

    I still can’t account for the shitty worldbuilding, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a reason at some point. Probably has to do with her unreliable narrator-ness?

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  4. “I’m glad you’ve been sucked into the absurd world of Handbook for Mortals, because it makes me feel less alone.”

    I don’t blame you! It’s oddly fascinating, if you can get past the horrible narrative, which is even more infuriating, since it’s very much a first draft. I didn’t initially consider how it could have been better, but with the comments on Jenny Trout’s blog and your observations here, I’m beginning to see where it could’ve been pretty good, or at least some popcorn fluff level entertainment in book form and movie form.

    Incidentally, it just dawned on me that the premonition was a better chance for Zade to show off her tarot skills, if the accident happened the next day. That would require her to give a shit about other people, however, so of course she’d never examine the future of anyone else. Also, I guess she’d need to be focused on an individual. Considering how hated Sofia is, she’s a good target for that kind of thing. Even if Zade simply wondered what was in Mac’s future, the accident would surely tie into his work, so she could’ve realized HE was in danger of losing his job, tried to make it up to him by finding out how, and save someone else in the process possibly. That’s a much better reason for her not knowing who the unlucky victim might be. I think the only reason she chose the “vague because other person POV” was because that works much better in a visual medium than in a written one, plus watching tarot is itself not exciting without additional imagery to spice it up.

    Also, I’ve recently started watching season 7 of Adventure Time, and last night I saw the episode Daddy-Daughter Card Wars. I’d recommend it, even if you’ve never seen a single episode of this cartoon before, because it’s a reasonably self-contained story, while making callbacks to prior episodes. I mean, it will definitely leave you with plenty of questions, if you’ve never seen any other episode, but probably fewer questions than this book… Which is saying something. Charlie is how Zade wishes she could be (and considering she’s a cross between a dog and a rainicorn, she’s pretty damn special, plus she does read tarot cards.) She’s cool and normal, but that’s based on how she acts, and she’s not even that different from Zade, until she becomes wiser. Watching that episode was entertaining for me. Reading the Handbook for Mortals isn’t. (Of course, it also takes awhile to read anything, but you can feel the minutes slipping away as you try to grok onto WTF Sarem was going for. Her writing capabilities are just so awful.)

    “In my time reading this book, I have come up with a few rules that make it infinitely better:”

    YES. Those would explain so much, if it were true. XD

    Especially the 3rd person italic stuff being daydream nonsense. Because we’re judged so much on our appearances and our agreeableness, many women want to feel irresistible, even if we don’t want random compliments from men as we go through our day-to-day life. It’s all about what the fantasy represents, a certain level of subtle power, and the context with which a compliment is given, a potential form of objectification when done with that in mind. Even the shitty world-building makes more sense if it’s just our narrator being spastic and making shit up as she goes along.

    And yeah, I accept that having magic could turn someone into something of a delusional narcissist. If she can alter the world in almost miraculous ways, that makes perfect sense. It’s easy to fall prey to that sense of power and superiority over others. Frankly, this book would be AMAZING if anyone with subtlety and deftness had written the protagonist that way. Almost like a magical, female Tyler Durden. It’s a real shame that Sarem was the author… I mean, maybe she always meant that to be part of the take-away, but then she can bring herself to have actual flaws, so naturally Zade is supposed to be humble as well. Only Sofia is allowed any pride and she gets shot down for it.

    Although, I genuinely wonder if Sarem hired a burgeoning Ghost Writer to give her a novel version of her movie script. While I’m willing to believe she’s just a bad writer on her own, because that’s very plausible, there’s a part of me that thinks she’d also be so lazy that she’d just ask a friend to give her a first draft for book publishing, since she never expected anyone else to truly read the book. It was always about the movie being made, after all, not necessarily about making money off of the books. 😛

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  5. I am reading this pan along side Jenny Trout’s pan… This book is truly horrifying. But this chapter, this one for me takes the cake. As I posted over at Trout Nation, a fifty foot fall into a pool of water would most likely severely injure or kill Sofia. I’m still really confused on whether or not she was dead when Lanzade started CPR. Because if she was just unconscious then it was wrong to start CPR, you do that on DEAD people, with no pulse. Besides if she did real CPR Sofia now has fractured ribs and potentially a punctured lung, there is no way she is up walking around drinking alcohol the next day. No way. Also, if Lanzade was wearing a harness how did she dive in the pool? Did she strip off the harness before jumping? Because otherwise there is no way she could get the ropes meant to control her fall to just play out. Unless… I guess she could use Magick (gag) to do it. I just want to beat her with the stick of CPR till she runs home crying.

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  6. But CPR always works in the movies! Sofia fell into water!

    God, it would have been so much better if Zade had used magic to save Sofia. That would explain how she’s miraculously uninjured, and also give Zade something to worry about rather than just saying “thank god for my summers as a lifeguard hehe!” Like, the paramedic could have gotten there and been horrified at Zade’s use of CPR, and then baffled when Sofia has zero injuries. It could also make Sofia think that Zade is trying to fuck with her somehow, and fuel suspicion.

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