Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 16: Justice

Previously, on Handbook for Motals: After Zade’s trick goes catastrophically wrong and she ends up unconscious, she’s hospitalized in the “ICU Unit”. Mac and Charles go with her. There’s tension between the two until it it revealed that Charles is actually Zade’s father! Zade’s mother calls, and tells Charles that the only way to save Zade’s life is by bringing her back to Tennessee. After convincing the doctor to let him sign Zade out, Charles gets Mac on board with the plan and they take off. Also, Zade knows all of this because she “pulls people’s memories”. Yeah.

As Chapter 16 opens, we’re told that Mac is alarmed about Charles’ statement about  needing him in Tennessee. Thankfully, everything that happens between the ending scene of Chapter fifteen and landing in Tennessee is summarized. But as soon as we land in Tennessee (which happens around dawn), the unnecessary level of detail returns.

Instead of just saying they land in Tennessee, Zade specifies that the airport is in the next town over from Centertown and how big it is (Woodbury, not very), and that Dela drove her SUV to meet them there. Zade takes a moment to laugh at her mom for being wacky:

I’ve always made fun of how little my mom fit the “soccer mom” profile and her SUV was probably the only thing about her that was normal.

Zade does know that most mothers don’t fit the “soccer mom” profile? And that those who do aren’t a monolith? And that many non-soccer-moms own SUVs? I just don’t get how this is funny.

Dela, Charles, and Mac put Zade (who is presumably still oozing blood from her mouth) in her old room. While Dela is off taking care of Zade, Charles and Mac quietly hang out in the living room. Mac looks at old photos of Zade and her mom. It’s said that Dela doesn’t appear to have aged much, so maybe that has to do with being immortal? I don’t know.

When Dela comes back downstairs, she asks Charles if Mac knows. Charles says that Mac recently learned that Charles was Zade’s dad. Zade tells us that Charles is good at interpreting Dela’s ambiguously-phrased questions, so I think we’re supposed to take it for granted that Dela was in fact asking if Mac knew that Charles=Dad.

Zade also says that Dela is the only person in the world who can make Charles feel intimidated.

That anxiety seemed to stem from everything: from how magical and powerful she was, to how madly in love with her he still was, to my condition, and even to just the bold presence my mother possesses.

Not to mention the fact that he’s been estranged for twenty-some years. Seeing your ex after a long time without contact is always a little bit awkward  (especially if you’ve been attempting to seduce her identical-looking daughter in a perverse attempt to regain the control you feel she made you lose).

Anyway, Dela’s response to Charles saying Mac knows he’s Zade’s dad is this:

“At least you’ve admitted it to someone,” my mother said, frowning and casting a glare that got under Charles’s skin enough to cause a bolder response from him.

This “bolder response” turns out to consist of pointing out that the secrecy was at Dela’s request. So what I’m taking away from this is that Dela’s not the most reasonable person when she’s in high-stress situations.

Or we could just explain it by saying that Dela is a “woman scorned.”

Normally [Charles’ response] would have caused anger or rage from my mother. You know that expression “hell hath no fury,” well I’m pretty sure they were talking about my mother. Instead of a brash reaction, though, she balked.

Zade senses “guilt” in Dela’s memories because (Zade speculates) she realizes how hard it’s been for rich, famous, younger-girlfriend-having Charles:

Maybe she realized[. . .]all the things she robbed us both of by not letting us spend time together. She was aware how hard it was for me to go through childhood without a father and now maybe she was finally seeing that it hadn’t been easy on him either.

I’m not trying to be too hard on either Charles or Dela, but it sounds like neither of them are very good at communication or conflict-resolution and it’s probably for the best that they broke up.

But of course, since this is wish-fulfillment, the parents have to still love each other. They take a moment to gaze meaningfully into each other’s eyes, but then Mac interrupts to ask if he can go sit with Zade. Dela tells him to have at it, so he does. After Mac is gone, we return to our estranged lovers. Dela thanks Charles for getting Zade back.

As she gazed at him, she couldn’t help but notice how handsome he still was regardless of the fact that he was almost twenty years older than he had been the last time she had seen him.

What? Attractive person is still attractive? That never happens.

Charles says that he knows that only Dela can save Zade, and Dela says that she’s in a precarious situation but can still pull through.

It had been a long almost-twenty-four-hours for everyone.

I’m sure it had been a long 24-hours for Charles, given that 24 hours ago he was probably getting ready for his opening, but stuff only got stressful for Mac just before the show began (probably about 7:00 PM?). They arrived in Tennessee at dawn and can’t have been at Dela’s for more than a couple hours at this point, so at the very latest it’s only about nine in the morning. It’s a minor detail, but timelines are important to me, OK?

Anyway, Charles tries to comfort Dela.

“Dely, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I let her do the show. It’s my fault.” Mom softened as he called her “Dely,” the name he had called her when they were both younger. It sounds like “Deli,” as in sandwiches, which I guess Charles would claim was a joke about his two favorite things: my mother and submarine sandwiches.

Zade guesses Charles would make jokes about sandwiches? I really can’t tell if Zade’s headcanonning this or not. And no, Charles should not have agreed to let Zade to the ridiculously dangerous chaos magic trick. Dela says that he couldn’t have stopped her if he tried (yes he could have; he’s the showrunner) and starts to say that she’s as stubborn as a mule, but before she can finish, Charles says that Zade is as stubborn as her mother. Which is flirting?

“She’s as beautiful as her mother, as well.” Charles couldn’t help but say things like that to my mother.

Even if Charles doesn’t=Jackson, this is still a little bit weird given that Charles has reportedly only ever been in love with Dela and Zade is basically her clone. Also, after that whole onstage makeout session between a “teenage version of Charles” and Zade, this is also a little bit weird. (If Charles does = Jackson, which you can’t convince me isn’t the case, it’s definitely creepy).

And I get that it’s meant to be sweet and show that Charles thinks Dela’s beautiful too, but after reading this through the lens of “Charles=Jackson,” it’s hard (and less fun) to not see it. Especially in the context of the next couple lines:

“No, Charlie.” It was a soft no, cushioned by past filled with affection.

Charles responded quickly. “But, Dely, our daughter has become a beautiful young woman.” Not understanding what the no was meant to imply, his words were quick and defensive.

Two things:

First, obviously, Charles gets way too defensive about saying Zade’s pretty.

Second, the only other person Charles is OK with calling him Charlie (besides Zade) is Dela? Again, I want to emphasize that it is very easy (and I’m sure intended) to read this in a sweet, affectionate way, but like I said, I’m having way more fun than I ever thought I would reading into predatory incestuous themes. I blame George R. R. Martin.

Dela explains to Charles what she meant, which was that she didn’t want him to turn on the charm for her because they need to focus on saving Zade’s life.

“I still love you, Dela,” He had been in the same room with my mom for no more than an hour and Charles was already confessing that he was still in love with her. I had seen it when I was growing up, too. She had always been a head-turner for sure and beyond that you couldn’t deny she was just one of those woman that men just can’t resist falling for. Beyond the physical she turns their souls too, I guess.

Now, I’m sure that Charles being in love with Dela is based on much more than just physical attraction magnified with psychic magic, but the juxtaposition here certainly makes it seem that way. Unless “turning their souls” has nothing to do with psychic magic (although this is what Lambo Girl implied back in Chapter 7) and it just means that Dela’s not a regular mom, she’s a cool mom.

Dela reminds Charles that Zade is possibly about to die, and this really doesn’t feel like a time to rekindle their romance. She says there’s some stuff she needs to do, and exists into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, Dela is overwhelmed by emotion.

. . .my mom became completely overwhelmed and melted into the floor. She stood leaning against the wall for a moment before sliding down to the floor and beginning to cry.

I think that perhaps Lani realized that describing Dela (who is a witch of some kind) “melting into the floor” would likely evoke some undesirable associations in the mind of her audience, but forgot to delete the original sentence after re-phrasing it.

So Charles follows her into the kitchen after a few minutes. When he finds her still crying on the floor, he gives her a hug.

Time means nothing to those who share such a strong bond, it was remarkable to me to see–even through the window of memories–how they actually were in person, and the love that instantly flowed between the two of them despite how long they had been apart.


One of the things that always frustrated me about The Parent Trap, even as a kid, was that the parents didn’t seem to have any baggage regarding their divorce, at least as far as I can remember. Like, if a conflict is bad enough to rip your family apart, it should leave some pretty huge emotional wounds, right? But if there are pretty huge emotional wounds, it would really hard for them to fall back in love. The reason for Dela and Charles’ breakup is addressed later, but it seems a little bit weakish to separate people who are purportedly so soulmatey.

Charles comforts Dela, calling her “my love,” and Dela says she loves him too.

Charles had his own irresistible charm and they both had an undeniable draw to each other.

That sentence is its own paragraph, by the way. After spending an entire scene doing a halfway decent job showing how much they’re still in love, we get a one-line paragraph explaining that they have chemistry.

When that’s done, Dela stands up and says she has some work to do:

She turned to Charles and quoted a favorite saying of hers: “It’s okay to fall apart for a moment but then dust yourself off and get back on your feet and get back in the game.”

I googled that quote because I could not believe it was an actual saying (although the sentiment is familiar enough), and sure enough, it is not. What gave it away was the mixed metaphor.  Maybe Dela knows a few quotes about pulling yourself back together and in her memory a few of them kind of globbed into one? I’ll go with that interpretation because otherwise I’d have to say that this book sucks.

Dela says it’s 11:00 already and she needs to start preparing (what? just a few pages ago, Zade says that they’ve been at Casa Holder for under an hour! And they arrived at dawn in the airport one town over, which at the very latest could be 6:31 (I’ll round up to 7:00 AM). So assuming it took an hour to get to Zade’s house, another to get her settled in, and then another for Dela and Charles to spend the requisite hour together, then the very latest it can be is 10:00 AM, and that’s with a generous timeline. I was not joking when I said timelines were important to me.

While Dela and Charles were reconnecting, Mac appears in the room. He asks to be clued in to what’s going on, and wants to know what Dela’s plan is. She tells him it’s “more than he’s capable of imagining.”

And even though Dela was just alarmed at the time (as was I), she decides that it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment (and by moment I mean chapter) to explain it by. . .telling the story of how she and Charles met! She says she’ll give him the quick version (which is a lie because it takes an entire chapter) because she has lots to do to prepare for healing Zade. Even so, she implores Mac to take a seat.

Mac is rightly skeptical:

He wasn’t sure what any of this had to do with the way my parents had met or why that mattered–unless, perhaps I had some rare disease that ran in my family.

Good instincts, Mac! As you can probably guess, the story about how Charles and Dela met is utterly irrelevant to what’s wrong with Zade!

Mac, Dela, and Charles sit down at the kitchen table, leaving one empty chair left over:

That would have been where I would have sat had I been conscious, which somehow made me sad

No, you would not have sat there if you were conscious because if you weren’t bleeding out upstairs you wouldn’t even be in Tennessee to begin with!

Zade also takes a moment to tell us how quirky Dela’s decor is:

The chairs didn’t match the table–or each other–and yet somehow they all go together and work as a set. My mother’s taste was much like her life, and mine too. It looked like it shouldn’t work but it did, and it was beautiful and unique.

I don’t really get why Zade doesn’t think that her mother’s life should work, and honestly it doesn’t seem like she does much besides misquote people and read tarot cards. Also, it’s funny that Zade says this because at this very moment she’s upstairs dying, which really doesn’t give the impression that it works very well.

But enough of that. It’s story time!

“Charles and I were both a part of a touring show in the ’70’s. I was barely eighteen and Charlie was almost twenty-one. He was working as a magician, and he was so arrogant; I couldn’t stand him[. . .] He had attracted some fame and was the main attraction at the circus[. . .]”

Whoo-hoo, more timeline info! I’m sorry if this sort of thing bores you but I love it. So, let’s assume that it is 1979, just to be super duper generous. This means that Dela was born in 1961 at the latest, and Charles was born in 1959 at the very latest. This means that Dela and Charles are 55 and 57 respectively. We know that Zade is “almost a quarter of a century old” which I’ll be nice and say is 23.  We also know that it’s 2016 because Zade and Jackson saw Deadpool together. This means that Zade is born (at the lastest) in 1993, which means that Dela and Charles were together for 14 years (!) before her birth. Also, it’s said that Charles is a little bit famous at this point, and back in Chapter 13, third-person italics say that Charles has been famous since his  early twenties. In chapter 2, Charles says that Zeb has known him “basically for as long as anyone has called him famous.” Since Charles is at least 34 when Zade is born, this means that he had been famous for a while, and also that Zeb was around and almost definitely knew Dela. In fact, since Zeb is (probably) actually magical, I think it’s likely that Dela introduced him to Charles in the first place. I totally pictured Dela and Charles being in their mid-forties, but whatever.

OK. Charles says that he thought Dela was just a silly card reader, and Dela shakes her head at him.

And just as Dela’s about to start telling the story, the chapter ends! Yipee! This one was so much shorter than the last one! Tune in next time to read about how Dela and Charles bickered their way to love.

3 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 16: Justice

  1. I’ve just found these and pretty much read them in one go. I still think this would be more interesting if Dela was actually the villain. Perhaps, she can keep Zade from leaving but lets her go and instead sabotages her daughter as a passive-aggressive way of getting her to return. That’s why Zade’s tarot readings are unclear; the cards aren’t trying to *teach* her a lesson. They’re a warning about Dela trying to teach her daughter a “lesson” for leaving. Dela’s interference would explain the platform’s mysterious malfunction (meant to spook Zade, rather than injure Sofia. That’s how Sofia survives with minimal injuries. Dela saves her because she thinks Sofia can serve as a distraction for Charles, who–knowing Dela so well–might catch onto her interference more quickly.), and maybe, she sabotages Zade’s illusion, knowing that if she’s injured that badly, she’ll have to come home and–in all probability–abandon her dream of a “normal” life. And perhaps, Lambo girl is actually Zade’s long-lost sister or just another spellcaster who has problems with Dela. Instead of Lambo girl being the antagonist, however, maybe she’s secretly looking after Zade and trying to interfere with Dela’s plans. Because Lambo girl attacks her (perhaps, therefore, thwarting one of Dela’s plans) and appears in one of the pulled memories, Zade assumes Lambo girl is her enemy. Maybe Dela even alters the pulled memories to frame Lambo girl.

    I’ll admit that I’m disappointed, too, that Clara wasn’t in here somehow. I mean, her last name is Faust. Like, Dr. Faustus. That would’ve been really cool and subtle symbolism that there was something not quite normal about her, while Clara implies clarity and bringing things to light.

    Or maybe Clara is Lambo girl, had a premonition of Dela sabotaging Zade, and decided to stop her. However, she arrived far too early, became involved with Mac, and left him and the show because of his abusive behavior. She still wanted to help Zade, of course, so she waited around and kept her eyes open.

    But instead, there’s a chapter of people talking while Zade just…bleeds out. I guess. I mean, I’m normally annoyed by symbolic fever dreams, but I’d really prefer them at this point. Or like, maybe Lambo girl could appear in Zade’s dreams, and they could have some sort of witchy duel. Anything would be preferable to the protagonist just…remembering people talking. What the heck?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Or maybe Clara is Lambo girl, had a premonition of Dela sabotaging Zade, and decided to stop her. However, she arrived far too early, became involved with Mac, and left him and the show because of his abusive behavior. She still wanted to help Zade, of course, so she waited around and kept her eyes open.

    I love your entire outline here. Dela or Charles (or Zade herself) could be rewritten as the antagonist, but I especially like the idea of Lambo girl as Clara Faust, who left Mac, because he’s a douche bag. It gives a background for both, and some real tension for Mac and Zade to have! And since Zade supposedly hasn’t dated much, she might be more naive about his behavior, up until her new gal pal springs the enlightenment on her. 😄

    It also never ceases to amaze me how many different stories could be crafted from this novel’s elements. Lani Sarem’s only fandom is gonna be a bunch of people who desperately want to revise her novel into something better. I suppose it’s sunk cost fallacy, but it’s also easy to come up with alternatives, the longer you think about this dumb book. There are so many missed opportunities…


  3. Closest airport with 5000 foot runway (long enough for private jet) is Warren County airport at McMinnville. There’s no airport at Woodbury. http://www.airnav.com/airport/KRNC

    Don’t forget time zone change when flying cross-country; a direct flight from LAS to RNC would take 4 hours at standard airliner cruise speeds, slightly less for personal jets (even if they could fly that long, more if you have to land somewhere for fuel.) RNC (McMinnville airport) is in Central time zone, so even if they left at midnight LAS time they’d arrive at RNC at 6 AM, but that’s only after the pilots are awake, flight plan filed, aircraft refueled, and patient transferred to plane at LAS. So I’d kinda doubt they could get wheels up by midnight, if that.

    Liked by 1 person

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