Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 17: The Lovers

Previously, on Handbook for Mortals: Charles and Mac made it to Tennessee where they met up with Zade’s mom Dela. Dela and Charles reconnected, but then Dela realized she needed to get prepared to heal Zade. But to explain what’s going on to Mac, she must first tell him the story of how she and Charles first met, for some reason? It’s not made very clear.

And because it’s taking place in Ye Olden Dayes of 1970-something, that means Lani has a license to get super misogynistic!

Dela starts telling the story about how she and Charles met.

As I scanned through Mac’s recollection, I was rememinded that my mother can be a magical storyteller, weaving the words of any story into a beautiful tapestry so vivid you’d swear you were watching a motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg.

I’m guessing that Zade’s mom is about as good of a storyteller as Zade is (which is to say “not very”), and Zade has mistaken going into ridiculous, needless detail for being “vivid”. Fortunately, we don’t have to hear Dela’s recounting of the tale. Unfortunately, Lani has opted to write it in third-person so we are spared nothing.

The story-within-a-story (hey, that’s kind of like 1001 Nights!) opens in 1977. It takes place in a generic movie-land carnival: it is specified that there are circus animals, circus tents, gypsy wagons, and some chintzy carnival rides set up. We’re told that in one of the smallest tents, a “gorgeous, young girl” wearing cliche gypsy drag, which is to say a long colorful skirt, sandles, and:

Her off-white cotton top had slipped off her left shoulder and the front was open just enough to show a little bit of cleavage.

Do you think that Dela mentioned that bit in her retelling? I’m going to go with yes. Also, I will take this moment to start a “Dela is so hot” count, since The World Revolves Around Zade has been rendered obsolete by something that actually warrants attention happening to her. So “Dela Is So Hot” (henceforth DISH) is at 1. I am also going to start a “Charles’ Handsomeness Amazes Dela” count (abbreviated to CHAD), because Lani Sarem is equal opportunity when it comes to pointing out how sexy these two are.

Anyway, Young Dela is doing a card reading by herself when a young handsome man enters the tent (CHAD #1) Dela doesn’t deign to look up. She asks what the visitor is doing here.

“Didn’t you see me coming in your little cards? Didn’t they tell you why I’m here?”

Charles wanders around the tent a bit while Dela continues to look at her cards. Despite this, she knows he’s a major hottie (CHAD #2).

“I don’t see something coming if I’m not looking into it,” she stated in a very matter of fact tone, still not looking up.

Which I guess is supposed to be a burn? Like, she’s not obsessing over him? Is that a burn? I’m not alone in my confusion, because Charles asks her what she means. Dela looks up, huffs, and wrinkles her nose while glaring at him.

He found the annoyed Dela to be very cute somehow and thought she looked utterly adorable when she scrunched up her nose.

“You’re so cute when you’re angry” is exactly the compliment every girl longs to hear. (also DISH #2)

Charles also thinks that Dela is “stunningly beautiful,” of course (DISH #3). Dela is less impressed, which confuses Charles because he’s “not used to girls who didn’t immediately fall all over themselves in front of him.” So just like her daughter, Dela is ~not like other girls~. Urgh.

Charles is so perturbed by her indifference to him that he takes a moment to brainstorm ways to charm her.

Anyway, Dela explains that reading tarot cards doesn’t give you automatic omniscience.

“So, now that you can focus on me, tell my why I am here.” Charles was cocky and rude because he felt like he could get away with it.

Attractive! Wasn’t he just trying to be charming? Is he one of those people who think that “charming” and “cocky” are the same thing?

Anyway, we’re told that Charles is here because he wants to know how this “beautiful young woman” (DISH #4) tricks people into “believing her lies.” Which makes sense, because as a magician, that sort of thing probably interests him a great deal. We’re also told that deep down, he legitimately wants to know if card reading works.

Dela takes this as a challenge, and tells him to sit down. He hesitates, and she tells him to sit down again, this time calling him “Charlie.” Is that what everyone calls him these days, or is the random chick who doesn’t like him much the only one who does?

When he complies, she realizes that he looks super tired and notices signs of dehydration in his “pretty blue eyes” (CHAD #3). She starts doing a reading and deals the cards into three piles. She looks at one of the piles, and asks him if he’s sick. He says no. Then she asks if he’s had a hard time sleeping, to which he says he has! He writes it off, though, since he’s showing physical signs that this is the case.

Finally, she states definitively that he is having nightmares. Dela is happy that Charles is an “easy read”:

She was surprised they were so attuned to each other, since she usually got along instantly with people who were this close to her, psychically.

Aww, remember how Mac and Zade hated each other when they first met too? It’s proof that they’re meant to be!

Again, Charles says that Dela is correct. But he thinks that it’s an easy thing to guess, and that he’s not impressed. Dela deals out more cards onto the table, and starts looking serious. She closes her eyes, and reaches out to grab Charles’ hands, and then opens her eyes.

Charles couldn’t help but notice how pretty her eyes were–or how calm he felt looking into them.

DISH #5.

Dela says that his nightmares always involve him dying and wakes up from chest pains, and it shakes him so badly that he can’t get back to sleep. Charles is shocked because she’s right! He looks shocked for an entire paragraph before Dela says that she’ll “take that as a yes.”

Charles says that she’s right and that he’s not told anyone. He calls her “Dely,” despite them not being anywhere near close enough for nicknames. In fact, Dela tells him not to call her “Dely” because she doesn’t serve sandwiches. This makes Charles feel better, and he’s able to fire off a witty comeback that doesn’t sound sexist at all:

“You could serve sandwiches, I believe it would help a lot with sales. Free sandwiches with every reading! Great for business.” He shrugged and winked at her.

Dela suddenly realizes that Charles essentially telling her to make him a sandwich is him flirting with her! Suddenly, she thinks that he’s super hot too (CHAD #4).

Charles directs the conversation back to the tarot cards, asking her how she was able to get all that by looking at pictures on the cards. He notices that the pictures are detailed when he takes a closer look at them. Dela says that she does more than just look at them to get a reading on the future:

“I’m both clairvoyant and clairaudient. ‘Clairvoyant’ you may have heard of. It means you can see things like they’re happening on a TV show. ‘Clairaudient’ means you can hear it just like when you listen to he radio.

I don’t know if I was justified when I rolled my eyes at Dela calling herself “clairaudient” and proceeding to define what that means, but it seems like an excuse to show off that Lani knows that world. Also, is it just me, or is Dela being a bit sloppy about keeping her magical powers secret? I guess most regulations were way more lax in the ’70’s, so I’ll allow it.

Charles thinks about what she said, and doesn’t even have a witty comeback. Dela asks him if he believes her yet, and says that she can help him figure out what is causing the nightmares. We’re told that she tries to not sound like she cares either way, but internally, she does want to help him. Charles says he’ll do anything to make the nightmares stop. Dela hands him the cards to shuffle. He gets a little bit freaked out by them.

To convince Charles to do it, Dela says that it will be helpful if he “puts his energy into the cards” and that she might bite, but the cards don’t.

Charles laughed a little at her joke and, being a twenty-one-year-old guy, he was instantly intrigued to find out if she really did bite.

I’m sure I’ve read equally badly written sexual thoughts, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt this much revulsion. I think it’s that this book is so deeply un-sexy that when little bit of innuendo  is clumsily inserted it makes it that much more cringey. Sadly, that’s not the last time we get to hear Charles’ thoughts about Dela’s potential chompiness.

He takes the cards  and shuffles them, and Dela can tell he’s still unsure about this whole thing, although:

she didn’t know that it was both because he was not completely convinced the cards wouldn’t bite–and he was also still wondering if she might.

I choose to believe he’s imagining her in a combat situation.

Dela tells him to “clear his mind”. Her voice is calm and Charles think’s it’s sultry. She tells him to keep shuffling them until they feel ready to “jump out of his hands,” and then to cut the deck into three piles.

Charles reveals his 1337 card shuffling skills, which gets Dela all hot and bothered. Charles notices that she’s impressed and gets cocky, but she pretends to be indifferent.

She knew enough to know that she needed to be coy; he was someone who only liked the chase.

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to take this as a fact, but it seems false considering he stays with Dela for nigh on 15 years.

Anyway, when Charles is done with the cards, Dela gives him her disclaimer about how the future can be changed etc.  She asks him if he understands, and he says “I guess so.” but really he’s too busy looking at Dela to understand what she’s saying (DISH #6).

Dela begins the reading. A lot of time is spent going into what Dela does with the cards, but it’s boring and not worth recounting. Instead, suffice it to say that a pile designated as the “future” is finally placed on the table, and she holds both of Charles’ hands. They both close their eyes.

Charles closed his eyes with her at first but found himself opening them and staring at Dela’s face. He was beginning to truly realize how beautiful her face was, her smooth complexion, rosy cheeks, and even her bright, plump, and kissable lips. Though, like most guys, his eyes did eventually wander slightly south of her face. She was wearing an off-white cotton top over her frilly colorful skirt, and the top framed her chest in all the right places.

DISH #7! Since Dela and Zade are supposed to look identical, I think it’s safe to assume Lani was going to cast herself as Dela as well. So basically, this kind of reads like self-idealization/objectification? I don’t know. It’s just kind of weird.

Anyway, Dela realizes he’s staring at her boobs, and reminds him she told him to not focus on anything and to let his mind go blank. Chales reminds her that she told him to do that “if he could” and his dimples set Dela a-swoonin’ once more (CHAD #5).

After flirting for a few lines, Dela tells him that it’s his “wandering eye” that’s the cause of all Charles’ woes. When Charles asks for clarification, Dela tells him “almost too cheerily” that:

“You slept with your assistant Betty, and while to you it was nothing, to her it was everything. She’s been in love–and slightly obsessed–with you for over a year. And even though you were both drunk, she thought it was the start of a life together.”

Interestingly, isn’t this basically the same (albeit gender-flipped) situation that made Mac swear off dating performers? (It is. I checked). But funnily enough, in that version it’s Clara, the slutty maneater who’s painted as the bad guy (Riley called her a “really terrible person.” Although all his knowledge is second-hand, so who knows). Guess who’s the really terrible one this time?

Before you find out just how wacko Betty is, though, Charles expresses that he didn’t know that she was in love with him.

He placed his hand over his face in disbelief. Not that he didn’t think that what Dela said was true, but he couldn’t believe that Betty would have fallen in love with him when he never really made any indication to her that he would even date her.

I’m honestly not sure if Charles is supposed to come off as a douchebro here, but I’ll assume it’s intentional so I can save my feminist outrage for when this Lani goes full misogynist.

Charles said he avoided sleeping with Betty for awhile, but one night they were just drunk, you know? and it wasn’t a big deal. But then Charles stops, and realizes that their drunken escapade only happened a month ago, and Dela said Betty had been in love with him for a year! When he tells this to Dela, she clarifies that Betty has been in love with him for a year, and in fact it’s been six weeks since they fucked. And when they fucked, Betty went into velcro-mode.

Charles can’t believe it. But Dela tells him it gets worse. And wow, it really does.

“Since you slept with her that one night, you been brushing her off, and she’s been getting more and more upset with you. She sneaks through the camp at night and watches you sleep.” She glared at Charles as if to say “how stupid could you have been to sleep with her in the first place?”

So Betty’s been getting her Edward Cullen on. At least here it’s portrayed as unhealthy? Why do I keep trying to give Lani Sarem the benefit of the doubt? Of course she didn’t realize that the behavior she’s presenting as creepy here is portrayed as romantic in one of her favorite novels. Of course this isn’t meant to be a parallel to Mac’s backstory. This is supposed to be an oblivious, dopey manly-man not realizing that this particular woman is emotional and clingy and a total psycho. And at the same times, we’re supposed to buy that Mac is a Rational Skeptic Tortured Soul even though he engages in behavior that is essentially identical, right down to the creepy voyeurism. It’s so frustratingly obvious that I find myself thinking that maybe, just maybe, Lani Sarem is aware of the parallels. But would the same woman who finds it necessary to explain jokes about boy-band names really be able to do something interesting and not write a five-page explanation of how clever it all is? I doubt it. I’ve said it before, but reading this novel is like being gaslighted.

Back to the story, though. Dela says that when Betty saw Charles with another girl two weeks ago, she “lost it.” Charles doesn’t seem to remember who this girl from two weeks ago was. But after minute, Charles remembers.

“Oh? Oh! Right. I remember her!” He snapped his fingers together and nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Pretty blonde. Nice to look at, turns out not even really that much fun. Betty was better than her. Not that Betty was amazing.” He shrugged. It sounded harsh but truthful..

Ha ha! Isn’t it cute and charming how little Charles cares for the women he uses for sex? Also, how did Charles go from Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy to Generic Stately Gentleman? I know people change a lot from 21 to 57, but there is nothing between Young Charles and Old Charles that really feels consistent.

Because Dela is a good woman, she just shakes her head at Charles’ adorable chauvinism. After sassing him about his memory, Dela gets to my personal favorite bit of tone-deaf misogyny in the chapter (and probably the entire book)

“Anyhoo, Betty is a woman scorned, and she’s finally realized that it meant nothing to you, and that she means nothing to you, and she can’t handle that. She’s decided if she can’t have you then no one will. When you do your bullet trick on Sunday, she’s going to switch out the shells for real ones, and when she shoots you in the chest, it’s going to kill you.”

Yes, that is right: Betty is so obsessed with Charles that she has decided that she must KILL HIM. Who needs actual motivation when you have sexist tropes to fall back on? After all, A WOMAN SCORNED has nothing left to lose. I mean, there’s a saying about it. That means it must be true. Women. And their emotions. Only beautiful magic girls are cool enough to not be clingy and possessive and insecure; that’s what separates Zade and Dela from all the rest.

OK, I need to move on.

Charles asks what he can do to stop this. Dela points to four more card piles, and says that each represents a possible way this could shake out. And, she tells him, there is ONLY ONE WAY that this ends well for him.

“The only way for this to work out even sorta okay for you, is for you to pretend that everything is fine until Sunday. Then, on Sunday, you will need to wear a bulletproof vest. When she shoots you, you’ll need to fall to the ground as if you were dead. She’ll convict herself through her actions when she thinks you are dead.”

She also tells him to call the cops just before the show so that they can arrive in time to see it take place, and if they ask how he knows, to say he heard her talking about it.

“I can’t even run all the scenarios of what could happen if you try to do something before Sunday but I am certain that none will work out very well. “

So don’t bother apologizing to her and trying to get her help! Words can’t save A WOMAN SCORNED! The only way is to wear a bulletproof vest and show the world how CRAZY she really is! She will stop at nothing until you are ruined ahhhhhhhHH!

Charles asks if he’s psychic since he saw this in his dreams. Dela thinks he’s arrogant for asking this actually quite legitimate question, but decides to let him know. . .something about energy?

“Energy is the most powerful thing in the world; it can literally move mountains. We all have the ability to use it[. . .]It’s like strength; some people are naturally stronger than others.

She also says that if you use it it grows stronger. She says that Betty’s energy is so strong that it’s manifesting as nightmares for him. Also, Dela thinks that fate is also trying to help him change it, because he isn’t supposed to die yet. By that logic, could anyone achieve a certain level of magical ability? Or are clairvoyance/emotion-projection different than magic proper? It doesn’t come up

Charles asks if Dela sees anything else, and she says she does not. Charles doesn’t take this well, but Dela says he must make a decision before she can see anything else. She reiterates that wearing a bulletproof vest is the only way he’ll survive. Charles says the whole thing sounds crazy.

“People do crazy things sometimes–especially women and especially for love.”

I’m dead now. I have officially died. This book killed me.

Dela makes a joke about how love is blind, but internally admits to herself that she can see why Betty fell for him: it’s because he’s so charming and hot! (CHAD #6).

Charles says that Dela knows a lot for someone so young, but then Dela says that she “was born old, and has an even older soul,” and tells him to look into her eyes. He does, and she gets all freaked out. He asks if she’s seen something related to his nightmare, but she says it was nothing. Then, Dela tells him that she has an appointment, and he needs to get out. She reminds him to wear a bulletproof vest, and when Charles says it’s part of the act to show that he’s not wearing one, but Dela just says that if he doesn’t, he’ll die.

Dela isn’t lying about the appointment. At that moment, a little old lady with impeccable timing enters and announces that she has an appointment. Charles lets the old woman sit down, and, before he leave, grabs Dela’s hand and kisses it. After Charles leaves, Dela begins shuffling the cards, and the chapter ends.

So. Wow. I actually think this chapter has some of the more less-bad writing: the redundancy is present when it comes to describing Dela and Charles’ attractiveness, otherwise it moves alone well enough. There are few random tangents, which I feel is aided by the fact that it’s written in third-person. I don’t read much romance, so I don’t know how the dialogue compares, but it feels on par with shitty published YA romance that I read sometimes in high school.

But wow, that sexism. Holy hell. Damn.

9 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 17: The Lovers

  1. You know, I wonder if Sanem had Dela and Charles getting together in the 1970s (and therefore having been together for well over a decade when Zade was born, which seems kind of off) because *her* parents got together in the 1970s (because she’s about a decade older than Zade)?

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  2. That was my thinking. I almost benefit-of-the-doubted Lani enough to say “well, maybe this takes place in 2006,” but nope, that Deadpool reference totally skewered any timeline-related plausible deniability.

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  3. Sorry for another delay. I’ll reply to the comments I missed, after this. 🙂

    I really have a love-hate relationship with these chapters. Like you said, these are the ones where it’s more polished and presumably from the original script, in fact. Also, thinking back, I’d say this should’ve been some combination of the story of Dela and Charles, but it wouldn’t be that much better. It’s just make more sense.

    The story-within-a-story (hey, that’s kind of like 1001 Nights!) opens in 1977.
    Our hero is more like Dunyazad, it would seem. Or a Scheherazade who was so boring that she almost killed herself, just to make things interesting. 😂

    It’s also kinda funny how they keep focusing on each other, even though Charles was supposedly distraught enough to visit a fortune teller and Dela is intended to be sensible. People don’t really choose a time and a place to fall in love, but looking back on it again, it seems like kind of the wrong time, especially if the tension is supposed to remain high. Plus, this is all lust.

    “You’re so cute when you’re angry” is exactly the compliment every girl longs to hear.

    OMG I didn’t even think about that. It really is kind of dismissive of her anger, isn’t it? ;P

    First time I read/skimmed it, I just kept snickering, imagining her looking like a pissed off rabbit, which then lead to thoughts of movie version Peter Pettigrew, in mostly human form, with a scrunched up face. Also, I’m kind of amused that a man was adoring the wrinkles on her face, considering how often those get removed with Photoshop. There’s a lot to take in here.

    “You’re so cute when you laugh” is a major sploosh though. 💖

    Incidentally, I kind of hate the Dela/Dely thing, because it’s literally one letter difference. On the one hand, I understand that the ee ending can sound cuter/more endearing, but it looks sort of lazy, so I’m at odds with it on a visually aesthetic level (and I feel this way for all nicknames like that.) But also, the joke attached to the nickname is weak.

    The crazy thing is, if he’d just presented it differently, I would’ve agreed that the free sandwiches was a great promotional idea. I’d be more inclined to get a fortune telling if they gave me a yummy treat, since that’s the one thing I wouldn’t feel cheated out of (unless it was a crappy sandwich.) Cured meats and bread wouldn’t be too hard to keep around, although nearby storage and refreshing could be awkward. Also, cute little tea party sandwiches? Yes.

    I think the more irksome thing about any form of fortune telling is that it’s a less honest con than magic tricks. These days, even with a magician’s insistence, it’s really about the spectacle. Most people know it’s fake and they’re okay with that. (I think? I could be wrong! I don’t go to magic shows.) Unfortunately, most psychics and other fortune tellers will work harder to convince people it’s true, and there are a lot of people who are already convinced anyway. I don’t knock the entertainment value, but I don’t like the folks that try to bullshit with it.

    And even though this is just a fantasy novel, it kinda feels that way here. It ties into the whole gas-lighting sensation through-out.

    ‘Clairaudient’ means you can hear it just like when you listen to he radio.

    And Clairolfactor means she who smelt it also dealt it! 😀

    Sorry, closest I could get… Sadly, as dumb as it looks, audient isn’t the worst substitution. I think she actually did some research here, because it’s an obsolete word for a hearer, although it might have some specific Christian context. It’s loosely based on old Latin… Although clairvoyant is entirely French. Still, it’s telling that this is where she put her creative effort in, and it’s pretty lackluster, plus kind of pointless. I think most people would accept that Dela’s visions include audio, since that’s what video is like in this era.

    Also, is it just me, or is Dela being a bit sloppy about keeping her magical powers secret?

    Well, no, not exactly. Fortune telling requires that people actually believe in your magic, because the person doing so isn’t going to get repeat customers otherwise. It runs on belief if it isn’t exciting enough to maintain interest. Stage magic just needs to be entertaining, and ruining the illusion will remove some, but not all, of the interest in seeing it performed. Learning how it works is just as good. Seeing a botched trick isn’t. This is why Zade was dumb for switching career tracks IMHO.

    Like Lani Sarem switching from band managing to movie making to YA franchise book writing.
    😋
    🥁

    There’s Something About Betty

    Whoo boy. I didn’t even notice the exact parallels, but damn. At least Mac’s freakout wasn’t as bad, and people do become hurt and sometimes do things they regret in the moment, but you’re right, it’s damning that of course the woman was the crazy one. I have so much to add and no idea where to begin. Here’s the easy stuff.

    First, the Bullet Catch going wrong isn’t that inventive, although I could swear there’s also some visual media (film, animation, something) that has this exact plot. This is going to bother me. (The Wikipedia article also links to one of it’s sources, which is interesting, but one of the most relevant awry stories feels like Chung Ling Soo. Extra bonus for him being a white guy pretending to be an asian man. That link goes to Wikipedia, but I also like how this site tells the story. XD) Also, someone on Something Awful noted that Kevlar vests were really new and expensive in the 70’s.

    Second, I’ve heard Betty from the Riverdale TV show was turned into kind of a closet psycho (which can be backed up with tinfoil theory from the comics. The people making this live action thing seem to be running with some of the fan ideas for new takes on the characters, including incest between Blossom and her brother, I heard.) Since Lani Sarem is into comics, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a loose reference to that. I could be reading too much into it, but she does love random, irrelevant name drops that don’t go anywhere, and the Zatanna one was more subtle (and slightly better handled.) Even if it’s not, it’s kind of amusing to imagine Betty Cooper stalking Charles and trying to guess what brought her to down so low that she decided to be his assistant. Of course, he says the other girl was the blonde… and surprisingly, barely any good. (Maybe Dela messed with Charles’ memories of getting it on with his daughter at that point? LOL not enough hair colors tho. Maybe Betty saw him with Dela and she messed with his memory? Ouch…) Also, apparently Sabrina’s last name is Spellman.

    Anyway, this whole debacle goes back to Mac telling Zade that hunches tend to be wrong. Also, it really sounds as if Dela and Charles are in the same circus, but maybe they aren’t? Sure, she can see into the future, and presumably the past, but anyone could’ve noticed this behavior if it was this recent. Because ignoring all that, I feel like this implies that the only way for anyone to notice is if they used magic, and while that might be a huge assumption on my part, I wouldn’t put that past Sarem. She thought being 5’9″ was impressive (maybe in Japan.) People who notice and recognize the warning signs, then follow their intuition could’ve helped, and in particular I’m sure that’s what was creating his nightmares. The way Dela explains that away is frustrating, especially since she didn’t recommend talking to Betty or even going to the cops if necessary or… hell, even just firing her and getting a bodyguard maybe? Her entire plan was to be part of the show, so if Betty isn’t his assistant, she has to go Rambo-style and then it’s pretty clear she was trying to kill him. I dunno, I’m with you. Trying to help Betty would be better, but there is also sometimes a rage point where people won’t listen. Even so, that isn’t usually 24-7 and if he could get someone with de-escalation training to assist.

    I dunno. The situation is forced and we really don’t even need this. The same applies to Clara and Mac. Not to mention, it has nothing to do with anything… Oh wait, we have to see their history so the happy ending will make a tiny ounce of sense.

    Incidentally, I took brief look at the first Maradonia spork and the first Keeper Martin’s Tale spork. I don’t think it’s good for my health. Too much bad writing all at once. I also glanced directly at the Amazon sample for Stanek’s gloppy high fantasy, and it’s kind of funny to say I initially thought Stanek’s trainwreck was better than Sarem’s, because it faked a plot slightly better. Also, I find awkward English more entertaining than bland purple prose repetition. Following the full bat-shit crazy of any of these books will prove how bad they are though, just in different ways. :p

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  4. Well, no, not exactly. Fortune telling requires that people actually believe in your magic, because the person doing so isn’t going to get repeat customers otherwise. It runs on belief if it isn’t exciting enough to maintain interest.

    Doy. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that…

    I feel like this implies that the only way for anyone to notice is if they used magic, and while that might be a huge assumption on my part, I wouldn’t put that past Sarem.

    In Chapter 18 Charles says something about Betty being “difficult to read.” Which I think might be meant to play up the “Betty is psycho!” thing, maybe? I’m usually not one to get offended over offensive portrayals of mental health problems (and I speak as someone who deals with mental illness issues that frequently verge on debilitating), but the “psycho ex-girlfriend” trope is just one that makes me cringe when it’s not handled with care. Especially when contrasted with Mac’s backstory about getting hung up on Clara “Really Terrible Person” Faust after banging her one time, and with Sofia’s jealousy issues that make her into a big old meanypants to poor innocent Zade, it demonstrates the dichotomy between Cool Girl Zade/Dela and every other female character (besides Lil and maybe Lambo Girl?)

    I haven’t read the Robert Stanek spork, but it looks like I need to now. Why do I love terrible things?

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  5. Can you imagine if LS played Zade, flashback Dela, and current day Dela? How amazing would that be.

    Also, I, too, hate the nickname ‘Dely’ I think it looks and sounds dumb. What’s wrong with calling her ‘Del’? I think it’s a lot cuter at least.

    Also Curse LS for making me read ‘claireaudient’, I will never forgive her for this affront to words.

    This chapter managed to be both boring with its stock romance set up, and absolutely infuriating with LS hitting all my casual misogyny buttons.

    I feel like pretty much every long running mystery/detective show has one episode where an actor dies because the bullets in their prop were switched out. I can’t name any off the top of my head, but I feel/know multiple tv shows have used this trope.

    I actually disagree, while 5’9” wouldn’t be gargantuan where I live (Midwest, USA) it would definitely be above average height for a woman. Wikipedia says the average for white women in the US is 5’5” (it’s shorter for other races which could be due to any number of factors from genetics to relative access to healthy food)

    [Riverdale tangent]

    As a Riverdale and comic book fan, I’ll say that Betty on Riverdale is definitely edgier and darker, and is portrayed as having some mental health issues but she’s never portrayed as a crazy, clingy rejected girl or something like that. (She’s actually one of my favorite characters in the show) There are incest vibes between the Blossoms on Riverdale, but nothing canon. The show is kind of supposed to be divorced from the comics I think. At the very least it’s more similar to ‘Afterlife with Archie’ in tone. (Afterlife with Archie is a kind of alternate universe Archie comic where the riverdale kids are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse)

    [Riverdale tangent over]

    Honestly who can tell when LS is making an intentional reference or not? For all I know she could’ve been trying to invoke Betty Draper from Mad Men.

    I think the thing that really gets me about the ‘psycho, can’t get a clue, clingy, crushing girl’ trope is that it places blame on women for not picking up the emotional clues a man is putting down, but the man in the situation is usually completely emotionally oblivious to the situation and gets out of it with no blame. It kind of plays on this double standard where women are mockable, and monstrous because they can’t pick up social clues which they are expected to because women are expected to perform the majority of emotional labor. While on the other hand, men are endearing because they ‘innocently’ thought something was just a straightforward night of sex; never mind the fact that this girl was dropping clues to how she felt so strongly that everyone else knew she was obsessed. One gender gets blamed for not being emotionally sensitive, while the other gets a free pass.

    Another thing that bothers me about this trope is that there are clingy, ‘psycho’ women in real life, but usually they are mentally ill, or they have a personality disorder, or they were raised in a situation that prevents them from recognizing healthy relationships. In fiction these women are only ever ‘crazy’ because ‘lol, that’s just how women are when they’re in love’. The trope rarely ever attributes these unhealthy thoughts or actions to anything that can be cured or managed, rather it presents the ‘crazy’ as being a trait inherent to womanhood. It’s another example of fiction painting women as inherently emotional, irrational, and unstable. I hate this trope so much, because people use it irl to be misogynistic by falling back on the emotional/crazy woman stereotype. If they do something shitty and a woman reacts they can play it off as the woman OVERreacting, because she’s an emotional woman doncha’ know. Or they can use it to dismiss a woman’s feelings or concerns, because surely she’s overreacting to a normal/benign situation.

    Bah, LS makes me tired.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey, I had an epiphany! What if we were looking at it all wrong? It’s not Jackson=Charles! It’s been Dela=Scheherazade this whole time. Remember the creating life part? What if Zade is an illusion clone that Dela sent off to win Charles back? It explains everything. :O

    Okay, with that out of the way…

    In Chapter 18 Charles says something about Betty being “difficult to read.”

    I guess the truth is, I was thinking about this the wrong way, initially. The real problem is that even Charles doesn’t know, but Betty is a dangerous stalker, so she could have cues that other people would pick up on. However, abusive people do hide their abuse pretty well from most outsiders, so it really depends. I didn’t initially consider that it could be gaslighting that was affecting Charles and the way Dela describes this would make more sense in that context actually.

    So, this really depends on how Betty is acting. I can buy a misunderstanding, especially if Betty just isn’t good at communication. It could be more insidious than that. Either Dela is fucking with Charles and pinning it on Betty, which might explain his freak out when he learned about her magic being real, or else Charles got inadvertently locked into a subtly abusive relationship with his assistant. In a lot of bad relationships, men tend to be the abusers, but there are a lot of women who can be just as abusive. Narcissists use gaslight techniques all the time and they can be either gender.

    Also, I’ve done some research on narcissism in the past, and many are misogynistic, including the women. It’s a vastly self-loathing and aggressive coping mechanism, where they excuse their bad behavior by warping reality and painting themselves as the only victim, so they can continue getting away with their bad behavior. Depending on how malicious they are, maybe there could be a change with group therapy, but this requires acknowledging their faults and finding a way to move forward by changing their destructive behavior. Overall, the worst offenders are never going to see the light and it’s better to avoid any attempt at a close relationship. You might become an acquaintance and get away unscathed, but you will suffer with them if you think you can comfort them. Misery loves company is very much a narcissist’s modus operandi and they won’t willingly let you go unless they get tired of you or somehow you’ve managed to stay strong long enough to realize the problem while playing along just enough to make them lose interest. I know that sounds weird, but of the anecdotes that I’ve read, that’s how it seems to go.

    So, in hindsight, I’m not surprised this book reads like a gaslight. I’m not a psychologist, but even if Lani Sarem could never be diagnosed with the actual disorder, she has a skewed perspective that very much matches it. American culture is increasingly valuing the sort of behavior that matches many of the symptoms of narcissism. I’m not blaming my country, but I’m casting some shade on our media and our current expression of values. Nothing is uniform, of course, but I don’t think it’s incidental that Sarem tried to game the system and expected to get away with it. There are more people to blame for that kind of corruption than just her (although she is the central figure to point fingers at, since she was clearly in on the scheme and she refused to take any responsibility for her lazy garbage writing.)

    If anything, the fact this atrocity was clearly never revised speaks volumes about Sarem’s thoughts. It’s mostly unfiltered, after all. Some of that could be simple mistakes and lack of time for reflection, but that she never thought she needed this also says a lot about Sarem and her work. 😒

    and I speak as someone who deals with mental illness issues that frequently verge on debilitating

    I feel you. I have depression. It’s a struggle that I deal with daily, and I know that it’ll never completely go away. As long as I have a rope and some rock climbing tools, I’ll keep on chipping my way up this mountain that I’ve found myself on. All I know is that letting go and hitting the bottom isn’t true hope. 😦

    I’ve done plenty of things that I’m not proud of, some of it surely influenced by my personal issues, but I am not my depression. We all make mistakes. That’s why I do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt, when it seems warranted, but even with something like depression, which many people have a very simplistic outlook on, there’s so much nuance. A lot of people do bad things, and it’s extremely reductive to site mental illness in such a general manner. So yeah, there is also that.

    The worst part is, the way these people are portrayed, the use of the psycho ex trope doesn’t even scratch the surface of that horrible reality. Again, it goes back to the potentially abusive relationship, and it’s portrayed with so little relevant detail, which is empty and meaningless, that my distaste for Sarem’s writing is only growing. Especially since the whole damn thing comes off like this comic here.

    I haven’t read the Robert Stanek spork, but it looks like I need to now. Why do I love terrible things?

    Well, I’m a huge sucker for faux medieval fantasy, so I’m biased, even when it comes to awful books. It’s still kind of crazy, plus it’s intriguing to compare Stanek with Paolini, who might have been an influence. I left a few comments but I paused on chapter 4. Not sure if I’ll read the whole thing, but I might finish the first book sporking at least. Gotta say, first time I think I’ve seen a fantasy writer explicitly hint at alchemy, although that’s not saying much. Stanek might be limited by his fluency in English, but he always seems to scratch the surface and doesn’t explain anything nearly enough. XD

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Small backtrack, realizing Dela=Zade still works best with Jackson=Charles. But it’s still messed up, even without the incest. Also, I meant to say “plenty of women can be abusive” not a lot. Of course, concrete numbers are a bit harder to pin down, especially reported compared to never reported, but on average it’s more men than women that are known to be abusive and historically it could’ve been an accepted control tactic in certain cultures. (I really, really wish wordpress had an edit function. My previous post was way too hasty. Gah.) 😛

    Also, I meant to clarify immediately after posting the huge comment above, but I had to run off for dinner. Depression is more like being in a pit, but it feels currently like it’s also a canyon with steep cliff walls on either side. I’m not trying to reach the mountain peak so much as I’m slowly climbing up and over as much as I can. Sorry, it was an awkward analogy. (Also, if I could edit, I’d change chipping for climbing. Kinda mixed my metaphors there.)

    What’s wrong with calling her ‘Del’? I think it’s a lot cuter at least.

    Awww, it is. I still find it annoying that it’s only one letter difference, but I like Del better. It sounds better. Although… it does follow the trend of characters with three letter nicknames! lol

    I feel like pretty much every long running mystery/detective show has one episode where an actor dies because the bullets in their prop were switched out. I can’t name any off the top of my head, but I feel/know multiple tv shows have used this trope.

    That’s probably why it seems so familiar to me, but I couldn’t place anything! Maybe I saw an episode of Law & Order that used it.

    I actually disagree, while 5’9” wouldn’t be gargantuan where I live (Midwest, USA) it would definitely be above average height for a woman. Wikipedia says the average for white women in the US is 5’5” (it’s shorter for other races which could be due to any number of factors from genetics to relative access to healthy food)

    Fair enough, I shouldn’t have dismissed her height like that, but the big problem is that her 5’9″ stature, rainbow dyed hair, motorcycle riding, supposed dyslexia, guitar playing, and other “wacky” traits aren’t that impressive, because they’re still ordinary things. Yet Sarem treats them as if they’re amazing, the first time they’re mentioned, and then these traits drop off the face of the Earth, except for the Sally Beauty Supply joke and I guess the motorcycle. At the time, I was mostly thinking of the Huge Schoolgirl from TV Tropes when I said that. Zade’s only that tall, because it’s another instance of Not Like Other Girls™ and I mentioned it derisively out of annoyance.

    More importantly, Sarem can’t seem to imagine unique people, so she swipes random things, and then turns them into some kind of throne for Zade to sit on top of. She decided to make Zade a “gypsy” so she’d be cool and speshul, while “accidentally” erasing the Rroma from existence. I therefore wouldn’t put it past Sarem to “accidentally” erase human intuition, in favor of magic always knowing the truth, that way Zade and Dela are always more speshul than everyone else. It’s the only thing Sarem can do with her characters. Hell, Charles Spellman is a David Copperfield expy and most of the rest are just real people dropped into the world, with or without a new name tag slapped onto their foreheads.

    As a Riverdale and comic book fan, I’ll say that Betty on Riverdale is definitely edgier and darker, and is portrayed as having some mental health issues but she’s never portrayed as a crazy, clingy rejected girl or something like that. (She’s actually one of my favorite characters in the show) There are incest vibes between the Blossoms on Riverdale, but nothing canon. The show is kind of supposed to be divorced from the comics I think. At the very least it’s more similar to ‘Afterlife with Archie’ in tone. (Afterlife with Archie is a kind of alternate universe Archie comic where the riverdale kids are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse)

    Ahh, gotcha. Well, that’s good. Betty deserves to be interesting, without being an abrasive stereotype. And yeah! I’ve heard of Afterlife with Archie. I really should read it some day. I think Jughead gets bitten, which is pretty terrifying. XD

    Honestly who can tell when LS is making an intentional reference or not? For all I know she could’ve been trying to invoke Betty Draper from Mad Men.

    Good point. It’s such a common name for that era. She might’ve picked it at random. lol Would Betty Draper be remotely accurate? I’ve watched a few scenes from Mad Men, but I never watched the series proper.

    I think the thing that really gets me about the ‘psycho, can’t get a clue, clingy, crushing girl’ trope is that it places blame on women for not picking up the emotional clues a man is putting down, but the man in the situation is usually completely emotionally oblivious to the situation and gets out of it with no blame. It kind of plays on this double standard where women are mockable, and monstrous because they can’t pick up social clues which they are expected to because women are expected to perform the majority of emotional labor. While on the other hand, men are endearing because they ‘innocently’ thought something was just a straightforward night of sex; never mind the fact that this girl was dropping clues to how she felt so strongly that everyone else knew she was obsessed. One gender gets blamed for not being emotionally sensitive, while the other gets a free pass.

    Absolutely! While many women do normally pick up on emotional clues better, it’s out of necessity for detecting potential violence, but it’s still not universally true that all women are better at this, and it certainly shouldn’t leave the man free of blame, no matter the situation they’re in.

    It’s worse that we don’t even get to see if anyone else did know Betty was in love with Charles. Sarem’s incredible vagueness and constant filtering make the whole thing sketchy. Did Dela only know from magic? Could anyone else have told him this? Does the man have no friends? Hell, does Betty have any friends? It makes it so much easier to second-guess anything they’re saying.

    Another thing that bothers me about this trope is that there are clingy, ‘psycho’ women in real life, but usually they are mentally ill, or they have a personality disorder, or they were raised in a situation that prevents them from recognizing healthy relationships. In fiction these women are only ever ‘crazy’ because ‘lol, that’s just how women are when they’re in love’. The trope rarely ever attributes these unhealthy thoughts or actions to anything that can be cured or managed, rather it presents the ‘crazy’ as being a trait inherent to womanhood. It’s another example of fiction painting women as inherently emotional, irrational, and unstable. I hate this trope so much, because people use it irl to be misogynistic by falling back on the emotional/crazy woman stereotype. If they do something shitty and a woman reacts they can play it off as the woman OVERreacting, because she’s an emotional woman doncha’ know. Or they can use it to dismiss a woman’s feelings or concerns, because surely she’s overreacting to a normal/benign situation.

    Precisely! I wasn’t able to form my thoughts into coherency, but you struck the nail right on the head. It’s even more disgusting to have a supposedly wise woman spouting the same misguided bullshit. That gives the whole thing a false sense of legitimacy. 😦

    Like

  8. Goodness, this is possibly the third time Lani has used the phrase, “In all the right places” to describe something. First time it was Zade’s ripped jeans, then it was Mac’s muscles, now it’s mom’s curves.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I keep on looking for something deeper here but this is just one big wish fulfillment mess. The only reason why Lanie is writing about how hot her Mom was/is, and how young looking she still is etc is because it’s already been noted that Lanie – I mean ZADE is a carbon copy of her Mom. Therefore I’m going to put this in the “World Revolves Around Zade” bucket.

    Ooh boy, this tale is tuckering me out and I haven’t even read the book. You (Good Lanie) is made of tougher stuff. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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