Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 18: The Chariot (Part Two)

Previously, on Handbook for Mortals: Dela and Charles continued to story of how they fell in love, which had literally nothing to do with what happened to Zade. Plenty of pop-culture references are made once Dela reveals her (and Zade’s) true abilities.

Also, remember how last time I said that Zade gets stabbed in this chapter? I accidentally lied. She gets stabbed in the next chapter. The rest of chapter 18 is more dialogue, and it too is a bit of a slog.

When we left off, Dela was explaining her magical powers to Mac, who was having a difficult time with the entire thing, as one might if one were told that magic exists.

Charles explains to Mac that the reason that Zade’s illusions were all kept super secret was because she used her actual magic. Mac asks what all of this has to do with Zade’s mysterious illness, and finally we get an explanation from Charles.

“When she did the Creation illusion, she built you into it. He was using you as a[ . . .]conductor of sorts. Some magick needs to be grounded, basically, like electricity needs a grounding wire. She needed really strong energy to ground that magick and keep it stable. The magick she was doing was dark and old magick that. . . well . . . that isn’t always very stable on it’s own. It’s referred to as chaos magick for obvious reasons. That’s why she wanted you to be on the board for the illusion.”

So the obvious question is this: why not use Charles as a “grounding wire”? He definitely for sure needs to be onstage with Zade if the act is going to be performed, so it’s a given that he’d be around, whereas Mac’s presence isn’t similarly guaranteed. And Zade knew that Mac was super pissed at her when her act was going wrong (in fact, she thought that it was her distraction during the performance that was causing the wackiness at first). Why wouldn’t she even take a moment to consider that her all-important “grounding wire” might not be at his most reliable? Since Charles figured it out, why didn’t Zade think of it while it was happening? Urgh. Argh.

Anyway, Dela elaborates, saying that Zade had him running the Main Board because that would put him in a good spot for anchoring? It’s not made clear why he needs to be Main Boarding as opposed to his normal duties.

Charles asks when Mac left the board, and Mac tells him that he hadn’t run it at all that evening. At one point, he left the theater altogether. Dela guesses that this was when it all went wrong. Mac instantly feels horrible for being at fault for the disastrous act, but Dela assures him that he’s not to blame. Mac asks why Zade would do something like this without telling him, but Dela acts like she’s about to explain it:

“Well, I did it with Charles for years without him knowing, and she knew that. Of course, Charles was in the show, so he couldn’t have left. It’s really dangerous to use someone who is unaware without a surefire way of knowing they won’t leave.”

There is zero explanation as to why Zade used Mac. I mean, they weren’t even anything official by that point. What if she had decided to go with Jackson as a boyfriend? Would she have continued to use Mac as a magical aid without his knowledge? Why the hell did Charles let her do this? It seems suspicious to me. Maybe it was all part of Charles’ secret plan to reunite with Dela? Maybe after it was clear that Zade was going to choose Mac as her BF, Charles was like “well shit” and concocted a plan that would necessarily rope Dela back into his life.

Mac continues to blame himself, and feels super guilty. Honestly, I’m with Dela on this one (in case you couldn’t guess): Zade made a really, really dumb move that Mac had no way of anticipating. On the other hand, I do think that Mac should feel super guilty about his abusive behavior towards Zade, but that’s not mentioned once.

Mac says that he wishes he could make it right. Dela says that there is something he can do! And that because he caused the energy to go wonky, he’s the only one who can make it right! Mac asks what it is he has to do. Dela has a hard time explaining Mac’s task:

“Please try not to freak out. I have to forge a . . . umm . . . well, it doesn’t matter what it really is. It’s going to look like a dagger–though it won’t actually be a dagger at all. It’s not worth explaining to you what it really is, other than it’s magick. At three o’clock sharp tonight, you’re going to have to plunge it into her heart on my altar outside.”

Three o’clock tonight? Then they’re fine. It’s probably only about one in the afternoon at the latest by this point, so at least now we know why Dela is happy to sit around drinking tea and telling stories?

Mac can’t believe what he’s hearing, and starts feeling ill.  Many words are spent on showing Mac’s bewilderment. It’s not good, but it could be edited down into something that verges on being so. He asks if Dela is “screwing with him,” and she says she’s not. Mac asks how stabbing Zade could possibly help her. I, too, am very curious about the mechanics of Dela’s plan.

“It’s extremely difficult to actually explain but, in a way, it will release the energy that she’s battling with, plus–remember–it’s not a real dagger it’s a just going to look like one. It’s magick, with healing properties–think of it like an EpiPen[. . .] Right now, the energy is bouncing around her body and ripping her apart inside.”

The energy must not be very strong; Zade’s been in this state for about sixteenish hours now, and by the time she gets epi-daggered, she’ll have been that way for like 31? If only this book had used some of its 400 pages establishing a magic system instead of focusing the entirety of act 2 on a love triangle that causes zero drama! The incompetence hurts. I appreciate the explanation, but it feels very ad-hoc since Zade has never taken a single moment to explain how magic works beyond saying it involves “hand-waving.”

Dela hopes that Mac does as she says, because the situation will be hopeless otherwise. Another paragraph is devoted to showing how emotional Mac feels right now: he’s all scared and overwhelmed. Finally, he asks if this is the only way to save her. Dela says that she thinks so, and that even if Mac does go through with it, she might die. Mac struggles with the choice, and Dela asks him again to do it. Finally, he agrees, but he repeats how insane all of this sounds, and Dela thanks him.

Hot take: this novel should have been entirely from Mac’s point-of-view. I think he’s an ass, but he (and kind of Charles) is the only character with an arc. The “twist” that Charles is Zade’s dad and not a romantic rival would have actually worked, too.

Hot take II: this novel is told from the POV of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Hot take III: This novel explores the interior world of someone who has grown up feeling like they must be a quirky object of male desire, and the sad, superficial, self-centered life that results from such a worldview.

Charles looks at Mac and feels like he’s getting to know him better than ever before (duh?) and Charles thinks that he sees a lot of himself in Mac, and “finally sees how much Mac really loved Zade.”

Mac starts crying:

“What if I lose her? And it’s all my fault.” It wasn’t a question. Charles could tell that the reality that Zade could die had hit Mac and he was feeling the full force of that truth.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but even though Zade is supposedly retelling this after going through people’s memories, Zade has begun referring to herself in third-person. I’m pretty sure that’s because this scene was written before Lani had made up the memory-pulling device and she forgot to go back and edit this.

Anyway, Mac asks Charles why he and Dela broke up. Charles clarifies that Dela left him, but that he mostly deserved it. Mac teases Charles about admitting he did something wrong, and Charles goes on to explain what happened:

“I lost it when she told me what she was. It was right after we had Zade. I thought maybe she had made me love her [. . .] Because I wasn’t sure if I could believe her, I cheated on Dela to see if I could. When I was able to cheat, I realized that if she had put a spell on my she wouldn’t have ‘let’ me be able to do that. I felt so guilty about what I had done that I started drinking heavily and even started doing drugs”

I don’t think Charles’ logic is valid, but I can kind of understand someone who is in crisis mode questioning the legitimacy of their relationship trying to test it this way. Again, I feel as though the male characters (by which I mean Mac and Charles) are allowed complexity and growth, which makes them more interesting.  Like, even though Charles falls into a cliche drugs-and-alcohol spiral, there’s inner conflict here that Zade never gets. One of the reasons this chapter is so hard to make fun of in a humorous way is because it’s not hilariously awful. It’s not great, by any means, but it feels like it could be the climax to a OK paranormal romance/dramedy with enough editing and reworking.

So Charles says that after learning that Zade was magical too, he began talking about “putting her in the show” (she’s like a baby though? what the hell? I guess that’s the point?). Dela did a card reading, and one of Charles’ potential paths was becoming a total asshole, while the other was having all three of them live happily ever after. Despite this, Dela wanted to preempt any relationship trouble and broke up with him by disappearing with their child leaving only a letter.

“In the letter, she said she would come back when–and if–I had decided to take the right path, and when she saw it clearly.”

Now Dela gets to have inner conflict too? Wow, I really wish Zade could stay dead. It’s like her presence exerts a force that flattens out the personalities of everyone around her. Like, I get that Dela’s anxiety about her relationship is abusive and clearly shoehorned in as a reason for the breakup between her and Charles to be “both sides were wrong,” but it’s still more interesting than anything we’ve seen from Zade.

So Charles got depressed and bottled up all his feelings:

“I found out later, though, that [Dela] did put a spell on me not to talk about Zade–or to admit to a connection to either of them. That never made any sense to me, but I think it was because our break-up was just too hard on her. I broke her heart, so she thought it was best to push me out of her life altogether.”

Upon closer inspection, I have decided that I do not completely trust Charles’ retelling. I feel like he’s leaving something pretty major out of this. If a good author was writing this, Charles would be telling this story massively biased in his favor so it just looks like Dela’s the irrational heartless one. Although maybe he’s telling the truth: Dela apparently kept Zade in Tennessee via magical means, so she does have a history of controlling behavior.

After Charles tells his story to Mac, he feels relieved to have finally told the story of his failed relationship to someone. And that is the end of the chapter.

So, what are my thoughts on chapter 18?

  1. It probably could have been edited down. Alternatively, this dynamic could have been more present throughout the rest of the novel (maybe Zade could have learned this stuff in a scene with Charles prior to their spell-gone-wrong, and gotten super angry at her mother).
  2. There was zero tension. We get a few paragraphs where Mac feels things about having to stab his girlfriend with a magic dagger, but nothing feels urgent. This is supposed to be nearing the climax, and Mac’s few pages of drama are the only plot-related bit.  Everything else was brand-new subplot.
  3. Ironically, Zade is pretty much an afterthought in this chapter. This should be the point where the World Revolves Around Her (as she’s in a coma or something and about to die), but we’re taken on a long, winding journey through the history of Charles and Dela.
  4. Why the hell was Jackson in this book? He never caused any conflict at all. Why wasn’t Charles a greater presence? As we can see, he’s far more relevant to the plot than Jackson. The only answer can be that Charles is Jackson, which fixes both of these problems by making Charles have more of a presence and Jackson relevant to the plot.
  5. In the first half of chapter 18, I forgot to point out this line that takes place just before Charles explains what happens with Betty:

“His eyes sparkled, making Charles look mischievous and full of secrets”

You know who else’s eyes are described as sparkling five times throughout this novel? Jackson. Mac’s eyes sparkle once at the very beginning, but since then, Jackson’s the only one whose eyes are consistently described as sparkling. Coincidence? Hell yeah. Fodder for my dumb theory? Also hell yeah.

Tune in next time for the thrilling, Zade-gets-stabbed-ing climax!

I’m pretty sure I’ve now sunken more effort into Handbook for Mortals than I have on any creative project of my own. So I guess that makes Lani Sarem my muse?

11 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 18: The Chariot (Part Two)

  1. Upon closer inspection, I have decided that I do not completely trust Charles’ retelling. I feel like he’s leaving something pretty major out of this. If a good author was writing this, Charles would be telling this story massively biased in his favor so it just looks like Dela’s the irrational heartless one. Although maybe he’s telling the truth: Dela apparently kept Zade in Tennessee via magical means, so she does have a history of controlling behavior.

    I think the problem is how a measured response would indicate Dela’s overprotective and controlling nature, as well as the fact she kept secrets from him. She had her reasons, which he touches on, so unless he’s sort of depressed into seeing only his own faults, it comes off as weird. Plus, there was the weird comment where Dela said “You finally told someone about us.” This makes no sense if she had a spell that would keep Charles from doing so, unless Zade being in danger somehow creates a loophole? I was confused about his ability to confess at the hospital, because these are mixed signals. My only guess is that LS kept waffling on which idea she wanted (Charlies merely following a wish to stay away or Charles being kept at bay with magic) and then she never went back to streamline everything together with more cohesive editing.

    It also continues adding to the gaslight feeling. Mac reacted badly and was abusive to Zade, but taking her to the middle of nowhere in Tennessee and being fed the backstory of these two people feels as if her parents are gaslighting Mac. Seriously, it’s creeping me out, as if he’s being given a gunshot wedding. Plus, Zade choosing him as her magical anchor isn’t just stupid, it almost feels like that could also be a gaslight attempt to control him. She knew he was more emotional than he’d realize (he sees himself as utterly rational, from what we’ve been told) and then when he gets mad, she reels him in by almost dying… or so they’ve said. The doctors can’t conclude anything, so for all we know, the well-spring of blood is like a fake blood packet and Zade is simply acting or she’s asleep and fine.

    I don’t like Mac, but I’m getting so many gross vibes from Charles, Dela, and Zade at this point that I really wish he’d stayed away, letting Charles handle the whole thing alone. I think the warning signs began the minute they said Mac needed to go with them to Tennessee, and ever since then I’ve slowly gotten more nauseated by this. It just goes to show how unbelievable everything is that it comes off as being lied to, especially since we keep seeing little hints of what might be a damnable truth hidden within. Meh…

    There’s an old comic book called Roxanne and the Quest for the Time-Bird that gave me the inspiration for Dela being Zade btw. The initial protagonist is an old knight named Bragon, who used to be the lover of a sorceress queen named Mara. One day, sometime after he’d retired, a young lady named Roxanne shows up at his door, claiming to be his daughter. Bragon is at first shocked, but grows increasingly fond of her. He likes being a father. During the quest, there are a few hints that something is off about Roxanne, like how she refers to her furry blue fantasy pet as “Little Master”, how she freaks the hell out when an opponent tries to kill her pet, and how she somehow disappeared when other members of the quest are captured or trying to escape a later antagonist. This is easily ignored stuff, up until the tragic reveal at the end. I think this is a great graphic novel short series, except for when Bragon smacks Roxanne across the face, to save her life at one point, but it might be hard to find. So…

    SPOILERS!!!

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    We eventually find out that Roxanne never existed (even though it must’ve been possible for him to impregnate the queen back then, to be fooled by her initial story.) Roxanne is some kind of psychic/magical projection/hologram created by the little furry critter, and in the end the knight becomes delusional and clings to the falsehood, even after he learns the truth. As he dies, he gets to hug Roxanne one last time, because the critter is sapient and sympathetic to his plight. It’s a million times better when experienced, and blows the Handbook for Mortals into smithereens as far as sheer pathos goes… which is sad, considering the only woman in the book is manipulative (also, she just wants the evil power for herself, if I’m remembering correctly) and Roxanne isn’t real. It’s… misogynistic? It’s been quite awhile since I’ve read it, and it’s an old French comic, so that would be unfortunately standard for the time period. I can’t say a hundred percent without reading it again.

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    Dela=Zade would be a similar ruse, but it’s more horrifying and bizarre, given the outcome of this book and the terrible writing that only accidentally implies this possibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles used Jackson as an attempt to uncover the truth about her. When Zade bought Jackson, hook, line, and sinker, then Charles knew she wasn’t real either and he took her back to Dela. Which means they’re both really weird, evil, fucked up people for forcing Mac into the middle of their madness, even if he is kind of a crappy person.

    I’ll comment some more later. Oh, but in the meantime, enjoy this video by Lindsay Ellis. This is a series dissecting the Michael Bay Transformers movie franchise that’s really informative, even if you’ve never watched those movies (like me.) She just uploaded this one, but I think it’s incredibly poignant, since this novel does the same thing and I’m sure the movie would too. In general, I love Lindsay’s channel. 🙂

    Haha and I too can’t wait to see Zade stabbed. It is really funny how everything is garbage, but still a million times more interesting when she’s not in the story.

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  2. I recently read a historical fantasy YA novel called “Cuckoo Song” by Francis Hardinge that completely destroyed me emotionally. It stars a character is doesn’t realize that she’s not who she thinks she is, and is actually a replacement of sorts, and it’s probably one of the my favorite novels I’ve read in the past five years. Having Zade be a narcissistic clone-ego-feeder for Dela who gets a narcissistic mind of her own would be so dark. I love it.

    I love Lindsay Ellis. I actually only found Jenny Trout’s HFM spork because she tweeted out the link.

    I’ll look for the Roxanne comic, because that sounds really interesting.

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  3. i wonder how miss Lani expects ANY of this to be in the movie. there is so much exposition. even if you cut out the parents background story, the explanation on how zade’s magick works is really boring, yet still necessary for the current arc. i heard one of the reasons why “the immortal instruments” bombed as a movie was due to the overwhelming exposition

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  4. Oh, sweet! I found Cuckoo Song on Amazon, and although I’m confused about the super low price, the sample was great! Plus, all the reviews and hints are intriguing, especially the relationship between the sisters. 😀

    Ahhhh… I rarely pay attention to twitter, so I didn’t realize. Handbook for Mortals is right up Lindsay’s alley! (And Nella’s, of course. I still remember the Tiger’s Curse Let’s Read, before Chez Apocalypse went through… well, an apocalypse.) XD

    I really like Roxanne, although I read it… huh, at this point it could be 10 years ago. For all I know, it might not hold up as well as I thought it did. I don’t know if the English versions have been republished recently, but I doubt they’re popular enough for older editions to break the bank. I originally stumbled onto them at Edward McKay’s or another used book store, but I’d bet Amazon has a listing. I didn’t think to look earlier. 🙂

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  5. i wonder how miss Lani expects ANY of this to be in the movie. there is so much exposition. even if you cut out the parents background story, the explanation on how zade’s magick works is really boring, yet still necessary for the current arc. i heard one of the reasons why “the immortal instruments” bombed as a movie was due to the overwhelming exposition

    Fitting in the mag ick info isn’t that hard. Just remove some of the filler from earlier and insert the explanation there.

    Now that I think about it, Mac needed to come to terms with this before he thinks Zade should leave the hospital. Even if the first doctor had no idea what was wrong with her, they could’ve tried taking her to a different hospital… WTF did he expect, when they were going to Dela’s house in the middle of nowhere? What were his thoughts on the plane trip? Did he ask Charles anything? Inquiring minds must know! 🤔

    For that matter, what makes Charles believe that Dela can save her? Did he ever see her rescue anyone from near death before? What does he think her limits are, or was this a discussion they had sometime before Dela divorced him? … Did she divorce him? Did they even get married that first time? I think that was unclear.

    We could easily drop most of act 1 and act 2 to answer some of these questions, because the book needs a massive overhaul. Adding in Jackson was a mistake of epic proportions and just doing that frees up plenty of room for every world building and character development scene in the book. So would removing the repetition and needless exposition sprinkled through-out. Lambo girl’s entire introductory chapter could be cut; nothing important happened in it, and that includes her, because she doesn’t do anything remotely relevant to the plot in this book.

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  6. I don’t often have anything clever enough to say, but I wanted to comment that I’ve been following your blog since about chapter 7 and THANK YOU for taking the hit so more of us don’t have to. I saw the buzz about this book cheating its way onto the NYT list but I had no idea it was so… beige.

    Where we could have had the ITU doctor say “no, sorry, you’re not moving this critically injured person from the hospital until I’ve spoken personally to this mysterious new doctor because she could die” leading into PRISON BREAK! Excitement! Cross-country chase! Actual concern that the protagonist won’t make it!

    …Instead we get more plodding “okay sounds legit off you pop, oh and by the way we can just unplug all the equipment keeping her alive, just stick her on your private jet, it’ll be fine, critically ill people get moved out of intensive care with no support all the time, because that’s why it’s called INTENSIVE CARE.”

    And casting your favourite actor as a love interest just so he can fawn over you in a movie isn’t creepy at all.

    Who deluded this poor individual into thinking this boring drivel of a fanfic was good enough to turn into a movie?

    Perhaps she is a genuine witkh (that’s how you spell it, right, with a k?) and she made it as intentionally dull as possible, so no-one notices the fact she’s sucking out their life-force while they read it…

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  7. I’m honestly happy that Lani and GeekNation had the gall to try to pull off something so blatantly fraudulent with a novel that has clearly had no editing for anything beyond spelling and really basic grammar. Like, it would still be a horribly shitty thing to do if the book had been of average quality, but it’s easily the worst YA novel I’ve ever read. Like, I only physically cringed while reading Twilight a few times. For the most part I just found it boring. But this book caused me to feel physical feelings of second-hand embarrassment that I’ve only really experienced via the internet.

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  8. Perhaps she is a genuine witkh (that’s how you spell it, right, with a k?) and she made it as intentionally dull as possible, so no-one notices the fact she’s sucking out their life-force while they read it…

    Witkh! Perfect! We needed a speshul name for these non-Rroma non-nomadic immortal-mortals, since LS couldn’t be bothered. 😂

    Who deluded this poor individual into thinking this boring drivel of a fanfic was good enough to turn into a movie?

    Some poor friend who thought she’d churn out more than one draft, I suspect. Maybe Skye Turner.}

    Incidentally, I went to the sample to find her name. I thought it’d be faster, I guess. So, I glanced at the new reviews for amusement sake (I hate how Kindle doesn’t count as verified.) One of the 5 stars gave a more detailed review, which excused the writing with “it’s YA” but then also admitted that Jackson was empty, which was excused by it being young love. lol

    I can’t tell if it’s honest confusion or lip service. Maybe both.

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  9. But this book caused me to feel physical feelings of second-hand embarrassment that I’ve only really experienced via the internet.

    The Handbook for Mortals: a Printed Internet Experience for $20

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  10. What makes her choosing Mac as her anchor weirder is that he wasn’t there when she created this act, so she must have used Charles as an anchor for all the rehersals…

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