Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 21: The World

Well, this is it, folks. The final chapter of Handbook for Mortals: Book 1 of the series is upon us, and it is literally three and a half pages long. Fortunately, we get a teaser chapter that picks up precisely where this one leaves off, so I’ll do them together.   Lol no, sorry, real life stuff got in the way and I wanted to get what I’ve written up today, so the excellent teaser chapter which features a prophecy, implies that Zade is the Chosen One, and is more than a little bit transphobic will be up tomorrow/later tonight(?) After those, though, I’m planning to do some post-mortem essays/analyses/predictions for Book 2 of the series over the next week or so, so check for those if you want.

But, without further ado:

Previously, on Handbook for Mortals: Zade recovered from her ordeal while Dela and Charles fell back in love. Then, Zade and Mac returned to Las Vegas, and they talked with Tad about wedding plans. After a welcome-home party for Zade, she and Mac talked about how Jackson still totally wants her, but that he’ll probably have to wait awhile.

”You may now kiss the bride.”

The Nevada sun shone down on the bride and groom, and the breeze blew her hair as their lips met. It was like a perfect sight out of a magazine, and I was pretty sure I had never seen anything more magical—and I knew magick. After a few moments, the bride pulled back and Charles looked at Dela with tears in his eyes.

So opens the final chapter of this horrible novel. Notice how it’s still not explicitly stated who is getting married, even though Zade’s narration sort of implies it’s not her and Mac. Like, yeah, it’s not super hard to figure out that Dela and Charles are the ones getting married, but it’s still ambiguously phrased. Was Lani trying to do a plot twist here? Regardless of the answer, she failed miserably:

If it was meant as twist, it wouldn’t be a surprise regardless of whether was Charles and Dela or Zade and Mac, because both of those possibilities are super obvious. If it was revealed that the bride was Sofia, that would be a twist, because the possibility was never hinted at. It would still be a shitty twist, but it would be a little bit clever.

If it was supposed to be clear that this is the wedding of Charles and Dela by the end of the second sentence, it’s shitty writing because the reader is uncertain if their interpretation is correct. If the reader supposed to be pretty-sure-but-not-quite that it’s Charles and Dela, it’s shitty writing because the big reveal is that the reader’s original interpretation was correct. No matter what Lani’s intention was, it was done horribly.

Anyway, the ambiguity goes on for another fiveish paragraphs. We’re told that Dela and Charles sit at the “high table,” (this doesn’t mean it’s their wedding!) and Zade says they “feel relaxed and happy” and that they’ve “come so far” (neither does this!). Zade spends her time socializing with other guests, and finally, Dela approaches her for a hug:

”I rose up to hug her tightly—my first moment semi-alone with my mother since she had officially become Mrs. Charles Spellman. I already knew she was keeping her own name, though.

This still doesn’t definitively tell us that this is Charles and Dela’s wedding. When I was reading this for the very first time, I was positive it would end up being an actual twist. Like, I thought maybe this chapter takes place years in the future, and it’s actually Zade and (a non-Charles version of) Jackson getting hitched! Maybe Dela and Charles had gotten married months ago, and only returned from their honeymoon for their daughter’s wedding.

Zade says she can’t believe that her mother and Charles got married (again, this can be read as intentional misdirection).

”I never told you this, but I always saw your dad and I getting married. But I also saw that it was only going to happen if he truly changed, which is something I never had faith in.”

“I always knew Donald Trump would be elected president, but I also saw that it was only going to happen if he won states predicted to go blue, which is something I never had faith in.”

Zade says it was an amazing surprise, and Dela says a few clichés about how everything can change in an instant and that things are darkest before the dawn. Zade agrees, and I would also like to point out that this still isn’t necessarily Dela and Charles’ wedding!

Also, here is the final mention of Jackson in this entire novel:

Tom from Jackson’s band got on the mic.

It never says that Jackson is here! Jackson’s last onscreen appearance is at Zade’s party! You’d think that Lani would put her third love-triangle corner in here somewhere, but nope. I wonder why that could be? (It’s because Charles is the one getting married and therefore cannot dress up as him right now).

OK, so, anyway, the reason Tom went up there was to announce that it was time for the bride to toss her bouquet. Dela walks up to the stage, and only now do we definitively find out that this is in fact Dela’s (and therefore Charles’) wedding.

Mac asks if Zade is going to go try to catch it, and she says she doesn’t believe in such silly superstitions. Mac pushes her to go anyway, but Zade is still facing away from the stage and is behind all the other women who are trying to catch the flowers. I bet you’ll never guess what happens, though: Zade turns around just in time to see the bouquet flying right at her, and it lands right in her arms! It takes a while for Zade to figure out that Dela magicked it into her arms, but then she sees Dela smiling mischievously. Dela says that you can’t fight Destiny, and that some things are meant to be (which kind of contradicts that talk about free will, but whatever).

Mac laughs, and Zade considers that this is true. We are now only lines away from the official end of the novel. Now, before you start asking questions, like “So, why was this novel called Handbook for Mortals? There’s nothing in hear about how to deal with the finitude of life, or how to operate in a world where there are beings who are far more powerful than you yourself could ever hope to be. The protagonist is already basically omnipotent. Why wasn’t this called something like  A Great and Tarot-ble Beauty? Or The Fault in Our Cards? Or The Fate U Give? It has nothing to do with anything. And wasn’t this originally conceived as a movie? Wouldn’t that make even less sense?”

Well, that gets answered, thankfully. I for one would have probably obsessed over the decision  until I came up with a theory that maybe there’s a tarot-related lesson us mortals are meant to take from each chapter, and then I’d have to get really into tarot until I was able to crack the code. Instead, Mac just says a thing that obviously isn’t shoehorned in to justify a name Lani Sarem thought sounded cool.

”Think there’s a book or something out there?” Mac asked.

“Book?” I turned to clarify whether I hand heard the right word. I wasn’t sure what he needed a book for, because I had already caught the bouquet.

“Yeah, you know, like a handbook for mortals, just so I can keep up!” He grinned and winked at me.

I smiled back.“I’ll try to find you one.”

And they lived happily ever after…OR DO THEY?

 

My bet says no, because I think that this was Mac’s way of telling Zade he has a terminal illness, and was suggesting that she find a copy of Handbook for Mortals  to help prepare for his untimely demise.

And that is it! That’s the end of Book 1!

I’ll be back to spork the teaser chapter later, and then this will be over. OR WILL IT?

10 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 21: The World

  1. After a few moments, the bride pulled back and Charles looked at Dela with tears in his eyes.

    And I knew then, as I covered my ears from the loud, disgusting wail that came out of my dad’s mouth, that I hated my Aunt! HOW could he marry Cam? That twink is younger than me and just too hot for marriage! Not to mention how that kind of marriage between a mortal and an immortal is totally immoral. What is this world coming to?! I rolled my eyes and seethed in my seat.

    Mac saw my face and chuckled. “Five bucks says they won’t last more than two years.”

    I countered, “Ten bucks for six months, then Cam goes back to dating Zeb, like nothing happened.”

    Mac arched an eyebrow in confusion, but I nodded knowingly. I know these two men like the back of my hand, even though Zeb still hates me. Why isn’t he here to comfort me? Mac is a total load.

    This sort of misdirection is more frequent in TV/movies: usually, it will involve making the audience think that a timeline occurred in a different order than it really did, or mess with locations. Even then, it needs to be done really, really well. Since LS wrote this as a screenplay first, I think that she was trying to emulate that convention. But then, when she went to turn it into a novel, she didn’t realize that certain things that can work onscreen are much harder to pull off in a nonvisual medium. I think that misdirection of this kind can hypothetically work as long as it’s thematically relevant and thoughtfully executed, but requires a third-person POV. But LS wanted to write a YA novel, and everyone knows that YA novels must be in first-person. So we get “twists” that were shitty even when they were meant for the screen, but made even worse by attempting to pull them off with the worst possible medium.

    Was Lani trying to do a plot twist here?

    I’ve put some more thought into this and realized you’re right. Sometimes film can get away with a tongue-in-cheek slow reveal, where only the reader doesn’t know, but I think this can work in written form too. The problem is in the execution. It works a lot like humor, which is why LS doesn’t know how to do it properly (or at least fails so spectacularly, anyway.) The twist/big reveal is like the punchline to a joke, and that’s what makes it work. This requires three things to function properly: set-up, brevity, and clues.

    The set-up gives the audience/reader the context for comprehension. It’s based on a solid foundation of expectations. Since LS refuses to explain her fucking world, the reader has no idea what they’re meant to believe, and is simply grasping at straws. She does explain some things over time, but this doesn’t usually turn up early enough in the book or at the most relevant moment to prep the reader for the twist that’s coming.

    Incidentally, using first person from Zade’s perspective ruins a lot of the potential, since we can’t see it from the distance that we’re mean to and it ruins some of the attempts at panning the camera around/guiding the reader through the scene without making it unnatural or tipping them off too soon, which is why the wedding reveal is screwy. Common sense says that Zade’s not going to refer to herself as the bride, but the weak framing, to conceal the truth, hints at the possibility. If we simply saw the bride from a third person POV, then we’d find it easier to take the narration at face value.

    Brevity gives the reveal a nice punch and makes it a genuine surprise. The thing is, the set-up can help extend the length of a joke significantly, so the only thing that needs to be brief is actually the twist itself. Dragging it out or over-explaining it ruins the intended effect. When we finally have an expectation, we need to have it turned on its head as quickly as possible. The reveal itself is a threshold that we’re passing through, from one expectation to another, and it’s therefore transitory in nature. This is inherently awkward and painful if it lingers too long. Anxiety stems from not knowing what to think and every reader inherently wants to understand what’s happening as soon as possible. Forcing them to languish in apprehensive uncertainty is a mild form of torture. I’m exaggerating, but it’s like being tickled. People have different levels of tolerance and acceptance for being touched that way, and of course context matters a lot, but at a certain point they can’t handle it anymore and they’ll beg you to stop.

    So, how does one use the set-up to gently guide the reader towards the twist, without lingering too long or playing their hand too soon? A careful use of clues. I likened this to a mystery before, and that’s what it is. Even if the characters know, the reader has to use their personal deduction skills to sort out what’s going on. To do this successfully, the reader has to have something to work with. This is where keeping us in the dark backfired. Of course, we’ve been guessing this whole time, but without knowing the magic system, anything personal about Charles Spellman, and why there are so many inconsistencies with any certainty, every chapter is full of fake clues. You and I got so caught up in Verdicy, because LS finally put some effort into something, and showed us a tiny bit of world-building, that we assumed it was an intentional and never realized it was nothing at all.

    The whole Charles=Jackson theory came about, because LS was withholding a ton of information back, and you started second-guessing everything that could be a hint at some future reveal. Without actual clues, you went searching for your own, and discovered a completely unintentional context that LS never intended to weave into her damn story, one which surprisingly holds up pretty well under scrutiny.

    Yet LS thought she was building up to some great twist… I’m assuming the original plot worked a little better in this regard, but even the reveal of these last two chapters is incompetent, mostly from being set in first person, and because we’re all exhausted from guessing constantly, that we just gave up. Additionally, there’s no telling exactly how much original padding there was in the script, but the fact LS thought she could literally shove about 200-300 pages between the beginning and the actual plot leads me to believe she doesn’t know the best moment to reveal her hand in either situation.

    This is why LS likes to explain her jokes, because she knows she’s bad at telling them and can’t be sure the reader got them. Getting better at telling jokes would actually get them across, but to be fair, comedic timing and other such intricacies are hard to pick up on without an ear for it or being taught some of the skills that go into them. I’m not especially good at jokes myself, nor have I ever trained to be a comedian, but I have read/watched a lot of humor, as well as a few how-to guides. My basic understanding of what I just explained came after some pondering, but I didn’t look anything up, so it’s possible I’ve misunderstood something.

    “I always knew Donald Trump would be elected president, but I also saw that it was only going to happen if he won states predicted to go blue, which is something I never had faith in.”

    What if Lani Sarem=Ivanka Trump? 🤷

    It never says that Jackson is here! Jackson’s last onscreen appearance is at Zade’s party! You’d think that Lani would put her third love-triangle corner in here somewhere, but nope. I wonder why that could be? (It’s because Charles is the one getting married and therefore cannot dress up as him right now).

    We need Cecil Gershwin Palmer, from Night Vale, to do a crossover, so he can give us a radio news broadcast about Charles=Jackson. 😄

    Instead, Mac just says a thing that obviously isn’t shoehorned in to justify a name Lani Sarem thought sounded cool.

    Like the bouquet toss, it could’ve been cute if it was handled better and it arrived sooner than the ass-end of the novel. Seriously, why the fuck is this the conclusion, when Zade is supposedly the protagonist? If she took out the padding, we could’ve seen her glorious Aunt in this book, plus Verdici Gardrich could’ve been named and done more cool things.

    My bet says no, because I think that this was Mac’s way of telling Zade he has a terminal illness, and was suggesting that she find a copy of Handbook for Mortals to help prepare for his untimely demise.

    … God damn it! 🤦🏻

    That’s another amazing premise that’s better than this book! A story about a mortal lover, who’s dying young, and in love with an immortal being who will live forever. There’s already the complications of the immortal always having to deal with this, but exploring the details could cover so much! Like compassion through shared anguish, and how losing someone will always suck, but the sharpness of the pain will fade over time. Possibly some hidden resentment from the human, who thinks this isn’t fair on so many levels, and maybe some comfort about the afterlife, depending on what kind of immortal this is. It might work better as a short story or something, but most fiction doesn’t touch on this? Admittedly, most romance stories don’t have a sad ending, which means it depends on the market category they’re aiming for. Stronger fantasy leanings works just fine?

    I’ll be back to spork the teaser chapter later, and then this will be over. OR WILL IT?

    lol I was reminded of that Simpsons joke when it first cropped up… But I can’t remember enough to look it up and properly reference it. The one that keeps going on with “that’s good!” and “that’s bad.”

    But also, please, please, please do a blog post that collects all the proof about Charles=Jackson into one place, including the two bits where Zeb is in on it! We need a comprehensive essay on this awesome theory, to show why revisions are necessary (among other things.) It’s a frighteningly beautiful mistake. 🙏

    (Additionally, I had to step away for dinner and dishes, halfway through writing this, and I’m just done with this post now. I’m too tired at the moment to read back through it, so if anything was confusing, fumbled, or out of context, please forgive me. Off to shower, and then I’ll return for some chapter 20 comments.) 😅

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  2. Your little fanfiction is A+ work and many times funnier than anything in this dumb novel. I do think that the next thing I do will be a Charles = Jackson masterpost, and then I’ll probably do an in-depth analysis of the novel’s evolution from screenplay to shitty novel.

    Lani Sarem is definitely a bit Trumpian. It’s kind of scary how many parallels there are (right down to calling the New York Times “outdated”), except Lani’s pretty benign by comparison. Narcissism is a hell of a personality disorder.

    Finally, the best writing exercise I ever heard (I forget where, sadly,) was to try to write something awful. Because it’s actually a lot easier to fix something horrible than to pull something amazing fully-formed from the ether, this is a great way to exercise creativity without letting negative thoughts discourage you from doing the messy first draft. It’s actually really inspiring to read all the awesome ideas that you (and other commenters) have come up with from this horrible book. I feel like if Lani had bothered to improve her prose and took a few months developing the ideas she introduced and running it past critical readers, she could have pounded out a fun novel.

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  3. Your little fanfiction is A+ work and many times funnier than anything in this dumb novel.

    Aw, thanks! I’m tempted to write one of the many fanfiction ideas available, including a variant closer to the Sofia fanfic (basically Zade is the worst, and it’s so obvious that it can’t be coincidental.) I’ve probably invested way too much time into this already, but I live for fanfiction! Also, I think being indecisive is helpful in this case. I’m not sure which one I’d pick! 😊

    Lani Sarem is definitely a bit Trumpian. It’s kind of scary how many parallels there are (right down to calling the New York Times “outdated”), except Lani’s pretty benign by comparison. Narcissism is a hell of a personality disorder.

    Sadly, yeah. I also think LS is a product of our time, unfortunately. She’d probably do well on a reality TV show. 😅

    Finally, the best writing exercise I ever heard (I forget where, sadly,) was to try to write something awful. Because it’s actually a lot easier to fix something horrible than to pull something amazing fully-formed from the ether, this is a great way to exercise creativity without letting negative thoughts discourage you from doing the messy first draft.

    Oooh, yeah! Plus, you can have more fun with it, if you’re willing to be as silly as possible. If you try to edit it later, then hopefully you already know a better option, or perhaps you can’t bring yourself to dip into certain truly awful cliches, phrases, archetypes, etc. Naturally, it helps to be aware of these things… Even if not, as long as you can analyze why it’s so bad, in order to fix it later, or ignore it and come up with something else entirely, it might help people become less afraid of change?

    I unfortunately have more trouble making headway, because I’ll stop and edit like crazy. Especially if I’m coming back and reading what I wrote before, for consistency, as I try to pick up where I left off. It becomes a bit of a loop, and I have trouble finishing most of the stories that I’ve started.

    And whenever I try writing shorter things, I usually get inspired for how to expand them, until it balloons out into a novel and/or multiple stories/novels. It gets overwhelming at times, especially when I begin to realize just how many books/short stories I’m storming up. Then I slowly begin to lose steam. It’s nice to have multiple stories to work on though. If I’m not currently feeling one of them, I can work on another!

    I have a lot of trouble focusing, especially when it comes to getting that first draft all the way out. 😔

    It’s actually really inspiring to read all the awesome ideas that you (and other commenters) have come up with from this horrible book. I feel like if Lani had bothered to improve her prose and took a few months developing the ideas she introduced and running it past critical readers, she could have pounded out a fun novel.

    I know, right?! I think that’s what fuels my fascination and ire the most. With more time and effort, this novel could’ve been something LS was proud of; one a lot of people enjoyed reading. But no, she had to be lazy, so here we are, happily editing her terrible book and talking to one another. 😄

    I feel sorry for anyone reading this book alone. That could be traumatic!

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  4. Welp, I didn’t see that this chapter was up when I commented on the last one asking why the ef this book has the title it does. Womp womp. I still don’t get it though. Zade can do actual magic but she reserves it for fancy parlor tricks and the setting up of a tent (because, whilst she may not be like other girls, she can’t put up a tent by herself? K). From what I’ve read in the recaps here and on Jenny Trout’s blog, it isn’t like Zade uses magic on the daily or needs it to survive. OK, well, parlor tricks, tents, and being unnecessarily violent towards complete strangers. None of this affects her friends or colleagues so why would Mac need a handbook?

    This is all just so effing stupid. Whatever happened to Lambo girl? And what was Zade supposed to pay more attention to/take more seriously per Zeb? Did he know about the illusion she and Charles worked on? That is the only reason I can think of for that particular scene. He knew she was taking a big risk and that she needed to have someone she could trust to be her grounding force but she wasn’t taking it seriously enough so he feared something bad would happen.

    Does anyone else imagine Riley wearing knee britches and a pageboy cap?

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  5. None of this affects her friends or colleagues so why would Mac need a handbook?

    Like most things, it’s a bad joke that could’ve worked out, if for LS had done anything more with it. We could’ve gotten a fantasy version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy instead of this one dumb exchange. 😜

    Or maybe it’s a hint that fucking Zade needed a handbook to use her magic in more reasonable and less pathetic ways? Seriously, she’s a textbook version of what-not-to-do with a magician/witch/wizard! It’s possible to have very practical magic and make it interesting, or at least maybe a sensible part of the world, but since we know nothing about how it works, or what relevance any of Zade’s actions hold, it comes off as a literal hand wave for lazy writing. LS could’ve invoked A Wizard Did It quite liberally and she almost never does.

    Maybe Mac needs a self help book for learning the warning signs of an evil witch/wizard and what to do about them? (It’s the angle the Sofia fanfic takes and it makes a lot more sense that way.)

    Whatever happened to Lambo girl?

    She’s off living her life, because Zade is boring. 😊

    And what was Zade supposed to pay more attention to/take more seriously per Zeb? Did he know about the illusion she and Charles worked on? That is the only reason I can think of for that particular scene. He knew she was taking a big risk and that she needed to have someone she could trust to be her grounding force but she wasn’t taking it seriously enough so he feared something bad would happen.

    I think that’s what LS was insinuating, but it’s so vague, you could argue for whatever interpretation you want. Maybe Zeb thought he had a Charles or Jackson illusion on at the time, in hopes it would get the point across better, but he failed, so Zade saw him as he was? It would explain why she was so mystified by his insistence. Logistically speaking, either Zeb saw the actual future and tried to warn her, or he knew about the chaos magick illusion, which I guess Zade didn’t think he knew about? But then that should’ve tipped her off immediately, instead of making her go, “Duuuuh, I wonder what he was talking about? Hur hur!”

    Or maybe that scene with Zeb was actually Mr. Schmidt, the editor, using Zeb to appeal to Lani Sarem’s author insert, Zade. When it didn’t work, he gave up, and used Dr. Schmidt to let Zade fuck off and die somewhere if her father was stupid enough to remove her from a hospital to take her home to his estranged/ex wife… Actually, did Charles ever marry Dela? 😲

    … Oh wow. I think Zade might be a literal bastard. 😳😄

    She never says otherwise! Right?

    Does anyone else imagine Riley wearing knee britches and a pageboy cap?

    lol Very much so. Probably her intent, sadly. It’s a little too adorably on the nose. 😄

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  6. Can we add that “Mortals” thing to the “World Revolves around Zade” tally? Because frankly, now Mac thinks she’s some sort of God or something.

    Lanie (Bad Lanie, not good Lanie who runs this blog) – your book sucks. There is no handbook. There are no immortals to give said handbook TO the mortals. And hell, there are no knives being thrown at Zade while she’s blindfolded, which means you and your artist ripped off a perfectly good Gill De Mace piece for nothing.

    On top of it all, you’re not offering any apologies and STILL going on your “this book is like, so awesome guyz” tour. It’s just sad. But if one good thing came out of this is that more people will read the beautifully written The Hate U Give. 😉

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  7. Based on the title I thought the handbook was something Mac would have to find in time to help rescue Zade. That at some point in her choice to use Uber scary Kaos MagiK she’d have mentioned “oh, there is this book, if things go wrong.. You’ll find it at Gringotts Bank.” I realize other books have names pulled from single lines in the blook (The Power of One or Cry The Beloved Country I believe are both like that) and it can work. This is just awkward and sad for what is actually a fun title. I also realize I’m a month behind everyone posting on here but I’ve enjoyed this sporking quite a bit. Thank you for taking time to read it.

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  8. I do really like the title (disregarding the fact that it’s also the name of a book about end-of-life situations). Like, if I’m goign to read a novel called “Handbook for Mortals,” I’d imagine it’s about a non-special mortal dealing with beings of infinite power and narrowly avoiding the apocalypse. Maybe it has existentialist themes. It definitely does not make me imagine a story about an overpowered Mary Sue trying to figure out which guy to bang.

    EDIT: Also, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun to write.

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