Is Jackson just a Glamoured Charles? Part One: Motive and Means

in Lani Sarem’s Handbook for Mortals, there’s something strange about Jackson: He’s the lead singer of a band that already has a lead singer. He doesn’t seem to be friends with the rest of the cast and crew—except for the mysterious Zeb. He is only ever seen in the same room with Charles once, and when Zade does a tarot reading on him, she gets the feeling that there’s something more about him they’re trying to tell her.

All of this can easily be explained if we assume that Jackson is actually Charles (or, on one occasion, Zeb) magically glamoured to look like Jackson Rathbone. It might sound crazy, but let’s take a look at the evidence.

This was originally going to be just one essay, but I think it’s too long for a single post. In this one, I talk about the reasons why Charles might want to dress up as Jackson to seduce Zade, and how he manages to do so.

The Motive: Why does Charles want to dress up as Jackson to seduce Zade??

Well, this is uncomfortable. But we’re living in a post-Game of Thrones world, so let’s get going:

A) Charles is obviously still fixated on Dela:

This is made abundantly clear when the two reunite for the first time in twenty-some years:

Charles was actually very nervous standing in front of my mom for several reasons; there probably isn’t a soul on the planet that made him nervous other than my mother. The thoughts I found in his memories were jumbled, but that anxiety seemed to stem from everything: from how magical and powerful she was, to how madly in love with her he still was, to my condition, and even to just the bold presence my mother possesses. He looked panicked waiting for her to say something… anything, and the longer her silence became the more he thought he was supposed to keep talking (chapter 16).

And later, we get this:

“I still love you Dela.” He had been in the same room with my mom for no more than an hour and Charles was already confessing that he was still in love with her (chapter 16).

Charles is in love with Dela, but he’s also so shaken by her that his thoughts become “jumbled.” And no wonder: while Charles definitely didn’t handle finding out about real magic very well, Dela literally cursed him so that he could never talk about her or their daughter to anyone. While it’s unclear how Charles was able to tell Mac and Dr. Schmidt that he was Zade’s father in chapter 15 if this is the case, Dela has a history of magically controlling people: in chapter 0, it’s implied that she magically prevented Zade from leaving Centertown, and in chapter 19, it’s implied that Dela is magically drugging Zade without her consent.

B) Zade is a near-identical copy of Dela:

When we are first introduced to Dela, we are immediately told that she and Zade share a striking resemblance:

I am my mother’s daughter, an exact replica. Pictures of her when she was my age look like they are of me (chapter 1).

This resemblance (which goes beyond just the physical) is brought up again, by Charles himself:

“She’s as stubborn-headed as-”

“Her mother.” Charles was smiling as he finished her sentence and I’m pretty sure it was an attempt at flirting with her.

“Not what I was going to say; I was thinking more “mule,” Dela said with a twinkle in her eye as she smirked, “but that’s probably correct, too.”

“She’s as beautiful as her mother, as well.” Charles couldn’t help but say things like that to my mother (chapter 16).

C) Charles uses sex to feel powerful:

As stated earlier, we are shown that Charles has had a fair bit of casual sex. When Dela mentions an encounter he’d had recently, he does not recall:

It was obvious that he didn’t even remember the girl he had slept with only two weeks earlier. Dela, however, wasn’t surprised, considering his reputation. He looked down and his eyes got bigger. She could see he was racking his brain for what girl she was referring to, and hoping that if he thought long enough he could remember. “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” (chapter 17).

During Dela and Charles’ first meeting, we are also shown that Dela’s indifference to him makes him want her even more:

Charles–even at that young age–was not used to girls who didn’t immediately fall all over themselves in front of him. He didn’t know how to deal with a girl who didn’t care.

Furthermore, Dela immediately recognizes that Charles takes joy in “conquering” women:

She knew enough to know that she needed to be coy; he was someone who only liked the chase (chapter 17).

And throughout their meeting, there are so many occasions on which he thinks about how attractive she is that I’m not even going to bother listing them all. Go look in my Chapter 17 review, if you care.

Finally, it’s significant that when Charles believes that Dela may have been controlling him with a love spell, he seeks out sex to feel more in-control:

“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 me she wouldn’t have ‘let’ me be able to do that” (chapter 18).

At this point, he and Dela have been together for almost 15 years, but when he learns of Dela’s supernatural abilities, he immediately feels powerless and must prove to himself that she does not own him. He accomplishes this through sexual means, which suggests that Charles is most afraid of having his sexuality itself compromised by Dela. It is also telling that Charles thinks that being able to cheat on her means that she’s not bewitched him in any way, which is, of course, not the case: there are plenty of ways Dela could be magically controlling him that don’t impact his sexual agency.

D) Just look at how Charles is introduced!:

Standing next to Charles was a much-younger woman who could easily have passed for his daughter, had she not been so tightly coiled around his arm. Granted, I knew very little about my father-and even less about father/daughter relationships—but even I knew that daughters don’t stand like that next to their fathers (chapter 1).

The first time we see Charles, he is basically wearing a much younger woman like an accessory. The fact that she’s young enough to be his daughter is immediately brought up, and then we get a line about father/daughter relationships contrasted with this image. Our very first impression of Charles is that he doesn’t give a fuck about the questionable ethics of dating a much younger employee—someone he (as her rich and famous employer) has immense power over. While such a relationship is not necessarily exploitative, it’s made clear that their relationship isn’t healthy: Sofia is obviously deeply insecure about Zade’s presence, and Charles certainly doesn’t love her; he’s only ever been in love with Dela, and only a month after reconciling with her, the two get engaged. It seems doubtful that Sofia is even aware of this when we last see her.

E) Conclusion:

Charles wants to bang Zade because he feels that by doing so, he will be regaining power over Dela, a magical woman whom he is incredibly attracted to and whom he feels has always had the upper hand. Zade, a magical woman who looks exactly like Dela, is an excellent surrogate. Until now he’s had to satisfy himself with subordinates, but now he’s got the opportunity of a lifetime to seek retribution.

The Means: Zeb is Magic

A) Zeb is famously mysterious:

Throughout Handbook for Mortals, we frequently get the sense that Zeb is more than he’s letting on. The very first thing we learn about him is this:

I had done enough research before reaching Vegas to know that Zeb had designed or helped design a lot of Charles’s illusions and was well known in the magic community himself. Yet everything about him was mysterious and-even in the magic community-very little seemed to be known about him (chapter 1).

Right away, we are told that he’s a secretive man—so secretive, in fact, that he is identified as being unusually so even in the famously secretive world of stage magic. All we really know about him from this is that he is largely responsible for Charles’ illusions, and, consequentially, has likely played a significant role in his success.

On its own, this is enough to let the reader know that they ought to be looking out for Zeb as an important figure who prefers to work in the shadows. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s actually a magical being, it certainly feels as though groundwork is being laid for something.

B) Charles has incorporated real magic into his show before:

Later, we learn that Charles is no stranger to making use of actual magic in his performances. He works closely with Zade on their “Creation” illusion, which utilizes famously difficult “chaos magick”.

After heading to Tennessee and reuniting with Dela, we learn that while the two were in a relationship, Dela would (unbeknownst to him) augment his illusions:

“When Dela became my assistant, all of a sudden my illusions got better, and then Dela started having me work on bigger illusions. I would do them, even though I didn’t even know completely how they worked. She would tell me they were family secrets” (chapter 18).

But when Charles learned that Dela and Zade were actually magical, he didn’t balk; rather, he embraced the potential for using real magic in his act:

“To make matters worse, I also started talking about putting Zade in the show” (chapter 18).

So from all of this, we can see that Charles values the use of actual magic in his performances. But how does Zeb fit in?

C) It is almost certain that Zeb and Dela know each other.

When Charles introduces Zeb, he says “[Zeb] has been with me for over twenty years—basically for as long as anyone has called me famous” (chapter 1), And, we know that “[Charles had] been famous since he was in his twenties.” (chapter 1).

In chapter 17, we are told that Dela and Charles met in 1977, and that in 1977, Charles is almost 21 years old, which means that Charles was born in 1956 or 1957. We know that Handbook takes place is 2016 because at one point, Zade and Jackson go on a date to see Deadpool, which came out that year. Therefore, Charles is 59 or 60 years old. And in Chapter 0, Zade says that she has been alive for “practically a quarter of a century,” meaning that she is probably about 24. This means that Zade was born around 1992, when Charles was about 35.

If Zeb has known Charles since he was in his 20’s, this means means that Zeb knew Charles and therefore (in all likelihood) Dela for years by the time the couple split. And since Zeb has worked with Charles (and therefore Dela) so closely and for so long, it seems highly plausible he knows about actual magic. After all, since Zeb has worked on Charles’ illusions, and Dela boosted them, it’s difficult to buy that he was completely ignorant.

Or course, knowing isn’t the same thing as doing. However, there are other scenes with Zeb that make me believe he’s highly involved with the magical world.

D) Zeb seems to know about the coming magical catastrophe:

While Zade is running to give Jackson back his sunglasses (more on that later), she comes across Charles and Zeb discussing something that sounds ominous:

“It’s not good, that much I can tell you. I just don’t know how bad and what it all means.” I heard Zeb say, sounding worried.

Charles responded in an equally grievous tone, “You know we have to let somethings take their own course, you must let it go for now.” (. . .)

“Yes, I am aware of that-but I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” Zeb replied.

And while it’s ambiguous as to what Zeb’s talking about, it seems as though something’s brewing in the magical community, because Dela and Aunt Aldyth discuss coming peril:

“There were prophecies foretold about magick as strong as yours,” Aunt Aldyth continued. “There will be many white, black, and grey magick entities vying for you and your power” (teaser chapter).

Of course, there’s no way to definitively connect the two conversations, but there is a point at which Zeb cautions Zade:

“You aren’t ready for this; you should have been more prepared [. . .]I just don’t think you take our craft seriously. I take it very seriously. You need to try harder. Really important things are at stake” (chapter 12).

Yes, it’s still ambiguous, but there is a final piece of evidence that Zeb can do magic. It happens just after Zade’s performance has gone horribly wrong, and has collapsed into Zeb’s arms:

Zeb mumbled a bunch of things that I’m positive were not English—though I couldn’t tell you what they were—quietly in my ear (chapter 15).

Sounds like a magical incantation to me!

And while nothing can be proven until Lani Sarem reveals it in future novels, I feel safe saying that Zeb is almost certainly actually magic, and thus has the ability to glamour Charles Spellman into Jackson Milsap. And this explains one of the stranger bits of Handbook, which is the relationship between Zeb and Jackson.

E) Jackson and Zeb seem to be close:

While Zeb is described hanging out with his coworkers on several occasions, he seems to have a relationship of some kind with Jackson. While the gang is out camping, Zade notices them sitting together:

When I reached the campfire I noticed Jackson and Zeb sitting next to each other talking. They were sitting close enough to the fire that the warm glow reflected off of Jackson’s face making him look almost angelic. For a split second, though, the glow off of Zeb’s face somehow made him look just a tad . . . evil  (chapter 6).

Notice the angel and devil imagery here. That’s not relevant yet, but it’s a memorable description.

After Zeb leaves, Zade asks Jackson why Zeb doesn’t like her:

“It’s not that he doesn’t like you. He’s just used to cast and crew kind of coming and going, so he waits to warm up to people. He’ll come around eventually. And, in my experience, when he does, he’s awesome. He’s brilliant and will become your favorite person. It just takes time with him.” Jackson nodded (chapter 6).

Jackson clearly thinks very highly of Zeb. The amount of praise Jackson heaps upon him implies a close relationship, and since we only ever see Jackson interacting with his bandmates and (on one occasion) Mac (which is to talk about Zade, of course), it seems that Zeb is one of Jackson’s closest friends.

We also see Zeb come to Jackson’s band’s show in chapter 8, but this on its own isn’t very convincing of anything, as he’s also at Drew’s birthday bar meetup in chapter 5, where Jackson does not appear to be present. Even so, the line praising Zeb is definitely evidence that the two are close.

F) Conclusion:

The rules of magic in Handbook are incredibly vague, and there is no reason to think that glamours aren’t something that wizards can easily accomplish. As a probably-magical person, Zeb probably has the capacity to enchant Charles (or anyone!) to look like Jackson. Besides, Zeb and Jackson’s closeness is odd enough that it’s impossible to read Handbook and not think there’s something going on between the them.

In summation:

While it’s icky to think about a dude disguising himself in order to seduce his daughter, Charles’ failed relationship with Dela combined with his propensity to use sex as a means of self-empowerment makes his attempt to seduce Zade understandable, from a gross creepy point-of-view.  Zeb, who is almost certainly magically powerful, has the ability to help him achieve his twisted goal.

Tune in tomorrow for “evidence.”



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