April 2017 Update

Hello friends! It’s springtime, the weather is gorgeous, and I have lucked my way into three consecutive days off, so it felt like a good time for a blog post. Aside from house hunting, the bookstore, teaching, and playing euphonium, here’s what I’ve been up to:

Writing

I have a story in the anthology Meet Cute, edited by Kara Landhuis. It’s a collection of illustrations and flash fiction (stories of less than 750 words) about first meetings between characters, romantic or otherwise. My story, “Breakthrough,” is about the first day of preschool and the beginning of a lifelong friendship. My writing hasn’t been in physical print since my college lit mag. Not to disparage the internet or epub in the least, but it’s pretty exciting to have something I can hold in my hands and see on my shelf! The anthology came out in January, and I’ve been so touched by the wonderful response from my friends and family. You are all very wonderful.

I’m still working on draft 6(ish) of my novel. I’d like to give that its own post later, but if you’d like to watch me play silly hashtag games and complain about how difficult revisions are, you can always check out my twitter. 

This is what it’s like, basically.

 

Reading

Goodreads is emailing me to let me know I’m behind on my reading challenge, which like, thanks, Goodreads. I don’t need your passive aggressive reminders that I haven’t finished a book in a while. I know.

I have managed to find a few good ones in 2017, though. On vacation back in February I devoured Awoken by Serra Elisen, a loving parody of both the Twilight series and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. If you’re reading this and wondering exactly how those things work together, the answer is hilariously. I was laughing out loud on the beach. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that it was co-written by three authors, one of whom I’m friends with. This mini-review is therefore undoubtedly biased, but Awoken is too entertaining and unique not to share.

My other favorite is Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. Set in 19th-century Bavaria, it’s the story of nineteen-year-old Liesel, who loves to compose but has to put her ambitions aside to support her family. Her life changes when her sister is kidnapped by Der Erlkönig, the Goblin King, and Liesl offers to take her place as his bride. On her blog, the author delves into her three biggest inspirations for the story- the life of W. A. Mozart, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. For me as a music history and musical theater nerd, the combination was too tempting to pass up.

Watching

I’m watching The Magicians, but I took a step back from writing about it here. I just never settled into a time-efficient way of recapping that was still fun to read. I’m still really excited to be a part of this fandom in other ways, though. I’m disappointed with some of the recent plot directions—pregnancy-as-drama early on this season, and this week’s episode had some fridged women—but overall I’m happy that the show was renewed.

That’s about it for me. What’s new with you?

 

The Magicians 2.3, “Divine Elimination”

It’s only the third episode of the season, but we are getting into some season-finale levels of drama. Storylines are converging. Characters are in real danger.

There’s so much going on, and I’m sure I missed things. This might not be the most coherent analysis, but I promised a blog post, and a blog post you shall have.

Warning for language, mention of violence against humans and animals.

The Beast’s Curse on Castle Whitespire

Who knew sitting on a Fillorian throne would bring about the urge to murder the other monarchs? Martin apparently. I really enjoyed Penny as the last non-cursed man, cooperating with Fen to keep their only-recently-reconciled friends/lovers/found family from killing each other.

I’m not saying it wasn’t fun to watch, but it felt a little out of place compared to the emotional intensity of the rest of the episode.

Julia, Marina, and Martin in New York

The plan to summon Reynard works, although not exactly as Julia and Marina planned. Martin teleports Julia out of the room before Marina can finish the summoning, and then takes his sweet time unpicking the wards on her apartment (hmmm). Meanwhile, Reynard is inside horrifically torturing Marina. I appreciate the brave face that Marina puts on as Reynard turns her cat inside out and talks about eating her alive. This is some horror movie shit, you guys.

Julia and Martin drop back in just in time, prepared to kill Reynard with the knife. This is all taking place at the exact same second that Alice is powering up her battle magic in Fillory. Penny’s job is to travel to Earth, grab The Beast and bring him back so Alice can do her thing. But Penny’s lost one of the bindings that Sunderland put on his wrist and Julia is too close to The Beast. She ends up getting dragged into the fray as well, leaving Marina to grapple with Reynard.

The Aftermath

Alice manages to wound but not kill The Beast, perhaps because she was pulling her punches to not hurt Julia? I definitely need to watch this bit again. Martin disappears, one of his arms rendered useless. Everyone else blames each other or themselves for a few seconds, as is customary. Then Penny grabs Julia and transports her back to Earth, sans Martin, and she is pissed so she tears off his other bracelet, leaving him with no control over his magic.

The last shot we see of Julia is her kneeling by Marina’s bloodied body, quite likely blaming herself for another death and for letting Reynard get away. This is framed as a wound Julia won’t recover from easily. I suspect when Martin resurfaces, she might be vulnerable enough to ask him to remove her shade, as he’s been offering. I also have suspicions about how and when the knife is going to show up again, but those are influenced a bit by some things that happen in the books so I’ll keep my mouth shut for now to avoid spoilers.

Final Confrontation

Meanwhile, the kings and queens of Fillory regroup. Eliot and Margo go to petition Ember for help, but he’s not immediately available because he’s pooping in the well so Martin can’t use the water to heal himself. Totally fits with what we saw of Ember last season—he’s disgusting most of the time, but occasionally in useful ways. Is the rest of the season going to be about how the universe is out of balance because a god took a dump in the source of all magic? Tune in next time to find out.

Alice and Quentin travel by carriage to confront The Beast. Emboldened by the fact that he’s probably going to be dead soon, Quentin initiates a frank discussion about his feelings for Alice. She lets him get away with exactly zero bullshit and they kiss.

When they finally face The Beast, he’s wounded but still powerful. Quentin jumps in front of an attack and is wounded. Alice’s god powers desert her. Se resorts to the patchwork spell she invented in “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting” to save Charlie. That’s a respectable foreshadowing game, man. The spell burns through Alice, turning her into a niffin, a being of heightened magical power and malice. She tears The Beast apart with her bare hands.

Newly absent a moral compass, Alice turns on Quentin. He probably would have tried to talk sense into her right up until she murdered him if Margo and Eliot weren’t there to draw her fire. Unable to watch his friends suffer, Quentin releases his cacodemon and watches it kill Alice. Quentin tries to move towards her body, in denial. Eliot and Margo know exactly what happened and do their best to keep him away.

So here is where we leave our intrepid heroes at the end of the episode:

Penny: MIA, not in control of any of his powers

Julia: Emotionally wrecked, allies gone

Marina: Dead

Cupcake the Cat: Dead

The Beast/Martin: Dead

Alice: Dead

Quentin: Physically wounded and responsible for the death of the woman he loves

Eliot: Alive, probably going to try to pick up the broken pieces of Quentin

Margo: Also alive, probably going to try to have sex with a talking horse

Fen: ???

Fogg: Didn’t miss him tbh

Kady: Absent from the credits, present in my heart

I could literally ramble for 1000 more words, but I need to sleep. Do come discuss the finer points of Alice’s ice cream toppings or Margo’s love of Conan the Barbarian in the comments with me, though.

 

The Magicians 2.2, “Hotel Spa Potions”

This was a very solid follow-up to last week’s premiere. We have a lot of different storylines already, so “Hotel Spa Potions” felt a little rushed to me. Still, it’s all good stuff, as I’ve broken down below:

The Brakebills at Brakebills

Through the fountain and to Earth we go. Quentin and co. need to learn battle magic that can kill The Beast. They go on a scavenger hunt through the library in order to track down Bigby, a former Brakebills professor and old flame of Dean Fogg’s. It’s all fun to watch, if a tad drawn out.

Alice blames herself for not killing The Beast, and her guilt combined with her waning god powers drive her to get this done. Her insistence to Quentin that “not everything that hurts is bad” is worrying.

Penny gets an assist with his out-of-control magic from Professor Sunderland. Honestly this is my favorite thing from this ep, it’s such a good companion to the scene in “The Strangled Heart.” Sunderland performs a ritual that involves tying Penny’s hands, because light bondage is the real source of magic. Penny starts trying to seduce her again, but he’s less aggressive this time, almost clumsy. By stepping in as his teacher to help him, and by turning him down in no uncertain terms, she’s re-established boundaries. Good for her.

Then we got to see the cacodemon scene and I died of happiness. In a direct shout-out to the first book, Dean Fogg give Quentin, Margo, Penny, and Alice tattoos. The tattoo serves as a portable prison for a powerful demon that the wearer can release with a word. The plan in this case is to have the demons distract The Beast, giving Alice time to deploy her battle magic.

Eliot in Fillory

In the absence of his friends, Eliot faces his first challenges as High King. Thanks to the Beast’s magical drain, the crops aren’t growing. Luckily for the starving populace, Eliot grew up on a farm. He’s well-equipped to learn them a thing or two about agriculture, mostly by hand-delivering manure to skeptical citizens who have only ever fertilized with magic. It’s funny and a little poignant to see Eliot embracing his least favorite parts of himself for the greater good.

Fen gets to have a bit more personality in this one. As Eliot said last week, I think I like her. She’s devoted to Fillory and to helping her husband succeed as a ruler. They clash, albeit politely, over sex. Eliot proposes inviting other partners into their bedroom as a sort of compromise, and Fen isn’t interested. She also points out the inherent consent issues—no one feels comfortable saying “no” to their king. I didn’t love that the last season ended with Eliot in this marriage, and I’m glad this season is tackling that problem head on. I feel for both of them here, and I hope the show continues to explore their dynamic.

There’s also the little matter of the curse that The Beast put on Castle Whitespire, but Eliot doesn’t know about that and it’s not clear if his struggles so far are curse-related or not.

Julia and Martin in New York

Julia is working on a way to summon Reynard. She’s willing to offer herself up as bait, but Martin claims Reynard won’t be tricked. They need someone new. I was expecting this to be Kady, but Martin shows up with Marina, the leader of the safe house where Julia cut her hedgewitch teeth. Julia isn’t up for holding Marina against her will, which Martin sees as a sign of weakness. He reiterates his offer to remove her shade/emotions, she makes a counter offer to remove some of his body parts.

Back on the street, Marina recognizes the threat posed by the Julia-Martin partnership and tries to team up with her West Coast counterpart to take them down. But Reynard gets there first, killing the other hedgewitch. This is the first time we’ve seen Marina truly scared, I think. She goes to Brakebills to ask for help and gets rebuffed by Dean Fogg before returning to New York. Marina has never been a favorite character for me, but I’m kind of enjoying her and Julia and their “so done with your shit” faces back together again.

Quentin and Julia have a brief reunion in New York, unbeknownst to any of their co-conspirators. They both want some of the same things, in the big picture sense—to go back to Fillory, to have magic in both worlds remain intact—but their short-term goals are at odds. Watching them admit that they’re on opposite sides again is tough, but that just seems to be the way it goes with these two.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and see you next week!

The Magicians 2.1, “Knight of Crowns”

Warning: This post contains discussion of rape, murder, and torture.

I’ve been vibrating with excitement over The Magicians premiere for like a week now, and “Knight of Crowns” did not disappoint. Lots of stuff happened in this episode, and you all know how I feel about stuff when it happens.

Julia and Martin on Earth

Julia is holding the only weapon that can kill Martin/The Beast, so she offers him a deal. She won’t kill him as long as he helps her get her revenge on Reynard, the trickster god who took over her mentor/friend/lover Richard’s body, raped her, and killed her friends. Once Reynard is dead, provided Martin hasn’t harmed Julia, Quentin, or any of Quentin’s friends, she’ll hand over the knife. They seal the agreement with a magical sigil that will automatically kill Martin if he breaks it. I’m unclear on what the consequences for Julia will be if she doesn’t hold up her part of the bargain, but let’s assume they’re also dire.

Both Julia and Martin are magically talented, both were denied their desires (Brakebills and Fillory, respectively), and both were victims of sexual assault. Martin, despite his stated desire to find a loophole in Julia’s deal, takes a bit of a shine to her. While she struggles with the aftermath of the rape, he offers her a way out of her pain—a spell that will remove her deepest self, her “shade.” Julia is clearly tempted by the offer, but she sees that Martin, cut off from his own emotions, has become a predator in his own right and refuses. For now, anyways.

These sections of this episode felt slow to me, even if they did pack an emotional punch. It was so satisfying to see Julia and Quentin’s storylines converge last season, and I’m sorry to see them separated again. New York has grown even grayer and grittier to contrast with the lush fantasyland that is Fillory.

The Brakebills in Fillory

This part of the episode was everything I could have asked for and more. The plot is basic—The Beast is still at large, and without the knife the gang needs a new weapon. Quentin, still our foremost Fillory expert, suggests the armory, a stockpile of books in Castle Whitespire that holds texts on powerful battle magic (Side note: magic that Rupert Chatwin may have used to win World War II. I’m actually very curious about Rupert. He was the only Chatwin to enter Fillory for the first time as an adult, and he’s also possibly buried there. Since the book-to-show adaptation had no problem ditching two Chatwin sisters, I imagine they must have needed Rupert around for something).

Before they can get to the castle, Eliot needs to be crowned high king, and crown his three co-rulers. This scene, with the titular knight, is both absurd and touching. The Magicians flirts with being a little too self-aware at times, and I tend to cringe at pop-culture references shoehorned into my fantasy. That said, I would not trade Eliot reciting the final speech from Dirty Dancing for anything in the world.

The whole impromptu crowning ceremony gives the group a chance to start patching up their somewhat tattered relationships. There are apologies and affirmations all around, but I particularly like Eliot’s face when Quentin asks him to kneel. It’s the perfect mix of I want to make a dirty joke right now and I’m still not totally over that time we had sex and Thank you for believing in me when I don’t believe in myself.

Penny, with his hands newly re-attached, stays in character and well out of all this sappy nonsense. Which like, okay, he’s not actually getting a crown, but maybe he has some issues he needs to talk about? Or possibly he would just like a hug and/or a forehead kiss? Anyways, I’m glad to see that he’s physically intact (let’s be honest, this show has better things to do with its budget than CGI Arjun Gupta’s hands off), but I’m also glad he doesn’t get off too easily. The least genre-savvy character, he breaks one of the cardinal rules of traveling in a magical land: always, always be polite to strangers you meet in the woods. Now Penny, who went to such lengths last season to learn control, has more unpredictable quirks to his magic.

“Knight of Crowns” puts down some groundwork for the rest of season. Here are some dangling plot threads that I sincerely hope will be picked up again:

-The vial of Quentin’s blood has to return. Otherwise, why the whole sequence in the woods with the healer/witch?

-The time-sensitivity on Alice’s godlike powers intrigues me, but mostly because it’s been implied that Julia has similar abilities. Not to be gross, but does the manner in which god-semen enters the body affect the endurance of its effects?

-I loved the tree growing scene, and that Alice initiates the kiss. An arc where Alice discovers her own strength would be fantastic, and if Quentin can be helpful and supportive without asking for anything in return, so much the better.

-The time difference between Fillory and Earth—what’s Eliot going to get up to while Quentin and co. are back at Brakebills? He might have years to rule Fillory by himself. I appreciate the poignancy of the scene between him and Quentin, but like, why not just leave Margo there too?

-What’s up with Eliot’s wife? She could be a valuable source of information, but she is mostly being ignored right now. I hope she doesn’t wind up dead just so Eliot can have feelings. Enough bad things have happened to him, guys, let’s just chill for a minute

-Okay this is digging back into season one stuff, but whatever happened to the Margolem? Is she in a closet somewhere? Is she attending classes at Brakebills, posing as Margo? There were some problematic elements of that subplot but I still want to know

-I miss Kady.

I’m predicting that from this point on, the series will continue to diverge from book canon, like Game of Thrones or True Blood did. The showrunners are doing their own thing here, and I can’t wait to see where they take it. Let me know all of your thoughts and feelings in the comments, and see you same time next week for episode two 🙂

Some Completely Unasked for Feelings about Game of Thrones

This post contains spoilers for seasons 1-5 of the HBO series Game of Thrones (mostly 5 really).

I said I wasn’t going to write about Game of Thrones here. Wiser heads than mine have the recap thing on lock. I’ve been almost exclusively a show-fan for five seasons, and this is a book blog. But fate and inspiration intervened, and I wrote a lot of words. Here are some of them: 

The Show

It was a Tuesday night in the spring of 2011, and I had just gotten out of a rehearsal. After leaving rehearsal but before going to meet my friends, I stood on the steps outside the school auditorium and called my parents.

“There’s this new show called Game of Thrones,” my dad told me. “It looks like it might be your kind of thing. Want me to record it for you?”

I told him thanks, but I was actually on my way watch the first episode with some friends.

I didn’t expect much. I had never read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’d heard of it, and even picked up A Game of Thrones at a used bookstore once. I put it back down again. There was something about the series that said this is not for you.

Fantasy is my thing, for sure. But if Fantasy is a city, Game of Thrones was probably in a neighborhood far away from where I lived. Getting there would take a long subway ride. I would have to change trains and I’d probably get lost and confused.

I’ve rarely been so happy to be wrong. In case the length of this blog post didn’t tip you off, I am a fan.

Favorite Characters

Game of Thrones has a giant ensemble cast. Naturally, everyone has favorites.

My top three characters are Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, and Sansa Stark. That’s list in chronological order of when I decided I liked them, not a ranking. Who gets to be my favorite favorite changes depending on my mood and what episode I’ve just watched.

In brief: I like girls with swords. I like girls with dragons. I like smart girls with agency and moral complexity and the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, or not. These three are ambitious, albeit towards different goals, and they’re survivors.

It’s disappointing, then, that as we head towards the sixth season, most people aren’t talking about them. Dany’s being held prisoner by the Dothraki, which is not that different from where she was early in season one. Arya’s been blinded by her illicit use of the Faceless Men’s mask, and it seems like her revenge quest is on hold for a while. Of my three faves, Sansa seems to have the most narrative mobility, having staged an escape from Ramsey Bolton with a very-damaged Theon Greyjoy in tow.

What everyone seems more interested in is Jon Snow. I don’t not want to talk about Jon Snow. He can be interesting. Stuff happens when he’s around. But I am worried about what it means that his plotline is getting attention to the exclusion of almost everyone else. Especially since we know he’s been benched (slabbed?) for at least a little while.

This reminds me of the last season of Lost, another ensemble cast show I loved. Lost wasn’t perfect, but it thoughtfully developed a variety of diverse characters throughout its run. In that last season, though, people were dying all over the place, and it looked like the sole survivor (or one of the few, anyway) was going to be Jack, the white doctor who was characterized mainly by alcoholism and man-pain. Despite previous efforts, the story was going to be about the same person it’s usually about, the good-looking white guy.

I’m having the same discomfort about Jon Snow. I don’t want him to be the only person who matters. I don’t want him to be the last one left on the island.

The Books

As soon as the first season ended, I put the first book on hold at the library. The waiting list was longer than the Kingsroad, but I ended up reading the first two entries in the series, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, before the end of the summer.

I liked the books, but I didn’t love them. Maybe I should have listened to the whisper of not for you that I heard in the bookstore.

When I watched the second season, I enjoyed it a little less. I couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that was saying, Wait, did it happen this way in the book? I know what’s coming next! My enjoyment in watching the show unspoiled was greater than my enjoyment in reading the books. I would put the series aside, at least until I finished the show.

Now, though, the show has grown into it’s own entity. I can’t really say I’m avoiding spoilers by avoiding reading. If anything, watching may spoil me for future books. I also have a tiny ray of hope that some of the problems I have with the show might not exist in the later books, that George R. R. Martin’s version will somehow fix the things I don’t like.

A Song of Ice and Fire seems like a series that rewards deep, concentrated reading. I’m not sure I’m willing to do that. I’m in such a different place now than I was five years ago, but is it the right place to read these books? Maybe the year when I’ve pledged to read more nonfiction and books by authors of color is not the time to get involved with a series of doorstopper fantasy novels by a white guy.

2016 has been a really good year for TV so far. I happily threw myself into The Magicians. I looked forward to every episode of The People vs. O.J. Simpson in a way I haven’t looked forward to a show since, well, the first season of Game of Thrones. I really hope the new season of GoT continues this trend.

I’ll let you know what I decide about the books. Please use the comments to talk about whatever you want to talk about, even if it is Jon Snow.

The Magicians 1.13, “Have You Brought Me Little Cakes”

This post discusses sexual assault.

Before I get to the finale, I just want to say how happy I am that this series exists. I’ve had a blast watching the season and writing these recaps. This is the first time in years that I’ve engaged with a show’s fandom at this level, and it’s been awesome. I’m also really grateful for all the people who watch the show and/or read the books who have contacted me to talk about it. I have one friend in particular who messages me every week and lets me vent all of my book-fan nitpicking and all-caps TV yelling. You’re the best, thank you. I hope I have adequately answered the question of why there needed to be Ember jizz below.

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Onwards. “Have You Brought Me Little Cakes” was a hot mess, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the whole time. I don’t agree with all the decisions the writers made, but I was so entertained. This hour answered a few questions but raised a whole lot more, which is a good way to hook the audience’s interest for a second season.

I know I’ve whined about this roughly every other episode, but PACING. My biggest complaint is always that things feel rushed. I wish that SyFy could do what FX does and allow the show to run over an hour if they need to. A lot of episodes would have been so improved by just an extra ten minutes to flesh out the B plot. This finale could have used an extra twenty, at least. And I would have watched it cheerfully.

The structure of this episode was difficult, too. Quentin is writing down his experiences in Fillory, so a lot of the story is told through flashback with his voiceover. Flashbacks are tricky. They can provide necessary information, but they can also bog down the action. Even Quentin lampshades the technique—“Now I’m gonna do that thing I kind of hate, where the book rewinds to fill in all the blanks.”

The thing is, if you’re going to start in medias res, you need to start with something dramatic or intriguing. I’m not sure the scene in Ember’s Tomb qualifies. I think we all knew that Ember wasn’t going to be a pivotal figure; otherwise he would have killed the Beast on his own already.

Now that I’ve discounted Ember, let me write a whole paragraph about him. Even though he’s not pivotal in-universe, he’s thematically important. In the same way that Dean Fogg cannot be Dumbledore, Ember cannot be Aslan. He’s a god, but he’s not all-powerful. He’s not even very likable. I feel like Ember was deliberately made to be more of a Greco-Roman style god here. The gods of Mount Olympus has some very human foibles. They were obsessed with sex and they could be hurt or killed. Kind of a letdown for their worshipers, and in an indirect way, Quentin did worship Ember and Umber. The title of the episode made me think of ancient Romans using pastries as an offering to the gods. The choice to make Ember more of an animal-human hybrid and not just a talking ram (like the books) also recalls Greco-Roman myth, specifically the god Pan.

Interestingly enough, Pan is a trickster figure, like Reynard. In case anyone was confused, Reynard in classic folklore wasn’t actually a god, more of a legendary anti-hero. Think Brer Rabbit and Anansi at their most brutal and least Disneyfied. It makes sense in the context of The Magicians that he should have gained godlike powers at some point, though. If Martin Chatwin became more powerful than Ember and Umber in Fillory, it’s plausible that Reynard tricked his way into god-status on Earth.

The encounter with Ember establishes that gods can transfer their powers via semen. So as horrific as Julia’s rape was, she still came out of more powerful than before, which becomes a factor when facing the Beast. Although I have to wonder—did she just assume she was less powerful than the Brakebills, and therefore not try to touch the moonstone knife? Or did she touch it and get burned because Marina’s memory patch made her forget the experience? Am I stretching to cover an obvious plot hole because I like this show?

Now that I’ve brought up Reynard, let’s deal with the rape scene. Sexual assault is a difficult topic to handle. I don’t think I’m the right person to say if the show handled it well or not. I’m not a survivor or a mental health professional working with survivors. I can’t tell you if it’s tasteful or respectful. It’s not a call I can make for anyone but myself.

I’ll just say this: It was horrifying to watch, but it’s presented a way that I can live with. Both Julia and Richard/Reynard are fully clothed, which signals that this isn’t meant to titillate. Reynard inhabiting Richard’s body was devastating after Julia’s other sexual encounter with Richard was so tender and generous. That made in painful in a way I wasn’t expecting. Despite Julia’s best efforts and a hand from Marina, this event isn’t going to be brushed off or made insignificant.

Speaking of, I was both surprised and strangely pleased at Marina. I should have put it together when Jane said a hedgewitch had done the memory wipe. Julia calling Marina made sense, and Marina’s reactions felt real. We’ve established that she’s ruthless, but not devoid of all human feeling. I wonder if we’ll see her again.

Kady has never been my favorite character, but I’m curious about what’s going to happen to her next. She has no living family to speak of and she’s not welcome at Brakebills. All her friends are dead or in Fillory. What now?

Then there’s Martin, and the common ground Julia now shares with him. They’ve both been victims, so does she understand him now? Does she have the potential to become a monster too? Julia willing to bargain with the enemy was an amazing twist.

We had some tying up of emotional loose ends before the climax. Quentin and Alice aren’t back together, but they’re at least talking to each other again. Penny got to save Victoria, so that’s a big part of his emotional turmoil calmed, but she disappears with Josh so as not to cause further emotions, I guess. Eliot gets to help the cause by getting married to a stranger. I knew that he was eventually going to admit his life had hit the rails, and that Fillory was going to be the change he needed, but this is such an unsubtle way to do that. The marriage is also somehow an excuse for him to reconcile with Margo.

Maybe these moments of uplift are meant to carry us through the darkness. But would that last scene have been any less dramatic if the group had still be divided and distracted by their personal woes? Resentment and bickering among the heroes could have built tension for the final battle.

Speaking of that last scene, I was not prepared for any of it. I wasn’t even prepared for Penny’s hands getting cut off, even though it happens in the book. I wasn’t prepared for Alice. I know I’m not prepared for season two, and I can’t wait.

The Magicians 1.12, “Thirty-Nine Graves”

Two episodes left, and they made this one count.

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The Free Traders

Julia and Kady open the episode by seeking out the goddess’s servant, who lives underneath a bridge. I think this is the first time anyone on the show has called the goddess Our Lady Underground. If you’re interested in how the pagan goddess evolved into the Virgin, look into Black Madonnas. When I searched “Our Lady Underground” I stumbled on a few longer reads too. If I find any good ones I will link them in my next post.

Anyways, back to New York. I was expecting a more cave-like dwelling for the servant, but instead we get a fancy subterranean house. In The Magician King, the hermit claims to be a former Catholic saint. I don’t know what to make of him here, but I think the gifts Julia and Kady bring are significant: Forsythia blooms in the springtime and symbolizes anticipation. Honeycomb was a traditional offering to gods in classical times, prized for its sweetness, usefulness, and its connotations of new life. Platinum is just a placeholder, as the hermit will accept anything of great value that must be bought dearly.

Make of all that what you will, especially combined with the hermit’s warning—“you can’t un-ring a bell.” The incantation he hands over is the goddesses phone number, and someone’s going to pick up.

Julia sleeping with Richard represents an independent choice on her part. Her previous partners didn’t reflect her own desires. James was the right kind of boyfriend for the person she was trying to be in college. Pete was willing to trade access to magic for sex. Julia’s not in love with Richard, but she trusts him. Under the circumstances, having sex with him was an affirming act. I don’t think the universe is going to punish her for it, but I think the next big decision she makes is going to have bigger consequences.

The Brakebills

It looks like Quentin learned to close his mind just in time. Alice and the participants in the drunken three-way are all pointedly Not Talking About It, and despite his psychic abilities Penny is totally out of the loop. As the least-emotionally wrecked member of the team, he’s pushing for a trip to Fillory sooner rather than later. We’ve come a ways from Penny calling Quentin’s books “nerd boy dragon porn.”

We don’t see the fallout of Quentin cheating on Alice except in short, silent flashbacks. Suffice to say it was terrible, and they are definitely broken up. Even Eliot and Margo have the decency to seem a little uncomfortable with the whole thing at first. Margo recovers quickly. “People don’t get to be mad at me because I had sex with them,” she points out, quite rightly. Quentin needs to take responsibility for his own actions, even if he was under the influence.

Alice and Penny is a less optimistic parallel to Julia and Richard. Again, this isn’t about romantic love, but they respect and care for each other. Despite Quentin’s accusation that she “aimed a weapon” by having sex with Penny, I don’t think that’s all there is to her choice. She knew how it would affect Quentin, but I like to think there was something in it for her beyond revenge.

The Neitherlands

Once everyone calms down enough to travel to the Neitherlands, things start to go even more wrong. The wandering mercenaries attack, and Quentin falls back into the Earth fountain holding the group’s only map. There’s a brief interlude at the library, but Eliot gets everyone kicked out by burning a book. The Earth fountain is blocked off and all seems lost when we get Josh.

My notes from this scene say “JOSH my beautiful nerd.” Josh is a book character, kind of a Ron Weasley-ish dude, not particularly talented but kind and doggedly loyal. He’s the average guy who, by contrast, lets you know how special the other physical kids are.

In the show, Josh is a missing member of the third-year class at Brakebills. That mystery, dropped on us back in the first episode, is finally solved. They all went to Fillory, and the Beast trapped them there. Victoria, the traveler Penny has seen being tortured by the Beast, brought everyone there is the first place. With Josh’s help, the Brakebills can get to Fillory, kill the Beast, and rescue Victoria.

Alice uses her light-bending talents to hide the group. Eliot’s foibles drive the plot again. He’s tripping on one of Josh’s psychedelic carrots and falls out of the migrating-geese V formation. Good on Margo for thinking to pack a gun. Quentin insists guns don’t belong in Fillory, but being prepared never hurt.

The group makes it to the Fillory fountain, which has two rams’ heads to represent Ember and Umber, the ram gods. Penny kills the mercenary Eve so they can pass through. We’re running out of main cast members who haven’t murdered someone.

Quentin and Julia

I was initially disappointed that Quentin decided to seek out Dean Fogg’s help, since I don’t think the “mentor with all the answers” character has much of a place in a story about making your own destiny. I was relieved that Fogg didn’t have a solution to Quentin’s current problem.

Fogg did explain what’s been going on behind the scenes all this time. Eliza/Jane Chatwin has been using time magic to try to defeat the Beast. Quentin and his friends have gone up again the Beast and failed thirty-nine times, hence the title of the episode. Jane tweaked some detail each time the loop restarted, hoping for different results. The variable in this timeline was keeping Julia out of Brakebills and allowing her to discover other types of magic. Now that Jane’s dead, this is Quentin’s last chance to kill the Beast and save his friends.

I’m sure there’s someone who can work out how this makes it possible for the books and the show to exist in the same continuity. The Order librarian calling Margo “Janet” is practically begging for a fan theory.

When Quentin showed up at Julia’s apartment I thought I had missed something. What about the ritual and summoning the goddess? But we get a little flashback, just enough to know that the goddess showed up and gave the other Free Traders a mission. Julia, feeling fulfilled and self-actualized, agrees to help Quentin get back to Fillory. I’m happy that they were able to reconcile before the end of the season. They’ve been through a lot, but they still have things in common. They haven’t changed beyond the point where they can repair their friendship—yet.

I am both excited and terrified for the finale next week. See you then!

 

The Magicians 1.11, “Remedial Battle Magic”

“Remedial Battle Magic” starts off as a calm interlude. We know that things are about to get real, but first everyone needs to gather their forces, gird their loins, etc. If The Magicians was a movie, this would have been the training montage.

Most training montages don’t end with my heart getting dropkicked, but you have the idea.

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The Free Traders

Julia and her friends are still working on how to summon a god. I really need more of this group interacting with each other. I don’t care about anyone but Julia and Kady yet. Julia making a bad joke to diffuse the tension when Richard gets too intense was a nice touch of group dynamic, but I’m not invested.

Richard reveals that he didn’t just bring Julia in because she fits the emotional damage profile. She was able to levitate because a local goddess took a shine to her, which is rare. Julia may have an affinity for communicating with gods and supernatural creatures.

All of this seems borne out when she’s continuously drawn to goddess imagery, mostly depictions of the Virgin Mary. For The Magicians’ purposes, Mary is less the mother of Jesus and more the modern face of the mother goddess. At the end of the episode the goddess visits Julia in a dream.

Julia feels like she needs to atone, and she’s trying to find her place in the world. Taken with her rocky relationship with her real mom, all that leaves her very receptive to the kind of love, forgiveness, and power that the mother goddess offers her. But who’s this servant that lives by the bridge, and what gifts does she need to bring him? Isn’t a mother’s love supposed to be unconditional?

The Brakebills

 The Brakebills gang has, at last, acknowledged that the Beast is their most pressing problem. I’m very exited about this, because it means Quentin et. al. are now united by a common cause. As much as they fight and disagree, they’re inhabiting the same scenes and contributing to the main plot.

Penny almost backs out, but comes back to the group after the Beast tries to drive him to suicide. I see a deliberate parallel between the travellers’ reactions to constant mental noise and certain types of real-world mental illness. The feelings of helplessness, the intrusive thoughts, seeking peace through drug abuse or suicide attempts… not subtle, but effective. I like that we see Penny getting a type of intervention from Sunderland, who had similar experiences as a psychic. She’s not very comforting, but she offers a plausible solution.

The literal bottling up of emotions is another heavy-handed but nonetheless workable metaphor. Penny and Alice are both repressed in their own ways, but the magical equivalent convinces them it’s maybe not the greatest idea. Quentin, who feels so intensely, relishes having a chance to be free of that. Overwhelmed, Eliot turns back to a less magical type of bottle. Margo finds herself craving emotional honestly. When Eliot won’t give her that, she gets it from Quentin.

Which brings us to Quentin cheating on Alice.

I love Quentin and Alice together, and I hate anything that separates them or makes them unhappy. They foil each other in so many ways (logical vs. emotional, practical vs. romantic) and I know those characteristics could compliment each other if they had time to grow together. So, I hate this.

But part of me loves it. Everything we’ve learned about these four characters has led us to this point. Quentin is constantly seeking validation, and what’s more validating than a hot person who really gets you? Eliot wants to love someone he doesn’t have to kill. Margo thinks she can cheer him up and repair their friendship by delivering Quentin, meanwhile satisfying her competitive side by stealing Alice’s boyfriend. Alice, who was just beginning to trust Quentin, is shattered.

That’s my interpretation, anyway. However you slice it, there’s going to be a battle, and we’ve got serious dissention in the ranks. With two episodes left in the season, Quentin, Alice, Eliot, and Margo don’t have time to work out their personal issues before they got to Fillory. They’re going to have to forge ahead, broken hearts and all.

Other Thoughts

-What is the thing that was pretending to be Kady’s mom? I thought they called it a lamia, but the cow tail reminded me of a hulder, and neither of those creatures traditionally served a goddess or were killed by shark blood, afaik.

-For that matter, where are all these gods and monsters coming from? Are they native to New York, or did they emigrate from the old country American Gods style?

-I really never expected to like Penny as much as I do, but here we are closing in on the finale and he’s been one of my favorite characters. Despite his issues with Quentin and his creepy behavior around women, I like that he’s always nice to Alice.

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The Magicians 1.10, “Homecoming”

I yelled at the TV a lot during this episode. Most of it was good yelling.

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Two weeks ago I praised the show’s pacing. It had learned how to drop a charcter or a plotline for a while in the service of focusing on others. Not so with “Homecoming.” We got all the major players back, including Kady and Margo.

One of the problems here is adaptation. The novel The Magicians is told in third person limited, completely from Quentin’s point of view. We see nothing except what he sees. We get Julia’s POV in The Magician King, but that leaves all the other major players out in the cold. The show is obviously going to pad things out a little, I felt like this episode was squeezing in people at the expense of a cohesive whole.

The thing is, I don’t know what I would cut out. The obvious option is Eliot, Margo, and the Margolem. Still, I liked Eliot’s cautious acknowledgement that his drinking and drug use are out of control. And I can tell the Margolem, like the Buffybot before her, is going to become a plot point down the road.

Penny and the Neitherlands

I rolled my eyes a little at Eve, the Exposition Girl, but I guess we don’t have tons of time for Penny to figure things out by trial and error. Touching the button doesn’t take you to Fillory; it takes you to the Neitherlands. When you jump into a fountain you come out in a new world. It’s super disorienting and finding the fountain you want is needle-in-haystack tough.

There’s also the gorgeous underground library. The badass librarian, who has apparently seen Penny before (time magic, anyone?) encourages him not to read the book about his own life, but photocopies a few pages from Martin Chatwin’s for him to take home.

Alice and Quentin

 Penny’s whole situation turns into a contrived reason for these two to get naked. What’s the one kind of spell that’s going to be a problem for two smart, talented, but awkward magicians? Enter sex magic, the trope that launched a thousand porny fanfics. We learn that Alice grew up with extremely, uh, liberated parents. Combined with her natural shyness, that means she’s squeamish about discussing sex. Even when it hasn’t been great with Quentin, she hasn’t spoken up. Until now.

Contrivances aside, I still really liked this. Maybe it’s just because I’m an unabashed Quentin/Alice shipper and I want them to be happy. Also I really like it when characters talk about sex. You can only get so much across by looking into each other’s eyes and breathing heavily. Yay for enthusiastic consent and communication! (Dear Internet, Please send all your Dom!Alice/sub!Quentin fics directly to my inbox.)

Julia

I spoke too soon about Free Trader Beowulf not being a part of the show. That login screen was the source of my loudest yelling this episode. After everything Julia’s been through in The Magician King, these are the people who make her feel safe and accepted. We see a little bit of it in the show already. She cleans up her trashed apartment for them, and she looks so happy when they come through the portal.

The interesting thing in the book is that we never learn most of the Free Traders’ real names. They go by their online handles. While they are described pretty thoroughly, the show has thrown out those descriptions in favor of new characters. Except for Richard and, of course, Kady.

In the show, we now have a ragtag band of hedge witches. Some have something to atone for—Julia/Circe for hurting Quentin and her part in Hannah’s death (and maybe Kiera’s), Kady/Asmodeus for stealing and hurting Penny, and Richard/Failstaff for leaving his infant son in a hot car (didn’t see that one coming, yikes).

Then there are the ones who have nothing to lose. Bender, the guy with the glasses, has drug-resistant depression. Menolly, the woman with the dark hair (wig?) who talks about being high is in chemotherapy. Silver/Silverkitten, the tall blonde who comes through first, is just described as “mentally dying.” They’re going to try to summon a god and do time magic. Nothing could possibly go wrong here, right?

Other Thoughts

-Sorry to be a fantasy nitpicker, but golems don’t steal a person’s life force. Also a little uncomfortable with stripping away the religious connotations (Jewish folklore, animated by the Hebrew name of God, etc). Can we maybe put the brakes on borrowing from other cultures before we fall into some of the same appropriation traps as Grimm and Supernatural?

-I appreciated the reference to Gödel, Escher, Bach, which I, like poor forgotten James, have not read.

-The entropy spell was a nice touch too, but I’m a little sad that this is all happening in Julia’s apartment instead of [redacted for spoilers, maybe].

-I cackled at both Quentin’s sex dream passing the Bechdel test and “But you haven’t touched your penis!”

 

What I’m writing, what I’m reading, and one more thing about The Magicians

Hi everyone, Happy Friday! This is another bits-and-pieces blog, just to let you know what I’m up to. I had more feelings about The Magicians since Wednesday. I put those feelings at the bottom of the post, so you don’t have to bother with them if you’re not into that. If you are into that, be warned that the last part of this post contains major spoilers for episode 1.9, “The Writing Room,” and also discusses sexual assault.

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What I’m writing:

I finished a short story yesterday! I don’t think I’ve done that since my junior year of college, when they were assignments. When I took my two fiction writing classes, any time I shared or work shopped a short story, I got at least one piece of feedback to the tune of “you could really expand this into a novel.”

I could never tell if it was a compliment or just a polite way of saying “you are bad at expressing yourself succinctly.” Probably varied, depending on the source.

Here is the ugly truth, then: I do not like writing short stories. Part of it is just that you get out what you put in. I read a lot of novels, so I tend to think in novels. The things I am inspired to write just don’t seem to lend themselves to short form.

However, I don’t actually require inspiration to write. It just be about trying out new ideas, whether they’re from my brain or a list of writing prompts or wherever else. Since I’m taking a break between revision cycles of my novel, I’ve made a commitment to try more short stories.

I’m proud of this one. The first draft is about 6,000 words long. It has no title yet, but after talking it over with my husband last night we’ve labeled it “genderswapped aromantic Beauty and the Beast in space” which is a hell of a tagline, IMO.

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What I’m reading:

Penryn and the End of Days, Susan Ee

This is actually a series, and I’m sort of not reading it right now, for a stupid reason. I listened to most of the second book in the trilogy while running. They’re good running books, interesting but not too complicated, so if I miss a bit because my mind wanders or I’m running by a weed-whacker, it’s not the end of the world (lol, apocalyptic fiction jokes). BUT when I went to download the third book to my phone, it refused. It has been in my Cloud, not downloading, for several days now. I have space on my phone. Other books have downloaded without a problem. It’s very frustrating. Please send help, or reassurances that the third book isn’t as good as the first two and I needn’t bother.

‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King

I’m realizing it’s weird that it took me as long as it did to get around to reading King’s books. I have two parents and one best friend who are longtime fans, not to mention I generally like horror so it’s kind of a no-brainer. I’ve started going after his books in the last year or so, and I have yet to find one I don’t like (everyone assures me it will happen eventually, but that’s a problem for future!Andie). So far this has been less outright scary than some of the others I’ve read, but I’m enjoying the story more. I really like vampires and claustrophobic small towns with secrets, so I’m here for this.

Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer

This is for after the sun goes down and I can’t read ‘Salem’s Lot anymore.

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That thing that happened on The Magicians:

Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and wrote 1,000 more words about The Magicians and “The Writing Room.” Don’t worry, not going to make you read it, it was more of a getting-my-feelings-out re: the sexual violence exercise. I came up with two big things that affected the extremity (or non-extremity) of the reactions I’ve been seeing:

  1. This was mentioned in the novel. It’s one sentence, towards the end of The Magicians. Blink and you’ll miss it. Page 381 of the Kindle version if you’ve finished the book and want to go sleuthing. The promos for “The Writing Room” focused more on Prudence Plover abusing the housekeeper’s children, so I wasn’t sure the part about Christopher Plover and Martin Chatwin would come in it all. When it came I was braced for it.
  1. It’s male-on-male sexual violence. When it comes to TV, movies, and other media, women are more frequent victims of sexual assault. It’s still pretty rare for us to have men or boys getting raped on TV, unless it’s played for comedy. I think the fact that this was played straight, not to mention really well written and acted, made it much more shocking.

I think it’s okay to portray sexual violence in fiction. I’d even go so far as to say it’s necessary. That type of media can help survivors and the friends and family of survivors. It can also help to challenge harmful cultural assumptions about abuse. But I do think that writers are other creators have a responsibility to portray that abuse in a conscientious way. I think The Magicians did a good job with that for this one episode and I’m tentatively hopeful. I’ll be interested to see how they handle the topic going forwards.

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I’m on my way to run. I’ll be listening to a podcast, thanks to the aforementioned technical issues. There’s a new Serial and I’ve actually been saving the last episode of Mystery Show for just such an emergency, so I can’t complain too much. Have a good weekend!