Agnes and Fhiad meet in the library on the morning after the summer court opens. Agnes wakes before dawn out of habit, while Fhiad has been up all night reading. Fhiad left the library to get tea, and he returns just as Agnes is studying the books he left on a desk. They sit down together, and he apologizes for snapping at her and making wild proclamations.
When Agnes asks Fhiad if he would truly destroy Faloren if he found Soreiya’s Tear, he explains that doing so would be impossible, as the cost for performing magic on such a large scale would require an unimaginably high cost. Magic is taboo in Faloren, so Agnes knows nothing about how it works. Fhiad gives a demonstration. Agnes is so amazed that she asks a clueless question, thus chilling the warmth of an intimate moment.
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This is the beginning of what Jessica Brody (of Save the Cat fame) calls the “fun and games” section of the novel. This section constitutes the bulk of Act Two. While the opening and closing of a novel should ideally follow a set formula that helps to guide the reader, the middle of the story offers much more freedom to the writer.
I’m going to use this freedom to indulge in all of the narrative tropes I enjoy, and this chapter includes one of my favorite narrative devices: An intimate conversation in a library helps the protagonist and her foil understand that they should be friends. At the beginning of this chapter, Agnes is characteristically blunt and ready to fight, but she and Fhiad manage to establish a common ground by virtue of the fact that they’re both giant nerds.
In this scene, Fhiad begins to show his true colors. He’s much more socially polished than Agnes, but he’s essentially a gentle person at heart. In fact, most of Fhiad’s trouble has resulted from him being something of a pushover. Although he gets in a few good jabs at Agnes, Fhiad also submits to her multiple times during their conversation in this chapter.
I was recently reading an academic book chapter about gothic fiction, and the author was saying that the erotic charge of the narrative is primarily generated by the question of whether a wild and mysterious man will sexually assault the heroine who fears him yet is still attracted to him. This sexual fear turns to romance when the heroine realizes that the man’s menacing aura is a result of his violent passion for her.
I unapologetically appreciate that sort of character dynamic, but it doesn’t fit what’s going on with Agnes and Fhiad. Agnes isn’t fearless, but her extreme pragmatism drives her to behave as if she were. Meanwhile, Fhiad is competent and talented in his own way, but he really has no business being “wild” or “menacing.” In a reversal of the classic gothic gender dynamic, Fhiad needs Agnes to push him forward, while what Agnes needs from Fhiad is his patience and kindness.
Mainly, however, this chapter is about doing magic in a cool library. The next chapter is also going to be about magic and libraries. And the chapter after that? More magic and libraries. I love libraries and magic, what can I say. This is my story, so I write what I want.