Today I Read…Soulless

SoullessToday I read Soulless by Gail Carriger, the first Parasol Protectorate book.

Miss Alexia Tarabotti is quite resigned to life as a spinster. After all, she is quite old–more than twenty-six. She is unfashionably dark, owing to her heritage from her equally unfashionable Italian father, enjoys reading scientific treatises, and worst of all she is unacceptably headstrong and quarrelsome, particularly with the Earl of Woolsey, who once described Alexia as being “about as covert as a sledgehammer.” Not that Lord Maccon has any room to talk, what with his running around as the head of the local werewolf pack and the director of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry.

Alexia has one final peculiarity–she is a preternatural, a being born without a soul. Her touch can banish ghosts and turn vampires and werewolves human. This unwelcome gift becomes quite useful when she is very rudely attacked by a starving vampire at a ball. Soon Alexia discovers that vampires are going missing from all over London–odd, given the tight control that the vampire queen Countess Nadasdy usually keeps over her hive. And she keeps finding the sign of a brass octopus everywhere. Her efforts to investigate keep her running into Lord Maccon, who behaves in a most scandalous manner, placing his hands on unmentionable portions of her anatomy, kissing her on the mouth, asking her to marry him, and of course requiring her help to catch the rogue scientists who have been capturing and killing supernaturals. It’s enough to make a normal well-bred young lady faint. Alexia, on the other hand, grabs her trusty parasol and wades right in.

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This book demonstrates that proper behaviour is very much what you make of it. Alexia is a well-bred young lady with an…adequate…reputation; while she is odd, she is not so odd as to be cut from London Society. Her strength of personality and preternatural practicality balance with her enormously unsupportive family to give her a life that really isn’t that bad. Gail Carriger takes the supposedly passionless Victorian society and populates it with a cast of highly colorful characters, all of whom are quite determined not to fit into a proper cookie-cutter role in Society.

I love Lord Akeldama, vampire, Alexia’s close friend, fashionista (or whatever the male equivalent is), top-shelf intelligence gatherer, and possessor of a beautiful stable of well-dressed young men to serve his every whim. Long-suffering Professor Lyall, so quietly competent while dealing with his impossible alpha Lord Maccon and having to point out that Alexia is not, in fact, a female werewolf and therefore cannot be expected to react as one. Devoted Ivy, Alexia’s best friend, always willing to listen, even to Alexia’s complaints about her atrocious choice in hats. Mrs. Loontwill, Evylin, and Felicity, Alexia’s mother and half-sisters, all so blonde and pretty and well-behaved and cruel and perfectly useless. And of course big, rough, rude Lord Maccon, who after two hundred years as an alpha werewolf has finally found a mortal woman who can slap him on the nose and scold him for being a bad puppy.

Carriger puts in a wonderful amount of detail about clothing and parties and the time period, and writes an interesting mystery, but the characters are what truly shine in this excellent start to the series. While it is not really a comedic novel, I defy any reader to make it through one of Alexia and Lord Maccon’s well-matched duels of wits without laughing out loud.

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Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire. She glared at the vampire.

For his part, the vampire seemed to feel that their encounter had improved his ball experience immeasurably. For there she sat, without escort, in a low-necked ball gown.

In this particular case, what he did not know could hurt him. For Miss Alexia had been born without a soul, which, as any decent vampire of good blooding knew, made her a lady to avoid most assiduously.

Yet he moved toward her, darkly shimmering out of the library shadows with feeding fangs ready. However, the moment he touched Miss Tarabotti, he was suddenly no longer darkly doing anything at all. He was simply standing there, the faint sounds of a string quartet in the background as he foolishly fished about with his tongue for fangs unaccountably mislaid.

Miss Tarabotti was not in the least surprised; soullessness always neutralized supernatural abilities. She issued the vampire a very dour look. Certainly, most daylight folk wouldn’t peg her as anything less than a standard English prig, but had this man not even bothered to read the vampire’s official abnormality roster for London and its greater environs?

The vampire recovered his equanimity quickly enough. He reared away from Alexia, knocking over a nearby tea trolley. Physical contact broken, his fangs reappeared. Clearly not the sharpest of prongs, he then darted forward from the neck like a serpent, diving in for another chomp.

“I say!” said Alexia to the vampire. “We have not even been introduced!”

Miss Tarabotti had never actually had a vampire try to bite her. She knew one or two by reputation, of course, and was friendly with Lord Akeldama. Who was not friendly with Lord Akeldama? But no vampire had ever actually attempted to feed on her before!

So Alexia, who abhorred violence, was forced to grab the miscreant by his nostrils, a delicate and therefore painful area, and shove him away. He stumbled over the fallen tea trolley, lost his balance in a manner astonishingly graceless for a vampire, and fell to the floor. He landed right on top of a plate of treacle tart.

Miss Tarabotti was most distressed by this. She was particularly fond of treacle tart and had been looking forward to consuming that precise plateful. She picked up her parasol. It was terribly tasteless for her to be carrying a parasol at an evening ball, but Miss Tarabotti rarely went anywhere without it. It was of a style entirely of her own devising: a black frilly confection with purple satin pansies sewn about, brass hardware, and buckshot in its silver tip.

She whacked the vampire right on top of the head with it as he tried to extract himself from his newly intimate relations with the tea trolley. The buckshot gave the brass parasol just enough heft to make a deliciously satisfying thunk.

“Manners!” instructed Miss Tarabotti.

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“Mark my words, I will use something much, much stronger than smelling salts,” came a growl in Miss Tarabotti’s left ear. The voice was low and tinged with a hint of Scotland. It would have caused Alexia to shiver and think primal monkey thoughts about moons and running far and fast, if she’d had a soul. Instead it caused her to sigh in exasperation and sit up.

“And a good evening to you, too, Lord Maccon. Lovely weather we are having for this time of year, is it not?” She patted at her hair, which was threatening to fall down without the hair stick in its proper place. Surreptitiously, she looked about for Lord Conall Maccon’s second in command, Professor Lyall. Lord Maccon tended to maintain a much calmer temper when his Beta was present. But, then, as Alexia had come to comprehend, that appeared to be the main role of a Beta—especially one attached to Lord Maccon.

“Ah, Professor Lyall, how nice to see you again.” She smiled in relief.

Professor Lyall, the Beta in question, was a slight, sandy-haired gentleman of indeterminate age and pleasant disposition, as agreeable, in fact, as his Alpha was sour. He grinned at her and doffed his hat, which was of first-class design and sensible material. His cravat was similarly subtle, for, while it was tied expertly, the knot was a humble one.

“Miss Tarabotti, how delicious to find ourselves in your company once more.” His voice was soft and mild-mannered.

“Stop humoring her, Randolph,” barked Lord Maccon. The fourth Earl of Woolsey was much larger than Professor Lyall and in possession of a near-permanent frown. Or at least he always seemed to be frowning when he was in the presence of Miss Alexia Tarabotti, ever since the hedgehog incident (which really, honestly, had not been her fault). He also had unreasonably pretty tawny eyes, mahogany-colored hair, and a particularly nice nose. The eyes were currently glaring at Alexia from a shockingly intimate distance.

“Why is it, Miss Tarabotti, every time I have to clean up a mess in a library, you just happen to be in the middle of it?” the earl demanded of her.

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Alexia looked uncomfortable. “I know!” She was wondering how a hive might react to a preternatural in their midst. Not very kindly, she suspected. She worried her lower lip. “I simply must speak with Lord Akeldama.”

Miss Hisselpenny looked, if possible, even more worried. “Oh really, must you? He is so very outrageous.” Outrageous was a very good way of describing Lord Akeldama. Alexia was not afraid of outrageousness any more than she was afraid of vampires, which was good because Lord Akeldama was both.

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.” Lord Akeldama had adopted use of her given name within minutes of their first meeting. He had said that he just knew they would be friends, and there was no point in prevaricating. “Darling!” He also seemed to speak predominantly in italics. “How perfectly, deliciously, delightful of you to invite me to dinner. Darling.”

Miss Tarabotti smiled at him. It was impossible not to grin at Lord Akeldama; his attire was so consistently absurd. In addition to the heels, he wore yellow checked gaiters, gold satin breeches, an orange and lemon striped waistcoat, and an evening jacket of sunny pink brocade. His cravat was a frothy flowing waterfall of orange, yellow, and pink Chinese silk, barely contained by a magnificently huge ruby pin. His ethereal face was powdered quite unnecessarily, for he was already completely pale, a predilection of his kind. He sported round spots of pink blush on each cheek like a Punch and Judy puppet. He also affected a gold monocle, although, like all vampires, he had perfect vision.

With fluid poise, he settled himself on the settee opposite Alexia, a small neatly laid supper table between them.

Miss Tarabotti had decided to host him, much to her mother’s chagrin, alone in her private drawing room. Alexia tried to explain that the vampire’s supposed inability to enter private residences uninvited was a myth based upon their collective obsession with proper social etiquette, but her mother refused to believe her. After some minor hysterics, Mrs. Loontwill thought better of her objections to the arrangement. Realizing that the event would occur whether she willed it or no, Alexia being assertive—Italian blood— she hastily took the two younger girls and Squire Loontwill off to an evening card party at Lady Blingchester’s. Mrs. Loontwill was very good at operating on the theory that what she did not know could not hurt her, particularly regarding Alexia and the supernatural.

So Alexia had the house to herself, and Lord Akeldama’s entrance was appreciated by no one more important than Floote, the Loontwills’ long-suffering butler. This caused Lord Akeldama distress, for he sat so dramatically and posed with such grace, that he clearly anticipated a much larger audience. The vampire took out a scented handkerchief and bopped Miss Tarabotti playfully on the shoulder with it. “I hear, my little sugarplum, that you were a naughty, naughty girl at the duchess’s ball last night.”

Lord Akeldama might look and act like a supercilious buffoon of the highest order, but he had one of the sharpest minds in the whole of London. The Morning Post would pay half its weekly income for the kind of information he seemed to have access to at any time of night. Alexia privately suspected him of having drones among the servants in every major household, not to mention ghost spies tethered to key public institutions.

Miss Tarabotti refused to give her guest the satisfaction of asking how he knew of the previous evening’s episode. Instead she smiled in what she hoped was an enigmatic manner and poured the champagne.

Lord Akeldama never drank anything but champagne. Well, that is to say, except when he was drinking blood. He was reputed to have once said that the best drink in existence was a blending of the two, a mix he referred to fondly as a Pink Slurp.

“You know why I invited you over, then?” Alexia asked instead, offering him a cheese swizzle.

Lord Akeldama waved a limp wrist about dismissively before taking the swizzle and nibbling its tip. “La, my dearest girl, you invited me because you could not bear to be without my company a single moment longer. And I shall be cut to the very quick of my extensive soul if your reason is anything else.”

Miss Tarabotti waved a hand at the butler. Floote issued her a look of mild disapproval and vanished in search of the first course.

“That is, naturally, exactly why I invited you. Besides which I am certain you missed me just as much, as we have not seen each other in an age. I am convinced that your visit has absolutely nothing to do with an avid curiosity as to how I managed to kill a vampire yesterday evening,” she said mildly.

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Today I Read…Switcheroo

Today I read Switcheroo by Olivia Goldsmith.

Sylvie thought her life was perfect. She had a beautiful home living right in between her parents and her former sister-in-law, a job that let her express her passion for music, a wonderful, successful husband that she adored, and two healthy, happy children. And best of all, the twins have just left for university, giving Sylvie and Bob the perfect opportunity to spend more time together and to rediscover the fire in their marriage. Except Bob seems awfully busy. He doesn’t really pay any attention to her. And people keep saying they saw her out with Bob when they weren’t together. Soon Sylvie finds out what Bob’s been doing–Marla, a woman who could be Sylvie’s twin! (Except ten years younger.) When she goes to confront her husband’s mistress, Sylvie discovers that while Marla has all of the hot sex and expensive presents and romance that Sylvie wants, Sylvie has the security and family and home that Marla wants. Sylvie comes up with the idea to switch places and see if anyone notices, especially Bob. Now Bob is sneaking away from his mistress to spend time with his wife, while his mistress tries to put on Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family, plus guests, plus Kenny’s soccer team, plus Reenie’s boyfriend…

Much like The Overnight Socialite, I didn’t find the love story to be all that convincing because I don’t understand what the female protagonist sees in her designated romantic partner. Bob is selfish, self-absorbed and foolish–he literally cannot recognize the difference between his wife of twenty years and his mistress of several months, because he pays absolutely no attention to either of them. He doesn’t even notice how much they look alike until it is pointed out to him. Sylvie’s love for him seems to be based solely on their history together. Marla’s interest in Bob makes more sense, because she just wants to be married–she doesn’t really care to whom. Sylvie ends up dumping Marla on Bob’s best friend John, who’s always loved Sylvie and easily transfers that love to Marla, Sylvie’s look-alike. None of the characters ever really step outside of their stereotype–the desperate housewife, the man with the mid-life crisis, the dimwitted bombshell with the heart of gold, the self-absorbed college kids.

Olivia Goldsmith is the author of The First Wives Club, which I enjoy very much as both a novel and as a movie. I’ve been trying to find another book by her that I like as much–the closest I’ve come is Flavor of the Month, which again is about women aging and being betrayed by men, and the women trying to turn the tables. Switcheroo is another attempt on The Prince and the Pauper, and while it is an interesting twist to make the twins the wife and the mistress, the deception depends on the husband being a jackass, which doesn’t make him much of a prize to be fought over.

Today I Read…Overnight Socialite

Today I read The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark.

Lucy Jo Ellis moved to New York with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Unfortunately, while she has talent, in New York it’s all about who you know and who knows you, and Lucy Jo’s address book is completely empty. Wyatt Hayes IV, on the other hand, knows everybody, and is bored by them. A wealthy Harvard-educated anthropologist, people expected big things from Wyatt but he just hasn’t been motivated to produce anything lately. He meets Lucy Jo in the pouring rain and is inspired to make her his new project–can he turn this awkward girl from Smalltown, USA into an immaculately turned out girl-about-town? And can Lucy Jo become the diva of Wyatt’s dreams without losing herself in the process?

This is a fairly standard My Fair Lady story, with plenty of name-dropping of fashion labels and the New York society. Lucy Jo’s transformation, along with all the mistakes she makes due to her irrepressible Lucy Jo-ness, can be charming, and the B-stories about Eloise and Fernanda searches for love are interesting. Cornelia makes an excellent villain for the story, conniving, backstabbing, nasty, and generally an all-around bitch of the highest order, and her inevitable comeuppance is quite satisfying. Wyatt, however, stays fairly unlikable even while he falls for Lucy Jo. He is selfish, self-absorbed, and carelessly cruel, though not quite as clueless as his best friend Trip who never learns to listen to what Eloise wants. This is an entertaining story if not a remarkable one.

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How did it happen, Ms. Ellis? Lucy Jo could imagine some deferential fashion reporter asking her years from now. How did you go from being an anonymous worker bee to one of the most influential designers in the history of the industry?

And Lucy Jo would sit back in her chair, tickled by the memory of her humble start. She would recall her early days spent huddled over a crowded work table, barely looking up until she sensed that her fellow workers had gone home. Only then could she pull out her design portfolio, diving into the sketches that would one day thrust her to the center runway of American fashion. She would tell the reporter how some nights she could feel the folds of lustrous silk run through her fingers, so real was the illustration she’d painstakingly created.
Then, of course, she would fondly recount the night she was about to experience, the turning point in her career. “I always knew,” she’d tell the admiring reporter, “that it was just a matter of time before my life caught up with my dreams.”
And she had, truly, always known. Growing up in a small town two hours outside Minneapolis, Lucy Jo Ellis had harbored a secret belief that life would deliver on its big promises. Fashion had been her passion ever since she could remember; at age four, she’d pointed her little index finger at a gown in one of her mother’s celebrity magazines and declared, “Too much ruffle.” She’d started making her own clothes when she was only twelve, mimicking the trends she could never afford to buy. As a teenager, she’d memorized tattered copies of Vogue, absorbing how iconic ’90s designers such as Gianni Versace and Azzedine Alaia glorified the female form, delighting in the gritty glamour of Herb Ritts’s photography. On the walls around her bed, she pinned fashion ads from the old W, and they hovered like sophisticated, angular angels over her sleep.
After high school, with no cash for college, she’d tried working for Annie Druitt, the local seamstress. Annie was a sweet woman and enjoyed having company in her shop–but hemming pants and taking in hand-me-down prom dresses barely paid one salary, let alone two, and Lucy Jo’s big things remained at large.
So on the day she turned twenty-six, with a hard-earned two thou in savings, she packed a bag, ignored her mother’s watery discouragement, said a few goodbyes, traveled across the country on a Greyhound, found via Craigslist a Murray Hill studio with a floor so sloping she constantly tripped over her feet, and lucked into an entry-level job at Nola Sinclair. The job was only marginally more inspiring than working for Annie Druitt–but at least she was in New York, epicenter of all things fashion, and working for an industry darling no less.
A year later, however, she hadn’t made any progress. A year wasn’t long, in the grand scheme of things, but it was too long for Lucy Jo. Her learning curve had grown flatter than Kate Moss, and Nola refused to consider anyone for a design position who wasn’t vetted by the hallowed halls of FIT or Parsons.
It didn’t matter. Nola was the gateway, and tonight was Lucy Jo’s opportunity to meet her real mentor–someone who would recognize that her talent and drive went far beyond assembly line work.
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“Socialites in Manhattan have wealth, privilege, beauty, and youth working for them. Designers curry their favor and send them free clothes; magazines run fluff pieces about their so-called ‘businesses’; every PR flack in town begs them to make an appearance at parties. Like it or not, they’re alphas–the top of the pecking order.”
“Okay,” Trip said. “So what’s your idea?”
“I’d conduct a social experiment answering the question: Could anyone become an alpha socialite if she wanted to? Or is there something inherent in these girls’ backgrounds, personalities, or genetics that predetermines their social status? My theory is that there isn’t.”
“Uncharacteristically democratic of you,” Trip remarked.
“And to test this theory,” Wyatt continued, “I’d take a random girl off the street and turn her into the most sought-after socialite in New York City. Convince everyone that she was the real deal–the number one It girl, the cover of Townhouse–in just a few months. I’d turn her into the next Cornelia Rockman, so to speak, only better. Show how hollow the system has become, and what a joke today’s ‘socials’ are. Show that any girl–no matter who her people are, no matter where she comes from, no matter how little she has in her trust fund–can be passed off as the reigning socialite.”

Today I Read…the Key Trilogy

Today I read the Key Trilogy by Nora Roberts, Key of Light, Key of Knowledge, and Key of Valor.

Gallery manager Mallory, librarian Dana and hairdresser/single mother Zoe have a lot in common, even though they’ve never met before. They are all young, intelligent, driven. None of them have anyone special in their lives. All of them have recently lost their jobs. And they’ve all been invited to the long-abandoned house on Warrior’s Peak for a dinner party, hosted by the mysterious Rowena and Pitte. They are told a story, about the three daughters of the king of the gods and his mortal wife, who were cursed by the evil sorcerer Kane to sleep until three mortal women can find the three keys to the Box of Souls and free them from their enchanted slumber. Sure, it sounds crazy, but Rowena and Pitte offer payment–$25,000 each just to try, and a cool million each if they succeed. Soon the women are joined in their quest by three handsome men–Dana’s brother Flynn, the newspaper editor, who finds Mallory’s efficiency very, very sexy; Jordan the thriller writer, who broke Dana’s heart; and Brad the businessman, who makes Zoe very nervous. They also discover that the evil god Kane is willing to stop at nothing to stop them from saving the three Daughters of Glass.

I like Nora Roberts books–they’re so predictable and formulaic (I’m fairly sure she just finds-and-replaces the names of the characters, since they all have the same plot). They’re like potato chips for the brain, good for when I just don’t want to think about what I’m reading. Pretty girl, (nowadays) some kind of career, cute guy, banter, mystery, danger, sex, marriage and happily ever after. Yes, feminist arguments about the stereotype that no matter what a woman does with her life she will never be fulfilled until she is married to Mr. Right and pumping out spawn, but romance novels sell for a reason–people read them. Nora Roberts’ romance novels may be written according to a formula, but it’s a solid formula that works. You know exactly what you will get in the book, and there can be pleasure in that. I do enjoy it when she includes mythological elements (former Classics major speaking). The trilogy is enjoyable, as long as you remember not to take romance novels too seriously (Twi-heads, I’m looking at you).

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“Long ago, in a land of great mountains and rich forests, lived a young god. He was his parents’ only child, and well beloved. He was gifted with a handsome face and strength of heart and muscle. He was destined to rule one day, as his father before him, and so he was reared to be the god-king, cool in judgment, swift in action.

“There was peace in this world, since gods had walked there. Beauty, music and art, stories and dance were everywhere. For as long as memory-and a god’s memory is infinite-there had been harmony and balance in this place.”

He paused to sip his wine, his gaze tracking slowly from face to face. “From behind the Curtain of Power, through the veil of the Curtain of Dreams, they would look on the world of mortals. Lesser gods were permitted to mix and mate with those of the mortal realm at their whim, and so became the faeries and sprites, the sylphs and other creatures of magic. Some found the mortal world more to their tastes and peopled it. Some, of course, were corrupted by the powers, by the world of mortals, and turned to darker ways. Such is the way of nature, even of gods.”

Pitte eased forward to top a thin cracker with caviar. “You’ve heard stories of magic and sorcery, the faerie tales and fantasies. As one of the guardians of stories and books, Miss Steele, do you consider how such tales become part of the culture, what root of truth they spring from?”

“To give someone, or something, a power greater than our own. To feed our need for heroes and villains and romance.” Dana shrugged, though she was already fascinated. “If, for instance, Arthur of the Celts existed as a warrior king, as many scholars and scientists believe, how much more enthralling, more potent, is his image if we see him in Camelot, with Merlin. If he was conceived with the aid of sorcery, and crowned high king as a young boy who pulled a magic sword out of a stone.”

“I love that story,” Zoe put in. “Well, except for the end. It seemed so unfair. But I think…”

“Please,” Pitte said, “go on.”

“Well, I sort of think that maybe magic did exist once, before we educated ourselves out of it. I don’t mean education’s bad,” she said quickly, squirming as everyone’s attention focused on her. “I just mean maybe we, um, locked it away because we started needing logical and scientific answers for everything.”

“Well said.” Rowena nodded. “A child often tucks his toys in the back of the closet, forgetting the wonder of them as he grows to manhood. Do you believe in wonder, Miss McCourt?”

“I have a nine-year-old son,” Zoe replied. “All I have to do is look at him to believe in wonder. I wish you’d call me Zoe.”

Rowena’s face lit with warmth. “Thank you. Pitte?”

“Ah, yes, to continue the tale. As was the tradition, upon reaching his majority the young god was sent beyond the Curtain for one week, to walk among the mortals, to learn their ways, to study their weaknesses and strengths, their virtues and flaws. It happened that he saw a young woman, a maid of great beauty and virtue. And seeing, loved, and loving, wanted. And though she was denied to him by the rules of his world, he pined for her. He grew listless, restless, unhappy. He would not eat or drink, nor did he find any appeal in all the young goddesses offered to him. His parents, disturbed at seeing their son so distressed, weakened. They would not give their son to the mortal world, but they brought the maid to theirs.”

“They kidnapped her?” Malory interrupted.

“They could have done.” Rowena filled the flutes again. “But love cannot be stolen. It’s a choice. And the young god wished for love.”

“Did he get it?” Zoe wondered.

“The mortal maid chose, and loved, and gave up her world for his.” Pitte rested his hands on his knees. “There was anger in the worlds of gods, of mortals, and in that mystical half-world of the faeries. No mortal was to pass through the Curtain. Yet that most essential rule was now broken. A mortal woman had been taken from her world and into theirs, married to and bedded by their future king for no reason more important than love.”

“What’s more important than love?” Malory asked and earned a slow, quiet look from Pitte.

“Some would say nothing, others would say honor, truth, loyalty. Others did, and for the first time in the memory of the gods, there was dissension, rebellion. The balance was shaken. The young god-king, crowned now, was strong and withstood this. And the mortal maid was beautiful and true. Some were swayed to accept her, and others plotted in secret.”

There was a whip of outrage in his voice, and a sudden cold fierceness that made Malory think of the stone warriors again.

“Battles fought in the open could be quelled, but others were devised in secret chambers, and these ate at the foundation of the world.

“It came to pass that the god-king’s wife bore three children, three daughters, demigoddesses with mortal souls. On their birth, their father gifted each with a jeweled amulet, for protection. They learned the ways of their father’s world, and of their mother’s. Their beauty, their innocence, softened many hearts, turned many minds. For some years there was peace again. And the daughters grew to young women, devoted to each other, each with a talent that enhanced and completed those of her sisters.”

He paused again, as if gathering himself. “They harmed no one, brought only light and beauty to both sides of the Curtain. But there remained shadows. One coveted what they had that no god could claim. Through sorcery, through envy, despite all precautions, they were taken into the half-world. The spell cast plunged them into eternal sleep, a living death. And sleeping, they were sent back through the Curtain, their mortal souls locked in a box that has three keys. Not even their father’s power can break the locks. Until the keys turn, one, by two, by three, the daughters are trapped in an enchanted sleep and then-souls weep in a prison of glass.”