One of the problems with writing a book purely from one person’s point of view (POV) is that there are often points that miss their attention and therefore cannot be recorded. For example, Professor Snape seemed the villain of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry – and the readers, because the readers only saw what Harry saw. If part of the story had been written from Snape’s point of view, the readers would have known (even if Harry didn’t) that Snape was one of the good guys.
I decided that I would write annotations and world-building notes for Schooled in Magic and its sequels, as there are details I could not realistically let Emily know without spoiling the plot. I’ve decided to start on incidents in specific chapters, but as character development takes place over a multitude of chapters I often relate to later chapters. I strongly advise you to read the book first, as these annotations include spoilers.
Several people, mainly Christine Amsden, Barb Caffery, Mark Roudabush and Bjorn Paulsen commented on the books in detail. Most of their comments helped make up the annotations. I am indebted to them for their help.
Chapter One – Introducing Emily
Emily’s introduction was written twice – and Christine strongly suggested that I change it from a library setting to a scene with her stepfather. I chose to go with the library because libraries (and books) are pretty much the key to Emily’s character. As soon as she learned to read, Emily took refuge from her life in books and libraries. She is not a professional historian, but she read a lot ... which gives her a great deal of knowledge she can apply in Whitehall (although there are quite a few gaps.)
She did not lead an easy life. Her father abandoned the family when Emily was very young (she barely remembers him) and her mother remarried when Emily was five. Unfortunately, Emily’s stepfather was verbally abusive and – when Emily became a young women – made her very uncomfortable, even if he never touched her physically. This explains a great deal about her attitude; she’s uncomfortable with male attention, isn't that good at standing up for herself and has a tendency to zone out when stressed. Her low self-confidence doesn't help.
Emily was not popular at school either. She was often regarded as weird, dressed poorly (most of her clothes were second-hand) and generally made her own way through the world. She did play with others from time to time, but she had no true friends. (When she does find friends, she’s very loyal, but she doesn't always understand what friendship means.)
Several readers asked why Emily hadn't tried to find a way home. The answer is simple; why would she want to go home?
Chapter Two – The Naming of Things
Both Void and Shadye are clearly assumed names; other magicians, it seems, don’t bother to hide their names. Emily could be forgiven some confusion on this point. Put simply, magic requires something as the target – and a name can work as well as anything else. Subtle magic can leak through the cracks in a magician’s personal wards, even though they would be proof against stronger attacks. The more powerful the magician, the more likely that such attacks would work.
Names can also have other implications. Emily’s mother was called Destiny, therefore she is – quite literally – a Child of Destiny. Oops!
You might notice that this world doesn't have a name. That’s significant.
Chapter Three – Lone Powers
Magic, as seen in innumerable stories, gives great powers to its practitioners. In this world, the most powerful sorcerers are known as Lone Powers, men and women powerful enough to effectively be a sovereign country in their own right. Both sorcerers like Void and the necromancers are considered such powers.
Void’s ‘discovery’ and later guardianship of Emily will both help and hinder her.
Chapter Four – The Wider World
One thing I was determined of, right from the start, was that the story wouldn't be restricted just to Whitehall. My plan is to have odd-numbered books at school, even-numbered books set elsewhere. It may not work perfectly, but we will see.
As a general rule, the tech level of the Allied Lands is roughly 1500s, with a handful of minor exceptions. The most important one is gunpowder; they do have alchemists, but they don't have real chemists (at least as we understand the term). Part of the reason for this is that they never underwent an industrial revolution, as most of their best minds went into magic and magical research.
Dragons may or may not play a role in later stories. They are largely isolated from humanity, save when they lay eggs (dragons are hermaphrodites). Their bodies contain powerful magic, which makes them highly sought-after by magicians. Unlike humans, they take a long time to develop intelligence. A two hundred year old dragon might be no more intelligent than a cat or dog. Those that live long enough to develop human level intelligence join dragon society, such as it is, once they do.
Their society is very loose, largely because fighting often leads to mutual destruction. They tend to work together when necessary, but otherwise dragons are isolationist by nature. For one of them to owe Void a favour ... well, that’s really quite important.
Chapter Five – Welcome to Whitehall
I had the distant displeasure of attending boarding school for four years. Whitehall is a much-improved version of that school, with magic. <grin>. Moving in was never fun, even though I could go home every weekend. Emily, of course, is loving it, despite her trepidation.
Chapter Six – Meet The Roommates
This chapter introduces both Imaiqah and Alassa, although Alassa seems more of a bully than a potential friend for Emily at first. Emily and Imaiqah actually have quite a bit in common; they’re both strangers to high society, even magical society.
Alassa goes through a harder time than either of the other two. As you can probably tell from her first appearance, Alassa is posturing a lot – she’s covering her own insecurities by putting on an act (and trying to put Imaiqah and Emily down). This probably isn't too surprising; Emily has been branded a Child of Destiny and landed on a dragon, sending rumours running through the school at the speed of light. In some ways, Alassa felt threatened by Emily; I think she knew, deep inside, that her cronies didn't really like her. So it probably wasn't too surprising that she pushed at Emily, until disaster finally resulted and she was nearly killed.
The experience almost broke her. No one had held her responsible for her actions until after her near-death experience – and her father didn't move against Emily or Whitehall. Alassa was left on shaky ground, even before she was forced to work with Emily. By the time they both go to Dragon’s Den, Alassa is probably as depressed as Emily was before coming to Whitehall (although with far less reason). It is to Emily’s credit that she realised that there was a decent person under Alassa’s act and tried to make friends ... although surviving a kidnap attempt probably helped. By the end of the book, the three girls are firm friends.
[Alassa was named for the evil princess (and sister of the main character) from A Magical Roommate. I hasten to add that they have little else in common, which is lucky – Emily would probably have killed that Alassa by now.]
Chapter Seven – The Development of Magic
Emily does not, for obvious reasons, develop magic while on Earth. In the Allied Lands, however, magic is generally developed at 15-17 years of age. (People have developed magic very young, but that doesn't always end well.) What tends to happen is that new magicians (like Imaiqah) are discovered by travelling magicians, then pointed in the direction of Whitehall or the other magic schools. It isn't safe to have magicians educated alongside non-magicians. There might well be dreadful accidents.
Learning how to cast spells is a tricky process, but it gets easier in time. Wands are effectively crutches; they can help a magician to cast a handful of spells effectively, but they are useless for developing new spells. (The spell is actually in the wand, all the magician does is pump power into it.) Alassa being given a wand is not a good sign.
Another point that should probably be mentioned here is that First Year at Whitehall is somewhat chaotic. New students arrive all the time. What tends to happen is that new students are taught the basics by whoever finds them, then sent to Whitehall where they are slotted into new classes, which start every couple of weeks. Once they test out of the classes, they move on to more advanced classes until they complete their first set of exams. Second Year is much more organised – and harder.
Some backstory! Many of the problems faced by the characters (specifically Alassa and Melissa) tie in to the world’s history. The Allied Lands, bound together by fear of the necromancers, are actually trying to bury tensions that will one day explode in their collective face.
One point; the version of history offered here is ... not complete.
Bullying is an epidemic problem in schools, as my other writings attest. Whitehall does try to make the process useful; there are strong rules against picking on people from a lower class, while the victims are encouraged to learn to defend themselves. They’d probably use Emily as proof the system works; she does learn to defend herself, very quickly. But here it doesn't go so well.
That said, the system failed Imaiqah. Alassa is the Crown Princess of Zangaria, where Imaiqah lives ...
Chapter Eleven – The Making of Spells
Professor Lombardi goes into some detail here, teaching Emily the absolute basics before she takes a formal class. The magic he shows is actually the simplest kind of magic, the kind practiced by almost every student in Whitehall.
However, as magic pervades the entire world, it isn't the only type of magic Emily can and will learn to use.
Chapter Twelve – First Glimmerings
Alternate historians are fond of discussing what might happen if someone from our time was hurled back in time to the past. I believe the first published piece of work was Lest Darkness Fall, which featured a student of history being sent back to save the Roman Empire. It’s actually great fun to figure out what could be produced quickly, if the concept was introduced, and what needs years of work before it could be produced ahead of time. Emily has plenty of ideas that can be introduced ...
Another incident happens here that is worth pointing out. Emily is in no way prepared for Martial Magic, yet she gets inserted into the class. Aloha, who is taking the class as a Second Year, is ... rather unhappy. And she should be. Aloha worked VERY hard to get into the class, only to see the utterly unqualified Emily put in too. I didn't feel that it was realistic that someone wouldn't complain.
By the way, Aloha is probably the most capable student in Whitehall.
Chapter Thirteen – Alchemy
Magic has had some rather interesting effects on this world’s fauna. Where humans have developed magic, plants and animals have developed proprieties that can be unlocked by alchemists, who are the closest thing to real scientists in this world. However, there are plenty of times when alchemy seems counter-intuitive. Emily is a poor alchemist because she wasn't raised in their culture.
Thande’s safety lecture makes a great deal of sense. <grin>
[Thande was named for the username of a friend of mine, a fellow author.]
Chapter Fourteen – Twa Recruiting Sergeants
Martial Magic is an odd class. Students have to qualify to join, which means that there are students like Aloha (Second Year) and students like Jade (Sixth Year). All of them have a wide and versatile understanding of magic, which makes Emily’s inclusion in the class even more of a joke. Whitehall offers three years of martial training, after which the student is expected to seek an apprenticeship or join the army.
The two Sergeants are based on two real-life British Army sergeants I met in Edinburgh. ‘Miles’ was at the desk of the army recruitment centre and immediately struck me as trustworthy, just the kind of person to appeal to a nervous would-be recruit. ‘Harkin’ was responsible for running the Army Insight Day I attended and struck me as a Gym Teacher from Hell. (That said, he was much more interesting and commanding than any gym teacher I have encountered at school.)
Something that will become important later is that female combat sorcerers (as opposed to duellists) are rare. Combat sorceresses (and Mediators) require physical strength and endurance as opposed to just magical power and skill. They also face a great many challenges from their male counterparts who doubt they have what it takes.
Chapter Fifteen – Bras
Emily may or may not be right when she seeks to introduce bras. As Christine pointed out to me, female undergarments have a long history, largely centred around culture. But Emily missed them because she couldn't find something she was used to at Whitehall.
Stirrups are a far more promising idea. Unfortunately, like most ideas that can be introduced quickly, they can also be copied.
Chapter Sixteen – Well, You Ken Now
There’s a joke about Harry Potter that notes that Harry is a natural seeker – so in some respects the school story has not changed. Most school stories for kids – Malory Towers, for example – have sports as a core part of the story. I made a determined decision that Emily would not become a sports freak – I don’t like team sports myself. That said, Ken is designed to teach students how to work together and provides valuable training for later life.
The other important point from this chapter is the Broomstick Incident. Transfiguration – even when using ‘safe’ spells – can cause real mental problems for the victim. Someone turned into a frog might find themselves snapping at flies, for example, while Broomstick herself remained convinced that she was a broom even after the spell had been broken. Most ‘prank’ spells are designed to avoid causing permanent harm.
This is pretty much why Alassa was never simply changed into a boy, once her father realised that she was the only heir he was likely to have. She would have major mental problems from finding herself stuck in a guy’s body (and there would be other considerations). It wouldn't bode well for the long-term stability of the kingdom.
Chapter Seventeen – Lethal Weapons
This chapter is important for the development of both Emily and Alassa. For Emily, she realises – really realises – that magic is a lethal weapon. She might not have meant to hurt Alassa, but she did – and she came very close to killing her. For Alassa, it was her first real experience of someone being willing to hurt her – a short sharp shock, if you will.
It probably shouldn't have surprised either of them. Whitehall is, to some extent, a military training school. The students all have access to magic, which can be a deadly weapon.
The reason Emily had to wait for punishment is because there was a frantic debate going on behind the scenes. Some tutors wanted her expelled, others pointed out that Alassa had started the fight (and the previous ones) and that Emily’s Guardian is an immensely powerful sorcerer who might take objection to his ward being expelled. However, there had to be some punishment. She was warned not to try to combine spells and she came very close to killing Alassa outright.
Odd as it may seem, Emily got off very lightly. If she had killed Alassa (as is explored in Book II) she would probably have triggered a civil war in Zangaria and certainly compromised Whitehall’s neutrality.
Chapter Nineteen – Know-it-Alls
Emily doesn't handle this very maturely, does she?
It’s easy to feel (and it wouldn't be unjustified) that Emily is overstepping herself when she lectures Alassa and that there were more mature ways to handle the situation. Emily could have asked leading questions and invited Alassa to work out the answers for herself, rather than handing out answers from (Earth’s) history. To which I would say that Emily is a teenage girl; she simply doesn't have the maturity to serve as Alassa’s teacher.
It isn’t really Emily’s problem (at least, not yet) to make Alassa see reason. She’s a little depressed, irked and not inclined to take prisoners. Instead of trying logic and reason, she hits Alassa with the facts. Probably not the best way to try to help, but she wasn't really trying to help.
One day, I may write a Peggy Sue story with Emily going back in time. But it might end up working out like Tapestry ...
Chapter Twenty-Two: Noticing (or not) Boys
I deliberately made the decision to leave romance out, at least for the first story. Emily’s background doesn't make her inclined to think of boys and men as safe, let alone potential love interests. She’s actually somewhat nervous around young men, although she works hard to hide it, and she doesn't really think she’s pretty. (Her face has character, which is valued in Whitehall’s society more than large breasts.) In some ways, she has yet to get over the ‘boys are gross’ reaction.
That doesn't, of course, stop others from finding her attractive. Jade does. He doesn't make any open attempt to court her because there's a rule preventing students from dating if there’s more than a year between them, but he’s clearly interested in her.
Emily’s marriage prospects are ... odd. Most people believe her to be Void’s bastard daughter (having a bastard child is perfectly in character for a lone power like Void), even though the official story states that she’s actually the daughter of two of his servants. As such (with Void as her Guardian) she’s likely to be sought after by magical families, who will be happy to take her in.
The same is pretty much true of Imaiqah. Magical children born to non-magical families are in great demand by magical families, who see them as valuable new blood.
Of course, by the end of Book I, Emily will be in VERY high demand.
Kingmaker is this world’s version of Chess – and, in many ways, it reflects the world’s society as Chess reflects our own (as Imaiqah notes). Where Chess has the King as the most important piece, Kingmaker has the Wizard. In a world where magic pervades society, magicians are important – and often kingmakers.
In Chess and Kingmaker alike, the King represents a chain of succession, rather than a particular monarch. If one monarch dies, another can take over in the real world, hence the overall objective of trapping rather than taking the monarch. Check represents an existential threat to the player, one that has to be countered. If it can't be countered, the game is lost.
Emily’s musings on economics and banking are simplistic, but essentially accurate. Gold is worthless in banking except as a means of exchange (and of keeping score). Prior to bank loans, monarchies and wealthy families would offer loans to people they were convinced deserved them, which had the unintended consequence of dampening economic growth. If, however, there was a bank willing to make loans, it would spur economic growth.
There’s a simple line about having to spend money to make money. If a prospective businessman cannot assemble the starting capital, his business will never get off the ground, let alone start making money. The bankers can offer the loan, which can then be paid back if the business is successful.
However, the bank has to be safe. If people don’t believe their money is safe, they won’t put it in the bank. That’s why Switzerland is so successful in banking; their reputation for discretion precedes them. But if the land is ruled by a King, the King might demand the bank hands over its money ...
Chapter Twenty-Four: City-State
There are four major power blocs in the world, not counting the necromancers. Kingdoms, Magical Families, City-States and Lone Powers. City-States are mainly independent cities, largely separate from the nearby kingdoms. They tend to be run by a whole collection of systems, ranging from limited democracy to family rule.
Dragon’s Den is run by the Great Houses, who collectively own most of the city and control the City Guard. The system is not particularly democratic, but they do have a habit of inviting successful businessmen to join their houses, thus adding new blood to the system. This is not as successful as the breeding programs run by the magical families, as it tends to limit their growth.
Incidentally, modern hygiene requirements are actually quite new. (And Western; I live in Malaysia and there are such joys as stinky open drains, slums and garbage everywhere.) By Emily’s standards, Dragon’s Den stinks badly.
New York, for example, had real problems with horses on the streets. They were dangerous, smelly and left dung everywhere. The dung became a breeding ground for flies, which buzzed ominously through the cities. Most of the complaints made about automobiles were duplicated when people were complaining about the horse. And then the automobile was hailed as an environmental saviour.
(A short outline of the problem can be found in Superfreakonomics.)
Emily contemplates the position of women in this world. The short answer is that it depends on social position. Royal and aristocratic women live in gilded cages, peasant and serf women are effectively the property of their fathers and husbands; magical and middle-class women have the most freedom. (Sorceresses have the most freedom of all.)
Chapter Twenty-Six: Making Friends
To some extent, Emily didn't really see Alassa as human during their first encounters. Basic empathy isn't one of her strengths when the person in question is being obnoxious – and Alassa was being rather more than just unpleasant. But when she sees Alassa broken down, beaten and depressed, she feels enough pity to go over and actually talk to her. And discovers that there’s a worthwhile human being under the act.
Matters are probably helped by the way Alassa’s cronies desert her, at least for a few weeks. By the time they come crawling back, Alassa has true friends and sends them all packing.
Incidentally, there was a powerful double standard when royalty mixed with sex. Princes and Kings were expected to get all the girls they wanted; mistresses, courtesans and prostitutes were not uncommon. (Henry VIII had at least one bastard son.) Princesses were expected to be completely virgin until married; Bloody Mary (Mary Tudor, Mary I) often accused Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth I) of premarital sex and even having children. This will become a great deal more important in Book II.
Emily might have cause to reflect that Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s bastard, was a stronger child than his legitimate son, Edward VI.
One of the major dangers in this world is that the basic necromantic rite is actually quite simple. It’s impossible to bury it and forget that the knowledge ever existed – and it seems simple enough to experiment with the ritual in the hopes that it can be controlled. However, in all cases, the sudden flush of power has to be channelled through a person’s mind, something that starts them falling towards insanity. By the time Emily first meets him, Shadye is effectively insane.
The rite drains magical energy, then life-force. If used on a non-magician, there is no need to drain magical energy first.
Unicorns are attracted to girls; baby unicorns are attracted only to virgin girls.
There are no female Centaurs. They reproduce by finding human women, then impregnating them. If the child is male, the child will be a Centaur – and his birth will kill the mother. As this fact would tend to discourage humans from having sex with Centaurs, they have an uncanny ability to affect the female mind and seduce their victims.
Like most magical creatures, the Centaurs were created by the Faerie and left behind when the Faerie retreated. Right now, Centaurs exist on the fringes of human society.
Melissa and her two friends were also picked on by Alassa and her cronies – and now she wants some payback. (Surprise, surprise.) The important point here is that it was Alassa’s cronies who shielded her from the consequences of her actions – and those cronies are now out of the picture.
I don’t go much into Melissa’s background in SIM, but it will be important in a later book. She’s from one of the magical families, studying at Whitehall because it will allow her to make contacts with prospective allies and meet her future rivals in controlled circumstances.
Emily slips up here quite badly, although I feel it’s understandable. One of her defining character traits are few friends – but she’s very loyal to the friends she does have. And then she lets Alassa and Imaiqah talk her into playing a nasty trick on Melissa in response to Melissa’s (probably justified) attack on Alassa. She does have second thoughts, but doesn't really let them stop her.
As Christine pointed out, the servant caught up in the midst of the prank was what Emily was to Melissa – someone in the way, someone who didn't deserve to be involved. Emily feels guilt for what they did, which is why she snaps at Alassa afterwards. Alassa is less bothered about the whole thing because she comes from a culture that doesn't prize the lives of magic-less commoners. As far as she is concerned, the servant is there to be used.
There’s a rule in Whitehall that specifically forbids playing pranks on servants or students in the years below you. They were punished for what they did to the servant girl, not for what they did to Melissa. This will be more important in later books.
One of my personal bugaboos, I must admit, is people and authors who present life in the past as somehow superior to life in the present. Most of those novels seem to be romance ones, where the girl is swept off her feet by the cowboy/highlander/Victorian guardian and don’t tend to include disease, poor medical treatment and anything resembling feminism. I don't agree with this point; right now, life in the present is vastly superior to life in the past for almost everyone. Emily, being a history geek, has the perspective to understand this – to some extent, her living conditions have actually backslid now that she’s at Whitehall.
This leads to a more subtle point. For most of the students (particularly those new to magic, like Imaiqah) Whitehall is effectively a paradise. Hot running water, plenty of fresh food and vegetables and much else ... all intended to seduce newer magicians from their families and bringing them into the magical community. If certain events in Book II didn't take place, it is quite likely that Imaiqah wouldn't go home.
Blood is linked to a person’s body and soul. Magic worked on someone’s blood can be used to reach into their mind and interfere with their perceptions, as happens to Emily in this chapter. Madame Razz’s warning to be careful with one’s blood is deadly serious when someone can use your blood against you.
Emily has a unique problem here. She has no living relatives in the nameless world at all, therefore most spells to obliterate the connection between expelled blood and herself are useless. But she doesn't realise this until it’s too late.
The problem with necromancy is that the necromancer has to channel the magic through his mind (thus starting the fall into insanity) but also to store the magic within his personal wards. This creates a problem where the necromancer must seek more magic to keep the magic he has under control, forcing him to sacrifice more and more victims. And so the problem keeps going. The smarter necromancers effectively farm human slaves, draining them for magic one by one. The less subtle ones attack the Allied Lands or other necromancers.
Worse, the magic slowly starts to replace the necromancer’s body. By now, Shadye is more of an eldritch abomination than a man, desperate to keep himself alive. Had he taken Whitehall and the Nexus underlying the school, he would probably have transcended and become a god. (Or at least a very powerful creature.)
Emily quips that Shadye will never seduce her to the dark side, quoting Star Wars. As she thinks, it is a stupid example; Anakin Skywalker did turn to the dark side. She also refers to the Dark Empire comic books, where Luke converts to the dark side too.
A Nexus is formed when two ley-lines cross, allowing power to flow from one line to another. Whitehall’s founder (a great magical genius) managed to create a user interface (for want of a better word) that allowed the school to draw on the Nexus, using it as a source of power. These Places of Power are not very common and often fought over by various nations, magicians and others. However, these places are not capable of expanding outwards. Whitehall has a great deal of control over its interior – as shown when Emily and her friends play pranks – but the power cannot be used far from the nexus.
Emily has an advantage here; she’s used to thinking in terms of using a GUI-style system. Even so, touching the nexus directly and surviving was a remarkable feat.
The Sorcerer’s Rule is the closest thing to a patents office in the nameless world. Put simply, it states that a magician cannot be forced to share any magical discoveries against his or her will. It doesn't stop magicians from spying on each other, or experimenting to discover how to repeat the original feat, but the magician cannot be forced to talk.
Ironically, Emily’s decision to keep the whole story of what happened between her and Shadye a secret makes her potentially very dangerous. No normal magician can beat a necromancer in single combat. Suspicious minds might conclude that she is a necromancer herself.
Training young men and turning them into soldiers isn't easy. As Miles notes, training officers – Drill Instructors, etc – have a reputation for being sadistic and it is quite easy to slip into actual sadism. Sergeant Harkin was admired for not ever forgetting what he was actually doing.