Study In Slaughter Annotations
As always, if you like reading these, please let me know.
Also, MAJOR SPOILERS!
A Study In Slaughter suffers from a weakness that, irritatingly, I didn't notice until it was too late to change it. I knew what the Mimic was before I wrote the book – I had them designed as part of the universe when I was planning Schooled In Magic – and it wasn't until after I had finished that I knew someone would draw a comparison between A Study in Slaughter and Chamber of Secrets. (Oddly, no one pointed this out when I was drafting the book.)
To be fair, the monster loose in a school plot isn't unique. I was quite fond of the Burlap Hall (Virginia Ironside) series, where an assortment of monsters attend a school. It’s still annoying, though.
That said, A Study In Slaughter begins the second mini-arc of the series. Where Schooled In Magic and Lessons in Etiquette focused on the Nameless World, A Study In Slaughter and Work Experience are focused around Emily slowly learning to overcome her demons and growing into a better person. She has a long way to go.
And there are spies, some new teachers and plenty of new magic ...
Cockatrice Castle is Emily’s new home from King Randor (alert readers will recall that she was made a Baroness in the last book). As you can see, Emily has quite a bit of learning to do; unlike Alassa, she had absolutely no training in how to manage a great estate. Randor, to some extent, was counting on it. Emily is unlikely to ally herself with the other remaining Barons or, to some extent, even care enough about handling her new responsibilities. She doesn't realise (yet) just what Randor has given her.
Oh, and Bryon was named for the weak king of Zangaria. That’s notable.
In hindsight, most of the transfer students are clearly covering for Lin’s presence as the spy. However, their presence is not unexpected. There are five major magic schools in the Allied Lands and they often do exchange pupils to allow them to see more of the Allied Lands (and learn from different teachers.) The basic curriculum is largely identical.
This seems more of a modern invention, but it actually evolved under pressure from the Necromancers. The Allied Lands cannot afford to maintain the master-apprentice system when it needs to churn out as many magicians as possible. Therefore, students are taught in classes in the hopes that they will reveal their talents, which can receive more focused training after graduation.
The Gorgon was inspired by the Gorgon who appears in A Magical Roommate, although they’re quite different characters. Here, Gorgons are more hybrids created by the Faerie as terror weapons (like werewolves, vampires and suchlike.) They have magic inserted into their bodies that allows them to turn people to stone; it’s comparatively rare, that said, for one of them to develop more mundane magical talents. Confusingly, the principle difference between Gorgons and Medusas is that Gorgons are intelligent and Medusas are pretty much animals. This leads to all manner of crude jokes from non-Gorgons.
There is a great deal of discrimination against Gorgons in the Allied Lands and they tend to stick to themselves. The Gorgon wouldn't have come to Whitehall if she hadn't needed training in her magic. Notably, they are fiercely protective of their privacy (despite being nomads) and tend to react badly when disturbed.
Ah, Master Tor.
Designing him was a pain in the butt. I wanted him to have his own character and have reasons for what he does, but from Emily's POV he’s pretty much a nasty teacher. Tor’s logic in changing the room assignments, however, is sound. Emily, Alassa and Imaiqah are all noblewomen of Zangaria and they need to be introduced to people from outside their own country.
Despite his crusty appearance and his boring lectures, Master Tor may have a fair claim to being one of the most decent characters in the series. It is he who points out to Emily that her experiments might threaten the lives of mundanes, when most magicians don’t give a damn about mundane civilians.
Emily reacts badly to his first appearance, seeing him as meddling in her life for no good cause. Which is ironic, because they would be natural allies in many ways.
Lady Barb is not the most patient of teachers. Enough said.
Emily is not a sports-mad girl, so she is a little unsure of how to react when her friends turn into sports-mad fanatics. Much of her early discussions with Alassa over playing Ken is odd, because Emily is trying to back out gracefully and Alassa is offering to let her play even though she doesn't really qualify.
It’s probably not a bad thing for Alassa to have her own team. She does have a very strong competitive urge and playing games would be a good way to learn how to give orders when people don’t have to do what she says.
Incidentally, Emily is referencing Calvin and Hobbes when she calls gym class studies in state-sponsored terrorism.
One of the things I don’t like about many fantasy books is the existence of magically-binding contracts that someone can be tricked into signing. How does it work if someone doesn't know what they’re doing? Or, for that matter, being entered into a contest without actually choosing to enter of their own free will? Yes, I’m referencing Goblet of Fire here.
[If I’d been doing it, I think I would have added a line about the contract being binding on Dumbledore rather than Harry. He would be expected to enforce the participation of whoever’s name came out of the goblet, which would have forced him to make Harry take part in the contest even though he didn't put his name in the goblet (and, one assumes, was claiming to represent a fourth school.) Harry could then have been convinced to take part on the grounds that he needed to help Dumbledore.]
In this universe, you have to know what you’re doing before you enter a binding contract and then have it sealed with your own magic. You can't be tricked into something, deliberately or otherwise. On the other hand, you cannot easily escape the contract once you make it. You have to convince yourself that you aren't breaking it when, in point of fact, you are.
Emily’s phobia is her stepfather, not Shadye or any of the other horrors she’s encountered in the Nameless World. This is, in some ways, a sad clue to her character. He was an intruder in her home and yet she never actually defeated him. Instead, she had to leave herself.
One of Emily’s less endearing traits is that she isn't really sure of what friendship means. She simply never had real friends on Earth, which means that she doesn't really understand that friendship brings obligations as well as rights. In this case, she doesn't mean harm by wandering off and leaving Alassa and Imaiqah to play their game by themselves, but (if things had been a little different) she might well have done real harm to her two closest friends.
Just how much of her decision was prodded along by subtle magic is uncertain ... <grin>.
The Allied Lands has a system where the sorcerer who finds a new magician is meant to give them the basic lecture on what not to do (at least in a school). In theory, Void should have given Emily that lecture; instead, he chose to pass her straight to Whitehall without telling anyone Emily needed the lesson. Someone should probably have checked that Emily had received the lecture before she went to Whitehall (Emily basically fell through the cracks in the system.)
One of Emily’s problems is that she doesn't really look that impressive. Someone who doesn't know her would be threatened by her reputation, but someone who saw her in Martial Magic – like Travis – would be far from impressed. Jade sees her as someone human; Travis sees her, basically, as someone who bought their way onto the hardest class in Whitehall. It probably isn't surprising that he starts taking digs at Emily the moment she reports for punishment.
He does have good grounds to be annoyed at her. He worked hard to get into that class, yet his grade depends, at least in part, on Emily ... and Emily is/was far from prepared to take the course. This is not, of course, remotely fair from his point of view.
But if that isn't irritating enough, consider this. That isn't Travis, that’s the Mimic. And it is mimicking Travis perfectly.
It’s perverse, but at this point Alassa is actually more mature than Emily. She isn't wasting time screaming at her friend for leaving the arena, but trying to console her. Of course, she IS annoyed and she makes that point a little later ...
One thing I do recall from my own boarding school days was that we had very little privacy, but we liked what we had. One of my classmates stole something and we had to endure having our rooms searched, which did not make us happy! The Gorgon, who has a chip on her shoulder about being one of the few non-humans at Whitehall, takes it worse than Lin, who is trying to remain unnoticed.
The restriction on performing magic outside of class is a form of being sent to Coventry. (Basically, anyone sent to Coventry was excluded from all forms of social interaction; no one speaks to them, they can’t play games, etc.) The school tacitly permits a degree of harassment of anyone on magic restriction (which is why Alassa kept it to herself) in the hopes they learn the consequences of playing around with magic.
It’s also meant to teach restraint, as there is nothing physically preventing Emily from using magic. If she can resist the temptation to use it, even when being regularly hexed, she might be trusted with it again.
Emily has an unfair advantage, of course. The Warden is meant to monitor magic use ... and the Warden is gone.
Most of the girls have an unfair advantage in this Subtle Magic class – they’ve learned how to sew. This was a common skill in the middle ages for girls, although Alassa was too much of a brat to learn (and Emily never learned herself, being from our world.)
And as you can see in hindsight, the first time Emily realises someone’s been spying on her is when she wore the protective rune ...
Emily doesn't like Master Tor, so she’s inclined to try to blame him for the murders – even though everyone else knows it isn't really likely.
She’s also referencing Torg Potter <grin>, specifically this strip.
And the Mimic makes its first appearance in its natural form!
From its point of view, it left the zoo during Shadye’s attack in Book I, then found Travis making a tactical withdrawal from the battle and replaced him. It stayed as Travis until it started to run out of energy, then realised that it was in the school and would be discovered by the Warden when it resumed its natural form. It promptly targeted the Warden, leaving stone knives behind to confuse the issue, but the attack left it badly damaged and forced it to hunt more openly.
It also left bodies behind ... as Emily noted, the person who spotted the last murder was the next to be murdered, but they were actually murdered already. Eventually, it replaced Sergeant Bane, without the body being discovered. Thus, Emily had no reason to suspect Bane until it was too late. (And the only way to escape was to jump out a window, which is what she did.)
Emily discovers, later on, that the Mimics are effectively immensely complicated spells, rather than actual living creatures. They were designed as weapons against Necromancers, but a number escaped and just started moving from host to host without actually doing their duty.
Room points are not house points, I hasten to add. Put simply, students (three to a room) are awarded room points for keeping their rooms clean and tidy, which can be redeemed for food, drink and furniture at Dragon’s Den.
The Mimic chose to stay in the zoo, rather than break free, which makes more sense when you realise its true nature. It was being fed and it didn't have any orders to the contrary, so it just stayed where it was. Everyone assumed that the wards were holding it in place, so they were surprised when the Mimic (once detected) broke free.
Emily is the only one who realises the Mimic’s true nature because she isn't used to living in a world of semi-intelligent magical creatures. Everyone else in the Nameless World just assumed the Mimics were creatures in their own right.
And the spy is revealed. Who saw that coming?
Lin’s use of Subtle Magic helped hide her presence, but it had other effects too. It kept Emily and the Gorgon at loggerheads and helped urge Emily to start pushing the limits much further than she had thought possible.