Back in 2000, or thereabouts, I was a member of a short-lived book club - short-lived, I have to admit, because while we were all interested in books we were not interested in the same types of books.  It was hard to find books that we were all willing to read, let alone discuss, and while it did expose me to different genres that broadened my mind a little it also convinced me that some people had takes on books that never agreed with mine. One of those takes stuck in my mind.


We were reading Outlander, the first book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  (It was titled Cross Stitch in the UK, but I’m going to stick with the US title here.)  The basic plot is relatively simple; Claire Randall, a nurse from 1940s Britain, finds herself stranded in 1740s Scotland, shortly before the Jacobite Rising of 1945.  She is taken in by the local community, uses her medical skills to impress them, weds a young man - Jamie - and eventually becomes involved in the morass of political and personal struggles threatening to tear the Highlands apart.  It was, I thought, a good novel, but not one that interested me; Claire didn’t seem to have any real impact on history, not even introducing better medicine and suchlike.


One of the other readers, a young woman, thought it was a brilliant novel.  She liked the idea of going back in time and marrying a man from a simpler age.  I found that attitude difficult to process.  Claire fell into a world of disease and deprivation, where a person without kin had little hope of survival; a world where women, such as Claire, were pretty much the property of their husbands.  There is even a scene where Claire is physically disciplined by Jamie and while it is possible to argue that Claire deserved it, or that Jamie had no choice but to make it clear to the rest of the clan that Claire had been punished, it doesn’t mask the fact that the world of 1740 was not kind to anyone.  The idea of someone wanting to go back in time and live there struck me as absurd.  They would be throwing away both the comforts of the modern world and their own safety. 


It is always fun to romanticise the past, and how to consider how it might be changed by an influx of ideas from the future.  It would not, however, be easy to have any lasting impact (certainly if you happened to be a single person with no real proof of your story).  Our ancestors generally had good reasons for being the people they were.  Their societies were adapted to realities that we simply don’t understand.  We recoil in horror when we look back at the sins of the past - slavery, conquest, semi-rigid gender roles - without realising that our ancestors had less choice than one might suppose.  They had attitudes, shaped by their environment, that often made them seem an alien people.  It is easy to think they were very primitive and indeed stupid.  How could they take such obvious untruths for granted?  But the simple fact is that they didn’t know they were untruths and it took time, decades and centuries, for society to advance to the point they could be put in the past, where they belonged.  The world of our ancestors had no place for them.


Consider, education.  It took years, in the past, to teach someone to read and write, let alone turn them into an educated man, even by the standard of the time.  Who amongst the common-born had time for it, when they had to scrape a living from the land?  The idea of universal education simply didn’t catch on - it couldn’t - until society reached the point where it could support children in schools, instead of forcing the children to work from a very early age.  When our ancestors did something, they generally had a reason for it.


Now, what does that have to do with Schooled in Magic and Stuck in Magic?


Emily did not realise, at least for several years, that when she arrived in the Nameless World she entered society at a very high level indeed.  She had magic, which made her a de facto noblewoman; she was popularly believed, amongst the local chattering classes, to be the bastard child of one of the most powerful sorcerers in the known world.  And she was at Whitehall, a relatively safe environment compared to the rest of the world.  People were prepared to listen to her, and give credence to her words, even before she became the Necromancer’s Bane, Duchess of Cockatrice, Mistress of Heart’s Eye, etc.  This gave her enough room to introduce a handful of simple innovations, which took off like rockets and ensured some of her more radical ideas got a chance to breathe.  She had her failures - some ideas didn’t work because she didn’t know the details - but she had enough credibility, by this point, for her missteps to be overlooked. 


And, even though a sizable number of powerful people were growing increasingly concerned about her, and her impact on their society, they were reluctant to take open steps to deal with her for fear of the consequences. By the time they tried, it was too late to put the genie - they would have seen it as a demon - back in the bottle.  Killing Emily would not have stopped the revolution she (accidentally) started. 


Elliot has none of those advantages.  He is a man without magic, a soldier in a world that regards soldiers - at best - as parasites.  Worse, perhaps, he is a man - and therefore automatically seen as more threatening than the younger Emily - without any real social position at all.  He is a child of his world, just like Emily, but he’s in an environment that takes a far dimmer view of his ‘eccentricities.’  He has no rights, beyond those he can secure for himself; he has no patron, at least at first, to provide political cover and protection.  He doesn’t have the option of dispensing ideas and concepts as a farmer might scatter seeds on the ground, to see which ones sprout into life; he has to get down and dirty just to build a place for himself before he winds up dead in a ditch.  Emily can afford to take risks with people like Harbin Galley.  Elliot cannot.


I went back and forth about writing this story for a long time.  Part of it was concern about crossing wires with The Cunning Man; part of it was fear about breaking the world I’d created over twenty-four novels and four novellas.  I only decided to do it because I had the first scene rattling around in my head, demanding I write it.  I’d been meaning to try to write a serial, so I plotted out a rough story and wrote two-four chapters per month until I reached a logical stopping point.  And then I started drawing up the plans for the next book, Her Majesty’s Warlord.


I’m not sure, yet, how the next book will be written.  A serial, like this one, or a more normal project?  (One thing I discovered, when looking over the files, was that the serial format created headaches of its own.)  Nor do I know, yet, if Eliot will ever meet Emily (although I think that, one day, they probably should come face to face.)  As always, if you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to let me know.


And now you’ve read this far, I have a request to make.


It’s growing harder to make a living through writing these days.  If you liked this book, please leave a review where you found it, share the link, let your friends know (etc, etc).  Every little helps (particularly reviews).


Thank you.


Christopher G. Nuttall

Edinburgh, 2021