One of the difficulties with slow reads is that my interest slows too. I think, because I’m a writer, I am geared to be looking ahead all the time, and when I put the book down after a couple of chapters, my brain keeps working on it.
Part of me is trying to write the ending I expect. Or the confrontations I’m imagining. Or the horrors. And then I have to pick up the book again, and it’s a little disorienting, because wasn’t I past that point??
But I think I’d have had some slow down with this book anyway, because the alternating chapters are getting to me. I’ve done alternating chapters in books and there’s always a point where you’ve finished with protag one’s POV, and protag two has… nothing really going on yet. But you can’t skip time to the next interesting moment in protag 2’s life because that leaves 1 out of whack, and yet your brain also tells you that you can’t skip the alternating chapter because that’s the rhythm you’ve established and the reader will be confused…
I am here to tell you SKIP THE BORING CHAPTER. Have two chapters in a row from protag 1; the book will not collapse from the breaking of the pattern.
I am still far more interested in Mavi’s segments than Angel’s. I don’t know what Angel’s situation is (still); is she a ghost? Is she dead and her spirit visiting the past? Is this her personal hell (for committing some unspecified act of violence) or is this a chance at redemption? Is she even really a ghost? Spirit/Specter/Other… I can’t shake myself of the feeling that Angel is a technological mystery not a magical one. So then I start thinking about Stuart Turton’s The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle where the (SPOILER!) whole endless time loop is a literal prison/punishment for criminals, where the possibility of parole is dependent on them preventing a crime. I’m not actually sure Angel is dead—she may have just been disconnected from her mind. Yet she needs to feed, which suggests some sort of biological component, yet the “food” is memory.
Too much mystery surrounding Angel and not enough answers. It’s distracting me and not in a good way. But that’s when I’ve stepped away from the book. When I’m actively reading it? Faring’s writing is pulling me along.
Chapter 14: Angel 2020-1400
Wait, do Angel’s numbers correspond to chapters?? Hmm. Not evenly. I tell you, these chapter numbers need to mean something or I’m going to be put out. Of course, other readers may already understand it and I’m just slow. If so, tell me!
The school is rotting around them. Not metaphorically. I kind of love that. Yes, some of it is the age of the building and the lack of maintenance, and some of it is the encroaching dampness of the ice fields. But a lot of it seems to be castoff from the curse.
Have we talked about the curse on the school yet? No, probably not, because I’m not loving that general premise: The gist being that the local natives (imaginary Zapuche, not real-world Mapuche) cursed the European interlopers with evil spirits that must be satiated by the sacrifice of a girl (it’s always a girl, always a young girl, hint hint virgin, so that’s an eyeroll).
The last time they skipped the sacrifice, the residents of the school died. And now these new residents need to make a sacrifice and either don’t know about it, or are planning to sacrifice someone out of Mavi’s earshot.
I have issues with this premise. I don’t like the evil natives aspect. I don’t like that they screwed up their vengeance and made it too strong. I don’t like the sense the book gives that the Zapuche revenge for their decimation is disproportionate and that the Zapuche were wrong to lay down the curse. There’s a lot of discussion of savages, which is a nails-on-the-chalkboard word when it comes to the indigenous people of the Americas.
And of course, the house on cursed native land is just very, very familiar (also not in a good way).
Which leaves me with disliking the premise of the curse even as I like the effects of it. And the Others really are insanely creepy.
Back to Angel and oh yeah, the reason this chapter brought on the rant about the curse. Because Angel learns the last time the curse took over the school, the girls that were sacrificed—were the native servant’s girls—Zapuche girls.
To be fair, Angel goes “urgh” right alongside me. But she’s now on the hunt for the Tenth Girl, who she and Mavi have both decided is the little ghost girl who is not an Other.
She eavesdrops. She visits the “sick” girl, Sara, who sees Angel even in her ghostly invisible intangible form and declares as Dom did, you can not have me. Apparently, Sara’s eyes have been opened, but at what cost? She is not well at all and is refusing to eat or sleep.
Angel flees and runs into the ghost girl. The ghost girl is anomalous because she is visible to all, but is also obviously a ghost. She is not an Other, and Angel tells her Angel knows she’s the tenth girl. (writer sleight of hand? Or is this actually true and not just what Angel believes. I’m leaning toward Mavi being the tenth girl somehow.) The ghost girl doesn’t give Angel the time of day, telling her she won’t talk to her kind, before lunging out a window and falling into the icy craters below. She’ll be back.
Chapter 15: Mavi
Problems continue to plague the school. It’s freezing cold and the food has gone to hell—no more gourmet plates for anyone there. Mr. Lamb has suffered a heart attack outside and been brought in to recover. Sara has supposedly recovered and is back in Mavi’s class, but her favorite student, Michelle, is now ill and absent.
And Sara… well, Sara is not herself. She is cruel, crass, and terrifying, and the lesson is abruptly ended.
Mavi goes to see Michelle. Michelle worries her and tells her “When I’m awake I feel this ice in my bones. It’s easier to sleep but I don’t get any rest when I do. I—I go to this… place… It shines like scales and there are other people there. She’s okay, Mavi,” she whispers, a weak grin spreading across her face.
So I’m still stuck in SF territory in my head, and given Sara’s abrupt change coupled with her previous terror of sleep and not being taken… I am almost wondering if this is some sort of process to hollow the girls out and put new minds in. A technological possession factory, processing souls into the past for some odd reason? I don’t have any clue; it’s just where my mind is going. The Others feed on memory, after all.
Mavi is still at odds with Yesi, ostensibly over Mavi’s “conspiracy” thinking, but seems to be more about her friendship with Dom(Angel). I wonder what hell Dom put Yesi through before Angel took over his body.
Dr. Molina tells Mavi that the girls are dreaming of men coming to them in the night, touching them, and giving them illness. Mavi and Yesi are both appalled, but Molina thinks it’s the virus coupled with group hysteria. Mavi and Yesi both think that Molina should insist on sending the girls home. As she is about to agree, Molina is (to the reader’s eyes) possessed by an Other, who dismisses all concern and leaves a welt on Mavi’s wrist when she touches her.
Furiously unhappy and scared, Mavi goes to dinner, and Dom/Angel smiles at her, which makes her decide to stay. Oops, did you mean that to happen, Angel? She would be better off fleeing.
Chapter 16: Angel 2020-1600
Angel argues with Charon about the tenth girl. He tells her she couldn’t have seen a tenth little girl. Then they argue about Angel’s motivations. Angel makes more vague allusions to her past.
Angel becomes Mavi’s confidant about the Others and the ghost girl. “Dom” tells Mavi he saw the girl too. Mavi tells Dom about the night her mother was taken which is good, except I already knew the big picture, and the details, while nice, don’t really deepen the issue. I’d rather have heard about Angel’s past which is being kept for some grand reveal that, at this point, will probably fall a little flat.
Obviously, her beloved brother Rob died, probably through foul play, potentially at her brother-in-law’s hands, potentially at her own. Seems more likely to be Angel’s if she feels this much shame over it. Really the big picture moment here is that Angel and Mavi are united in a cause: to help the girls.
Chapter 17: Mavi
Mavi visits Lamb and they discuss ghosts over brandy. Later, Mavi and Dom sneak out of their rooms in the night to visit Michelle’s sick room. Mavi is partially reassured that she’s sleeping peacefully, smiling in her sleep.
Mavi thinks about souls and bodies and how in the end, the bodily features mean nothing at all, which makes me think I might be on the right track with possessing spirits taking full ownership of the bodies in some other space. Other space? Charon ferrying the malevolent dead spirits back into the living bodies? To what purpose?
Also Mavi gets a clue that she doesn’t understand at the moment: a glow that suffuses Dom’s skin, a febrile touch of his hand, hotter than normal (shades of Dr. Molina?) a sign that Angel is in residence?
On their way back to their rooms, an Other briefly possesses Mavi, walking her body along. A lot of medical imagery here: pincer, rubber glove, oculus (also a pop culture VR system). No wonder I keep thinking SF instead of ghosts.
Mavi shakes them off with Angel’s help, and is horrified. The Others are no longer a theory to her, but a painful, undeniable reality. In her relief, she kisses “Dom”, who tells her she’s drunk and sends her to bed. I really need to think of a way to describe Angel as Dom and Dom on his own. Original Dom? Angel!Dom? Which just looks like a tag on Ao3.
Chapter 18: Angel 2020-1800
Angel is appalled by Mavi’s possession, not just on Mavi’s behalf but witnessing the process from the outside, so to speak.
And that’s really it for the plot, so we finally, finally get another specific piece of Angel’s past. A scene with her mother, drunk after a terrible case where a man killed a little girl. Apparently her mother is in some sort of social service or criminal justice job. I can’t recall if I knew what her job was before.
But somehow this memory prompts Angel to decide to confess who/what she is to Mavi. Later.
Overall, kind of a rough few chapters. I adored Mavi being possessed. I really liked her thoughts on flesh/soul, and while I complained about already knowing how her mother was taken by the government, I loved Mavi’s realization that her mother’s “last words” had been carefully composed for just this occasion.
About halfway through, but I’m definitely going to have to pick up the pace! The book is due back to the library on the 22nd!