Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The Twelfth Enchantment"

David Liss is the author of The Whiskey Rebels, The Ethical Assassin, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Coffee Trader, and A Conspiracy of Paper. He is also winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Twelfth Enchantment, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the 7th best page in the first third of The Twelfth Enchantment. I am almost sure of it.

Beyond any other sort of ranking I might apply, I do think that page 69 provides a decent snapshot of the interests of the novel as well as the character of the its protagonist, Lucy Derrick. The book is set in England in 1812, and as we open, the 20-year-old orphaned Lucy is on the cusp of accepting a marriage proposal from a man she does not especially like, so desperate is she to escape her uncle’s tyrannical house. The offer of marriage comes from Walter Olson, owner of a local mill – the vernacular for a factory – that produces cheap stockings on machines manned by unskilled laborers. These mills have been springing up all over the country, and putting artisans out of work, and these stocking-weavers have begun to strike back in what has become known as the Luddite uprising. In the novel’s opening scene, Lucy and her uncle meet with Mr. Olson in order to make wedding plans when suddenly there is a knock at the door. A disheveled (but super hot) stranger demands Lucy not marry Mr. Olson and that she “gather the leaves.” It turns out the stranger, a local Baron called Lord Byron, has been afflicted by a curse.

Lucy helps liberate Lord Byron from his curse with the aid of a local gentlewoman who is something of an expert on magic – and the magic of this novel is the actual magic that historical people practiced and believed worked. In this novel it actually does work, but I stick to the facts. There are no fireballs shooting out of wands. For most of recorded history, ordinary people believed they could use some things in the natural world to affect other things in the natural world, and Lucy discovers she is very good at doing so. She also discovers that there are some very powerful people who seem to take an interest in her life, and who will do almost anything to make certain she marries Mr. Olson.

On page 69, Lucy has been made to visit Mr. Olson at his mill, and while she’s there, the workers all cease their labors and repeat what Byron has already said: “Gather the leaves.” Lucy doesn’t know what this means, but she does the sensible things and gets the hell out of there.
Lucy began to walk from the mill. She was afraid, but also curious, and so she swallowed her fear and circled around to the still-open front door. As she grew closer, once more she could hear the mumbled chanting, the rustling non-sound of the creatures’ frenzied circling.

Frightened, but too curious to turn away, Lucy approached the front of the mill. The dirt and dead leaves and twigs crunched under her feet. She heard the distant hooting of an owl. The overlapping voices repeated their refrain until she was no more than twenty feet from the open door, and then, all at once, the chant stopped. For a moment there was only silence, and then came the clacking of a single loom, joined by another and then a loud cough, and the busy thrum of a fully functioning mill. Lucy had the strange idea that if she were to step only a little closer the work would cease once more, the chanting would resume…..

A hundred feet up the path, with the declining sun now in her eyes, Lucy saw a figure – still and straight and tall with wide shoulders…. She could see almost nothing of him, and put a hand to her forehead in an effort to shield her eyes from the sun’s glare, but it did little good.

“Good afternoon,” she said cautiously....
As happens many times in the early part of this book, Lucy encounters something extraordinary where she expects only the ordinary. In this case, a mill full of laborers who chant a secret message Lucy knows is meant for her, but which she does not understand. And then there’s this mysterious stranger in the road. Who is he? What does he have to do with anything? Lucy doesn’t know, but she knows she has a choice to move forward into the unknown or retreat to what she loathes, and so she does what she regards as the most sensible thing in the world. She says hello to the stranger, and soon her whole life will change dramatically.
Learn more about the book and author at David Liss's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue