I did not want to go to the academy. But what I wished, what I feared, didn't matter a crap to my father, and it never had.
"Sit up straight," he repeated. My mother made a little gesture of protest and started to say something to him. He lifted one hand and she lowered her head. (2.15-16)
Hahp's father is clearly an abusive dude, and both Hahp and his mother suffer under his iron fist (or whatever kind of fist he actually has). It must suck to have to obey the orders of a power-hungry family member who doesn't care about what you want out of life, and who'll use force to get what he wants instead. Attending the academy at least gets Hahp out of his father's household… but as we'll see, it's not much better in terms of suffering and pain.
"I am just glad Papa died," Micah said tightly. "His heart was broken the day you were born. This would have gutted him. After what that magician did to Mama… " (13.21)
Micah and Sadima's family is no stranger to suffering. Not only did they lose their mother due to a magician's greed, but they also endured heart-rending poverty and harsh living conditions. On top of that, they had to put up with a father who had a love-hate relationship with his daughter because her birth was one of the causes of his wife's death. This doesn't sound like a really happy home.
"We are going to change the world," he whispered in her ear as he set her down. His face was bright with hope and belief. "The poor will eat," he said. "The sick will heal. No woman will ever have to die as your mother did." (25.39)
Franklin and Sadima both know from personal experience that the world is full of suffering, and they both want to change that by helping bring magic back into the world. They're in for a surprise though, when it comes to how to bring magic back into the world—and how much suffering that'll mean for both of them.
It was getting harder for me to talk, harder to think, and I couldn't eat more than two apples a day. Something had soured inside me—it was like drinking vinegar. My stomach cramped so painfully that I could barely stand it. At least I wasn't quite starving. Not yet. (32.2)
When Hahp figures out how to magically manifest food, all he can make at first are apples. Turns out that man cannot live on apples alone; whether it's the acidity or the fiber, something's not right with Hahp's digestive skillz. Slowly starving to death sure doesn't sound like any fun.
Tally and all of Will's roommates sat dull-eyed and sad on the benches, standing up now and then to try the stone again. They were scarecrows. It was torture for me to walk past them, make food, and walk out, knowing their eyes were following me, their mouths full of bitter saliva. I stopped eating. But after two of Franklin's classes had come and gone, it seemed stupid. My not eating wasn't helping anyone. (38.2-3)
It's bad enough to be on the brink of starvation yourself, but to see others suffering the same way, and to not be allowed to help them? That really stinks. All of the boys are in the dark about why the wizards are putting them through all this. To weed out the weak? To get them used to being complicit in hurting others? Who knows.
We all obeyed, like the smelly, beaten-down, well-trained animals we had become. I closed my eyes again. Tally was dead. I assumed Joseph and Rob and a boy whose name I had never learned were dead as well. Will looked half-dead—not from hunger, but from sorrow. (44.4)
Ah, survivor's guilt: a special kind of suffering. Hahp and the other boys struggle with the negative feelings that come about since they're somehow lucky enough to keep living, while other boys couldn't. Since they have no idea what the wizards' end game is, that makes it even tougher to accept that they're still alive for a reason.
"It will all have been worth it, Sadima."
Sadima reached up to wipe a tear from his cheek. She knew what he meant. He meant his whole life, everything he had suffered at Somiss's hands. If it ended up saving lives and feeding people, he could bear the pain. (45.33-34)
We get the feeling that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how much Franklin has suffered while living with Somiss. After all, Somiss is an arrogant, delusional, power-hungry sadist. Who knows what kinds of punishments he comes up with for Franklin when Franklin doesn't fulfill his every whim?
"If you leave us, Franklin will be very sorry… I will make sure of that."
Sadima blinked, stunned into stillness until she heard his door close. Then she slumped into a chair.
All his life Franklin had borne punishment he had not earned.
Somiss knew she could not add to that. (49.14-17)
Somiss figured out that Sadima has feelings for Franklin, and thus she won't leave if she knows that Franklin will take punishment in her absence. For Sadima, this is a really awful threat: she wants to leave to save herself, but she won't be able to bear it if Franklin suffers because of her. What's a girl to do?
Franklin's shoulders sagged. "I can't, Sadima," he whispered, then paused. "I just can't." There was so much pain in his eyes that Sadima stared at him, wishing she could hear his thoughts.
"What's wrong?" she whispered. "What does he have you doing?" (53.13-14)
Franklin sure got the short end of the suffering stick. Not only does Somiss threaten to punish him (and he actually does punish him sometimes), but Somiss also makes him do horrible things to other people. In this case, Franklin is capturing beggars from the street in order to lock them up and start a school of magic. No doubt this involves lying and possibly even force, hence why Franklin feels so bad about it.
"That's everyone?" Somiss rasped. He hadn't so much as bothered to count the dead? No one answered him. He seemed not to notice. "You will soon be asked to recite the first song perfectly," he said. "You will go hungry until you can." (56.20)
Somiss (a) doesn't care about the dead, (b) thinks starvation is a valid learning tool, and (c) is oblivious to the suffering of others (but we knew that already). It's really disturbing that a person like that would be allowed to run an academy. Probably anyone who might contradict Somiss is either too afraid to do so, or has tried with disastrous results. Because arguing with wizards seems like a terrible idea.
Application to the academy was kept secret; my father had threatened me with a whipping if I told anyone, even Aben. But there had been whispers at school among those of us who were second and third sons, not heirs, and who weren't needed at home. (4.16)
Like Hogwarts, this wizard academy is kept a secret… but unlike Hogwarts, every kid who's sent here is expendable. We're on board with the idea that learning magic is hard and that you might have to make some sacrifices to do so, but this seems a little excessive.
Sadima hesitated, looking into his dark eyes. She had never been able to tell anyone. Her father had punished her for lying when she had tried, years before. (11.32)
When Franklin asks Sadima about her ability to communicate with animals, of course she has to think about what she's gonna tell him. In a world where magic isn't common, talking about getting inside an animal's head would sound like crazy-talk. All the more reason for people with supernatural abilities to band together.
"We spoke with a man who remembered a fireside tale with what he called silent speaking in it. In the tale, the wizards could talk without speaking. Imagine it. If people could actually understand each other, cruelty would end, war would be impossible… "
"I have thought that," Sadima said. "About animals." (11.46-47)
Franklin wants to make the world a better place by reintroducing magic—and it's a noble goal, we think. If people could understand each other's thoughts, maybe they'd be more empathetic, and not kill or oppress each other all the time. Sadima's on board because she wants to see animals treated better. So it seems like there are some potentially very good reasons to pursue magic.
The wizard laughed aloud, his hoarse voice scraping at my ears. Then he vanished.
I mean that. He didn't walk away, or slide into the shadows. He disappeared. He was there one instant, then gone the next. (14.16-17)
Okay, we'll admit it, that's a pretty cool little magic trick. It would be a handy one to bust out when someone's trying to sell you something you don't actually want. But it seems like in the academy, the wizards use tricks like this to intimidate the boys into behaving. Not cool, wizards, not cool.
"Watch closely," he growled. Then he faced the impossible gem and touched it, his palm flat against its surface. There was a sound like distant thunder, then something high, like faint screams, then a barely perceptible flicker of bluish light in the room. Then a tray as big as any my father's house servants had ever labored to carry appeared on the flat stone pedestal in front of the massive gem. (20.16)
Another impressive magic trick. It's kinda creepy how it happens, though. What's up with the sound and light effects? We're not really sure, and Hahp never learns either. We're guessing that the mystery of the gem gets explained in later books in the series, if it ever does.
I felt myself sweating, sharp, smelly fear-sweat. Piss on all the wizards, I hated them for turning us into animals. Would the one who graduated end up like the flying horses? Able to do strange, wonderful things, but with cold, dead eyes, changed forever into something else? (28.22)
Since Hahp's dad raises the magical flying horses, he's gotten to observe them up close. And what he sees isn't a pretty sight: their eyes are lifeless and cold. Is that what magic does to people as well as animals? And is that where the boy who graduates from the academy is heading? Suddenly becoming a wizard is starting to sound like not such a great idea…
I imagined the orchard, tried to feel like I had that day, then I switched the image in my mind to a plate of griddle cakes, steaming, the odor of maple syrup and sweet butter and the sound of the batter on the hot skillet and the way the air began to leave the dough the moment they were lad on a plate, like a sigh. I stepped forward and touched the gem believing that I would see magic, not the griddle cakes—magic. (32.18)
When Hahp finally figures out the key to making whatever he wants appear out of the gem in the academy, it's because he focuses on the feeling of magic. He has to perfectly imagine whatever he wants to make, but he also needs to hold the belief in magic in his mind to make it work. So it's kinda like magic only exists when it's believed in—like fairies in Peter Pan, almost.
The Founder was the only one who saw any value in magic, the only one brave enough to risk death to study it and turn it back into the astounding force for good it had once been. He was the only one who believed it was possible, and he had pursued it through hardships that would have stopped anyone else. (32.24)
This Founder fellow in Hahp's history book sure sounds like a swell guy. Of course, we know that it's actually talking about Somiss, so we're not really big fans. We will agree, though, that trying to bring magic back to a world without it was probably really tough. Since magic seems to work best when it's believed in, how would you even get started if very few people believed in magic anymore?
I looked up from the book. It was hard to imagine a world without magic.
My father bought magic for everything. No Malek ship had been caught in a storm. He paid for good weather and he paid to have water run through the pipes in our house; he paid for the streams and fountains in Malek Park, for the ponies to fly and a thousand other things. Everyone did, unless they were too poor. (54.4-5)
To a rich kid like Hahp, magic is just a part of everyday existence. Or using it is, anyway—only wizards know how to manipulate magic and create new things with it. But if you think about how magic has become a commodity—something only well-off folks can afford—that's not how Franklin had wanted to bring magic back into the world. Which we think is a bummer.
"Where are we going?" she asked…
Somiss threw his head back and stared at the open sky for a few heartbeats before he answered her. "To the ancient home of magic," he said quietly. There was awe in his voice. "If it is what I think it is, it will take me a hundred years to find everything they built, everything they had taken from them." (65.13-14)
Somiss has gone nuts over magic. His research has pointed him to these caves and tunnels, where he believes he'll be able to unlock the secrets of the ancient wizards. But at what cost? We already know that he's keeping beggar boys as prisoners down in the caves, and we know that he'll make Franklin do all the dirty work of his project. Is magic really worth it?
Once the eye-burning stench of greasewood was gone, the beggars would swarm back to the boardwalk. But by then the shopkeepers' dogs would be off their leashes. Most were half wolf. All were underfed… Once in a while, I heard someone scream. It always gave me the shivers—how could people live there? (2.2)
Hahp can see the slums of Limòri from the roof of his father's house, and it's not a pretty sight. It seems like Hahp is missing the point, too—it's not like people want to live there, it's that they have no other option. Just like in the world we actually live in.
Twice a year children from South End were brought here and allowed to play for a few hours, like puppies let out of a filthy run long enough to air. Then they were carted home again to tell stories of magic waterfalls and fish as bright as flowers and all the rest. I had gone, once, when I was six or seven. I had cried, watching the stick-thin children run in circles, half-mad with delight. (4.12)
Aw, looks like Hahp doesn't like to be confronted with the reality of how poor kids actually live their lives. We can't really blame him, because it is pretty sad, but ignoring something doesn't make it go away.
Messengers were street boys, always. No one else was hungry enough to accept a few coppers to climb the endless stairs. (6.9)
Again we see that being born poor in Limòri truly stinks. Being a messenger, for instance, means facing exhausting amounts of running around, all for the equivalent of a few bucks. Hahp seems to realize that there's something wrong with the system, but he can't really put his finger on what it is.
Of course, Fishboy could read or he wouldn't be here. But where had he learned? There were no schools in the South End slums of Limòri. There were no schools in the farm villages, either. Most people never learned to read. (14.33)
Pro tip: it's easier to suppress an ignorant population than it is an educated population. And so it makes sense that reading and writing would be closely guarded skills in a world where social and economic inequalities are so prevalent. Heck, that even applies in our world. So if you're reading this, take a moment to be grateful that you're fortunate enough to be able to read things… on the Internet, even.
Sadima was dumbstruck. It was one thing to see a carriage from a princess story before her eyes, but to be asked to ride in it? The seats were deep green velvet, tufted, soft. (15.16)
To someone like Sadima, who's lived her whole life on a farm surrounded by other peasants, seeing an actual noble is like something out of a story. She's probably never seen that much velvet in her life before, either. People in Sadima's village are lucky just to get by; they'll probably never be able to afford luxury items.
Sadima stood to one side of the arch, her heart fluttery. Somiss was royal? No wonder Maude was taken with him. Sadima had heard of royalty in campfire tales, but in the stories they were almost always wicked. (17.46)
What's that? In the tales peasants tell, royal people are wicked? You don't say. We're just gonna take a stab at this one and guess that peasants tell stories about royals much the same way people in our world follow the gossip about Hollywood celebrities: with envy. Except that while celebrities aren't really oppressing any of us, the royals probably have a hand in keeping the peasants poor.
"But you must pretend to be our maidservant, no more. Always. It is against King's Law for any commoner to read or write." (25.30)
And here we have it: it's actually illegal for peasants to learn to read or write in this world. If that's not an obvious way of keeping the lower classes down, we don't know what is. For this reason, it's especially transgressive for Sadima to secretly teach herself how to read. Hopefully no one finds out…
"What was the best meal you ever had?" I asked him quietly.
He was silent so long I thought he wasn't going to answer me, but then he spoke. "A rich lady bought me a dish of fish stew once. From a vendor. She leaned down to put it in my hand and I could smell her perfume. I ran away from her, to hide before the bigger boys saw what I had." (34.23-34)
Poor Gerrard. He's never had a decent meal in his life, except for this one bowl of fish stew that a rich lady gave him. And even then, he had to gobble it down in secret, because the older boys would've probably tried to beat him up and take it. That's a crummy way to grow up if you ask us.
"My parents sold me to Somiss's father. The money kept them fed and warm for five winters." (43.15)
Franklin finally tells Sadima what the deal is between him and Somiss. He's actually a slave who belongs to Somiss's father. It's a bummer that slavery exists in this world, seeing as it's completely unethical to own another human being. But it's also an expression of the most basic social class issues, like who gets to be free vs. who is considered property. Guess which category poor people fall into most often?
And something dawned on me. I had made foods I had known all my life. I had made soap I had used all my life. He was still making the same bowl of fish stew and I knew why. When he was little, had he ever used soap? (54.19)
By this point in the story Hahp finally realizes how much of a privileged background he comes from, and how much this influences his ability to create things using magic (since he needs to be able to imagine something in complete detail in order to make it manifest, something that a kid coming from a lower-class background would have trouble doing). Maybe Hahp and Gerrard have little in common except that they're stuck at this awful academy, but then they begin to work together, crossing class lines and breaking the wizards' rules. Good for them.
At the end of the second class, he told us to start reading one of the two books in our rooms—The History and Purpose of the Limòri Academy. Good thing it was that one—the other was in a language I had never seen before. (18.6)
Hahp speaks at least three languages (according to his dad, this'll prepare him to be an awesome merchant), but the script that one of the wizard academy books is written in is a total mystery to him. It kinda makes sense that magic would be in its own language. If nothing else, that makes it seem more mysterious and, well, magical.
"The language is sacred to them, every word… That reinforces Somiss's theories. He is trying to figure out a way to get their help. It could save him a lifetime of study, if they have a written form, and even if they don't, it would put him years ahead of where he is now." (23.42)
Here Franklin is talking about the Gypsies. It makes sense that if their language is sacred to them, they don't necessarily want to go teaching it to outsiders. Maybe they also get an icky vibe off Somiss, who knows.
"She reads?" he asked, as though Sadima wasn't sitting at the table at all. "It's against the ancient decree, Franklin, unless she has some lineage you haven't bothered to tell me about." (25.23)
Imagine a world where only people of noble blood are allowed to learn to read. Yeah, it doesn't sound like a very nice world. Controlling access to information and language is one way of controlling people.
He reached for her hand, but she stood up and took a step back. He apologized and tried to talk her into staying, but she left, walking fast. Halfway to Rinka's shop, she wondered if Somiss was hiding thoughts too—if that was his real objection to silent-speech. (29.67)
Communication could be instant and complete with the use of silent-speech (a.k.a telepathy). Sadima reacts badly when Franklin tries it on her though, since she doesn't like the feeling of him snooping around in her head (though Shmooping around in her head would be just fine). That leads her to wonder: maybe Somiss doesn't want people to figure out how to communicate via silent-speech because he's hiding secrets…
Sadima stared at the writing, then whirled around and went back to the kitchen for her copy. Trembling, she put them side by side. Somiss had recopied the songs completely, three times over. All three of his copies were exactly alike, but different from hers. He had changed it. Why? To keep the real song from her and Franklin? (37.56)
Maybe it's not so off base to wonder if Somiss is keeping secrets from Sadima and Franklin. If he's going to the trouble to make extra copies of the songs he's studying just to change minor details then something is surely going on. But what?
"Somiss marked up the first set of copies, counting the letters. The ones in blue occur most often," Franklin said. "He is hoping some or even most of them are vowels."
Sadima blinked and he apologized. "Vowels are the letters you voice." (47.14-15)
This is an example of how you don't need to know how a language works in order to be able to speak that language. If you're reading this right now, you probably have a basic grasp of English, for instance, and yet we're thinking you might not be able to list every single rule of spelling and grammar off the top of your head (unless you're an English teacher, or the kid of an English teacher).
It was boring—I usually fell asleep when I tried to study the amazing accomplishments of the Founder. His translation methods were detailed in the book and hard to understand. They included counting vowels and comparing hundreds of versions of the old songs—and repeating certain words thousands of times to himself to see how the words might have been changed over time, all the while dodging his own royal family. (50.5)
What Somiss—oh, sorry, the Great and Mighty Founder—is described doing here is basic historical linguistics research. Spoken languages change over time, but they usually follow patterns when doing so, so theoretically you could figure out those patterns by comparing lots of variants of the same words, phrases, or songs that you've collected. It sure sounds like a pain in the butt to do all that work with little to go on, though.
She was afraid of him—and she was afraid for Franklin—but Somiss could not be trusted as the sole keeper of the old songs. Rinka's Erides was right. No one person ever should be. (51.4)
Even though Sadima's afraid of Somiss (heck, we would be too), she chooses to make copies of his notes. She does this because she believes that knowledge shouldn't be hoarded. This belief is also held by the Eridians, a group that worships a prophet known as Erides. For all that they're made out to be a cult, they're not sounding too bad at the moment.
The next chapter wasn't about the Founder. It was about the songs that magicians from the first Age of Magic had passed down by memorizing the words of their magical chants, then setting them to simple tunes. They had taught their children the songs, and their children had taught their children, and so on. So for all the centuries when there was no magic in the world, when kings ruled completely, scraps of it were saved. (54.3)
So did the songs pass to just any children, or specifically the Gypsies? Or maybe both? Since we know Somiss is the best candidate for the Founder of the magic academy, we're thinking he's probably being his usual secretive self and glossing over some of the details of the language of magic. And we'll also point out that there's no mention of Franklin or Sadima in the history book, making it sound like Somiss figured out all the linguistics stuff by his lonesome self. Jerk.
Jux positioned me at another anthill. It took me a very long time to come to the simple solution: I moved my thoughts to the honey, not the ants. Once the honey itself seemed to be telling them it was poisonous, the ants backed away. (60.7)
Here's an interesting thought: maybe it's possible to communicate with animals and inanimate objects as well as with people. Hahp figures out that he can send his thoughts into a glob of honey in order to accomplish the task he's given (to make the ants not eat the honey). We wonder what it's like to try to communicate with something you can eat.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a blur of dark robes behind Franklin, just a quick movement in the light of the torches, then it was gone. Another wizard? (18.40)
Is it a trick of the light, or is Hahp hallucinating due to hunger, or are the wizards messing with their heads? Maybe it's some combination of all three. Hahp never does learn whether the wizards are spying on the boys throughout their lessons, so we don't either. Still it's disturbing to know that on top of studying magic, the boys are being made to doubt their own eyes.
Three classes with Franklin came and went and I was the only one eating anything at all, I was almost certain. Then three more. Then I lost count. I had no idea if each class marked the passage of a day—in fact, I was almost positive the time intervals were never the same. But days had passed; I just wasn't sure how many. (30.1)
In addition to not knowing how much time is actually passing (apparently the wizards haven't invented a magical way of keeping time, or they don't like sharing it), the boys aren't being allowed to sleep for regular intervals. Guess what—sleep deprivation is actually a form of psychological torture, used to cause mental breakdowns in prisoners who are being interrogated. It makes us wonder why the wizards are subjecting the boys to it.
"And you were his companion and friend," Sadima said wonderingly…
"No," Franklin interrupted. "You don't understand. I was a puppy. He picked me out when we were very small." (43.23-24)
Sadima can't even conceive of the fact that Franklin was sold to Somiss at a young age, that he was a possession rather than a person. Let's upgrade that to pet, actually—Franklin was a living creature, to be cared for, but his ultimate purpose was entertainment and companionship. And he's accepted that fully, while Sadima has trouble wrapping her head around it.
The truth was simple: While I was imagining, I felt strong and steady. Was that what being a wizard was like? Feeling stronger and steadier than anyone else? (44.10)
Maybe learning magic isn't all about starvation, sleep deprivation, and psychological torture after all. Hahp manages to have some feel-good moments, though they're not really based on happy feelings (he imagines confronting his father, sometimes hurting him as a result). But if practicing magic can put you in a more positive headspace, maybe it's not all bad.
Who had laughed? Franklin? I had imagined him talking to me before, saying things that were impossible, things that made no sense.
I dragged in a long breath. No. I hadn't imagined shit. Franklin had tricked me into seeing things, hearing things. It was some kind of weird magic. Maybe. Or maybe I was just going mad. (46.11-12)
Hahp starts hearing things, which is never a good sign. He thinks maybe one of the wizards laughed at him… or made him hallucinate hearing the laughter… or maybe he's just going crazy. It's a tough call. Questioning your sanity is never fun.
Then a Gypsy woman had fallen in love with him when he saved her child from death, and she had stolen an ancient book from her father to give to the Founder. (50.6)
Even though the history book Hahp reads presents it as fact, we know better. We get to see the events as they unfold in Franklin, Somiss, and Sadima's storyline, so we know that it was Franklin who actually saved the Gypsy woman's child. It seems unlikely that the Gypsy woman fell in love with Somiss, though she had, out of gratitude, provided him with a book that she'd copied herself from her father's library. We wonder why Somiss created a slightly altered version of reality in his telling of these events—and why Franklin never corrected it.
There had to be a way out of here. Maybe, if I walked far enough down the right tunnel, I would emerge into sunshine. The thought made my whole body quiver. Then the sense of it struck me. There had to be a way out. There might be fifty. There had to be air vents, and there were drains that carried our wash water away.
Was that why they kept us scared and hungry and filthy? So we wouldn't look for a way out? (50.14-15)
Hahp finally realizes that since he's been treated like a rat in a cage, he's learned to think like a rat in a cage. The tunnels can't be an entirely self-enclosed system, so there's got to be a way out. And yet it didn't occur to Hahp until now to look for one. This shows how strongly the wizards have conditioned the boys to accept the way their lives are now (generally crummy, with no hope of escape).
Franklin would not leave Somiss.
Sadima shook her head. Somiss was not a brilliant man. He was still just an over-smart boy who enjoyed angering his father and bullying Franklin almost as much as he liked pretending to be important and heroic. Why couldn't Franklin see that? (57.8-9)
In Sadima's view, Somiss isn't an evil genius. He's not even a genius. And yet Franklin continues to treat him as one, carrying out his every request (or order, depending on how you look at it). It just goes to show that depending on your view, the world can look really different.
When I went to sleep, my dreams were about hummingbirds falling to the ground and fluttering, too weak to rise, and a wizard with icy eyes was stepping on them, crushing the life out of them. (62.20)
Paging Dr. Freud. Hahp's dreams have gotten pretty trippy by the time he's actually learning and using magic in the book. We're gonna go out on a limb and guess that in this dream, the hummingbirds represent the boys at the academy, and the wizard with icy eyes is Somiss. But is he actually killing them, or just draining the life out of them by crushing their wills? Dreams are weird like that sometimes.
"And then will you help me destroy this place?"
I knew he couldn't possibly keep a promise like that, but I put out my hand, and he gripped it. The touch of flesh on my flesh, his skin on my skin, jolted me into feeling a kind of hunger I hadn't even recognized. How long had it been since I had touched anyone? (64.23-24)
Hahp realizes that the wizards have created a reality for him where there is no human contact, no trust. That's a crummy reality to inhabit, since humans are social creatures and we ultimately crave contact (whether physical, social, or emotional) with one another. This realization helps Hahp decide to trust Gerrard, giving them the first glimpse of hope since they set foot in that freaky academy.
"But why wouldn't the king want to see his people fed and the sick among them healed?" Sadima asked him.
Franklin took her arm. "Because the people would follow anyone who could do that for them—then the king would no longer be king—and he knows it." (29.10-11)
This conversation between Franklin and Sadima illustrates one of the underlying assumptions of politics: people who hold the power make rules to stay in power. And rules like "no one can study magic" are meant to make sure that no one can replace the king by offering things to the people that are outside his power.
"No," Rinka interrupted her. "There is a royal family that sells herbs in Limòri. The king forbids anyone else bringing them into the city at all." (31.5)
Ah yes, creating a monopoly: one of the time-honored ways of gaining control of a situation. This seems like one of those unfair, arbitrary rules that are only good for the people in charge. Imagine if it were illegal for any shop but a government-owned shop to sell a basic necessity, like milk or shampoo. That'd sure stink, wouldn't it? But criticizing the rules the government makes, well, that's not always gonna lead somewhere nice.
"You both have to vow never to tell anyone else about this place," he said. "Never." (35.51)
If Somiss is making Franklin and Sadima swear solemn vows to keep things like the location of some old tunnels secret, maybe it's because he's a bit of a control freak. Here we see how Somiss's insistence on order reveals how paranoid he actually is. He's got to be the one in charge of keeping the location a secret, and he's the one who's most worried about being found out. If he were a lawmaker, we could see him making heaps and heaps of rules to protect himself from persecution.
"Stop helping each other," he said in his graveled whisper, "if you wish to live." (36.9)
Wow—future-Somiss isn't any more chill than present-Somiss. His instructions to the boys at the magic academy are, well, strict and serious-sounding. Who would actually make a rule that people aren't supposed to help each other? The wizards in this world would, apparently. Seems like they're not big on teamwork.
Then he leaned close to whisper. "Did you see any king's guards this evening?" (29.20)
When Franklin asks Sadima if she's seen any royal guards, it draws attention to the fact that the king has guards to enforce his orders. Of course Sadima doesn't even know what they look like—we're guessing the king's guards don't have much business in tiny farming communities like the one Sadima grew up in. Maybe flying under the radar isn't such a bad thing after all.
Sadima watched as Franklin's feelings flickered through his dark eyes. "They sold you?" (43.16)
Welcome to a land where slavery is legal, where slaves are bound to their masters for their whole lives, and where free parents can choose to sell their children into slavery. Which is exactly what happened to Franklin. Sadima is horrified—those aren't the rules she grew up with, so she can't even fathom how parents could choose to sell their children.
Sometimes I would touch myself—the idea that the wizards could not find me was as exciting as anything else. (50.3)
Hahp has discovered the joys of flaunting authority. For whatever reason, doing transgressive stuff feels good and can even be a turn-on (though, if Hahp is going through puberty, there's a chance he's at the stage where everything is a turn-on). But breaking rules, man… there's something to be said for the thrill of it all.
Toward the end, a heading caught my eye: forbidden practices. There was a list beneath it. Two lists, really, in a boxed table. The first column named the offenses. The second named the punishments, which were all alike. Death. (54.7)
So wizards only have to live by four rules, but breaking those rules results in death. That seems a little strict, don't you think? The four forbidden practices are carnal acts (a.k.a sex), silent-speech (a.k.a. telepathy), teaching magic outside the academy, and betraying the four vows. These wizards sure take themselves seriously.
"We could buy a little farm," she said, her throat tight. "We could have children."
She saw joy in his eyes for an instant, then it was gone. "He would find us. Or some constable would. I belong to his father, Sadima. They would offer a reward." (55.22-23)
There is some kind of police force in this world—the constables whom Franklin mentions—but it seems like they're devoted to upholding laws that are unjust (like slavery). That's too bad.
That was the reward for graduating? Vowing to give up everything that mattered to most people? I shoved the history book aside and opened the song book. (58.6)
Hahp has an unpleasant moment when he reads that graduates of the academy are supposed to vow to live in silence, celibacy, and poverty. If those are the rules wizards must live by, being a wizard is sounding like less and less fun (not to mention the fact that the training will likely kill you).
When the laughter settled back into silence, Sadima glanced at him. Her brother. She loved him more than she would ever love anyone. He was her best friend—her only friend. Papa didn't even allow her to visit Mattie's daughters. (9.25)
Sadima has a lonely childhood. We're not sure if her dad was as overprotective and paranoid before her mom died, but whatever the reason, he doesn't allow her to have friends. At all. Luckily Sadima and her brother are pretty close, so it's not like she's completely isolated from human contact.
And she knew she couldn't explain. She had tried, and she had learned: Neither Micah nor Papa would ever believe her. It scared her to think it, but she knew it was true: No one would ever believe her. She wasn't like anyone else. (9.70)
Not only does Sadima grow up feeling pretty isolated due to not having any friends, she also has to come to terms with the fact that she's different from other people because of her affinity with animals. No one else is like her, and no one believes her when she tries to explain it. Poor kid.
The sensible thing was to take the rest of the herd with her and come back for Rebecca. But the old doe would be terrified at being left behind. She might kill herself trying to follow, or wolves might find her. (11.4)
It's not just humans that crave companionship, but goats, too. Sadima realizes that she should've left this particular goat, Rebecca, at home, because she's simply that pregnant. And now that they've been out grazing, she doesn't know what to do, because Rebecca's too weak to go with the rest of the herd back home. It makes sense for goats to be afraid of being alone: they've got natural predators. For humans, though, fear of isolation is a bit more complex, isn't it?
"If Somiss is right, if magic can be resurrected," Franklin said, "there is no reason for anyone to be poor, or hungry, or to die young, or to suffer too much with age. And if I am right about silent-speech, war and fighting, even murder, would disappear if men truly understood one another's hearts." (11.56)
The way Franklin talks about social ills as being caused by lack of understanding and connection between people makes a lot of sense. Since we humans can never really see inside each other's heads or hearts, we're all isolated from one another. And it's a heck of a lot easier to kill or maim someone whom you perceive to be different or apart from you than someone with whom you feel a kinship or likeness.
All her life she had wanted to be like everyone else, a girl with a mother, with a father who spoke and smiled and let her have friends, a girl who had no secrets to keep. Now she only wanted to go where someone understood her. (13.10)
When Sadima is about to leave her home, it's because she realizes that she wants to be understood. Keeping her abilities a secret is hard to live with, and she hopes that by going to find Franklin in Limòri, it'll end the feeling of isolation that she's experienced ever since she realized she was different.
If she could just be near him, if she could talk about her whole self, her real thoughts, instead of pretending to be like everyone else, she would be happy. (19.18)
Sadima latches onto Franklin like a drowning kid onto a lifeguard. He represents the possibility of true understanding, which she's never experienced in her life. He knows what it's like to be different from everyone else due to some rare innate ability, and so he knows what she's gone through. No wonder she starts to fall in puppy-love with him.
"Sadima?" Franklin said, pity in his voice. She looked back and found him staring at her. "I never understood how lonely you were when I first met you." (29.59)
And here's the downside to Sadima latching onto Franklin in her loneliness. Like her, he has some magical abilities, specifically the ability to read thoughts (even if he's mostly getting hazy images and impressions at this point). He feels her loneliness and remarks on it, but she actually feels like her privacy was violated. That's a tough one to get around.
She would help him finish copying the book, then she was going to leave, make her way back to Ferne… She would think of Franklin often, with sadness and love. Thanks to him, she knew that there were other people in the world like her. That was enough. (45.9)
After living in Limòri for a while, Sadima decides that she can deal with the isolation that comes with being different. Just knowing that there are others like her is enough to make her not feel like a freak.
I kept thinking about Will. There was no one in his room to encourage him, or even break the silence now and then. He was in there, alone, without classes to go to for three days, only silence and his own thoughts. (64.5)
Hahp feels bad for Will, one of the boys at the academy who now has a room to himself thanks to the wizards' starvation policy. If it stinks to be lonely even under good circumstances, how bad must it be under crummy circumstances? It's like, okay, we're going to starve you and deprive you of sleep and sunlight… now you're also stuck in solitary confinement. Ugh.
The touch of flesh on my flesh, his skin on my skin, jolted me into a feeling of hunger I hadn't even recognized. How long had it been since I had touched anyone? (64.24)
When Hahp and Gerrard clasp hands at the end of the book, Hahp realizes that part of what the wizards' training has accomplished is isolating the boys from one another. Not physically touching each other is one more aspect of how they've been encouraged to view each other as competition instead of as potential allies. Recognizing this fact will hopefully help Hahp stay in touch with his humanity.
The magician turned. "Rest will mend her. Just leave her to sleep until tomorrow and she will be fine."
"She won't lift a finger for weeks," Micah called back. (3.42-43)
This magician is a master manipulator: she plays on the fears of Micah and his father, reassures them that everything is fine, and instructs them to leave Micah's mom and baby sister alone for a while. This is so that she can make her getaway before anyone discovers that she let Micah's mom die while she ransacked the room for valuables. No wonder their family doesn't trust magicians after that.
"What are you doing?" Fishboy demanded in the sudden, complete darkness. "Open the door."
"I didn't close it," I told him, searching for the handle behind me. I couldn't find it for a moment, and when I did, it wouldn't move. "It won't work."
"Then this is some kind of test," Fishboy said. He sounded matter-of-fact. (12.8-10)
Gerrard (a.k.a. Fishboy) is the first to assume that the wizards have some kind of agenda and are testing the boys. It doesn't even occur to Hahp that this sort of thing could happen, since it's never happened at any of the other schools he's attended. That boy is sure in for a surprise when the wizards reveal how nasty they actually are.
I felt my eyes ache. I could not cry. I would not cry. This crap couldn't last more than a few days. The wizards just wanted to scare the piss out of us to start with, to make sure we were afraid of them, that we wouldn't cause trouble. I exhaled and felt a little better. That had to be right. What other reason could there be? (14.5)
Oh, Hahp—still so innocent to the ways of the wizarding world. They want to scare you senseless, because it's all part of their grand plan to manipulate you into becoming just like them: totally heartless.
He didn't say another word, and my starving, unfocused mind finally figured it out a few moments later. He had realized, midsentence, that he might be helping me. (24.20)
Gerrard is once again a step or three ahead of Hahp at the academy. He figures out that the wizards are trying to mold the boys into mini-versions of themselves, which includes not being helpful or giving anything away for free. So even when Gerrard and Hahp are in the middle of a conversation, Gerrard will clam up if he realizes that something he's saying might be helpful for Hahp in getting ahead.
"My father suspects something. So my mother told him I had gone off, maybe to Yamark or Thereistine, she wasn't sure. I can only hope he believed her… She says she can't risk helping me anymore, not after today. He will have a dozen people watching her." (25.18)
Coming from a family like that, no wonder Somiss is paranoid and manipulative. His father has people watching his mother so that she doesn't secretly slip her son money; his mother lies to his father about his whereabouts… none of this is good news.
"Fools!" Somiss rasped. "Do you think he means to help you? Or keep you weak?" (28.37)
Somiss, why you gotta be such a kill-joy? Hahp's all proud of himself because he just magically manifested a crate full of apples. He's happy to share them with the other students, and of course it hasn't even occurred to him to use this act to secretly manipulate them into a weak position or whatever. But then Somiss has to show up and accuse him of doing just that in order to sow mistrust among the boys. Seriously, Somiss is no fun at all.
Sadima heard Somiss's door open, and Franklin set her down. He stepped away from her as they both turned. She glanced at him. He reached to push his hair off his brow, then wiped his lips on the back of his hand, and she realized how afraid he was of Somiss finding out that they cared for each other. (31.32)
Sadima hasn't realized yet how twisted Somiss is, but Franklin knows it. And he fears (rightfully so) Somiss finding out that Franklin and Sadima care for each other. Heck, even if Somiss finds out that their connection goes one way, this could still be bad news. Somiss will definitely use that sort of information to his advantage.
Maybe if I could talk them into helping, if we all hid food everywhere, we could get away with it. I could talk to them and… When? Where? The food hall wasn't safe, and I had no idea where their rooms were. I felt a clammy sweat rise on my forehead. Was that why the wizards separated us? Was that why there was always one to walk us to class—and never the same one? Shit. The academy was old. They had gotten very good at this. (38.10)
Hahp finally realizes just how manipulative the wizards are. In related news, he also realizes how screwed he is. How do you fight a system that's been in place for decades or centuries, and has been designed to turn boys into heartless magic machines? Where would you even begin?
He looked into her eyes. "If I tell you, he will hurt you."
She leaned closer. "And he told me that if I left, you would be sorry, that he would see to it. Can't you see what he's doing?" (55.17-19)
Sadima and Franklin realize that they're stuck: if one of them doesn't follow Somiss's orders, Somiss will hurt the other one. That's a really shady way of manipulating someone. Franklin's used to putting up with it, though, while Sadima isn't. Sure her dad was borderline abusive, but it's not like he forced her to do morally repellant things. Somiss is a whole new type of coercive.
And would it really be three days? Or there hours? Or ten days? None of us had any way to know anything but this: The wizards had done this many times. It had become routine to them, watching boys die. I hated them so deeply, so completely, that it scared me. (64.5)
Here Hahp grasps one of the ways that the wizards manage to so totally manipulate the boys: the wizards control time. Not literally like in the sense of time travel (though maybe they can do that too), but rather by keeping the boys underground and not letting them adjust to any normal schedule. The wizards are the only ones who know how much time passes between classes and other encounters, leaving the boys clueless and dependent.
In contrast to the type of emotional blackmail that Somiss pulls on Franklin and Sadima, this sort of manipulation is physical but has a mental result, confusing and making the target(s) vulnerable. Hahp's right: the wizards have this down to a science.