Bookburners S02E13: Secret Wars
by Max Gladstone
5 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: After Team Three defeated the Network in Belfast, Asanti was arrested for witchcraft upon returning to Rome.
Case of the Week: A legal case this time: the trial of Archivist Asanti. The future of the Society hangs in the balance.
How It Went: I’ll say this: if ever I imagined an avenging angel, I think it’d probably look like Asanti in the Society courtroom. She’s regal, serene, beautiful – and she’s the only one who looks like she’s confident in what she’s doing. The courtroom is packed with pretty much the entire Society, including everybody from the monsignors to the office staff, and they’re all waiting to see how this trial’s going to go. But Asanti? Man, she’s chill.
Not so chill would be Team Three, assembled in the courtroom and all differing kinds of nervous. Menchú is explaining how the rules of the Society are from a different time, meant to punish far different kinds of law-breaking. Asanti could get prison or she could get the choice of poison – or worse. He’s hopeful that she’ll rely on her canon lawyer, a good one, and that the trial will go smoothly. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not he actually feels this way because he had to predict (along with the rest of us) that Asanti would stand up, plead not guilty, and announce that she would be her own counsel. So, yeah, going well so far.
The Archive’s staff has been suspended and Grace and Sal are, during a recess, fuming in the empty library. They’re cooking up the possibility of a plan to save Asanti – break her out, spirit her away somewhere – and while Grace isn’t initially on board, Sal pushes the right buttons (knowing full well what she’s doing) and gets her there. When Menchú shows up, clearly having overheard them, but doesn’t say anything, they realize that he might not be able to condone the foolhardy operation but he’s not going to stop them either.
Liam, of course, has been left out of all of this – because his Catholic guilt is getting to him. He keeps going and pacing around the Vatican’s basement clinic/hospital, not quite having the courage to go in and see Frances. There’s a great moment from Max Gladstone here, about how life and magic are similar: little reason, less justice. Liam decides not to go in and see her yet, because he’s the worst – but also so, so very human.
Menchú, meanwhile, is having a prayer when he’s visited by Angiuli. Menchú, understandably pissed, is pretty stonefaced but you can tell he’s… if not impressed, he’s at least receptive to Angiuli’s too-little, too-late apology. Angiuli has been transferred, by the way, to his childhood parish near Naples – but before he goes, he has one word of advice: that Menchú ought to consider taking up the monsignor position of Team Three. There is a reasonable worry that Asanti’s testimony could cause a schism and that Fox, as cardinal, could make it worse, whereas a more liberal one might actually find the right balance. Menchú is downright inscrutable as he returns to prayer and thought.
Day Two of the trial dawns and Sal is shooting daggers at the prosecutor. It’s the NYPD in her, but she knows this kind of courtroom vulture and she has a cop’s suspicion of lawyers. Shah is on the stand, recounting the events that took place in Middle Coom, and Asanti proves herself an adept questioner, getting in some solid points for her case. But when she’s called to the stand, things start to go a little wibbly: she admits that they experimented with magic, that they found Team Four (who, remember, are technically heretics), and manages to make a fool out of the prosecutor… but for all those successes, she’s actually digging herself a deeper hole.
Menchú goes to see her in her cell – a pretty swank cell, all things considered – and he’s both pissed and worried. He’s convinced that she’s setting herself up for death and she is convinced that she’s doing the right thing even if it means martyrdom. Asanti is making strong points and it is delightful to see her standing up so strongly for her convictions – but it’s hard not to agree with Menchú that this is almost certainly bound to go poorly. He wants her to try for reform in private, slowly, in a less dangerous way… but Asanti is clearly tired of going slow. She knows that she’s right and so here we go.
Grace catches up with Sal on a run through Rome and agrees to get on board with the jailbreak plan, but only if they get Liam involved too. Her thinking is that once they realize how important Asanti is, to the Team and to the Society, they’ll forgive her – which is questionable logic but yeah sure okay. Stranger things, etc. Liam, when approached, is predictably standoffish about it. He gives them an unintentionally hilarious line about how he’s all about self-care and reflection after everything with the Network but quickly bows to the pressure put on him by Sal to be the hero she knows he can be. He’s also using this ‘distraction’ to justify his not going to see Frances, which I think we can all understand (even if its a dick move).
The trial, on day three, is already moving to closing statements and while everybody believes that Asanti is guilty – she did, after all, straight-up admit to magical experiments and more – they also want to hear her out. There’s a sense that being guilty might in fact be the right thing to be, under these circumstances. She delivers a somewhat predictable but still rather stirring defense, arguing that the world has changed since the Society was founded and that the tide of magic is clearly rising. That they know more know than ever before – and that they can still learn more, in the pursuit of doing their jobs. They must adapt or perish. “Keep tradition and lose the world or change and save it,” is her summary and, I mean… it’s stripped-down, lay-it-all-out-there stuff. The answer is obvious, but how often do people do the right thing?
Menchú decides to go visit Fox, who is ranting at Shah when he arrives. He offers Menchú a drink and then proceeds, pretty creepily, to monologue about poison and the development of poison – how, today, it’s pretty easy to poison someone without them knowing whereas back in the day, it was far less glamorous than pop culture likes to pretend. Menchú, kind of humoring him but also a little spooked, is like “you’re offering me a drink while talking about poison, so… no thanks…”
They sit and talk and have a nicer conversation than I think the two have ever had previously, even though they’re clearly at each other’s throats. “You wanted to convince me she’s right?” Fox asks, before telling Menchú that he knows she is – but he’s worried about what following her path would mean. He believes (rightly, considering the past season) that Menchú can’t actually control Asanti – remember, it wasn’t so long ago that she didn’t really go out in the field – but that sentencing her would irrevocably split the Society. Menchú, listless, goes to see Sansone late that night and makes a decision (although we aren’t given word on what it is, just yet).
At the same time, Grace and Sal make their play to break Asanti out, putting together a disguise as the Maitress (who is, in real life, ready to receive Asanti and hide her) – but Asanti decides not to go. She makes the great point that magic spiriting her away would prove Fox et als point that it’s dangerous. She’s willing to face the music because no matter what, she’s proved that she is right. They accept it, with a slumped shoulder of defeat, and leave Asanti – and the deflating effect of this scene is palpable. The next morning, they’re having Bellinis on a rooftop in the city and Gladstone writes that “in a better world, it was whiskey and tears” and that pretty much says everything. Nothing is quite right about this but it’ll have to do because it’s what they’ve got.
Before the sentencing is convened, Liam goes to visit Frances and has a nice moment with her – she’s watching, I think, Adventure Time – and it’s a nice button on the arc of Liam’s development this season, although I could’ve wished for a little more of him at the end here. Still, there are more important things going on – like Menchú joining the conclave (if that’s the right word) voting for the new cardinal. Sansone and Fox are abstaining. They vote and decide and we’re left wondering, along with everyone else, what will happen until we arrive in the courtroom again for the actual sentencing.
It turns out to be Fox – there was a moment, for Asanti and for the reader, where we wondered if it might’ve been Menchú of all people – and he explains that Asanti is clearly guilty, but that the fault lies with the Society and not her. Her sentence is commuted… but she’s stripped of field responsibilities and, more bleakly, the Society does take a more conservative turn: Team One is expanding, Team Two will be spying more and more widely, and Team Three’s mission is now to “find a way to stop magic. Find a way to kill it.”
Asanti confronts Menchú in the hall, frustrated at what she sees clearly as a loss, and he snaps right back that she’s far more important than anything else. The Team, gathered in the Archives, listens as they fight and Menchú knocks her somewhat adolescent whining down with a little grown-up talk about how compromising is sometimes what you have to do, because you can’t just burn the whole thing down. Asanti, furious, kicks them all out of the Archives to brood.
The epilogue picks up a short time later, with Frances wheelchairing around Rome, arriving at what might well be a familiar watchmaker’s shop (or it’s just another watchmaker’s shop; I guess there could be a bunch of them in Rome and that would make sense). She rolls in to find Asanti waiting for her. Asanti lights a candle, eschewing the rest of the formal ceremonies, and announces that they are now the members of Team Four. Frances wonders if it’s just them… and a voice from the shadows says that more will be coming. The voice is revealed to be, dun dun dun, PERRY! And blackout.
- The whole “don’t misquote Coleridge” exchange is one of the best snappy repartees in a season of great snappy repartees.
- Man, how long is the “Master List of Shit a Team Three Operation Has Done That They Weren’t Supposed To Do”? Gotta be, like, book-length at this point, right?
- Max Gladstone crammed a lot into this episode, but this was one of those moments where I wish it could’ve been a longer ep – which sometimes shows do, for finales and such – because there were definitely things that I wanted more resolution on. Liam, Grace’s existential struggle, the actual politicking and where Menchú now sits in the hierarchy… but there’ll be time, I suppose, in Season Three. Which’ll start sometime early next year, right? We don’t have to wait a whole year… RIGHT?!
Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia, drank almond milk with monks on Wudang Shan, and wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. Max is also the author of the Craft Sequence of books about undead gods and skeletal law wizards—Full Fathom Five, Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Last First Snow. Max fools everyone by actually writing novels in the coffee shops of Davis Square in Somerville, MA. His dreams are much nicer than you’d expect. He tweets as @maxgladstone.