Last week, I discussed the first of the two foils in my new novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Devon Middleton. Devon is a calm and loving supporter of the book’s protagonist Calibot. Whenever things get bad, Devon is there.
Today, I’ll look at the story’s other foil, Liliana Gray. Like Devon, she provides contrast to the brooding Calibot, who is forced into a mission by his murdered father he doesn’t want. But unlike Devon, she is neither competent nor loving. Liliana is there to provide support, but she’s very much a strange person who is difficult for Calibot and Devon to understand.
The Sword and the Sorcerer is a serious fantasy. It deals with tragic themes of grief, loss, unfulfilled relationships, and resentment. It also is a tale of manipulation and murder. There are not many laughs.
In a serious novel like that, a little comedy can break tension. Liliana serves this function at key moments in the story. She is the failed apprentice of Calibot’s father Gothemus. He may have been the world’s greatest sorcerer, but his apprentice is anything but. Liliana’s spells constantly fail, making her look quite foolish. Telling a story of her tutelage under Gothemus, Liliana says:
“Now silver dust and Mayberry ash look very similar sitting in a jar in a dark storeroom. . . . So I can hardly be blamed for grabbing the wrong one. The labels weren’t turned to the front, and I didn’t think to check. After all, I was sure I knew where the Mayberry ash was.
“But, of course, I had it backwards. So when I put two pinches into the cauldron, well, the results were very different.
“I knew something was wrong when the water turned green. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t recall Gothemus saying that would happen.’ And since he’s such a gifted teacher, I figured he would have mentioned that.
“So I consulted the potions book to see what I’d done wrong. But, of course, since I’d put the wrong thing in, the recipe didn’t mention at all what was happening now.
“Well, I’d just started to turn pages to see if I could find a recipe that might describe what I saw, when I heard this awful sound. It was sort of like a burp, but it had that wet sound — Like when you’ve got phlegm on the back of your throat? — and it sounded hungry. When I looked up, this green blob was oozing out of the cauldron and coming towards me.
Liliana goes on to describe Gothemus having to come to her rescue before starting into another story of her misadventures. Calibot can’t stand listening to her, and she provides a comical contrast to his dark brooding.
Because she knew Gothemus well, having studied under him, Liliana also has moments where she provides important information. The story involves Calibot having to unravel one of his father’s posthumous mysteries after another and, understanding both magic and Gothemus, Liliana often has information Calibot needs.
In a scene in Eldenberg, the Council of Elders has refused to release Gothemus’s body to Calibot. The trio of friends decides they should try to steal it. First though, they have to find it.
“Do you have any magic that could locate it?” [Devon said.]
Liliana thought for a moment. Her face screwed up in concentration before relaxing into a defeatist expression.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “The only way I would know to track someone is if we had something that belonged to them, but it would have to be something very personal, very important.”
Devon stared at her in disbelief. He didn’t know anything about magic, but it seemed to him the answer was pretty obvious.
“You mean like Wyrmblade?” he said.
“No, that wouldn’t work,” she replied. “It wasn’t something that was important to him. It didn’t have any significance to him personally.”
“Then why would he make sure to give it to me in a case only I could open,” Calibot asked before Devon could.
Liliana turned to him, opened her mouth to reply, and then snapped it shut. Her face lit up with sudden understanding.
“Good point!” she said. “It must have had some significance to him, or he wouldn’t have made sure I delivered it to you without me knowing what it was.”
“So you can use it to track Gothemus’s body?” Devon said.
“No,” she replied. “I don’t know that type of spell.”
Liliana has some insight. She gives them information that will eventually lead to Calibot figuring out how to locate his father’s body. But she also remains the inept sorcerer’s apprentice, and her comical foibles lead to another quick laugh to break the tension.
Liliana is also a wildcard in the game of power that is being played by the various antagonists in the novel. Her grasp of magic is poor. She constantly makes a mess of her spells. But she also comes up with unexpected solutions via sorcery. Sometimes her spells go awry in beneficial ways.
Calibot turned just in time to see another ball of green energy coming at him. He had just enough time to get the sword up. The spell hit the flat of the blade and exploded. Calibot felt heat wash over him, and his hands shook with the force of the blast. He couldn’t hold onto Wyrmblade any longer. It fell to the floor, clattered twice, and went out.
Now it was the little man’s turn to grin fiendishly. He leered evilly at Calibot behind a thick, white beard. His eyes flashed.
“You must be his son,” he growled. “I didn’t recognize you at first. Time to die like your father.”
He raised his hands. Calibot saw them glow green. He winced and prepared for death.
“Contera!” Liliana shouted.
A purple beam shot out of her staff and smashed into the strange creature’s chest. There was a bright, purple flash, and then he was gone.
Liliana reveals later that wasn’t what the spell was supposed to do. She was just hoping to immobilize their opponent. But something else happened instead. In this case, her bumbling saves Calibot’s life.
Here, she stands in contrast to the competency of Devon and the novel’s villains. All of them are very good at what they do. But Calibot is still trying to figure out what this is all about and what it means. Liliana provides a mirror of him in this case. Like Calibot, she has power, but she doesn’t yet know how to use it properly.
Like Devon, Liliana is the perfect foil for Calibot. She has knowledge he needs, she is a wildcard who often swings battles in his favor, and she provides some needed comedy in the midst of a dark story. Her foibles enrich our enjoyment of the protagonist while offering at times a reflection of his struggles. That’s a foil’s job, and she executes it precisely.
The Sword and the Sorcerer is available now. Click on the links below to purchase it. Twenty percent of all sales benefit Freedom to Marry, the national campaign for marriage equality.