Just when you think you’ve got the hang of the game, the curtains are flung open and you realise the players aren’t even sat at the same board. This week is full of surprises as Oxenford takes centre stage, the Sorcerers go to war, and Sam finally finds out Leanne’s secrets…

This week we’re hosted by the charming Hisham El-Far:

1. We finally meet the Sorcerer of Mercia (Rupert) – He is VERY different to Ekstrand. Not only does he seem younger and more adaptable to the modern world, he seems comfortable working with scholars from and In the Nether! As we compare and contrast the two Sorcerers, what does this say about Ekstrand – and does it change our views of his actions, behavior and decisions? Is he completely bonkers?

Rupert is a breath of fresh air, but I caught his titles when he was introduced and they don’t sound very reassuring. All the hints are that he’s been around for centuries, but he seems happy to move with the times – I was thoroughly entertained by his adoption of technology and hoodies (and Margritte’s horror of them). Unsurprisingly, he’s got a fast brain and solid political instincts – I like that he’s crafty with it, and instantly set to making deals rather than just resorting to threats or bullying. I can’t imagine Margritte getting anywhere with Ekstrand…

That said, none of this changes my opinions of the Sorcerer of Wessex, which has taken quite a battering through Any Other Name and his visit to the Agency last week. I don’t trust him to have anyone’s interests at heart, because I don’t trust him to know what they would be. He’s all passing fancies and paranoia. And I really don’t trust him with any of the Agency’s techniques…

Still, the jury’s out on Rupert. I’m enjoying him though. 

2. Cornelius and Amelia have been well and truly rumbled – Will knows how badly he’s been manipulated by the siblings, and exactly how! Do you think that either or both of the siblings might bounce back somehow? What about Will and Amelia’s baby? Did Amelia benefit inadvertently from the “help” Will received from Lord Iris’s faerie? If Amelia benefited, Why didn’t Cathy?

Oh dear. Will’s really on his vengeful Duke kick now, isn’t he? I couldn’t decide whether he’s softer on women (which fits his Son of the Nether dismissal of women in general, just not Cathy in particular) or whether he understood what would hurt Amelia most (ageing). 

And partly because I know Amelia has connections of her own in Mundanus, and partly because it plays into the idea that Will is underestimating her, I think she’ll find a way out of her predicament and come back to haunt him.

I’m not sure that Amelia has benefited from the faerie’s charm – wasn’t that just that the child would be a son rather than guaranteeing a pregnancy? I will have to check!

3. Skullduggery and Subterfuge! Sam has uncovered Leanne’s secrets and mission – Cathy is unearthing the secrets and like minded thinkers that Miss Rainer has kept hidden. Margritte and Bartholomew seem to have been likely allies to Cathy’s cause – is it possible Lord Iris/Poppy and the other Fae are Intentionally manipulating events to keep the current status quo/gender in-equality in Londinium? If So, to what end? As for Sam – what is he going to do with his new knowledge about Leanne or her findings?

I’m not sure gender equality has even crossed Iris’s or Poppy’s minds. I think that’s just an unfortunate side effect of the game in play, which – unless I’m being cunningly misled (entirely possible!) – is to reunite the Worlds and further certain Fae’s influence (so possibly also bring down the Prince?)

That said, I’m still struggling a little to knit all the strands together from Iris’s perspective. He has a master plan and he’s roped Poppy into it – because I love Poppy, but:

Heath Ledger as the Joker in a nurse's outfit asks 'do I really look like a guy with a plan?'
No. I do not believe Lord Poppy is a Man with a Plan

It’s clear old grudges die hard when you’re immortal (let alone Fae), so I think Bartholomew is simply the latest victim of the ancient Tulipa/Iris feud. It turns out to be really unfortunate from Cathy’s point of view, but I doubt Iris was aware of Bartholomew’s politics.

What I can’t tell is whether Iris (working with Lady Rose? Framing Lady Rose?) is behind the corruption of the London Arbiters and the destruction of the Sorcerers, or whether he’s just taking advantage of the situation. I am sat on the sidelines eating popcorn and watching with interest as this develops.

I have no idea what Sam will do with his newfound knowledge. Honestly, while I’m curious about the Elemental Lords, I still have more or less zero interest in Sam and am finding his storyline pretty frustrating. My overriding response to discovering what Leanne had been doing was my weekly outburst of RAGE, because on the one hand we finally see she was this amazing person who was sacrificing everything for something she believed in (but she did so by treating her husband badly ‘because reasons’); and on the other because none of this makes her feel like more than a plot device.

I am properly angry about this whole story line, and this development does not make it better. It is not ok. At all. If Sam now tries to Complete The Mission, I will be angry about fridging and guilt. If he shrugs it off and goes back to the forge to become Iron’s man, I will think no less of him than I already do (that would be hard). Unlike Will, Sam can’t even disappoint me.

4. Where do you think the main characters are going to go now? Will Cathy meet Rupert? Will Rupert destroy Ekstrand? Will any more/new hidden players in this drama come into the center stage?

I haven’t a clue regards the Sorcerers, to be honest. I’d be slightly surprised if either of them ended up dead – I think I’d lean marginally towards Max having to work it out and forge an alliance between them to defeat Iris and the Fae.

I think Cornelius is a dead man (and soon). I think Amelia will wriggle out of her captivity and disappear (possibly to return much, much later in a Melisande Shahrizai ‘I’m murdering you and stealing everything for our son’ sort of way).

I would like to think Cathy will defeat the Agency, but how she can do this without a Sorcerer’s help I don’t know. That said, we know Dave the Gargoyle would agree with her that they need some defeating, so perhaps he and Max are once again the key here…

I’m expecting Sophia to come centre-stage again at some point; Poppy has the painting that betrays her existence, and the question of her parentage could lead to all sorts of upheaval. I have to think that at some point Poppy will turn on Iris, and outing Sophia may be part of that.

5. So much happened in this weeks chapters It was hard just limiting my questions to the above – What did you find to be the most interesting event/revelation? Or is there anything else you want to talk about?

Let’s just take a moment to admire the description of Sam at the forge, shall we?

The heat from the forge felt good on his back. It was like sitting between two worlds, one cold, one hot, and on the threshold between the two was his aching body.

No, no, nothing to read into that, is there? Noooooo, not at all. Sam who has been to Exilium and the Nether and wears Lord Iron’s ring and sworn years of his life to Lord Poppy. Totally not caught between the Split Worlds at all, right? I’m just going to assume this is symbolic and/or massive foreshadowing.

Speaking of massive foreshadowing, we also have Cathy confessing her plan to Will. She loves her husband, and she wants him to know that he’s not alone and she’ll stick by him (as long as he backs off on having kids; HOORAY for sticking up for her right not to). It’s all got to be about trust and honesty, so it’s rather unfortunate that he doesn’t confess anything in return. I can’t wait for her to decode the Shopkeeper’s books, put two and two together (or would it be worse if she decided he’d used it on Amelia?! I’m actually not sure) and rip him apart like a Maenad. Metaphorically, at least.

Also, good on Cathy for facing down her past by revisiting Bath. I was glad to see how she handled Elizabeth. She’s come a very long way, and I’m rather proud of her. But I have to say – the preceding scene with Charlotte gave me the heebie-jeebies. Brilliantly done; it’s a properly horrible curse.

Last thought for the week: yes, I’m shamelessly shipping Rupert and Margritte Maggie. It’s utterly inappropriate in every way, and I think they’re delightful. Mwahahaha.

Fancy joining in? Here’s the schedule:

Questions, chitchat and links to all participants can be found on GoodReads and on Twitter by following @SFFReadalongs.