One simple trick (tell me if you knew it already)

question-mark-faceSo a little while ago I reviewed The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman, a book that finally allowed me to put my finger on why, as a whole, the series failed (because the worldbuilding’s poor, the characterization is nonexistent, the dialogue is stultifying, and because there is, foremost and overall, a critical lack of creative imagination.) But this book bothered me and it kept niggling at my brain looking for a solution.

[We pause here to say FU WordPress for deleting half of my post.]

It’s really quite easy to make a cliched plot with a predictable storyline and half-assed worldbuilding nonetheless be gripping and readable, and the trick lies in three things: by making the 1) characters 2) interact with this plot in 3) understandable, predictable, realistic, or characteristic fashion. See any number of romance novels, but more particularly, see Beauty by Robin McKinley, or see the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. Neither of these have anything particularly unexpected going on in the plot department. Beauty is literally a retelling of Beauty and the Beast (with horses). But because Beauty/Honor is someone we care about and the Beast promptly becomes one as well, their story becomes important. The Kate Daniels books never have anything spectacular going on in the plot department, but because Kate herself

To break that down a bit more: 1) you have to have characters such that the audience cares what happens to them and is invested in seeing what they are going to do. 2) Your characters have to have enough self-determination and agency that they not mere paper dolls moved around by the authorial whims of the plot dictates. They have to be able to decide to do things, and these things should have an effect on what happens next. 3) Their decisions should be made for relatable, sympathetic, or merely just understandable reasons.

This doesn’t mean that everybody has to be likable, or that everyone has to have their backstory spelled out in detail. It does mean that the author needs to know what their reasons are for doing what they do. But how? People are hard! I don’t know why they do things?!

That’s where the one simple trick comes in. Ready?


Figure out what your character wants. I’ve seen this described as “what does your character want to do with their glass of water.”–everybody wants something. Frodo wants to dump his glass of water into a volcano. Aragorn wants to marry his glass of water and has to be crowned King in order to do so. (Golly, this metaphor is a bit unwieldy, isn’t it?) Beauty wants to save her family. Kate Daniels wants to make money and bone Curran. Wanda wants to be happy with her lover, Vision. Luke wants to rescue his father.

But that’s only step one. Step two is (are you ready?): figure out what personality trait (not plot point –those are external factors. We’re going for internal factors here) is going to help or hinder them from accomplishing it. One of my characters, Morgan, wants freedom from her strictured upbringing. A trait that might help her achieve this is: that she’s stubborn and finishes what she starts. A personality trait that is going to hinder this is that: she’s selfish. Her self-centeredness causes her to make a series of decisions which ultimately leads to negative, long-term consequences. Here’s another: Cade wants to protect his clan/family. He’s a cunning warrior. But he dislikes people and therefore it is hard for him to gain allies or trust them. His clan loses ground. Here’s another. Corinnius wants to overthrow the corrupt hierarchy that governs his world. He’s idealistic and hopeful. But he’s internalized rules of the society that he would destroy and fears to take the necessary steps. He doesn’t move forward with what he wants to do; he half-asses everything else that he does do, because his heart is not in it and he doubts and sometimes hates himself.

Back to The Dark Archive. Fixing Irene and Kai is a hopeless proposition. They’ve had seven books and they’re both still paper puppets. But some of the new characters might still be salvaged. In text, Shan Yuan is Kai’s older brother and bullies him; he ignores and bullies Catherine, the Fae trainee, as well. He’s critical, unhelpful, and envious. Now, there is a reason provided–that he wants Kai’s position as Dragon-Library-Fae liaison–but it really isn’t enough because it exists in a vacuum of personality that makes it seem that Shan Yuan’s only purpose in story or out of it is to be a bully who makes life harder for all other characters. (A trope I particularly detest.)

Here’s how to fix it. Shan Yuan is critical of his younger brother because: he feels a sense of superiority and proprietorship over Kai, whom he (thinks of himself as) has raised. Shan Yuan wants the job because: he feels deserves it more than his little brother. Shan Yuan wants the results that the power and prestige will get him. Now, everyone wants power and prestige for its own sake, but why not do something unexpected instead? What if Shan Yuan wants kids and has no chance of being assigned a wife until he has gained more importance and a higher position, such as being the liaison between dragons and chaos. What if Shan Yuan isn’t a warrior or a courtier?–just someone who likes teaching people and explaining things. 

The character trait that would or ought to prevent him is: that he’s not patient or tolerant or mature enough to be trusted with children. –as per his interactions with Catherine, a teenaged Fae. His initial inability to recognize her as “kid” rather than “Fae scum” could, over the course of the book, be corrected. That’s what we call “character development” and it’s highly regarded.

So, anyhow, to sum up: have characters want things and maybe not be able to get them.


Poetry Corner – The Skull in the Clouds

 The Black Prince scowled above his lance, and wrath in his hot eyes lay,
 "I would rather you rode with the spears of France and not at my side today.
 "A man may parry an open blow, but I know not where to fend;
 "I would that you were an open foe, instead of a sworn friend.

"You came to me in an hour of need, and your heart I thought I saw;
 "But you are one of a rebel breed that knows not king or law.
 "You -- with your ever smiling face and a black heart under your mail -
 "With the haughty strain of the Norman race and the wild, black blood of the Gael.
"Thrice in a night fight's close-locked gloom my shield by merest chance
 "Has turned a sword that thrust like doom -- I wot 'twas not of France!
 "And in a dust-cloud, blind and red, as we charged the Provence line
 "An unseen axe struck Fitzjames dead, who gave his life for mine.
"Had I proofs, your head should fall this day or ever I rode to strife.
 "Are you but a wolf to rend and slay, with naught to guide your life?
 "No gleam of love in a lady's eyes, no honor or faith or fame?"
 I raised my faces to the brooding skies and laughed like a roaring flame.

"I followed the sign of the Geraldine from Meath to the western sea
 "Till a careless word that I scarcely heard bred hate in the heart of me.
 "Then I lent my sword to the Irish chiefs, for half of my blood is Gael,
 "And we cut like a sickle through the sheafs as we harried the lines of the Pale.

"But Dermod O'Connor, wild with wine, called me a dog at heel,
 "And I cleft his bosom to the spine and fled to the black O'Neil.
 "We harried the chieftains of the south; we shattered the Norman bows.
 "We wasted the land from Cork to Louth; we trampled our fallen foes.

"But Conn O'Neill put on me a slight before the Gaelic lords,
 "And I betrayed him in the night to the red O'Donnell swords.
 "I am no thrall to any man, no vassal to any king.
 "I owe no vow to any clan, nor faith to any thing.

"Traitor -- but not for fear or gold, but the fire in my own dark brain;
 "For the coins I loot from the broken hold I throw to the winds again.
 "And I am true to myself alone, through pride and the traitor's part.
 "I would give my life to shield your throne, or rip from your breast, the heart.

"For a look or a word, scarce thought or heard, I follow a fading fire.
 "Past bead and bell and the hangman's cell, like a harp-call of desire.
 "I may not see the road I ride for the witch-fire lamps that gleam;
 "But phantoms glide at my bridle-side, and I follow a nameless Dream."

The Black Prince shuddered and shook his head, then crossed himself amain:
 "Go, in God's name, and never," he said, "ride in my sight again."

The starlight silvered my bridle-rein; the moonlight burned my lance
 As I rode back from the wars again through the pleasant hills of France,
 As I rode to tell Lord Amory of the dark Fitzgerald line
 If the Black Prince dies, it needs must be by another hand than mine. 

- Robert E. Howard (according to wiki, this is alternatively titled "Reuben's Birthright")

The Rebel Princess – Episode 4 Recap

So Prince #3, being a good guy, directly goes over to thank XQ for saving his life. They drink a toast. (XQ’s cup is filled with water, as he doesn’t drink alcohol. How heroically random.) Meanwhile, not at all suspiciously, the Crown Prince edges off. It might need to be pointed out at this point that A’Wu was previously decoyed out to ostensibly meet with the Empress secretly and in person, but the Empress is sitting in the banquet hall, looking edgy. Also, there’s some suspicious-looking incense burning. The Crown Prince also has everybody shooed out of the hall where he is waiting.

XQ quietly slips out as well for some fresh air. A be-funky-hatted guy attempts to herd him back inside, but you need a lot more than a hat to impress a guy who kills barbarians and sends their fur hats plus the heads inside them home to the Emperor.

A’Wu, for her part, walks obediently into the trap, uh, we mean meeting with the Empress. Aaaaaand manages to walk in on the Crown Prince making time with a random concubine. Sheesh, boy, weren’t you trying to impress this girl? What’s more, A’Wu has been locked in. OKAY, I do not get this. I get luring A’Wu into a deserted courtyard where her lovesick suitor is. I get the lovesick suitor lying in wait. I get the drugs. I don’t get him boinking a random other girl while he’s waiting. Whose plan was this??

Oh, oops, he thought it was her and he was drugged, huh. But drugs is drugs and while he’s stumbling around asking her to come back, A’Wu is screaming for help and hitting him with a stick. And then she trips and falls. (WHAT IS IT WITH CDRAMA HEROINES, IS IT AN INNER EAR DEFECT?)

(Meanwhile, the poor other girl is inside, breaking down in tears. Huh. OH SHIT IT WAS WAN’RU?!?)

A’Wu makes a break for it up a tree and along the roof. AAAAAaaaaaaand guess what happens.




Yeah, that’s right, SHE FALLS OFF.

AND XIAO QI CATCHES HER. A’Wu recognizes him and then passes out.

Report, meanwhile, of this debacle has reached the Empress. A flashback shows that Wan’ru was also lured into the hall and locked in, only for the Crown Prince, drugged out of his mind, to mistake her for A’Wu. Okay, but…why was she brought there in the first place??

Cut to: the shaken, sobbing Wan’ru being comforted by (Concubine Xie) whilst the Empress stands by, the Emperor paces, and the Crown Prince is cutting out the middleman by hitting himself upside the head. I’ll give the boy this: I don’t think he’s evil in the slightest and this mostly wasn’t even his fault.

Nevertheless, he mans up and admits his wrong-doing. Unfortunately, he manages to majorly piss off his father whilst doing so. But the Emperor calms down enough to administer justice. Well, what he actually orders is that all the servants present be poisoned to death, but that’s actually fairly close for China.

The Crown Prince is, later that night, still getting grilled by his mother (can we discuss for a moment the fact that she planned this whole affair? Because the bitch planned this whole effing affair.) This gets interrupted by Grand Vizier Dad storming in to slap him some more. But the family that plots to retain control of the imperium together sticks together, so when the fact that their Crown Prince might stop being the Crown Prince if he’s pissed off the Emperor that badly, Dad calms down enough to lay down the law.

The Crown Prince is to marry Wan’ru immediately, and if he screws up again, or even looks crosswise at A’Wu, or otherwise causes trouble for The Plan, he’s going to be double dead and then he’s going to regret it.

And things haven’t even finished getting bad for the Crown Prince, because Prince #3 is waiting outside for him. And then starts beating him up: half for Wan’ru, and half for A’Wu.

(Y’know, at this point I’m feeling sorry for the Crown Prince more than anything else. The poor guy is just kind of pitiable. He’s been alternately bullied and indulged his entire life and doesn’t really know how to be accountable or responsible for anything. He’s not worthy of respect, but he’s never been given the opportunity to earn it. And the girl he likes doesn’t like him back. And he’s a total mama’s boy. But he’s never been malicious or sadistic; he hasn’t been cruel or vengeful. It would be cool if he had some sort of redemption arc and became, if not a heroic character, at least a trustworthy one aligned on the side of good. I highly doubt this is going to happen.)

A’Wu is still unconscious, and, lol, her brother is itching to get on the Crown-Prince-beating bandwagon. He even snaps at his wife when she comes in to check on things. Heh, his mother finds the time to ask him why she hasn’t had grandchildren yet.

Dad slips in to the sickroom to check on things. Aw. See, Grand Viziers have feelings, too!

Meanwhile, the Crown Prince is just willing to take his licks, as he well knows they’re richly deserved. (See what I said above: he’s a character with potential) It’s his mother who is causing trouble, again. She’s poisoning the well against Wan’ru and the Xie Family. (also, SHUT UP ABOUT A’WU ALREADY).

Meanwhile, XQ is sitting alone by himself, brooding. As one does when one is a brooding, dark-clad hero whose arms girls fall out of the sky into. His remaining sidekick comes up to fret about, well, home decor. And no, this is one of the male sidekicks, not the Swordsgirl.

Hah, XQ says: fill the courtyard with our weapons, fill the house with military books and maps. This place should look like our camp.

Sidekick says: Hey boss, were you thinking about that giiiiiirl?

XQ says: You know, people who don’t have anything else to do should run laps and do pushups and other military excercises.


Meanwhile elsewhere, the Emperor is talking to his only genuine confidant, a mute priest. He, personally, has no uses for the Crown Prince, who is an idiot. (I mean….but still….)

Meanwhile: Grand Vizier Dad and Uncle Guy have discovered the drugged incense. Next question: why was Wan’ru there? (That’s what I am also wondering.) The maidservant who brought her there has vanished. And this whole affair has thrown quite the twist into everybody’s plans–the plan to tie the Xie Family to Xiao Qi and the plan to force a tie between the Crown Prince and A’Wu. Plus, there was that whole assassination attempt on Prince #3 and the murder of Lord Gu. And absolutely nobody is benefitting right now: not the Xie Family, not the Wang Family, and not the Emperor. Weird.

(If it’s XQ behind this and his innocent act is an act, I’m going to be flabbergasted.)

And, uh oh, looks like the Crown Prince is going to be replaced. This has implications for the Wang family, and the Wang Family does not take such implications lying down.

This discussion is overheard by A’Wu’s mother…you know–the Emperor’s sister. She has a good story, but fishy looks are exchanged by all parties.

Prince #3 has shown up as well and is waiting in the courtyard. A’Wu’s maidservant comes out to check on him. Aw, that was sweet.

The Emperor is, meanwhile, discussing the issue with Wan’ru’s father. Weirdly, he’s not okay with the idea of his daughter becoming Crown Princess. He likes the idea of simply deposing the Crown Prince in favor of Prince #3. (Buuut…wouldn’t that put A’Wu and the Wang Family back on track again??) But both of them do agree that things are fishy and the investigation should continue.

The Emperor isn’t going to do that just yet. He’s going to marry the Crown Prince to Wan’ru and this is the last chance. The Crown Prince takes it, but the Empress pushes her luck and says that this isn’t fair. Golly, this is one bitch who just doesn’t know when to shut up. Grand Vizier Dad overhears the end of this.

He goes off to check on A’Wu and gives her a hug, aw. They discuss things, and A’Wu’s maidservant eavesdrops.

Meanwhile, Prince #3 shows up to do his bit of pot-stirring….END EPISODE. GRH.

Overheard…or spoken…on the job

“We live in the weirdest timeline.”
“I dunno, I haven’t seen anything in the news about Cthulu.”

“Dr. C says I’ve got to keep you under control.”
“Hah, good luck with that.”

“E’s kids were home yesterday, she couldn’t make it.”
“And it isn’t as if you can take five-year-olds on a ride-along.”
“…I bet it would work as a really effective way of preventing further violations, though. Make the people explain to the five-year-old kid what they did wrong. Might fall under cruel and unusual, though.”
“For both the kid and the person. ‘Explain to little Bobby why you hate puppies‘…”

“Hi, I’m Riders. I’m with D today.”
“Oh, you’ve got to keep your eye on him!”
“….you are not the first person to tell me that.”
“You’re not the first person today, even.”

The Rebel Princess – Episode 3 – Recap

Prince #3 goes to visit his mother, who is upset and blames the Empress for the assassination attempt. She tells him to be careful.

Back at the palace of being grounded, A’Wu is hanging out with Wan’ru and discussing boys. Wan’ru is a little subdued (on account of her own arranged marriage to A COMMONER, EW).

Meanwhile, A’Wu’s mother meets with #3’s mother, who gives her a bracelet for A’Wu. Both mothers are whole-heartedly in favor of the kids getting together, all politics aside.

A’Wu tries to comfort Wan’ru, who is NOT AT ALL happy with talk of a war hero who is A COMMONER, EW, and especially more so when A’Wu mentions the three-heads-six-arms thing. They’re going to plan to sneak out and see him entering the city tomorrow, an activity which is not proper for girls and why do I have a feeling this is going to involve cross-dressing?

A’Wu is asking her brother to take her, but Dad slithers in unexpectedly (as grand viziers do), and wants to know why. She covers hastily, that it’s because she wants to see A Real Soldier! Not like the men of the noble class who wear swords but do not use them! Dad praises her but seems unconvinced…and then turns this around on his literary, artistic son. Well that was nasty and unnecessary.

Meanwhile the moms are asking Uncle Emperor to just let the marriage take place already. Heh, turns out that part of the reason A’Wu’s mom is so happy with this is that she was forced to marry into the Wang family when young. The Emperor has a chat with her regarding her very powerful, very dangerous husband whom she married young, and whether she is acting in her capacity as a wife….or as his (the emperor’s) little sister.

Meanwhile the Empress and Crown Prince have got wind of what’s going on. To his credit, the Crown Prince appears to be genuinely distraught because he really likes A’Wu and wanted to marry her, whereas the Empress has decided to get nasty and stay that way.

A’Wu and her mother are giggling together over current events when Dad wanders in and wants to know what’s up. For some reason this makes A’Wu scurry off in a huff? I’m missing some subtext here. But Dad admits that he can’t go against the Emperor’s command, so…

Later, Dad (wearing his metaphorical Grand Vizier Hat, but actually only wearing his top-knot, which thankfully is much more dignified) learns about the whole Prince #2 in the brothel incident. Prince #2 and the Crown Prince have also dropped by for a visit. A’Wu is entirely bored with the proceedings, but her brother (I don’t actually know his name yet?) is still covering for her. The Crown Prince has brought her some fur robes he personally killed himself and had made into robes for her. A’Wu sweeps off with her nose in the air, since he’s known her for sooooo long and still doesn’t know what sort of things she likes, hmph!–leaving him puzzled and distraught.

A’Wu’s father rolls his eyes in a manner that is only half Grand Vizier and entirely Impatient Dad. He then explains to the Crown Prince that a) he’s a dumbass, b) I’m kind of on your side boy, try giving me something to work with here.

Okay so meanwhile. One of Those Indistinguishable Guys (I think this is Lord Gu, the guy who was in charge of the deceased-ninjas investigation) is busy fretting that he is going to have to recieve A COMMONER, EW, into the city as a peer. You guys….seriously…

But then he gets garrotted by his tea girl. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere!

So we immediately cut away to where the preparations are taking place, and look, when I say that A’Wu’s father goes places, what I mean is he’s got a completely villainous swagger going on and it’s amazing. He’s there to poke fun at the Duke Xie (Wan’ru’s father) having a new, expected son-in-law.
A’Wu and her maidservant discuss Prince #3 meanwhile.

Another one of Those Guys has showed up and he says, hey, don’t kick the Xie Family while they’re down in the shameful dust of having to marry A COMMONER, EW.

HAH. Grand Vizier Dad says: You guys are MORONS (like the guy I probably just had assassinated oh wait did I just say that out loud?)

Anyhow, the girls (and A’Wu’s brother) are in place to make eyes at Prince #3 and witness XQ’s triumphant entry. Princes #1-2 notice. A’Wu, however, is doing her BFF-ly duty to talk up XQ for Wan’ru’s benefit, too.

So the parade begins, and hey, that many horses is pretty good production quality, even if they’re only there for about three shots, repeated from many angles.

XQ’s sidekicks, including Swordsgirl Sidekick, are there as well, wearing masks for some reason. (But we know Swordsgirl is a swordsgirl, because a) she has subtle boob armor, b) she’s not wearing a helmet, and c) her mask is more stylish.) Nevertheless, Prince #3 recognizes XQ when he takes his helmet off. (A’Wu is too far away to see clearly.)

The Crown Prince has had just enough time to sneer at A COMMONER, EW daring to approach the Emperor when…hah, lol, ninjas? Oh, no it’s not a ninja. Someone threw Lord Gu’s body off a balcony attached to an inflammatory banner. Wow. Or did they frame it as a suicide? Ahhh, it’s framed as a suicide protesting XQ’s ascension. Huh.

This was pretty upsetting to A’Wu, but her Grand Vizier Dad is more worried about whether she was close enough to see how “assisted” his suicide actually was. So Lord Gu has a granddaughter and grandson, whom the Emperor both give hefty promotions to (at Grand Vizier Dad’s suggestion.) Duke Xie, on the other hand, has questions about why Lord Gu had such strong feelings about XQ in the first place. Kind of suspicious, no?

Meanwhile, XQ is settling into his new residence with the advice of Duke Xie. XQ asks about Lord Gu but is assured by the Duke that it’s all good, everything’s fine, no worries, just stay put.

XQ immediately orders his sidekicks to leave immediately, hurry back to the camp and tell everybody to STAY PUT UNTIL FURTHER ORDERS FROM ME, PERSONALLY. Swordsgirl thinks that if it’s that dangerous, he ought to leave town, too; but, being the hero, he’s not going to.

Meanwhile, however, the autopsy has revealed that Lord Gu’s time of death isn’t lining up with the official timeline. So, That Other Guy (Dad’s brother, it seems?) is there in the room. Grand Vizier Dad discusses with him the possibility that, hm, perhaps Lord Gu was killed before he, ah, jumped. Could it have been something he discovered in the course of his ninja investigation: aka, did the Empress kill him? Of course, this means that someone else will have to take his place…and then there’s that upstart XQ…

Hm. So, was Dad not behind this?

Interestingly enough, the Empress is meanwhile ordering a tearful and reluctant woman to do something that she really doesn’t want to…which is overheard by a creeping courtier.

We cut back to our heroine, cuddling with Prince #3 up on the roof. She’s really shaken by all this sudden death, especially since Lord Gu was one of her uncles as well. Dad saunters up and spots them. Cut to the next morning, in which he is having the tree by which A’Wu has been accessing the roof, carefully chopped down. Hah.

Lol, he says that a thief came to their house last night, didn’t she know? And then he grins to himself when A’Wu storms off, yelling for every tree to be chopped down. Okay, I like this guy, because even when he’s being all slimy Grand Vizier, he’s being low-key about it; and it’s the same when he’s being an asshole paterfamilias. Not to mention, he seems to be enjoying the hell out of this whole process anyway.

So the welcoming-the-conquering-hero banquet is finally on, except that Wan’ru is in tears and insisting that she’s not going to go out there be faced with marrying A COMMONER, EW. Does her father care more about the Xie Family than about her, his daughter? (slap)

Apparently not.

Okay, so the board is set up, somehow. XQ is at the banquet, A’Wu is on her way there…and the Empress’s serving-woman is lurking in a corridor, to divert her into going to see the Empress. Alone. By herself. Right now.

Meanwhile, XQ is being finally, formally entitled Lord Yuzhang. I’d be happier about this if absolutely everyone in the banquet hall didn’t look really, really shifty.

Something interesting is happening

I have no idea how, or exactly what, but people on reddit–amateur investors, money-grubbing thrill seekers, and gambling addicts–have taken on Wall Street. And they’re 2/0 right now.

William LeGate explains: 

Elon Musk just tweeted about the stock & they’re now trading at $192 after-hours… if they open at this price, Melvin Capital will go bankrupt tomorrow morning. $13.1 billion in wealth transferred from Wall St to Reddit trolls. 
What we’re witnessing isn’t a traditional pump & dump… it is an unorganized, yet collective effort of memelords & avg Americans to completely ignore all market fundamentals &, thru the power of social media, bankrupt hedge funds overnight, taking their funds. Legality unclear. 
Reddit is also in the process of meme-ifying AMC stock to revive it from the dead… this is like the Occupy Wall Street movement but on their own turf & with real financial consequences. Incredible.
It’s not going to last. It’s not going to be permitted to last. But it’s a crack in the wall. It’s a way for ordinary people to, completely legally and with full moral justification, bring the hurt down on big corporations. 
Wall Street is about to put a LOT of pressure on the SEC to make stock memes illegal & for it to be harder for everyday Americans to trade. They don’t want it to be legal for everyday Americans to organize via social media to do what they do to profit.
But the thing about a free market–and with a *free* and *uncensored* communication tool like the Internet is that people will find a way.
Here’s hoping they focus their attention on someone worth taking out. 

Overheard on the job

“My pig’s gay. Don’t judge him. He’s happy that way. Don’t judge him.”

“So if you have any questions, anything you want to know that I can help you with, please just give me a call.”
“Oh, girl. I’ma take you up on that. I’ma give you the weekend but come Monday you gonna be hearing that phone go off. You gonna be like, ‘bitch thinks she’s my mother, she keeps texting me.'”

“What’s your favorite food?”

“I ain’t gonna lie to you. I’ve had a stroke, I have short-term memory issues. I can’t keep a lie straight!”

“She can’t lie to us. She has short-term memory issues, she can’t keep a lie straight.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”

“I hope [court case] goes to deposition.”
“That’ll be interesting.”
“I just like goin’ to war with people.”

The Rebel Princess – Episode 2 – Recap

Oh, ok. So. The plot, much as a broth consisting primarily of onions, bell peppers, chopped garlic, and Better Than Bouillion (Chicken Flavor), to which cornstarch has been added and the heat turned up, begins to thicken.

In the previous episode, the Emperor was considering a match between our to-be-properly-introduced hero, Xiao Qi, and Some Guy’s daughter, Wan’er.

Wan’er has just turned up to console A’Wu for being grounded. So, here we go. (Prince #3 is not the guy in white, because they make a point of saying how he hasn’t come to visit her.) And Wan’er concludes the visit by convincing A’Wu to go sneaking out against orders during the Lantern Festival, hinting that there might be a Third party involved if so. Please notice the pune, or play on words.

So meanwhile, Xiao Qi has had an invitation from ?somebody? to go attend the Lantern Festival, which is something that slightly alarms his swordsgirl sidekick; but, given that his position is perilous and frought with political subtext at every turn, the guy has no better options than to…just go.

MEANWHILE back at the secret council of officiousness, they’re still fretting about how a commoner (EW) is going to be allowed to join their noble ranks. Thing is, one of these guys is A’Wu’s father, and he seems to agree with them. ((The Guy In White is A’Wu’s actual brother, it seems?)) The poor guy appears to just be trying to work in his library with all these schemers busy lurking and muttering in the meanwhile, heh.

So that night A’Wu climbs over the wall to go to the Lantern Festival.

She falls! What is it with C-drama heroines? Is it some kind of inner-ear defect?


So it is the long-expected Prince #3, and off they go. Except that A’Wu’s faithful maidservant promptly catches up with them to bring her mistress her cloak. And warn them to be careful. And then…stares longingly and/or suspiciously after them….?

Our young couple are skylarking around, buying masks and watching puppets, etc, and at this point our hero bumps into them. Literally. Heh. He’s meeting up with a not-at-all-suspicious person in a not-at-all-suspicious gigantic hood…oh. It’s A’Wu’s father. Okayyyyyy….

Grand Vizier Dad tells XQ that the Emperor isn’t going to be rewarding him–only seeming to, as his military power now makes him a threat.

XQ parries: “How well do you sleep at night, Prime Minister?”

Grand Vizier Dad says: “I like talented people. I like being allied with them. I like to protect them. If you know what I mean.”

Meanwhile, in a not at all coincidental turn of plot, A’Wu and #3 are watching a puppet opera of the mighty Big Sword General Xiao Qi (here portrayed with three heads and six arms)’s exploits and bickering with random peasants who are speculating that perhaaaaaaaps the Princess Shangyang might be a good match for him. Xiao Qi and his loyal but puzzled sidekick just so happen to wander past as Princess Shangyang-AKA-A’Wu reacts to this as we might expect. XQ’s sidekick takes offence, but #3 just tries to hustle her away. (LOL SHE MAKES A FACE AT THE SIDEKICK AND HE MAKES ONE BACK AT HER AS THEY EXIT. HAAA)

XQ, meanwhile, is thinking that three heads + six arms might actually be kind of sweet.

A’Wu and #3 have done the make a wish and then set your floating paper lantern on fire thing and are just generally being soppy on the bank of a river. Meanwhile, the Empress has rattled up in a coach and is not looking happy. Cut back to A’Wu and #3 and then NINJAS! (lol, I love ninjas, so this development, no matter how short-lived or random, makes me happy.)

Prince #3 isn’t all that much of a fighter, but luckily XQ hears the commotion and arrives to the rescue. The remaining ninjas run away, and XQ strides off after them without bothering to introduce himself. #3 is quite stoic about it when he gets to comfort the sobbing, shaken A’Wu….at least until he feels that he can get more sympathy by playing up his scratched arm, heh.

He gives her a hairpin he’s made himself (it’s quite nice), and they send each other off quite sweetly.

A’Wu sneaks back in through the back door and….

…promptly discovers that her aunt the Empress has been waiting and not particularly happy about it. But this family is actually quite sweet, for a C-Drama. Auntie actually seems more concerned about the fact that she was out by herself, without attendants or a bodyguard, than that she was breaking the rules or something.

But! On to business. Aunt wants it to be known that A’Wu is going to marry the Crown Prince, right? Like a good girl, right? Don’t you want to marry the man you’ve always called Big Brother? A’Wu begs to demur.

Aunt then points out that the women of their family are destined to be Empresses. (As if that’s something that can’t be changed by a good dynastic overthrow.) Auntie doesn’t actually lose her temper until A’Wu proclaims her undying love for Prince #3 and determination never to have to face the same pains and struggle for power that the Empress did.

Okay, to her credit, part of Aunt’s argument is that it is A’Wu’s duty as a royal princess to bear the burden of power and empire, as she (Aunty) has done herself. (But she does nearly slap a bitch when A’Wu says she’d just as soon live as a commoner, LOL.)

A’Wu’s mother arrives at this point and provides cover. Aunty leaves in thwarted rage, but bumps into Grand Vizier Dad. He points out that the Emperor was unlikely to let their family gain still more power by marrying the Crown Prince and consolidating it’s grip over the court….he thinks that the Emperor had an ulterior motive for allowing A’Wu to choose her own husband. But on the off-chance that it was just a random slip-up, he is also going to go play chess with the emperor.

Meanwhile, A’Wu and her mother are having a little sit-down to discuss the ninjas. (The easiest and most obvious suspect is: the Empress. She does not like Prince #3 and wants him gone, her family has the most to lose, and she has prior cause to resent him).

Cue #3’s mother popping up to complain to the Emperor.

Cut to: Some Guy (look, they all look freaking alike!) who is in charge of capitol security, getting raked over the coals for a) not protecting the prince from ninjas, b) not producing any live ninjas. Is he involved in the nefarious ninja plot? Dead men tell no tales! (Hm. Is this going to backfire on XQ somehow when he turns up?) The Emperor appoints Someone Other Guy to investigate the case.

The Emperor also grills the Empress a little bit. She defends herself smoothly but is definitely rattled. And, even he thinks she’s the prime suspect, so she definitely does have reason to be scared.

OKAY, SO. Wan’er’s father (this guy) is of the same family (the Xie Family) as Prince #3 and his mother. That’s good to know. He is not in charge of the investigation, some other guy is. But the investigation continues, and it does indeed look like the trap is being aimed at XQ: the idea that the men were killed to keep them from revealing secrets, the fact that they were evidently killed by a master swordsman, and the fact that they’re not locals.

So naturally our valiant detectives go storm a local brothel to look for non-local peoples.

The madam tries her best to keep them out of one particular room….

…where a customer tries desperately to keep his face out of sight….

…because it’s Prince #2. (huh, I was kind of expecting XQ there.)

Meanwhile. Wan’er and her father have a talk….thing is, once she finds out the plan for her to marry XQ she pitches a fit and refuses and storms out, finis this episode.

OKAY, so that was two episodes.

I really quite like Ziyi Zhang, and putting aside the fact that she’s far too old for her character, she’s great. Again: she’s a totally beautiful actress, perfectly made up and expertly filmed. What’s even better is that she sells her character expertly. A’Wu is also a good heroine–lively, but not annoying, willful but not stupid, stubborn but not selfish, and spoiled but not rotten. She’s what a lot of dramas aim at but fall short of.

Our hero has had basically zero screentime, but given that 90% of it consists of spinning kicks, I’m in.

The plot maintains a good pace and a certain amount of drama without getting too bogged down into the tedious “my house versus your house and the stakes are everybody potentially getting tortured to death if we do the wrong thing by a hair but nothing ever, ever, ever happens except people glaring at each other and making cutting remarks but the stakes are SO HIGH GUYS.”

Aaaaand, I guess I’m going to watch episode three.

But not tonight.