I originally planned to reread and post my self-reviews at a much faster pace. Obviously, that hasn't been happening. For the one or two of you actually interested in my chapter by chapter reviews, I do intend to keep going, and I keep insisting to myself I will do it more often, but since I also spend a fair amount of free time critiquing other people's writing in various writing circles I am involved in, and with my remaining free time I try to get some writing of my own done, I end up letting the AQ reread project slip by the wayside.
Anyway, Chapter 24, Responsibility, was meant to be paired with Chapter 23, Forgiveness, the theme being Alexandra's character growth as she experiences a taste of both. Several years of mixed reviews on that score suggest that maybe I could have emphasized lessons learned a little more. Alexandra does show concern for Anna and her other friends, but this mostly consists of withholding information from most of her friends, while having second thoughts about letting Anna get involved and then going ahead anyway.
Of course this leads to the chapters that follow, in which she sees the real consequences of her actions. And learns a little bit of responsibility as a result... but only a little.
I think if there is one thing a lot of Alex's critics get wrong, it's that while she is selfish, she's no more so than any other twelve-year-old. It's not so much selfishness that leads her to constantly mistreat her friends or get them in trouble: it's arrogance. Alexandra's greatest sin is, in my opinion, pride. A fact that has yet to prickle her self-awareness even by book five, and so she has yet to realize that it is one of the characteristics she shares most strongly with her father...
Of course that's just the author's opinion. Readers may have different opinions, and it's not like Alexandra has a shortage of sins to choose from.
So, in this chapter, Alexandra and Anna begin their scheme to break into the Registrar's Office to find the Registrar's Scroll. Alexandra begins by, once again, taking advantage of her elf-friends, which leads her to the basement, where we meet Em for the first time.
I rather liked this scene because it's an example of how things don't always go Alexandra's way.
“Yeah, I am,” she said. “You see, I was supposed to take something to the Registrar's Office.”
The elf blinked her large, round eyes slowly, looking rather owl-like.
“The Registrar's Office?” she repeated. “But the Registrar's Office is on the second floor! Miss is very lost!”
Alexandra nodded. “I guess I went too far down a flight of stairs, and then I found myself here, and it was dark, and well...”
The elf was staring at Alexandra, and then her eyelids narrowed in an expression Alexandra had not seen on an elf's face before: suspicion.
“Come with Em please, Miss,” said the elf. “Em will take you to the Head Custodian.”
“Mr. Journey's outside with Mr. Thiel,” said Alexandra.
The elf's eyes narrowed further. “Em thinks it's very curious Miss knows exactly where Mr. Journey and Mr. Thiel is and where they is not when Miss is looking for the Registrar's Office.”
Alexandra was beginning to feel she'd made a mistake. This was not going at all as she'd hoped.
“Can't – can't you just tell me where the Registrar's Office is?” she pleaded.
“If Miss has something to take to the Registrar's Office, which is off-limits to students,” said the elf shrewdly, “give it to Em and Em will take it there.” The elf held out her hand.
“I order you to tell me where the Registrar's Office is!” Alexandra exclaimed, a little desperately. But to her dismay, the elf actually chuckled.
“Students can't order elves,” said Em. And she pointed at Alexandra, and suddenly her feet were rooted to the floor. “Naughty Miss! Em will be back.” And the elf disappeared with a pop.
Alexandra's alibi was a good one for a twelve-year-old, but she vastly underestimated how easy it would be to fool an elf. Her desperate attempt to command Em was not very nice - David would be appalled, and she will feel a little bit ashamed of it herself. But as we will see in book three, Alexandra will go further than that when she thinks the ends justify the means.
While Alexandra is stuck to the floor, Mr. Journey executes another one of his half-assed murder attempts, the failure of which I left to the reader to figure out. (As I saw it, Journey was caught by either Em or Thiel while preparing to suffocate Alexandra while she lay unconscious. Unable to finish the job, he just took her back to his office.) The hostility from Mr. Thiel is, of course, a red herring.
Alexandra decided she was going to have to figure out how to sneak past Miss Marmsley. She had noticed that the wizards and witches in the paintings lining the hallways and the walls of the library tended to fall asleep after hours. She'd even caught the old warlock who supervised Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall snoozing a couple of times. She hoped Miss Marmsley slept too.
If there is one reason for me to glad of getting Alexandra out of Charmbridge Academy, it's that figuring out ways to enable her and her friends to sneak around without making the staff look completely incompetent was a real trial. You have a magical school with magical guardians, staffed by wizards — you'd think it would put Muggle surveillance to shame. Rowling got around this problem by making Hogwarts a big ancient castle, and giving Harry an Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder's Map. Charmbridge Academy is big and full of hidden nooks and corners, but not quite on the scale of Hogwarts, so at times maybe the devices by which Alexandra got away with shit stretched a little thin. Nobody ever complained about this in particular; I guess the tolerance for suspension of disbelief is higher in a story about kids, who have to be able to get out from under the umbrella of grown-ups somehow.
The result of Alexandra's "recon" is that she finds the Registrar's Office, and then resists the temptation to do more that night. If I were rewriting the book, I'd probably eliminate this scene, since it kind of stretches things out unnecessarily. A tighter manuscript would have Alexandra executing her mission the first time out. But I do think it's more "realistic" for Alexandra to go on a trial run first, before the climactic final adventure.
The chapter ends delivering the title message:
She was silent for a moment, then asked quietly, “Are you asking me not to?”
“Would it do any good?”
She bit her lip, not sure what to say.
“If you say it's important, Alexandra,” said Constance.
“Then we believe you,” said Forbearance.
They lowered their voices. “But be it on your head if there's any consequence to Anna.”
“We will hold you responsible.”
Alexandra nodded. “So will I,” she said quietly. “If anything happens to any of you.”
This shows (1) Alexandra does care about her friends; (2) this rarely alters her plans; (3) I am too fond of heavy-handed foretelling. (This exact sort of thing is repeated in book two when Alexandra meets Julia.)
This was, in my opinion, not a bad chapter, but it could have been trimmed and merged with another chapter or two to make a tighter story. It expanded largely because I wanted to show Alexandra having a few qualms and actually thinking about her friends a little, as I didn't think she'd been doing enough of that. Well, she still doesn't. But she tries.