Chapter 5 — New Wands
“Is the Dean busy, Miss Marmsley?” asked Ms. Shirtliffe politely.
“She always is, but I'll let her know you wish to see her, Mary,” replied Miss Marmsley. She rose from her high-backed chair, gathered her skirts, and stepped outside the frame and disappeared. Alexandra knew she would now be reappearing in a much smaller portrait frame on Dean Grimm's desk. This entire scene was drearily familiar to her.
A few moments later, Miss Marmsley stepped back into her portrait frame. “You may go on in, Mary.”
“Ms. Shirtliffe, or Colonel Shirtliffe, if you don't mind, Heather,” Ms. Shirtliffe corrected her, smiling.
Miss Marmsley smiled back. “Of course, Ms. Shirtliffe.”
Ms. Shirtliffe and Miss Marmsley don't like each other.
This chapter introduced the Junior Regimental Officer Corps (though they had been mentioned previously). For non-U.S. readers, many American high schools have a Junior ROTC (though it's less popular than it used to be, and nowadays is practically unknown in many parts of the country), which is what the JROC is based on. It's a sort of "feeder" youth organization that grooms kids for future military service. The point of my including a JROC storyline wasn't just to give Alex hell (though that was fun) but also to show that the Confederation is rather more militaristic than, say, British wizarding society. And the ROC isn't just for show.
Alexandra blinked. Ms. Shirtliffe had suggested that. She wasn't sure why, but suspected it was because Shirtliffe liked the idea of making Alexandra march around and follow orders like the rest of the Junior Regimental Officer Corps. Alexandra had absolutely no interest in wearing one of those stupid uniforms or doing broom and wand drills all afternoon after class.
So, most of this chapter consisted of describing the JROC, introducing a little bit of a schism between Alex and Anna (one which won't really reach its nadir until the next book) and giving everyone a reason to hate that big bully, Max.
Mage-Sergeant King was in charge of training the younger wands, and he was even harsher than Beatrice Hawthorne and Ms. Shirtliffe combined. He had Anna in tears practically every day. He would stop both girls in the hallway, and dress them down for any deficiencies in their uniforms, right in front of all the passing students. He berated them for their postures, their attitudes, even their hair. (Tomo's hex had left Anna's hair unmanageably frizzy, even after repeated applications of straightening charms and potions.) He was the strongest and the fastest at all physical activities, and he drove the smallest and weakest kids (particularly Anna) mercilessly.
Plotwise, not much else happens in this chapter until the very end.
There was a bird crudely stamped on one side, but not an eagle. It looked more like a crow, or a raven. Alexandra looked up at Charlie suspiciously, and back at the coin. The only other thing on that side were the letters 'MMS,' printed beneath the bird's talons. She flipped it over, and saw an empty septagon on the reverse face, with writing printed along the edge of the coin. Squinting at the tiny letters, she read: “If this coin be stolen, a Thief's Curse be upon you!”
She looked up at the raven again. “Now what have you done, Charlie?” The bird only looked at her reproachfully, and cawed.
It's a bridge chapter, moving from the reorientation of the previous one into the main plot that begins with the next, while including a few necessary character developments. So, while there are no bits of writing or worldbuilding here that I'm exceptionally proud of, I'd say it serves its purpose.
Some readers thought the whole JROC storyline was a bit of a red herring and/or pointless, but c'mon, admit it, making Alex wear a uniform was funny! :D
Ms. Shirtliffe isn't wrong about Alexandra's need for discipline. Despite her defiant, loner nature, Alex does thrive in the JROC. She is very good at the things she chooses to be good at, and Ms. Shirtliffe may be the only one at this point who really appreciates Alexandra's leadership qualities. Dean Grimm hinted at them at the end of the last book, but to her, they're a threat, representing the danger that Alexandra might take after her father. Ms. Shirtliffe sees them as being a positive thing. Ironically enough, they are both right.