Real Time Reading, Uncategorized

Real-Time Reading – 20-21 October – Chapter 38

jake-hills-36605Jake Hills

Chapter 38

“You used magic to save me. I could smell it–lady’s mantle and ambergris.”

Y’all. I know this chapter is all about Diana coming back to life and people making frantic efforts to save herself from her own recklessness, but…. I would like to know why magic smells like whale intestines.

According to Wikipedia, ambergris (or ambergrease) is produced in the digestive system of the sperm whale and has a “marine, fecal odour” when fresh. When aged, however, it’s “sweet and earthy.” I presume that Deb is referring to the latter, not the former. But my goodness gracious. describes “ambergris” as smelling “marine, animalic, and sweet.” Many perfumes contain ambergris, because it apparently makes scents last longer. However, it’s also illegal to collect the real thing in many places because of restrictions on the hunting and exploitation of whales. The Smithsonian published a rather thorough article on the subject entitled Your High End Perfume is Likely Part Whale Mucus. Apparently, there’s a “thriving clandestine trade” in ambergris, similar to that for hunting truffles. As a side note, ambergris and truffles look remarkably alike.

“I love him,” I said fiercely. “And he loves me.” Matthew’s many secrets–the Knights of Lazarus, Juliette, even Marcus–I pushed to the side, along with my knowledge of his ferocious temper and his need to control everything and everyone around him.

But Em knew what I was thinking. She shook her head. “You can’t ignore them, Diana. You tried that with your magic, and it found you. The parts of Matthew you don’t like and don’t understand are going to find you, too.”

Sigh. Jen and I will talk about this as it comes up in the text, but I’m going to dip my toes in now.


There are times when it will be necessary to talk about Matthew, Diana, abuse, and domestic violence. While–most of the time–I think ADOW and the AST manage to reckon–successfully–with the vampire trope, there are moments where it falls flat. For me, this is one of them.

Here’s why.

The vampire trope in fiction tends to romanticize violence, distance, disdain, aggression, and dominance. In modern stories, that trope usually comes with nice trappings – plenty of money, good looks, a certain frisson of romantic danger. Generally speaking, ADOW treats Matthew as a character as more than a vehicle for these traits. Over the course of three books, he approaches his best self and many of the bad traits are either explained or he arcs away from them. However, in this moment, I have trouble processing Matthew because of the way that Diana reacts to Em’s comment and the way that the text discards it.

My hackles rise any time a character finds themselves in a dangerous situation and they dismiss or undermine voices expressing concern. Diana has a tendency to do this as it relates to Matthew–especially when the criticism comes from Hamish, Sarah, and Em. There are survivors of emotional and physical abuse who would find Matthew and Diana’s relationship quite triggering. I find it (generally) to be nicely contextualized, but this bit needs calling out every time we see it. It is desperately important to be explicit and honest about fiction when it screws up as I think ADOW does here.

Diana’s description of Matthew in this chapter should be troubling because it romanticizes possessive, dominating behavior combined with a tendency towards anger and violence. There are very fair criticisms of A Discovery of Witches centered in domestic violence, and we would be remiss not to talk about them. Matthew often acts towards Diana in ways that are domineering, controlling, and authoritarian. He threatens to kill her. He makes choices for her on the basis of her not knowing enough about the world to make them herself. He often disposes with Diana’s agency by either failing to consider it or by simply acting without reference to her and forcing her to live with the consequences. This is aided by Diana’s weaknesses as a protagonist–her goals aren’t clear, she’s already isolated, and she’s clueless about a lot of Really Important Shit for the duration of the book.

I would not fault anyone for turning away from ADOW based on Matthew, especially not when you compare his behaviors to the very famous list of DV warning signs published shortly after the peak of Twilight mania. For me, I think Matthew’s context evolves in a way that I can forgive him for some things, but not all of them. We’ll explore those in the podcast to avoid spoilers.

I think a good deal of fiction is about the emotional experience of the story and what the story can tell us about ourselves. It is possible that this warning note is intentional; Matthew’s darkness and potential for redemption are major topics for Shadow of Night, which we’re approaching with great speed. It’s possible that we’re situated so deeply in Diana’s POV that we’re meant to feel the knee-jerk, tidal pull of her connection to Matthew more than we are supposed to feel Em’s warning. That’s possible. It doesn’t sit especially well with me, but it’s possible.

I would like to have a conversation with Deb someday about the choices she made in this scene with respect to–essentially–tossing away the concerns of a character with a vested interest in Diana and her well-being. I hate that Em’s dialogue minimizes the danger of Matthew (physically or emotionally) by talking about character traits Diana doesn’t “like” or “understand.” I hate that Diana, who is supposed to have such incredible power and independence, does not engage with this comment or with Matthew’s authoritarian behavior in more than a foot-stamping, “oh-fine-have-it-your-way” way until much, much later. Some would say “too late,” and that’s valid.

I won’t give any conclusions on my thoughts re: Matthew until the end of the trilogy, because I don’t think we have all of the tools for the discussion, yet. I will say, however, that this is a moment where I think that this chapter and scene stumbles–hard–on the worst of Matthew in a way that requires honest discussion about how romanticizing relationships with a dangerous power imbalance normalizes domestic violence.

As usual, I welcome your thoughts and comments. You can find us at @chamomilenclove on Twitter or

Until next time,



Real Time Reading, Uncategorized

Real-Time Reading – 15-19 October – Chapter 37

m-wrona-273100 m wrona

Chapter 37

Sarah had discovered this happy coincidence when, during one of her habitual bouts of insomnia, she went downstairs in the middle of the night and found Miriam and Marcus watching Out of the Past.

Out of the Past (1947) tells the story of a man whose life is interrupted when a figure from his shady past reappears and wreaks havoc. It sounds rather like the perfect film to open a chapter that also contains Juliette Durand. img_0181The film has very high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.

The word “smoor” apparently comes from Scots Gaelic. To smoor a fire is to dampen it so that it does not require tending overnight. There are superstitions associated with smooring, such as that letting the fire go out lets the soul of the house die.

“You must have a very high opinion of me, Miriam, if you think the brotherhood has functioned for all of these years without a seneschal. That position is already occupied.”

According to Wikipedia, a seneschal was a senior court appointment within a royal, ducal, or noble household during the Middle Ages.  In the province of Anjou, the seneschal transformed into a business manager and vice regal.

SOS. Juliette.”

The name Juliet means “youthful,” while Durand means “enduring.” It’s a lovely and fitting name for a vampire–even a crazy one. A little-known fact–the spelling “Juliet” was first used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet in 1596. Before R&J, it was spelled “Juliette” or “Giulietta.” In 2016, it was the 228th most popular name in the US.

“Will you hold me?” he whispered.

My back to the oak tree, I pulled him between my legs.

“I’m cold,” he said with dull amazement. “How strange.”

“You can’t leave me,” I said fiercely. “I won’t have it.” 

In mythology, the oak represents strength and survival. In the Celtic tree calendar, Oak is the seventh month. It is also the seventh consonant in Ogham writing. Celtic mythology provides that the oak protects leaders and warriors, offering hospitality and safety. In Ancient Greek and Roman cultures, the wearing of oak leaves was a sign of special status. Unsurprisingly, the oak is the tree of the Goddess Diana, as well as the Celtic Dagda, Janus, Hecate, and Pan. Very old oak trees often have special meaning for their communities; several famous oaks may be listed here.

Two women were standing inside the barrier of flames. One was young and wore a loose tunic, with sandals on her feet and a quiver of arrows slung across her shoulders. The strap was tangled up in her hair, which was dark and thick. The other was the old lady from the keeping room, her full skirt swaying. 

“Help me,” I begged. 

There will be a price, the young huntress said.

“I will pay it.” 

In Neopaganism, the Goddess often appears in one of her three aspects–Maiden, Mother, or Crone. Each embodiment of the goddess represents a phase of life and a phase of the moon. Throughout mythology, it is not uncommon to find historical goddess triads or triple goddesses.

There is a tradition of Dianic Wicca which adopted a triple goddess named after the Roman Diana. Triple goddesses appear across fantasy, fiction, film, and literary criticism, from Marion Zimmer Bradley to George R. R. Martin to Neil Gaiman.

Deb’s post on October 15-19 may be found here. In the Real-Time Reading Companion, she offers two other musical selections for this chapter: Radiohead’s “The Gloaming” and the Spill Canvas’s “Gold Dust Woman.”

We’ll see you again while Diana convalesces on October 20-21.

Until then,



Real Time Reading, Uncategorized

Real-Time Reading – 14 October – Chapters 34-36

jaime-spaniol-109084 Jaime Spaniol

Chapters 34-36

“Prana mudra,” Matthew explained. “It encourages the life force and is good for healing.”

Prana mudra is a yoga technique thought to increase vitality and activate the muladhara or root chakra. Yogapedia recommends the posture as a therapeutic mudra and suggests that one practice it in lotus pose. A mudra “controls the flow of energy in the body” and “[unblocks] chakras.”  Ideally, the use of prana mudra reduces fatigue and nervousness and enhances focus and clarity. You can find the steps to perform prana mudra here, or watch the following video:

“You can make a lot of money water witching, you know,” Sarah called as we approached. “Everyone in town needs a well, and old Harry was buried with his dowsing rod when he died last spring.” 

Water dowsing is the practice of using a rod or stick to locate underground water sources. Wikipedia suggests that dowsing as a practice emerged in Germany in the 15th century; Martin Luther apparently wrote that dowsing violated the first commandment. In some places, dowsing is called “doodle bugging,” a charming phrase for which I have no clever commentary. Sadly, darlings, dowsing doesn’t have any basis in science.  Truth being no defense for fiction, however, Diana can dowse away quite happily in the pages of ADOW with little effect on the outside world.

“It is a wedding. The chemical marriage between mercury and sulfur. It’s a crucial step in making the philosopher’s stone.” 

The Chemical Wedding, or the joining of mercury (water and earth/female) and sulfur (fire and air/male), is the coniunctio step of the alchemical process. Alchemists believed in the purifying power of a union of opposites: dark and light, life and death, gold and silver. It features prominently in the Rosarium Philosophorum, an alchemical work of the 16th century. The University of Glasgow wrote a lovely article on the Rosarium that’s available here. There’s also an article on the Holy Wedding and Jungian psychology, which relies heavily on alchemical themes, here. UnknownThe hieros gamos, or holy marriage, is a ritual mating between gods that appears in many cultures–from Wiccans to Greeks to Hindu mythology–and represents the union of the male and female aspects of the divine. In some cultures, it’s purely mythological, however, in others, there are rituals devoted to the actual union of the gods.


“What’s a caulbearer?” I whispered.

“Someone born with the amniotic sac still intact around them. It’s a sign of luck,” Sarah explained.

Wikipedia states that “caulbearers” represent 1 in every 80,000 human births. Caulbearing is harmless and infants born with a caul have it removed immediately upon delivery. “Some Early Modern European traditions linked caul birth to the ability to defend fertility and the harvest against evil.”

“The results do belong to Diana,” Marcus said. “She’s a chimera, Matthew.”

Chimerism is real, and may occur for a number of reasons. There’s the stated reason for Diana’s chimerism–absorption of a fetal twin–but there are other examples, such as people who have received marrow transplants and therefore have blood cells from another individual, or mothers who take on some of the cells of their offspring. This TIME story tells how one man’s unborn twin was the genetic father of his child. 

“Why are you so resistant?” Miriam asked impatiently. “Cross-species breeding is the next evolutionary step.”

The scientific literature–revealed to me by the Great and Powerful Google–suggests that Miriam is onto something:

Cross-species Mating may Be Evolutionarily Important And Lead To Rapid Change, Say Indiana University Researchers

Interspecies Hybrids Play a Vital Role in Evolution

Why do animals interbreed? 

Interspecies Sex: Evolution’s Hidden Secret? 

There’s also evidence that human evolution was shaped by cross-species breeding.

“Marcus is fond of the Pre-Raphaelites, and Miriam knows a lot of mythology. They picked the name,” Matthew said by way of explanation.

“The Pre-Raphaelites loved Lilith. Dante Gabriel Rossetti described her as the witch Adam loved before Eve.” Marcus’s eyes turned dreamy. 

Lilith appears in several ancient sources, including biblical texts and the Epic of Gilgamesh. The name “Lilith” comes from the Sumerian “lilitu,” which means wind spirit or female demon.


In the Bible, Lilith was created before Eve and wanted to be equal to Adam. The 13th century writings of Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen suggest that “Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden.” The painting to which Marcus refers is the “Lady Lilith,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

He used his mistress as the model for Lilith, naturally. The Met has a nice blurb on the painting here, and some thoughtful commentary on the painting can be found on

“Bertrand was Matthew’s best friend.”

BOOM. That’s why Matthew won’t answer to that name, and why Philippe gave it to him. That’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Honestly, the rest of the chapter speaks for itself. Tomorrow, sadly, we meet Juliette in the woods and spend a few days in and out of consciousness. Be kind to one another and rest up.

The Daemons talk about Chapters 30-34 in Take 22!. They talk about Chapters 35-38 in this episode. Deb’s post is here.

You know where to find us. Be good.




Real Time Reading, Uncategorized

Real-Time Reading – 13 October – Chapters 32-33

elke-burgin-195569Elke Bürgin

Chapters 32 and 33

In Chapter 32, Matthew whisks Diana from Sept-Tours to Madison. The timing of this chapter must be aided by a combination of time changes, literary efficiency, and magic, because I frankly don’t buy the time lapse here. I don’t know how everything–from Satu to the oubliette to Diana recovering to getting to Madison–happens in less than 48 hours. However. I am gliding past it because I don’t actually care unless I think about it too long. Accordingly, to Madison we go.

“Do you know what a gambit is, Diana?”

“Vaguely. It’s from chess.”

“That’s right,” he replied. “A gambit lures your opponent into a sense of false safety. You make a deliberate sacrifice in order to gain a greater advantage.”

“Gambit” comes from the ancient Italian “gambetto,” which means “to trip.” There are a series of famous gambits in chess – the King’s Gambit, the Queen’s Gambit, and Evans Gambit, to name a few. If you offer a gambit and your opponent takes your chess piece, it’s said to be “accepted.” If your opponent does not take the bait, it’s “declined.” As Baldwin says, the idea is to lure your opponent into a compromising position by allowing them to think that they’ve gained something from their countermove. If you aren’t paying attention, you can land in big trouble–i.e., lose many pieces and compromise your king–very quickly. I am only a middling chess player, so I cannot go much farther into the discussion of strategy before I am woefully outclassed. If, however, you’re a better player than I am, the Chess Website would be happy to help you.

“You said you wouldn’t obey my orders. After La Pierre, you might have reconsidered.”

Baldwin stared at the white rectangle. His face twisted sourly before falling into lines of resignation. Taking the envelope, he bowed his head and said, “Je suis votre commande, seigneur.”

In ADOW, Deb introduces the idea of the Knights of Lazarus, a (largely) vampiric chivalric order established by Philippe de Clermont at the time of the Crusades. These orders largely developed in order to protect pilgrims; many adopted monastic rules and formed communities to assist the sick and injured. In history, the three most famous chivalric orders are the Knights Templar, the Knights of Saint John of Malta, and the Teutonic Knights. The Knights of Saint John of Malta and the Teutonic Order are still active; the Knights Templar have (theoretically) been resurrected, but it would appear that they spend a great deal of time combating the myth that they are a secret society or that they have any association to the Priory of Scion. Thanks, Dan Brown. Conspiracy theories about chivalric orders are everywhere; so are articles debunking them.

Matthew pulled in to the driveway, which was pitted with ice-crusted potholes. The Range Rover rumbled its way over them, and he parked next to Sarah’s beat-up, once-purple car. A new crop of bumper stickers adorned the back. Image result for farmhouse upstate new york

You, too, can plaster your car with a sticker that reads MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOM, or I’M PAGAN AND I VOTE, or WICCAN ARMY. On the left, we have a farmhouse purportedly located in upstate New York. The village of Madison actually exists–to get there, you could go through Syracuse, or drive west from Albany.

“Lily of the valley,” Matthew commented, his nostrils flaring at all the new scents.

Lily of the valley is a low-growing perennial with a delicate, clean scent. Lilies of the valleyIt’s an antidote to some poisons, but it can also cause death if ingested in large quantities. Lily of the valley signifies chastity, humility, purity, and “the return of happiness.” It is the birth flower for those born in the month of May. If you’d like, you can buy Rebecca Bishop’s perfume, Diorissimo, which has a “gentle” lily of the valley scent that is “like a dewy, spring morning in the woods.”

When next we meet, we’ll breeze through Chapters 33-36 and do a great deal of buzzing about families, present and future.

Until then, you can find us at @chamomilenclove or





Real Time Reading, Uncategorized

Real-Time Reading – 12 October – Chapters 29, 30, and 31


Mathieu Daix

Chapter 29

We descended toward something that looked like a crater set apart from the surrounding countryside by yawning ravines and overgrown forests. It proved to be the ruin of a medieval castle, with high walls and thick foundations that extended deep into the earth. Trees grew inside the husks of long-abandoned buildings huddled in the fortress’s shadow. The castle didn’t have a single graceful line or pleasing feature.

In the Real-Time Reading Companion, Deb says that her inspiration for La Pierre came from Château de Murol in the Auvergne. The castle was built in the twelfth century and remains open for visitors today. I was pleased to note that the castle allows dogs. The castle enjoys a good deal of popularity today because they have ongoing “son et lumière” shows designed to show medieval life. Si tu parlais français, there are numerous videos of these shows available via Youtube.

There is drone footage of the castle and its grounds (edited for your dramatic enjoyment) in this video:

If you prefer a guided tour, and speak French, this episode of Suivez le Guide is excellent. From this video, I learned that the castle offers views of over thirty kilometers over the old roads to Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Paris.

I closed my eyes and braced myself for a fall. Instead Satu grabbed my hair and aimed my face into a dark hole. The smell of death rose in a noxious wave, and the ghosts shifted and moaned.

I probably don’t have to tell you that oubliettes are awful; Deb does a fairly thorough job of giving you a fear of them even if you’d never encountered one before. While the primary purpose of an oubliette was psychological torture, some prisons elaborated on the grisly theme of starvation and deprivation with spikes or flooding. The German equivalent is called an angstloch, literally, a “fear hole.” Should you be curious about other horrifying dungeon features, there’s a thorough listicle here.

Chapter 30

“As for Diana,” Ysabeau continued smoothly, though her eyes sparked in warning, “if your father were alive, Lucius Sigéric Benoit Christophe Baldwin de Clermont,” he would be out looking for her, witch or not.”

Ah, Baldwin. I like you, dude, but you make it hard sometimes. As we’ve done with Matthew (and will do later with Ysabeau), we’ll take a moment to explore the meaning of Baldwin’s many names:

Lucius, meaning “light,” was popular in Roman times and is the name given to three different popes.

Sigéric is derived from the Old High German “sigu,” for victory. It’s combined with rîcja, which means “powerful, strong, mighty.” It’s the name given to a fifth century king of the Visigoths.

Benoit means “blessed” in the Old French and is similar to the modern name “Benedict.”

Christophe is the French form of Christopher, for “he who holds Christ in his heart.”

Baldwin is also Germanic, combining “bald/bold” and “wine/friend.” It was once very popular in Normandy and Flanders.

I will skim over the involvement of the Knights of Lazarus in world history for the moment and talk a little about Ysabeau and Matthew.

Then there was Ysabeau. Everyone underestimated her except for Philippe, who had called her either “the general” or “my secret weapon.” She missed nothing and had a longer memory than Mnemosyne.

Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory and the inventor of languages and words. She was the daughter of Uranus and Gaia and mother to the nine Muses: Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomen, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, and Urania.

“In the Cantal the witches would have to answer to Gerbert, so they must be somewhere near the border. Think,” Baldwin’s last drop of patience evaporated. “By the gods, Matthew, you built or designed most of them.”

According to Ysabeau, Matthew began life as a carpenter and became a stone mason. Stonemasonry is one of the world’s earliest trades. In the Middle Ages, stonemasonry developed into a profession with a hierarchy wherein apprentices were indentured to their masters until they paid off their training. The BBC wrote a dense little article on the history of medieval stonemasons in England, which sheds a bit of light on the profession that Matthew adopted in his first adult life. Based on Baldwin’s description, Matthew was likely a master mason during the Middle Ages and would have had the ability to design castles.

There’s a lot of plot on Chapter 31 as Baldwin and Matthew rescue Diana from La Pierre. I’ll leave you with the image Diana conjures of Hector and Fallon, guarding the door like the lions at the New York Public Library. Their names are Patience and Fortitude.index

Deb’s post on October 12 is here. The Daemons discuss Chapter 29 in Take 21! and Chapters 30-31 in Take 22!.

See you tomorrow–improbably–in Madison.

xox, Cait