(They're doing the monthly website updating currently, so content may shift and settle somewhat.)
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I don't know if I'll continue posting teasers for Mother of Souls once the book is out. It rather seems beside the point once people can just read the whole thing! I've skipped ahead a bit for this one, where Margerit is working on the curriculum for her women's college with the chosen headmistress: her former governess Sister Petrunel (Petra). On the way in, they've bumped into Antuniet's apprentice, Anna Monterrez who is visiting Margerit's library.
Anna is one of several ethnic minority characters where I look for a tricky balance between not erasing the very real prejudices of the historic setting of my story, without making those aspects so prominent that readers who identify with the characters find the story unpleasant to read. There are limits to the believability of having my protagonists all be open-minded and lacking in prejudice, and I've tried to show them stumbling regularly in subtle but realistic ways. But for the most part, I've shoved the more serious expressions of prejudice off onto non viewpoint characters, and perhaps that's a bit of cowardice on my part for now. Given Anna's future story arc, there will be some necessary conflicts around her religion that I'll need to tackle head on, and I hope my Jewish beta readers will help me navigate them successfully as they have attempted to guide me in this book.
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Chapter 18 - Margerit
“That girl seems an unusual choice for an apprentice,” Petra commented.
Margerit laughed. “When has Maisetra Chazillen done anything in the usual way? But Anna is perfect for her. And she’s the sort of student I want. Serious and studious, but one with no opportunity to pursue a higher education in the usual way.”
“Do you mean she’s to be one of your students?”
“If her father agrees,” Margerit said. “That seems to be the case with so many of them! I think I have enough parents convinced for a respectably sized class. It makes sense to start with a small group, focusing on the girls with the most interest. With more, half might drift away and that would dishearten them.”
“But a Jewish girl…do you think she will be comfortable?” Sister Petrunel seemed to be taken aback and was searching for some tactful objection.
Margerit frowned. She hadn’t thought that Anna might feel alone in that way. “Perhaps I should ask Maistir Monterrez if he knows any other girls who might be interested.”
“That wasn’t quite what I meant,” Petra said tartly. “Would she be permitted to study at a Christian school?”
“I’d scarcely call it that,” Margerit protested. “It’s true I plan to cover thaumaturgy in the curriculum, and that means a certain interest in theology, but nothing formal.” The university dozzures might consider that to be too great a trespass into their own gardens. “I hope there’s no reason why Jewish students wouldn’t feel welcome.”
Petra said slowly, “I suppose I had assumed…”
Oh. That possibility hadn’t occurred to Margerit: that hiring Sister Petrunel and filling some of the teaching positions from the ranks of the Orisules might give the impression that her college was meant to be an extension of the convent schools.
“I never meant it as a religious school, as such,” Margerit ventured, watching Petrunel’s face for reaction.
“But you mean to teach thaumaturgy.”
“As a philosophy, yes. And as a study of practices. I’d like—” She’d mentioned this only to a very few people. “I’d like to see if we can encourage the development of talents in that direction. You yourself said that it’s difficult for girls to get good instruction in thaumaturgy outside the convent. Even the ancient authors talk about the difficulty of passing on traditions when each mystery guild keeps its own secrets so closely. Everyone says Alpennia has a strong tradition of mysteries based on the work of people like Fortunatus and Gaudericus. But that’s centuries past. Where is the new work? Where are their ideas being taught and expanded? I know groups like the Benezets are said to teach their own members, but the guilds guard their traditions too closely. The university doesn’t encourage practice. Not in any practical sense. If thaumaturgy is to revive in importance to the state—”
She hesitated, wondering how common that knowledge was. Princess Annek had privately encouraged her plans for the school but perhaps she hadn’t meant that support to be public. “Not just the Great Mysteries and the protections of the tutelas, but things that are useful. Like the healing mysteries you do at the convent. Think how much more could be done with more trained thaumaturgists. Or combining ritual with new agricultural practices. We’ve all heard about the failed ceremonies during the French wars. What if Prince Aukust could have called on a practiced corps that could direct the guilds…?”
She let the thought trail off, realizing how self-important it sounded that she might change the face of Europe on the basis of a group of schoolgirls.