"Likely to be a cult classic"
Reviewed by Debbie Wiley
Posted November 9, 2019
Fiction Adventure | Science Fiction Space Opera
Rory Thorne wasn’t supposed to be a princess. Her parents were expecting a prince but, despite a history of two hundred years of male heirs, Rory is born female. Her naming ceremony even has the fairies (who were believed to be mythical till then) appearing. Twelve fairies come to offer blessings, but it is the thirteenth fairy who bestows her offering first- and it’s a curse, the curse to see through all platitudes and flattery and to know truth when she sees it. Fortunately, the littlest fairy sees fit to offer a gift to counteract her sister’s curse, giving Rory the ability to always see a path through the difficulties and to have the courage to take that path. Rory needs these gifts later when her world turns upside down and she finds herself mired in political schemes in which dying is a real possibility. Can Rory survive when her own existence is a bargaining chip for peace between worlds?
HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE is a complex, multilayered tale full of intrigue, danger, and humor. I really like Rory as a main character, but the secondary characters are a lot of fun too. Heck, I liked the Vizier as soon as he used his arithmancy to not only conceal his emotions but to present to the observer what he or she wished to see. The cleverness of the characters kept me engaged even as the omniscient narrator sometimes seemed to ramble a bit more than I would have preferred.
HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE is one of those tales that people are either going to love or hate. It’s purposely overblown and grandiose, somewhat like the movie The Princess Bride. However, that’s the unique charm of HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE. Some readers may find it off-putting, but I suspect that HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE will find its place among other cult classics.
First in a duology that reimagines fairy tale tropes within a space opera--The Princess Bride meets Princess Leia.
Rory Thorne is a princess with thirteen fairy blessings, the most important of which is to see through flattery and platitudes. As the eldest daughter, she always imagined she’d inherit her father’s throne and govern the interplanetary Thorne Consortium.
Then her father is assassinated, her mother gives birth to a son, and Rory is betrothed to the prince of a distant world.
When Rory arrives in her new home, she uncovers a treacherous plot to unseat her newly betrothed and usurp his throne. An unscrupulous minister has conspired to name himself Regent to the minor (and somewhat foolish) prince. With only her wits and a small team of allies, Rory must outmaneuver the Regent and rescue the prince.
How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is a feminist reimagining of familiar fairytale tropes and a story of resistance and self-determination--how small acts of rebellion can lead a princess to not just save herself, but change the course of history.
CHAPTER ONE: Once Upon A Time
They named the child Rory, because the first born of every generation was always a Rory, and had been since the first of that name had cut his way through the cursed briars on the homeworld and saved the kingdom of Thorne--and, incidentally, the princess--from the consequences of poor manners.
That the latest Rory was a girl and not a boy came as a bit of a surprise. The medical mecha scans had been clear. That little flicker on the screen had been proof of Rory's masculinity. And yet, out she came, the blood-slick product of ten hours of hard work, and the little flicker was nowhere in sight on the flesh-and-blood baby.
"A daughter!" said the midwife. She had been an attendant at too many births across the years to be surprised by the mistakes of a med-hex.
The new father--whose name was not Rory, as he was the second son, and the luckier of the two boys born to his parents--stopped himself, only just, from asking if that flicker might've broken off somewhere during the process, or if it mightn't, perhaps, appear at some point very soon. Then he locked eyes with the new mother and thought better. The Consort hailed from Kreshti, a small independent and allied planet on which skill with combat training was considered both a plain necessity (the neighbors were both ill-mannered and much larger) and a mark of personal pride, and the Consort was a very proud woman.
There had not been a daughter born in the Thorne line for ten generations, not since that first princess, the one who had needed her Rory. And thus, no one knew what to call her.
"Talia has the weight of tradition," said the Vizier. "It is her foremother's name, after all."
"A cursed foremother," said the Consort. "I think not. What's wrong with Rory? That's tradition, too."
The Vizier chose not to argue. He pointed out, to a scowling Majesty, that popular fashion indicated that the name Rory could function for all genders.
And so it was settled. Mostly.
There was another custom, which hailed from the same quaint homeworld story about magic briars and curses and poor hospitality, which had fallen into disuse, victim of the same lack of girl children in the Thorne line. The Vizier (re)discovered it by accident, while looking for appropriate girls' names among the rare, expensive, fragile paper tomes in the Thorne family library, which had been shipped at great expense from the homeworld when the kingdom had become a Consortium and moved its capitol to the planet named for its founding line. That collection of tomes was a mark of pride, a symbol of the age of the lineage, and, according to the King, absolutely vital to the integrity and reputation of the Thorne Consortium. Except for the Vizier, the library received no regular visitors.
The Vizier had gotten his position in part because he had, in addition to a doctorate in arithmancy, earned two graduate degrees in homeworld history and folklore. Finding quaint, forgotten, and neglected customs was his second favorite pastime in the multiverse. Explaining to others the relevance of those ancient customs was the first. Besides, he told himself, he would be remiss in his duties if he did not tell the King about the Naming.
He regretted his diligence almost immediately.
"I've never heard of this custom!" The King spun the priceless book and shoved it back across the desk with exactly as much care as he gave his breakfast tray after he'd finished with it.
The Vizier controlled a wince. He turned the book gently and nudged it back across the (imported, expensive, and now slightly scuffed) wood expanse with a fingertip.
"Nevertheless, Majesty. I'm afraid it's very clear. You must invite the fairies to the naming day of a girl child so that they may bless her. You know. Beauty, kindness...quick wits," he added under his breath.
The King thrust out his lip. "The boys do all right without that nonsense."
The Vizier did not blink. "Of course, Majesty."
"We invented voidflight and everything. No magic involved. No blessings." The King pointed at the 2D 'cast behind his desk. It was a reconstruction of the exact path the first exploratory rover had taken when it made planetfall. A panorama of dull red rocks and darker sand, creeping toward a sepia horizon.The King had set the 'cast to repeat itself, endlessly.
"Do you see that, Rupert? We did that. We Thornes. It's amazing. Phenomenal. Beautiful."
"Yes, Majesty." The Vizier did not point out that the rover had been unmanned. Nor did he point out that the rover's landing site now hosted the voidport, a high-end shopping establishment for off-world visitors, and a full set of embassies, and that the King himself had never set foot on that planet.
The 'cast restarted its loop. The Vizier cleared his throat.
"What? Oh," said the King. He blinked and pressed his fingers over his eyes, creating a nest of fine wrinkles in the skin. "What will the investors think? The Thornes will look stupid. I will look stupid. And the Consort will probably laugh at me."
Oh, thought the Vizier. That's almost inevitable. He cleared his throat again. "Call it exactly what it is, Majesty. A quaint custom from the homeworld. Use the Naming as an opportunity to remind your subjects about our origins. Use it as a celebration of our progress."
The King frowned.
"Thorne progress, Majesty." The Vizier smiled. He practiced that smile in the mirror every day. Lips curved around just the palest hint of teeth. Eyes firmly blank. "It could be an excellent public relations move. Insist on a re-enactment, of sorts. A pageant. If his Majesty will permit, I've taken the liberty of drawing up some names of suitable ladies who might play the twelve--"
"Fine." The King was already glazing over. He flittered his fingers at the Vizier. "All right. Whatever."
"--but I would like his Majesty's advice on who should play the thirteenth."
The King blinked. "What?"
The Vizier rebooted his smile. "The thirteenth fairy, Majesty. She was the one who cursed Talia."
"Then why would we want her? She was bad luck, right? We don't want bad luck." The King grinned, suddenly. "The Consort's mother would be a good choice, though. Ha. No. Skip the thirteenth fairy. Leave that part out. Make the ceremony an exact re-enactment. I want it perfect. Only." He stopped. "The fairies won't come. You're certain. They're not, I don't know, xenos or something."
The Vizier controlled a tiny sigh. "No, Majesty. They are not xenos. They will not come."
The King glanced uneasily at the 'cast, as if the beings in question might be hiding behind the rust-colored rocks. "Well, but, what if they do?"
The fairy invitations were written on vellum,, hand-scribed with genuine ink and a genuine pen in period-specific calligraphy that only the Vizier himself could write, much less read. He could have written the cook's favorite cobbler recipe, or enumerated the King's favorite athletic teams, or made a list of all the bullies he'd survived during his childhood. But being both arithmancer and historian, the Vizier was more than a bit obsessive, and very devoted to detail, so it is no surprise that he wrote the invitations as best he could to the specifications set forth in the record. He had to consult with the court astronomer to calculate the calendar for a single moon and the homeworld's longer solar revolution, and although he consulted with local biologists for local equivalents, he chose in the end to use homeworld fauna.
The Royal House of Thorne
requests the Honor of Your Presence
Princess Rory Thorne
First Day of the Seventh Moon
Year of the Wolf
Lacking the authentic delivery system--sparrows being in short supply, and not well-suited to tesser-hex--the Vizier elected to leave the invitations, neatly rolled and tied with silk ribbons in a secluded corner of the royal gardens. He tucked them into the branches of the single homeworld tree species that would grow in the light of a foreign sun. It was not a large tree, and the Vizier felt sorry for it, burdened as it was under the weight of the tradition.
He gave the gardener strict orders to leave the invitations alone.
When, three days later, the gardener reported the invitations missing, the Vizier assumed that local fauna (probably tree-rats) had developed a taste for vellum. It was an ignominious end to his labors, but then, he was accustomed to that.
The rest of the guests got the standard electronic invitation, delivered from one impersonal machine to another, and filtered up through the appropriate chain of attendants. It was less aesthetically satisfying, but ultimately more reliable. The Vizier consoled himself with the planning of the actual ceremony: commissioning costumes and choosing which women were best suited to play the twelve fairies in the pageant, where best-suited meant politically inoffensive, prudent, desirable, and/or necessary, in that order. That was, in the end, a great deal more work than the fairy invitations had been. And it proved to be an entirely wasted effort.
The vellum, ink, and ribbon, however, did not.
On the first day of the seventh moon, which was technically the third pass of the second of the two moonlets, in the year of an animal the only knowledge of which came from old homeworld video footage that only the Vizier and the Consort had bothered to watch, the unofficial Princess Rory Thorne became the official Princess Rory Thorne.
The party was spectacular. All the guests had, per the King’s request, come in historically authentic costume. Or, rather, they had tried. There were imported silks and velvets mixed with Martian brocades and leather (from various animals, both native and not) boots. But the overall shape of the garments was correct, and although the Vizier suspected some of the guests might have chosen less than academically reliable sources for their inspiration, he decided he could not complain.
Even the xenos had gotten into the spirit. The foreign attendees, some of whom had too many (or too few) limbs to manage corsets and hose and boots, came as culturally appropriate inanimate objects. The k’bal had come as a five-armed candelabrum, standing two meters tall, with blue carapace showing where the cosmetics had rubbed off. Each head wore a little flame-shaped hat, made of a fine metal mesh that fluttered with each exhale from its cranial vents. There was a teapot, too: an adapted environmental suit for the mirri President, whose daughter-buds had come as little cups.
When the designated hour for the ceremony arrived, the Vizier rang the silver gong. It was a perfect and exact replica, the original having been lost to looters in the initial instability following the initial Rory incident, when the homeworld kingdom found itself absent a royal family and possessed of a very large, overgrown patch of briars. The guests obediently withdrew to the great hall's perimeter. The Consort entered with the Princess in her arms. She, too, wore a costume: an elaborate confection of silk and velvet involving a great many laces along the torso. She didn’t look happy about it. Her grim-lipped body-maid, in a much simpler garment, stalked along in the Consort’s wake, raking suspicious eyes across the guests. Even the gentle little mirri teacups got a scowl.
The King was already in place on a dais, beside the royal cradle--which was the original--resplendent in furs and reproduction armor. He beamed at the Consort. At the Princess. At the multiverse in general. After his initial skepticism, he had thrown himself into the Naming Day preparations with startling enthusiasm. The Vizier suspected the armor was to blame. It was heavy, metal, ridiculous, and very manly.
The Vizier edged closer to the King, in case his Majesty needed prompting through the script. He needn’t have worried. The King boomed out a formal welcome to his guests, presented the Consort, and oversaw the placing of the Princess into her cradle. Tradition dictated that the guests would, one at a time (as species-appropriate), come to the dais and offer both blessing and gifts to Rory. But first, the fairies.
"I welcome first the guardians of my kingdom, on whose good will all our luck rests." The King sucked a deep breath. The Vizier spotted motion reflected in the King’s breastplate, a pinkish blur, from the far doorway. He turned that way, expecting to see the General-Commander's wife stuffed into her First Fairy robes.
And so the Vizier, man of arithmancy and education, possessor of two degrees in the obscure and overlooked, was the first human being to see a fairy in five hundred years.
She was taller than he’d imagined (because a man does not spend a large slice of his life studying quaint folk beliefs and not wonder what a fairy would look like). She stood at least half a meter taller than the tallest human in the room, which put her at a level with the tallest of the k'bal's cranial stalks. Her dress was an iridescent, impossible close cousin of red, and as unlike red as stars were to swamp gas. Her skin was faintly pink, the palest echo of her dress. Tiny scales shimmered along her cheekbones, her forehead, the proud arch of her nose. Her eyes matched her hair, bisected by a single silver pupil. She was older, too, than his imagining. Silver-shot vermillion hair, blasted white at the temples, drawn back in a severe knot. She did not walk as much as she floated across the tile. Not a whisper, not a sound.
She climbed the dais. Took her place on the far side of the cradle. Nodded encouragement at the King.
Who stared saucer-eyed at the Vizier. But you said they weren’t real warped his lips, fluttered in his throat. Came out as a breathy, strangled, “Wah.”
The Consort slid her slippered foot sideways, hard, into the King's armored boot. The Vizier heard the meaty thump and winced on the Consort's behalf. She didn't flinch. Didn't blink, when her husband looked at her.
The King cleared his throat. "Welcome," he said again, to the First Fairy. His eyes clutched at the Vizier. Then, carefully, mechanically, the King welcomed the rest of the fairies. One by one.
By the fourth (aquamarine, angular, and very tall), the Vizier was sure they were xenos. By the ninth (cobalt, whose robes draped in a fashion that suggested rather too many limbs for a human), he was unsure again. By the twelfth (the smallest, pale, and round as the second moon) he simply didn't care. They were beautiful. They were magical.
One by one, they approached the cradle. One by one, they offered their gifts to the Princess, who woke up at some point and stared at her visitors with wide dark eyes.
"...bestow the gift of harp-playing, that you may hold a room rapt and beguile men's hearts and minds." The green fairy leaned over the baby. Tapped her forehead with a small, green finger.
Only one left. The Vizier realized he was holding his breath. Let it go, slowly. His stomach hurt. All this worry for nothing, like most of his efforts.
And, then, from the doorway, came a voice: "Oh, I see. You started without me."
The thirteenth fairy had arrived.
She sauntered across the basilica on silent boots, spike-heeled and made of a shiny, very-much-not-traditional material, with silver laces, like wire. She had a shock of pink hair cresting upright along the middle of her scalp. The sides of her skull were shaved bare, and marked with intricate, disturbing tattoos that seemed to move if one tried to look too closely. She wore a black jacket, too big, flapping open, so that the buckles jingled and clinked, and a too-short skirt over too-long legs wrapped in hose that looked like fishing net. The garment under the jacket was the same shade as her hair, and it looked as if it had been slashed by razors. Her skin was metallic, shifting pewter to bronze, flirting with the light. Instead of scales, rings and rivets studded her skin, all polished to a high gleam.
The guests said nothing. Didn't move, as if they worried she might notice them. The other fairies drew closer to the cradle and made a wall of glittering fabric, like martial butterflies. The first raised her vermillion hands and waved her fingers, go back, go away.
The thirteenth fairy ignored her. She climbed the dais steps. Paused at the top, and stared at the rest. They wilted aside. Then the thirteenth fairy lasered her attention at the King and the Consort. Dragged her eyes the height and breadth of them.
"Is it custom to begin important ceremonies without all the important guests?”
The King and Consort looked at each other. The King flinched. He scuffed his gaze along the stones and said, as if through a mouthful of velvet: "Well, no. But you weren't invited. So, ah, I'll thank you to leave, now."
The thirteenth fairy's brows rose. The twin rings above her left eye gleamed like tiny suns. "Excuse me? I was very much invited."
"Majesty." The Vizier's voice wisped across the dais. "It’s my doing. It seemed--imprudent to leave her out this time."
The King stared at him. Opened his mouth and left it hanging. His tongue wiggled, pink and furious.
"You are welcome, then, Lady," said the Consort. She plucked at her skirts, which was as close to a curtsey as she could manage while gathering herself to leap at the fairy, should she try something untoward toward the Princess.
The thirteenth fairy smiled. The tiny silver ring at the corner of her mouth winked. The Vizier noted that she showed a lot of teeth. He also noted that they were unusually pointed. Sharp, even.
"Thank you, Consort." She glanced sidelong at the King. "You would have left me out again."
"I even didn't think you were--"
“That. Yes. And the last time you came to a Naming, you tried to murder the baby.”
"I did not."
"Well, you certainly didn't--"
"What? Bring a gift? Is that what you think this lot have passed on? Kindness, beauty, a pure heart. Some wits thrown in to differentiate the poor thing from a doll. And the ability to play the harp. So useful for a royal scion in this age of galactic empire. Do you play the harp, Majesty?"
“Then why should your daughter need that skill?”
The King seemed to recall who he was, and that people didn't interrupt him more than, well, ever. He drew himself up straight and threw back his shoulders. For a moment, the thirteenth fairy saw the ghost of the man he might have been, and her smile faded.
The King mistook that as encouragement.
"I mean," he said, and his tone could have sliced stone, "that my foremother would have died, if you’d had your way, on her sixteenth birthday. You cursed her, my lady. I think harp-playing is infinitely preferable.”
The thirteenth fairy said nothing for a very long time. The silence squeezed into every crevice and crept into open eyes and nostrils and mouths and breathing tubes, filling mouths and lungs and air sacks and cranial vents.
“Yes,” she said at last. “I suppose you would. Your worth does not hang on your ability to please others."
She turned a shoulder to the King and looked at the rest of the fairies. The pink crest on her scalp quivered. The tips caught the light and gleamed like glass. “And you. I expected better. Half a millennia passes, they crawl out of their gravity wells and travel all the way here, and all you can do is repeat the old words.”
The first fairy spread her hands. “Here or there, then or now, they are much the same.”
“What they value in a daughter has not changed,” said the fourth fairy, pale yellow, whose gift had been clear skin. “Nor," she added under her breath, "have their inheritance laws.”
“We understand,” added the third fairy, “what you were trying to do, back then.”
"We just didn't much like your methods," said the eighth.
“And we are not without mercy.” The cobalt fairy drifted a step out of line, like a shadow tracking the motion of an invisible sun. “You will note, sister, that this is the first girl born in almost two hundred years to this line.”
The import of that statement took a moment to settle. Then a collective gasp ricocheted through the guests. The k'bal put their heads together, clicking and gusting to itself, while their hat-flames snapped and creaked. The mirri's daughter-buds spun in eccentric, erratic orbits, while the President herself tipped onto her suit's belly and rocked there. The humans covered their mouths, some of them; or put heads together to mutter about how could that be. More than one impossible bounced off the tile and tapestry before evaporating into uncertainty.
The King’s mouth opened. The Consort kicked him, visibly this time, and his jaw clicked shut.
The Vizier heard himself speak. “You’re saying--you’re saying you are the reason the Thorne line runs to boys?”
The cobalt fairy’s cloak rearranged itself in what might have been a shrug, or soundless laughter, or the first gestures of a world-ending curse. “You thought it was numerical coincidence? Two hundred years, and not one daughter. That can only be magic.”
The King stepped out of range of the Consort’s beskirted feet. His knuckles were white on the pommel of the ceremonial sword. “Then why change it now? Why change it for me?”
The first fairy looked at the Consort. “A mother’s wish is its own magic.”
The Consort blanched. The King turned and stared, but the Consort wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at the thirteenth fairy.
"Please. Don't kill her. Don't curse her. Help her."
“I can’t be kind. It’s not my nature." The thirteenth fairy’s eyes were sad above her jagged smile. She leaned over the crib.
The Consort snatched for the King's ceremonial sword. He grabbed her wrist with both hands.
"Wait. Stop!" he shouted, which was equally applicable to both the fairy and the Consort, and equally ineffective.
And so no one heard the thirteenth fairy's wish except the other twelve, and Rory herself.
The thirteenth fairy said this: "I curse you, Rory Thorne: to find no comfort in illusion or platitude, and to know truth when you hear it, no matter how well concealed by flattery, custom, or mendacity.”
Then she straightened. She looked at the twelfth fairy, and her eyes were hard and hopeful. "Your turn, sister."
The littlest fairy nodded. She picked up her skirts, dodged a stray foot, and darted up to the cradle. She hooked her fingers over the side and tilted up on her toes. She leaned down and planted the tiniest of kisses on the baby's forehead.
"Well. My sister's ruined any chance you have at easy happiness, unless you sustain a massive head injury in your childhood. How about it?" The fairy paused.
Rory blinked. Then her face collapsed in on itself like dying star. Her mouth stretched into an event horizon of preverbal rage.
"Good," said the fairy. "I didn't think so." She wiggled her fingers, and a cascade of sparks rained down into the crib. The sparks turned into tiny butterflies (homeworld, not local) and fluttered around the baby's head.
Rory stopped mid-squawk.
The littlest fairy smiled. "All right, then. Here is my gift, little princess: that you will always see a path through difficulties, and you will always find the courage to take it."
Which is how Rory Thorne became the woman who destroyed the multiverse.
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