The Cathedral of Known Things continues a dual narrative which began in The Relic Guild. The story is split into two timeframes, separated by forty years, with one timeframe always tying in and driving the other. There were moments when I wanted to tear my hair out, stamp my feet and shout, “Impossible!” at this format because it felt too complicated, too hard to see through to the end. It got to the point where even the detailed notes I’ve always made in notebooks – my writing staple – couldn’t help, and I gave serious thought to throwing away my pen (he says, happily sitting in a café, writing this blog post in his notebook with his pen, while waiting to meet Den Patrick).
I got over myself. I prevailed and (mostly) managed to tame The Cathedral of Known Things, with both timeframes intact and pushing the story into the third book of the trilogy. However … there is a side plot, which started in The Relic Guild and that I discovered had very little room for development in Cathedral. Much to my chagrin. When I was redrafting and editing the book, I kept looking for ways to incorporate more of this side plot, to find what I considered a small but important piece to the story that was missing. Thankfully, the split timelines came to the rescue. And I’m talking about the relationship between Marney and Van Bam.
Theirs is a misguided and doomed love affair that took place in the old days, forty years ago, when the Labyrinth and the Houses of the Aelfir lived in the shadow of the Genii War. Marney and Van Bam are magickers, agents of the Relic Guild; they aren’t supposed to have anything other than a platonic relationship. They try to keep their romance secret, but their fellow agents know. And so Gideon, the Resident, the sociopathic leader of the Relic Guild, and he is going out of his way to ensure that Marney and Van Bam can’t be together.
The initial problem I had was that at the beginning of The Cathedral of Known Things, Marney and Van Bam are already separated by magical distances, having been sent on different missions by Gideon to strange and mythical worlds. I was able to keep the heart of their romance beating by having them discuss it with other characters, highlighting the pros and cons of such a forbidden relationship; but there was no way I could place Marney and Van Bam in the same room together, and it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to change at any time in the book.
So, in the absence of physical presences, I turned to the spiritual and emotional traits of both characters.
There is a scene in the book where Marney is thinking about a gift that Van Bam gave her. This leads Marney into considering the nature of secrets, the permanence of emotions, and her hopes for the future. She raises questions in herself, which don’t receive any answers until we spin forward forty years in time and arrive at what is my favourite scene in The Cathedral of Known Things.
Van Bam sits in a chapel, praying, remembering, nursing emotional wounds. He is joined by another character, and during their discussions they inadvertently answer the questions that Marney raised forty years earlier. It is a slight account, having very little influence on the grander plot of magic, monsters and mayhem, but it’s important because this is the moment when Van Bam acknowledges how he feels – how he has always felt – about Marney.
I think of it as a love letter, sent from one timeframe to the other, like a final, stolen kiss between doomed lovers. I wouldn’t call it a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but it is fleeting. The scene can be found in a chapter called Sandalwood, and for me it fills the hole; it is the missing piece of a small but poignant side plot.
It is my favourite moment.
(And just in case any of you were wondering, I met with Den Patrick and we had a lovely cup of tea and a good old natter.)