Warning: Here be spoilers.
In Chapter 2, Nancy meets Kade, sorts out her wardrobe problem, and navigates her first dinner in this new place. We also meet Jack and Jill, who provide a little more information about the worlds on the Compass.
“I’m Kade, by the way. Fairyland.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve been shown how people here link their identities to the worlds they’ve been — it’s the first thing Eleanor asks Nancy, after all. Here, though, it is hammered in that for these characters, the worlds they went to are their core. We learn a fair bit about Kade just from hearing him talk and seeing where he lives — he likes books, he like them properly organised, and he works with fabric. That’s not how he introduces himself, though. He introduces himself with the story of how he was snatched into another world, fought in a war, and was tossed back when they found he was different. His core is Prism.
We see this to a lesser extent with some of the other characters in this chapter. When Nancy calls Sumi ‘abrupt,’ Eleanor explains it by talking about Sumi’s world and how Sumi survived it. We don’t know much about Jack and Jill’s world for the moment, but we see that they miss it, and it is hinted that some of their odd character quirks, such as an iron rich diet, are linked to their past experiences.
“They want the world to be exactly the way it was before their children went away on these life-changing adventures, and when the world doesn’t oblige, they try to force it into the boxes they build for us.”
Each of the characters in this book has been forced into a box on some level, just by living in this world. The world outside the school denies their adventures, calls them impossible, and tries to fit them in a box marked ‘Realistic Experiences.’ Only, as we saw above, their impossible experiences form the core of their identity.
This isn’t the only way these characters are forced into boxes, though. Kade’s gender identity means that other people, including other students, have tried to put in a box that doesn’t fit, marked ‘girl.’ Nancy remembers past experiences navigating social situations, showing how the people we associate with can put us into boxes we don’t necessarily fit in.
Interestingly enough, the world-building seems to run counter to this theme. Here, we get an explanation of some of the terms that have been thrown around: Nonsense, Logic, Wickedness and Virtue are all points on the compass, categories by which we can categorise the different worlds these students have travelled to. However, we are told that there are trends. Most Nonsense worlds are Virtuous, implying Logic worlds are Wicked. This desire to categorise, to fit things under neat labels and make decisions based on how we label things is something everyone does, even those who have felt the pain of being wrongly labelled.
Mystery and Plot
We don’t get much here that relates to the mystery. More references to students murdering each other, jokes that will turn out to be in bad taste in hindsight.
This in itself is interesting. People keep saying that slow starts are no longer favoured by readers, but here we are, two chapters in and no real plot. What we do have is character drama and conflict. If the world and the characters are interesting enough, then the reader is drawn in regardless of the amount of action on the page.