The Scarlet Crane focuses on the implications of Transition magic; how individual children deal with Transition’s dual opportunity and threat; how societies try to protect their children, their cultures, and their political power.
Transition begins during the onset of puberty and lasts for a lunar month. Kids have the power to perform magic but their spells must be unique and their own genuine wish, or they die. Few try. Virtually all those who do try, die.
The novel’s protagonist, John Benoit, is a senior agent for the U.S. Department of Transition Security. The DTS’s role is to protect the U.S. from magical threats. In the following excerpt from an early chapter, John is speaking to a group of middle school kids of Transition age. His objective is to dispel rumors and prevent kids from trying magic.
From Chapter Two:
Introduction complete, John stalked to the front of the stage apron, positioning himself close to his audience. He banged his cane, topped by a brass dragon head with ruby eyes, with each step. He had no real need for the cane but enjoyed the misdirection it provided.
Always good to be underestimated.
“Thank you for the gracious introduction, Dr. Debosse.”
John turned to his audience with one more bang of the cane. “You’ve been doing everything you can to learn about Transition magic, right? The web, whispers and rumors, whatever.”
He paused and watched a few heads nod. “Most of what you think you’ve learned is undiluted crap. So let’s start there. I want you to call out anything you’ve ever heard, read, thought, or believed about the use of magic during Transition. Got it?”
A few more nods, but not much else.
He growled, “Listen up. This is the only time I’ll repeat myself. Anything you’ve ever heard … read … thought … or believed. Don’t worry about whether it’s true; we’ll get to that.
“Yell it out and Dr. Debosse will capture it on the computer so we can all see it on the projection screen. And when I say ‘anything’ that’s what I mean. No one will get in trouble for language or anything they say. Right, Dr. Debosse?”
The Superintendent squirmed a bit, but nodded and said, “Agreed.”
“So who’ll start?” Silence. He stared at the kids for a full minute.
“Okay, I’ll start. But after that you’d better pitch in or I’ll pack my stuff and you can use this time for your homework.” A few scattered groans in response.
“First, I read on the Internet that as long as you’re sincere when you use magic you’ll be okay. The magic won’t work if it isn’t unique, but you won’t die. Show of hands, who’s heard that?” Most of them.
“Bogus. If you try it, you’ll die. So forget that. It sucks, big time.” John’s bluntness intrigued his audience. This was way more interesting than the dull lectures they were accustomed to.
“How about this? The magic will work, even if you die. So you can sacrifice yourself if you really, really have to. How many have heard that?”
More than half the room extended their arms.
“Total BS. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why magic isn’t happening all around us, all the time, from kids who’ve tried it. I’ll tell you why. Because death is the end of their story. There are no noble sacrifices with magic.”
The room had fallen silent.
“Here’s one that’s not so grim. You’ll have lots of sex after Transition, even if you don’t try magic. How many picked this one up?” Nervous laughter skittered around the room. About a third raised their hands.
“Again, crap. Don’t confuse Transition and puberty. Transition starts at the beginning of puberty, but the two aren’t connected otherwise. If you want to know more about sex, talk with Dr. Debosse. He’s an expert on the subject.” This produced the expected red face from the Superintendent and hoots of disbelief from the kids.
“Now it’s your turn. Shout’em out.”
In a half hour they’d generated a list of 65 items. Only one was completely true — their eyes would change to an iridescent lavender while they were in Transition.
“Okay, great,” John said. “Let’s step through them one at a time.” He continued for an hour, answering their questions with his trademark gruffness until no new questions emerged.
“This is really pretty simple. If you try magic, you’ll die. Remember that and ignore the rest of the bullshit that you hear, and you’ll be fine.