Conversations with the Talking Book

Minor characters are important. While protagonists, antagonists, and so-called “power players”*carry most of the weight of a novel, minor characters add sparkle, and can be critical in turning a plot twist or maintaining reader interest.

In fantasy and science fiction, of course, minor characters need not be human. Often, a story is more interesting if they are not. Aliens, robots, AIs, elves, gnomes, unicorns, talking trees—the possibilities are endless.

In The Glimnodd Cycle in particular, I’ve had the pleasure of writing about a number of nonhumans, including:

  • Kizier – a once-human scholar trapped by magic in the body of a talking sea-fern.
  • Kosimo – a cold-blooded sorcerer whose species were spawned by fish.
  • Trippany – a bee-winged lady of the drell people.

But perhaps the most amusing (to me) minor character is Buroof, a talking book.

Buroof is introduced in the second novel of the series, A Mirror Against All Mishap.

Buroof had once been a human, a mage and scholar of vast learning. Long ago, his mind had been captured and caged in the book by a serd sorcerer. For nearly three thousand years, his mind had continued to thrive and learn, absorbing the knowledge of each mage, sorcerer, and witch who possessed the book.But over those centuries, Buroof had apparently lost whatever capacity for human morals he once possessed.

Buroof, it turns out, is not only amoral. He is also impatient and cranky. In this scene, early in the story, he is suggesting that Amlina the witch choose a dark and dangerous path.

“How can you still dispute the choice,” Buroof said, “when even the Bowing confirms it?”

“Because it is blood magic,” Amlina answered. “And, as I am a witch of Larthang, my very soul calls it unspeakably evil.”

The book made a sound like a dismissive grunt. “For how many nights have I labored on your problem, young and naïve witch of Larthang? Yet, when I offer a viable solution, you are too qualmish to accept it. I honestly fail to see why I should assist you any further.”

Amlina glanced at Kizier, one side of her mouth pulled back in a frown. She stood, walked to the far end of the table, and shut the book—pre-empting further comment from Buroof.

In fact, Amlina usually ends their conversations by shutting the book. (Buroof is not exactly a congenial conversationalist.)

In this scene, later in the story, Amlina consults him about training Glyssa, one of the barbarian Iruks, in the magical arts:

“What is it you want from me, Amlina?” Buroof asked impatiently. “And should I continue to speak Larthangan, to hide my responses from the barbarian?”

Amlina sighed. The book had disingenuously asked the question in Tathian, so that Glyssa would understand it clearly. “No, I do not wish to conceal anything from Glyssa. I am trying to understand about her vision, and to ascertain what if anything needs to be done.”

She explained how Glyssa had fallen into trance immediately after the Threshold of Deepshaping rite, and had not awoken for six days. Glyssa then repeated all she recalled from those days, culminating in her encounter with Belach.

“So in summation,” Buroof said, “you took a primitive young woman, who was already damaged by enthrallment, and subjected her to the traditional Larthangan initiation rites, with absolutely no preparation, and all in the space of two days. A most reckless decision, I must say.”

“I am aware of my many failings, Buroof,” Amlina replied. “My question to you is: what light can history shed on our situation? The fact that she fell into a trance, and there encountered an entity that might or might not have been a magician of her people—”

“—Speaks to the fact that you gave no thought to her cultural context.”

“I know! But there must be cases on record where initiates with foreign backgrounds encountered beings from their own traditions.”

“Certainly. But not without first receiving a full and adequate grounding in Larthangan principles. No, Amlina, here you have broken new ground of incompetence.”

Amlina gave up and shut the book.

Buroof is consulted several more times throughout the novel and also in the next book Tournament of Witches.

But every good character deserves closure—I mean, not closing of the book cover, but a conclusion to the character’s story.

In Buroof’s case, this comes when Amlina presents the talking book as a gift to the Tuan, the August Ruler of Larthang. The Tuan, although a nine-year-old boy, has mental access to the memories and knowledge of his 154 dynastic predecessors.

Amlina is thanking the Tuan for his hospitality …

“I possess little of value in worldly terms, certainly nothing worthy of your kindnesses. But, as you are a scholar of wide interests, I thought this might at least provide you some amusement.” She set the heavy volume on the table. “This is a talking book, which I acquired from the lair of the serd sorcerer in Kadavel. For more than three thousand years it has passed from hand to hand and acquired much recondite knowledge of magic and witchery.”The faces of the chief tutor and governess evinced both curiosity and reservation. But the Tuan bolted to his feet, eyes full of excitement.

“Indeed, it is a talking book? I have heard of such books, but never seen one. They are very rare in this age, I believe?”

He had directed the remark to Kizier, who replied: “Definitely so. This is the only one either Amlina or I have ever come across.”

“Wonderful!” the boy cried. “Can you demonstrate?”

“Yes, of course.” Amlina opened the front cover. Immediately, a haze of light appeared over the parchment leaf. “Buroof, I Amlina summon you.”

“I am here.” The book answered, inciting a delighted grin from the Tuan.

“As I said I would, I am presenting you to the Tuan, Me Lo Lee, August Ruler of Larthang. He is now your owner.”

For once, Buroof sounded not proud and impatient, but humble. “This is indeed an honor, August Ruler. I had asked Amlina to offer me as a gift to the House of the Deepmind, as I was frankly rather bored with her and the low company she keeps. But I never expected to greet so glorious and magnificent a master.”

“Ha ha!” the boy was exultant. “He is wonderful! Buroof is your name?”

“Yes, majestic one. I have absorbed knowledge into my pages for thousands of years. And I know, of course, that you are gifted with the wisdom of your esteemed ancestors. I think we may have a great many interesting conversations.”

“Oh, yes! I am sure we shall,” the boy cried.

To read more of the Glimnodd adventures, check out the first novel, Cloak of the Two Winds.

Or, you can purchase the entire collection with bonus stories in this omnibus edition. |

And for background on the magical world of Glimnodd and the series, see this page.

* See 2K to 10 K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron

Leave a Reply