All Our Patterns Are Real

There’s something about The Mask of Mirrors we’ve mentioned in passing to a few people, but haven’t really talked about to the general public:

All the patterns in the novel are real.

By that we mean that we took a deck of blank cards and wrote the names of the pattern cards on them. And any time a pattern appears in the story, it’s the result of Marie shuffling that deck and dealing the cards, then us writing what we got. Extra literally in the case of the Night of Bells pattern: we actually used that spread to create the scenes that ensue during that chapter. The only reverse-engineered instance is the three cards Ren deals as part of the “Kindly Hawk” con — where, of course, she’s stacked the deck and is dealing those cards on purpose. All the rest of them are left to chance, inside the story and out.

Having said that, a few of the patterns do need a little more unpacking, when it comes to their reality.

1. Ren’s pattern in Chapter 3

Notice how the szorsa at the Talon and Trick doesn’t get much out of what she lays for Ren? That’s because what we dealt was just . . . not very on-point. Most of the time when we lay out patterns for the story, the cards click into place (uncannily well, sometimes). But in this instance, nope. Which we decided was fine: not all szorsas are gifted the way Ren is, after all, so not every pattern needs to be preternaturally apt. And given her gifts, you’d be justified in wondering if her con actually muddles any attempt to read “Renata’s” pattern.

2. Mettore’s pattern in Chapter 8

When we started drafting the book, the deck was slightly different. There were only ten unaligned cards in each thread, instead of the twelve that are there now. But after a little while, we decided that felt like too few: it made unaligned cards only slightly more common than Faces and Masks, plus there were several concepts not yet represented in the deck that we felt really ought to be there. So we expanded the deck by six cards, two in each thread. And at the same time, we took two cards in the spinning thread that felt too similar and combined them into one (what eventually got called Wings in Silk), adding a third there to replace the one we’d axed.

Given that we’d done that, we discussed whether we should redo the pattern scenes we’d already written. Ultimately, we decided the answer was “no” . . . but Mettore’s pattern presented a special difficulty. You see, as it was originally laid, that one contained both of the cards we’d combined — so the decision to merge them left him with a gap. Our fix for that was simply to deal an additional card and sub it in. (At this point Marie can’t remember which card is the replacement; it doesn’t seem to be in her notes.)

3. Arenza’s line for Leato in Chapter 8

This is the only one we completely re-did. Like Mettore’s pattern later in the chapter, we’d originally done it before the deck got expanded — but that wasn’t the reason for the do-over. Up until somewhere after the halfway point in the first draft, Idusza was . . . a rather different person, because we hadn’t yet invented the Stadnem Anduske. She was simply a poor innocent looking for love in all the wrong places. After we invented the Anduske, she got a complete personality transplant (along with scenes like “The Kindly Hawk,” which didn’t exist before). And since that significantly changed the tenor of Leato’s search for her, we decided this was the one place where it was justifiable to redo the pattern. He was literally looking for a different character; the old pattern didn’t apply.

4. The House Traementis line in Chapter 14

The original plan here was to lay an entire nine-card spread, and in fact Marie did exactly that. Immediately after doing so, however (and before interpreting it), she suggested to Alyc that a three-card line was the more suitable approach, and Alyc agreed. But we kept the cards: Marie simply took the first three cards she’d dealt out and treated them as if she’d laid them as a line instead, with the good, ill, and neither of the past becoming where they stand, their path, and their destination. So it’s still an honest pattern.

5. The Rook’s pattern in Chapter 18

Why does Ren get a migraine on the middle card of this pattern, to the point where she can’t even look at it?

Because our deck tried to blow our plot out of the water.

Remember the comment up above about how the cards are sometimes uncannily on-point? The middle card of the present line in this pattern — the card which often operates as the keystone of the whole thing — was a dead giveaway for who the Rook really was. We simply could not find any plausible way to interpret it that would not bring the whole thing crashing down right then, not just for the reader, but for Ren. And we didn’t want that.

But! Before we ever laid that pattern, we agreed that Ren being able to do this was a big deal. The Rook has mystical defenses; nobody without Ren’s gifts would stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting useful information if they tried to read him, and even she would be lucky to get what hints she scraped out. So we dealt with the middle card by leaning into that prior decision: when she draws too close to the truth, she’s pushing against against a protection every bit as strong as she is. Maybe even stronger. Ren backs off rather than find out, because the risk is just too high. But she gets close enough to scare the crap out of the Rook when he finds out she did that — sneak peek for The Liar’s Knot!

(And yes, there are reasons for why that defense works. You’ll find them out eventually.)


But those five little asterisks are it. One pattern that wasn’t very good and was allowed to stay that way; one which needed a replacement card due to deck changes; one that got relaid because of narrative changes; one whose surplus cards were removed; and one that tried to destroy our plot. And this tradition holds for the later books, too: all the patterns in The Liar’s Knot are real, and we intend to do the same for the third and final book, along with any future books or stories we might write in this setting.

It’s just too much fun, seeing what we get, and rising to the challenge of making that work!