Image of a red-haired woman in a black robe wearing a locket with a Nautilus shell who has skeleton hands around her throat. Text says "Projections a Novel S. E. Porter." Cover blurb says "'Sarah Porter is a genius. . . her books burn with the beautiful, ferocious intensity of a bonfire in the darkest night.'–Brittany Cavallaro"


PROJECTIONS by S. E. Porter rating: 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐.

Once upon a time there was a rich boy who thought he owned a poor girl: this is the story of Gus and Catherine in the novel PROJECTIONS by S. E. Porter (Tor/Macmillan, February 13, 2024), Porter’s first adult novel.

Gus obtains magical powers, which make his Dark Triad1 See of personality traits even worse. Murdering Catherine for having a will of her own does not end Gus’s obsession with finding Catherine’s equal–whom he can subdue (and subsume) instead–or simply leave a trail of corpses when the girls say no. Gus can’t get his hands dirty himself, so he creates versions of himself called “beamers” to look for a new Catherine.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Tor/Macmillan for sending this book to me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Murder victim Catherine becomes an endlessly-screaming ghost hovering over Gus’s head. She wants to save the female victims of his magical projections, stand-ins for himself. The pair, sorcerer and ghost, mostly hang out in the sorcerers-only world of Nautilus, while Catherine longs for the real world (the “unworld” in Nautilus parlance). She feels helpless, doomed to shriek and rage in a disembodied state forever. However, being a genius even in wraith form, Catherine may just find a means of revenge on Gus, one of these centuries.

This novel has sparks of real genius and originality but is quite a slog, asking a great deal from the reader with the perspective/world/time switches without so much as a chapter heading to indicate who/where/when. It took me ages to read the novel (it’s just shy of 500 pages) and I almost gave up several times. I was 80% of the way through the ARC when the book finally got interesting.

Porter will write incredible doorstop-sized novels of speculative fiction; of that I am absolutely certain. She just isn’t quite there yet.

Reading context:

If you don’t long to escape into a magical world sometimes, something is wrong with you. I long to inhabit:

Nautilus, however, is just icky, a weird place where sorcerers hang out, waste power and wealth, and show off, rather like the Capitol of Panem in THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (2008).

Another fictional narcissist/main character is Peck Wilson, identity thief, in T.C. Boyle‘s TALK TALK (2007). Wilson’s ability to justify his actions is truly gobsmacking.

Check out the revolting Sir Willoughby in THE EGOIST by George Meredith (1879) for a true example of toxic masculinity long before toxic masculinity got its name. Poor Clara gets the treatment from Sir W. that Catherine would have gotten from Gus if she had given in to his bullying and not been murdered–a sort of living death.

Need a book with a female narcissist? Louise Lanier in SOMEONE AT A DISTANCE by Dorothy Whipple (1953) is a horrendous character whom you can love to hate. What a great novel!

What I’m reading right now:

THE WARM HANDS OF GHOSTS by Katherine Arden (Penguin Random House, February 13, 2024).

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