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  • Writer's pictureTantra Bensko

The Heroine of Encore

Miriam is a beautiful and talented young woman with the desire for a colorful, brilliant, artistic life, and a fear of failing at that and having to return to the "mundane" world of being a waitress. Her father convinced her from a young age of the importance of excellent, particularly at impressions of famous people to entertain her father's friends. Never being rewarded for her own personality, only for mimicry of others, she developed a discomfort with being second best.

So her job insecurity really matters to her. It's the last show of the season with the Bennu troupe, the last chance for her to prove her worth to the reviewers and critics of the performances. If she can't do so, she will have to give up on her dream and return to waitressing.

In the most famous British performance art troupe, Miriam is a standby, which is similar to an understudy -- but understudies often play a variety of roles in the shows. Standbys practice one role, and play it when the main actor is incapacitated. So, they are never seen by the audience other than on the rare moments of the incapacitation of actors that they shadow.

The main actors receive adulation and coverage in the press, the big bucks, and job security. This can be a frustrating experience for standbys to practice the role and perhaps never even get one chance to play it on stage. But they're ready, in case their actors show up late, hurt themselves, become ill, or are called away for an emergency. The standbys can fill in, and ideally the audience won't notice anything but a smooth show.

It's particularly important for this avant-garde troupe to fool the audience, because a film of the actors is projected over the show. So if the audience noticed the difference between the original actors projected over the standbys, even subtly, they would feel cognitive dissonance.

And, Dune, a employee of the troupe, takes the merging between the actors and standbys even further. To prevent the audience from noticing the differences, he hypnotizes the standbys to believe they are the actors, when they play them on stage. Only when the curtain comes down for the final time after the encore are the standbys programmed to remember their true identity.

In addition, all the actors and standbys are trained to work with their auras. They waft their auras over the audience to create more of a connection and immersion. And the standbys draw in the auras of the actors so the audience will feel on a subliminal level that the standbys truly are the famous actors they play, despite how different they may look.

Miriam shadows the main star of the troupe, Susan, whom she resembles. Susan is Dune's wife and she is dying of cancer, so this is her last show. If she is healthy enough to perform, Miriam will be let go from the company. When she took over for Susan a couple times in the past, it didn't go well enough to get her hired to take over as the star of the show on a permanent basis. But she's sure that if she just gets one more chance, she can prove her talent.

She even wickedly fantasizes about her devoted friend, Colin, taking Susan out of the action for the evening. She she falls asleep and wakes up in a different location, she realizes she sleepwalked. But what did she do during that time? Those dark desires begins to scare her when Susan goes missing before the show.

She also has a guilty infatuation for Dune and imagines that once Susan dies, he might turn to her. Obviously she's his type, considering how much she looks like his wife, and their chemistry is undeniable. She wonders what their life would be like together; he is even rumored to work as an Agent of the Nevermind, an intelligence agent networking the UK and the US to provide propaganda and PR for the agendas of the government. Agents are known to be excellent hypnotists, which lends some credibility to that rumor. And the giant in the troupe, Huld, brags about connections with the Agency, too. Agents can never be quite trusted, because counter-intelligence, deceit, theatrical likes, and misdirection are their tools of the trade.

In the meantime, that infatuation prevents her from ever considering that Colin could become more than a friend. The two of them have a great time together with a shared sense of goofy physical humor and they are work-out partners at the gym. He is an aquisitions editor for Be Yourself publishing company, a job she feels is more ordinary than the charismatic Dune's job. She can't even mention Dune to him, because he is the troupe's secret. The troupe acts out the history of Moldavite, which is in true fact, the rarest of all gems, having been created from a meteor strike in Bohemia. If you aren't familiar with how much people idolize this green stone, you've missed a whole subculture of people doing rituals and experiments, making elixirs from it, writing books about its magical properties, and claiming that they have been transformed by it. Some claim it causes immortality, ascension, and levitation. Check out this video, for example.

But an incident at the beginning of the novel has brought Miriam and Colin together in a brief, startlingly intimate moment. She begins to think perhaps if she can get over Dune, she can find fulfillment with Colin, though she is still frustrated by his low-key businesslike domesticity compared to Dune's intense, suave, mystical greatness. A mundane future with him while she pays off her loan that her rather estranged father provided her to give her dreams a shot, while she waitresses and no longer practices playing a goddessy role with the troupe steeped in mythology of Atlantis and Arthurian legends is quite the let down.

However, perhaps that is not to be, because when she gets her chance to take over for Susan in the last show of the season, at the end, when the curtain lowers, she does not return to memory of herself. Instead, Dune whisks her off stage while she still believes she is his wife. And he takes her to a castle up north.

The castle has been vacated temporarily by Luke, who makes modern-day alchemical elixirs from gems such as Moldavite, with his assistant, Tommy. But paintings of the obviously vain Luke are all around the castle, and Dune seems to have a hobby of rearranging them amidst all the other paintings of famous historical British figures such as the Elizabethans John Dee and Edward Kelley, Walsingham, and Roger Bacon.

Will Miriam escape the post-hypnotic suggestion in time before the ominous Equinox Ritual? Will she remember who Colin is instead of the awful stories she's told about him? Will she be miserable once she returns to her live at home, and remain a disappointment to her father? Will she and Dune find true love? Or will she instead make it work with Colin?

Hers is a love story of strength and redemption as she delves into her darkness and learns the intrigue behind the scenes of secret agents and the cult that intersects with them that runs the world.

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