Hi Amanda! I've been meaning to come review the conclusion to this story for so long, and I'm sorry it's taken me forever to get here. And before I start I'd like to congratulate you on finishing it! Diamonds into Coal is such a wonderful piece of work, and I hope you're really proud of it. I know there are a lot of people (including me, obviously) who have loved reading it!
I feel like a parrot every time I comment on your imagery and your beautiful style. At this point it would just be "blah blah blah" if I brought it up again :P But I can't help but talk about it just a little more! I think your subtle, lovely imagery is your biggest strength as a writer, hands down. The pictures you paint stay with me long after I've read a piece of yours.
Now, on to the plot! I LOVE the way this chapter brings the whole novel full-circle, right down to the chapter title (Erised=Desire). Now more than ever, I think starting with a flash-forward prologue was a good move. I still remember how beautiful and mysterious that chapter was, and with this ending you've shaken some cobwebs off of that vague beginning. We now know why the Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady live at Hogwarts. We know the full story behind the image in the mirror. And we know how Venn and Helena fell in love, and how their deaths eventually came about. You've made sure to answer those burning questions we had at the beginning, and you've shown that the prologue wasn't just for dramatic effect or to show off your skill at creating gorgeous imagery (which, as I've said so many times, are just astounding). There was a purpose behind everything in that chapter, and with this ending you've shed some light on it. Diamonds into Coal has been such an incredible journey, and it's hard to believe that we're right back where we started, at the Mirror of Erised.
Although I really, really love the ultimate conclusion to Venn and Helena's story, I have conflicting feelings about the murder scene itself. I mean, this is the climax. This is the event that will go down in history, and define these two people forever. And it all boils down to...a misunderstanding? An accident caused by starvation delirium? I was hoping to spend a lot of time exploring Venn's mindset as he committed this terrible act, but the killing feels like a minor detail compared to the other events of this chapter. And I had a hard time believing that he could have "accidentally" killed her.
But then I thought about it. And really, it makes sense that Venn wouldn't have intended to kill Helena. This story is full of rash decisions and big egos, but neither of them ever did anything with the intention of harming the other. If the killing had been any different, it would have been terribly out of character for Venn. So after reading this chapter a few times I sorted out my feelings: I think you did a wonderful job staying true to your characters during the murder, but the scene itself feels glossed over. I was really looking for more there.
And that's the most concrit I've felt inclined to offer you in a LONG time. Also, I think the rest of the chapter is absolutely incredible, so I intend to fangirl for the remainder of this review :D
The scene with Salazar was really brilliant. It answers a question I never even knew I had! Of course the Bloody Baron would know about the basilisk, and you've explained why he wouldn't have ever warned anyone about it. Venn isn't the slimy, awful person that Salazar is; surely he would have wanted to make sure the basilisk didn't harm any "innocent purebloods." But he is a bit selfish, as you've established, and he values being close to Helena above the well-being of students who don't have personal meaning to him. That part was wonderfully executed, and I just loved it :)
And that last encounter with Helena just broke my heart! Why are you so stubborn, Helena! Just forgive him! It's been years, possibly centuries! (I'm drawing a blank on when the mirror scenes are set...oops.) Ugh, she makes me mad sometimes! Haha, I know you expected that with both of your MCs, and can I just say again how great a job you did with them? You made them both so incredibly complex, and I was constantly re-evaluating my opinion of them. By the end of the story I swore I would figure out which of them was my least favorite. It's a really hard choice, but I think I'm going with Helena. I mean, I get that Venn isn't the easiest person to deal with, but she could have just called the wedding off if she had misgivings. Instead, she ran off into the forest like a child, baiting Venn and then behaving as though she'd done nothing wrong. Get your act together, Helena.
(Oh no. I'm speaking ill of the dead, aren't I? I just can't seem to help it, though. Haha, what must that say about me? :P)
But. Anyway. I'm at a loss for what else to say, Amanda. I think this was a wonderful end to a beautifully written story. And that last line is the perfect way to draw this to a close. It has this tiny ray of hope, because when you "live" forever, there's always time for things to change. But at the same time it carries the weight of years of guilt for Venn, and grudge-harboring for Helena. Will they ever come to any sort of truce? We might never know, and that's one unanswered question that just feels right. Amazing job, Amanda. I feel so privileged to have read this :)
Author's Response: Maggie, you're awesome, as you already know :) I am really proud of this story, and I continue to be surprised by how much everyone liked it. The support I've received means so much!
Anyway, I'm so happy that you liked the imagery. Sometimes I get so into it that I err on the side of purple prose, which then bogs down the plot. I always hope that I've achieved a good balance since nowadays I can go a good couple of paragraphs before I do anything besides work on setting the scene.
I think I always sort of knew we'd go back to the mirror for this last part, the final encounter between Venn and Helena after all that they've been through together. As I was writing this, I kept track of questions that people brought up in their reviews and tried to figure out the answers and weave them into the plot. A lot of it didn't come until the end here, as you observed. I think that's a major benefit of not pre-writing, which I normally prefer, and I think the success of this story is due in some part to the feedback of others.
This answer will probably be dissatisfying, I'm afraid, but the truth about the murder scene is that I was just really concerned about getting too sticky ToS-wise when writing it. It felt much safer to describe it more vaguely in a flashback than to actually do it in real time. I just kept thinking about how these two had a romantic relationship and it could run into a difficult area in terms of spousal-like abuse. I tried to allude to those strong emotions in the aftermath, but I definitely understand where you're coming from, so I appreciate the crit :)
I really hope Salazar emerged as a monster at the end of it all, despite the charming sort of beginning I gave him. It was so interesting to explore his deterioration as he became more and more obsessed with his vision and his beloved pet. While I don't blame him directly for Venn and Helena's demise, I'm sure the energy he emitted throughout the story was toxic, and it negatively impacted everyone.
You're right, we're talking about centuries later at this point. You have to wonder how many times Venn has sat in front of the mirror and dwelled on all of his past mistakes and the life he could have had with Helena. I kind of want to cry now because you're basically saying that I did exactly what I meant to do with my characterization and that's so wonderful because these two are so convoluted! Haha. I do think it's funny that you eventually sided against Helena, because in the beginning a lot of people (maybe you included, but I don't remember) were adamantly against Venn, because he was just kind of spoiled and immature and canon isn't exactly on his side. I think it's hard to choose; I feel sadness and anger for both of them.
Yeah, I definitely wanted to end on a hopeful note, because this story made me so emotional. I do think it's possible for Helena to forgive and for Venn to win his lady's heart again, but as you said, there's a lot of baggage from the past standing in the way. I figure you can write your own ending now.
Thanks so much for your fabulous review!