I just finished the first book in what promises to be an outstanding new series, The Light Who Shines by the fabulously named Lilo J. Abernathy. I read this book because I discovered Lilo on Twitter (along with Rose Montague, whose first book, Jade, was also quite compelling). Both Lilo and Rose were very generous to a just-starting-out blogger and social media neophyte, and I wanted to give their books a chance. I’d done this with a few other new authors, but with less happy results (in other words, the books were not that good, unfortunately). Anyway, I’ve digressed before I’ve even begun. The point here is that I loved the book and it has given me significant food for thought and inspired several blog posts.

In Lilo’s world, there are three types of humans; Normals (like you and me); the Gifted, who have some sort of magical capability (like controlling fire, or seeing souls or auras, or being able to portal from one place to another as if Scotty were beaming them around); and the Vampires, who come in two varieties, Dark Vampires, who are evil, and Daylight Vampires, who have not yet given into bloodlust and become Dark. There are many interesting aspects to this world, and the world building is particularly good in the book, which bodes extremely well for the series. But the part I want to focus on today is the existence of the Gifted.

In this world, the Gifted are largely reviled and persecuted by many of the Norms.  Which is paradoxical at best and suicidal at worst, because the Gifted help protect the Norms from the Dark Vampires, who kill indiscriminately–and for whom normal humans are essentially a Happy Meal–easy, fast and convenient to eat.

But prejudice is rampant in this world, and the Gifted suffer for their gifts. Which made me think about the adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe this to be true and I think that the pursuit of something for nothing and your kicks for free is one of the major scourges of the human condition.

After all, who wouldn’t want free swag?  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t. Including me. And I also know that plenty of us, maybe all of us “Norms” have done some pretty silly things to game the system and put one over on Fate.  And the examples of our persistent, but futile efforts are legion, in small and large ways.

When we look for “deals” we are looking for a free lunch–when we buy one/get one free, does anyone really believe that the store didn’t inflate the price so they could run the sale?  When we read about–or buy–magic weight loss pills or products (vibrating belts, anyone?), aren’t we just practicing the triumph of hope over experience?  Of course we are. There is no such thing as a free lunch. 

That awesome prescription that takes your pain away?  It has nasty side effects, including addiciton. The incredible stain remover that is guaranteed to clean red wine off a white dress?  Not so much. Improve your memory while you sleep?  Forget about it. Enhance your sexual stamina even though you are well past your prime?  A sucker’s bet.

But we all do it, some of us more than others. We don’t want to put in the work. Or, equally likely, we didn’t believe Baretta when he warned us not to do the crime if we can’t do the time. No free lunch.

What I loved about The Light Who Shines is that Ms. Abernathy gets this reality, and like all my favorite books, there is a lot of truth in fantasy here.  She explores at length the costs of being Gifted in her world and the consequences of those costs. Moreover, Ms. Abernathy also highlights the price of receiving gifts–what it means when the gifts we give engender resentment, fear and rejection. And the concomitant confusion and grief on the part of the giver whose gifts are accepted, but with barely concealed distaste and as much distance as possible.

I’ve always felt this is a strange phenomenon, but I can also understand its origins. No one likes to feel beholden, or dependent, or both. In fact, the creation of this kind of dependency through ill-advised generosity is more common than one might think. My family is a great example, where my brother ended up hating my mother, who helped him financially for his entire adult life. In the end, she did neither herself nor her son any favors by failing to wean him away from living on more than he could earn. No free lunch, remember?  My mother wanted gratitude and admiration for her handouts and my brother wanted independence and self-sufficiency, but couldn’t give up the extra income. The result was misery all around. I always understood that my mother’s help came with a hefty price tag, and I was never willing to pay. Thankfully.

This is not to say that I always took the high road. If you’ve read my bio you know I spent many years as an active bulimic. Which was all about having my cake and eating it too. Literally and figuratively. Didn’t work out so well for me. Never does.

So maybe reading about the price of being Gifted and the costs of giving might help all of us to remember that no one is getting something for nothing. No one. We should stop pursuing that particular pipe dream. It might just turn out to be a bomb. Better to accept the downside to every upside and understand that if we accept a gift, we owe the giver, and we should be gracious about that. And grateful. Nothing in life worth having comes easy.  As Ms. Abernathy so ably illuminates, no free lunch.

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