Gee, Emily, You Sure Do Write Purty

by Arthur B

Emily Gee's The Laurentine Spy is a romantic fantasy novel... published by Games Workshop?!?
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Having enjoyed great success with the Black Library, their subsidiary for printing tie-in fiction for their games, Games Workshop recently decided to go even further with Solaris, the Black Library's shiny new imprint devoted to publishing original (as in not based on a gaming or other franchise) fiction. I've been interested to see what sort of material they've been putting out, which is how I came to pick up Emily Gee's The Laurentine Spy without giving it enough scrutiny to realise it was a fantasy romance novel.

Not that examining the back cover blurb would have really helped me in this respect; for a romantic fantasy The Laurentine Spy is awfully coy about being a romantic fantasy. In contrast to Transgressions, it goes in disguise, infiltrating the fantasy shelves disguised as generic fantasy. Perhaps Solaris find it easier to classify their books as SF/fantasy, rather than try to break onto the romance shelves, or maybe some enterprising editor is trying to slip in a broader range of titles but doesn't want Games Workshop to realise they are publishing Girl Books. Whatever the case, The Laurentine Spy pulled a fast one one me, but I honestly don't mind: as well as having a strong and reasonably satisfying romance plotline (caution: I have never previously read a romance novel, so I might be completely wrong on that) it's also a gripping pseudo-Renaissancy-Regencyish espionage adventure with low-key but interesting magic and enough violence to satisfy my Khorne-inspired thirst for blood.

The premise starts out simple and rapidly becomes complex without becoming needlessly so. Saliel, our heroine, and Athan, the hero, are both spies for the Laurentine Protectorate in the citadel of a Prince of the Corhonese Empire; Saliel pretends to be Lady Petra, a meek and naive unmarried lady of the Consort's retinue, and Athan's cover identity is Lord "Donkey" Ivo, a boorish, moronich bachelor who gads about the brothels in the town of an evening. They are not aware of each other cover identities, for the Laurentine agents in the city only meet in disguise, in nighttime meetings presided over by the sinister "guardian". Romance readers amongst you have already guessed what comes next: through sheer coincidence, the Prince and the Consort decide that it would be seemly for Ivo and Petra to marry, causing much consternation for Athan and Saliel. Saliel is upset because she hates Ivo, unaware that the personality she observes is itself a cover for Athan's true self, whilst Athan dislikes the idea of marrying a Corhonese lady, for the marriage of the Corhonese nobility are horrible, loveless, mechanical affairs in which the man is basically expected to have his way with his wife with no regard for her enjoyment of the process, and besides - Athan has eyes only for the anonymous form of Saliel. The stage is all set for them to discover each other's true identities, abandon the horrible repressive trappings of the Corhonese sex life, and fuck happily ever after.

Except it's not quite that simple.

Entering the fray is Lord Grigor, a Corhonese spycatcher intent on rooting out the Laurentine cell. Lord Grigor has the Witch-Eye, as does Saliel, but their magic takes slightly different forms: Grigor can make people tell the truth when he maintain eye contact with them, whilst Saliel can only mesmerise people for a minute or so (more than enough for some handy pickpocketing); likewise, Grigor is a protected asset of the Corhonese state, whilst Saliel's true status is not known to her Laurentine superiors - for in both the Empire and the Protectorate, the official punishment for witchcraft is death, without exception. On the other hand, the guardian has discovered information suggesting that a crucial codebook is secreted within the citadel, and he wants Athan to copy it (with Saliel using her close connection to the Consort to make a copy of the key to the Prince's chamber of secrets). So, on the one hand Athan and Saliel are desperate to wrap up their tour of duty and leave the citadel (they are due to be replaced anyway); on the other hand, they are completely dependant on the guardian and his contacts, for without their help escape is impossible, so they aren't going anywhere until they copy the codebook. All the while, the guardian is trying to make sure they don't realise that they are married to each other, because if they could co-operate it would weaken his hold over them, and the spycatcher is closing in.

The first chunk of the book, which concerns itself with the goings-on in the citadel, is primarily an espionage story with romance elements; the last 150 pages or so, covering Saliel and Athan's flight to Laurentine territory with the duplicate codebook, is primarily a romance story with espionage elements, as Saliel and Athan's relationship can finally develop freely without the constraints of secrecy and cover identities. I have to say that I preferred the citadel section of the book to the escape, but it wasn't the romance elements that put me off - it was the fact that the journey to freedom part seemed so very rushed. This might have been purposeful; the structure of the citadel chapters suggests a restrictive and immutable daily routine - Saliel sows by day, she and Athan attend balls in the evening, and then she goes off to bed and he trawls the brothels - and in the dead of night they give their reports to the guardian - whilst the giddy pace of the travelogue part of the book suggests a hectic flight to safety, during which only the briefest impressions of the places visited can be picked up. Nonetheless, it does mean that the citadel does feel like a much more developed and vibrant and complex place, simply because it is: it is tempting to think of Gee's world as consisting of two basic areas, "the citadel" and "everywhere else". Furthermore, the fast pace means the progression of the romance feels too quick; Saliel goes from violated and shocked to passionately in love in what feels like a very short period of time, because even though vastly more time passes in the story it does so over a vastly shorter page count.

Oh, yeah, the whole "violated" bit. Now, I admit that I am well out of my usual territory here, and my Fantasy Rapeometer isn't calibrated for romance, so I could be completely wrong about this, but Gee includes in The Laurentine Spy a scene which I think qualifies as one of the few times I felt a rape added something to a fantasy novel.

A bit of context: as I mentioned a little earlier, the Empire is a horrendously hypocritical, misogynistic society, especially when it comes to the sex lives of the nobility. (The Protectorate, by contrast, is much more relaxed on that score, but is hopelessly, insanely riven with class-based snobbery; one of the things I did like about the escape sequence was how the inequities of Corhonese society become less and less visible and the inequities of Laurentine society become more and more apparent as Saliel and Athan get closer to home.) It's the old story; gentlemen have the right to frolic with whores as much as they like, and have the right to screw their wife whenever they so desire on top of that, whilst women of noble birth are expected to stoically suffer their husband's attentions as a sort of chore at best, a weekly night of misery and degradation at worst (only commoners and whores enjoy sex!). This system of institutionalised rape is deeply ingrained in the life of the Corhonese court, putting Saliel and Athan in a horrendous situation; Saliel can't refuse to marry Athan-as-Ivo or refuse to sleep with him on their wedding night, since that would attract all he wrong sort of attention, and likewise Athan has to keep up the appearance of being an absolutely typical brutish husband; if they simply abscond, they will soon be caught without the guardian's help, and the guardian hasn't told them that they are marrying each other, so they can't even conspire to sit around making grunting noises for five minutes to maintain the pretense. Both Athan and Saliel are convinced that they have to fool each other, as well as the society around them, and so Athan goes ahead and roughly takes Saliel, having no care for her enjoyment of the act because that in itself would be suspicious, and Saliel submits to him.

Now, I'm not qualified to work out whether that's a good romantic rape scene or a bad romantic rape scene; our editor is probably better able to judge. But as a condemnation of the guardian and the spying profession as a whole, as an example of how it forces Athan to commit a horrible act against Saliel under the threat of exposure, torture, and death if he refuses to play the role assigned him, it's pretty fascinating. What is especially interesting is how this is almost as damaging to Athan as it is to Saliel; he's under no illusions that what he's done is rape, and the fact that he's capable of doing it to save his skin and serve his country shakes him to his very core.

Again, romance readers in the FB readership know full well how this is going to pan out: Athan and Saliel are going to sort it out between themselves, Saliel will eventually forgive Athan for what he did and Athan will fuck Saliel again, only properly, so she knows that it doesn't have to be a completely miserable process, happily ever after cottage by the sea babies unicorns and rainbows. In fact, the rapesquerade incident is only one of several issues that Saliel and Athan have to work through before their relationship is cemented, although it is the first; there's also the small matter of their widely varying stations in Laurentine society (anyone who doesn't expect Athan to renounce his noble family in order to marry Saliel, a commoner, is clearly soft in the head, although Gee does do a good job of making sure the process isn't completely easy).

The other problem is the whole witchcraft deal, which in its own way is the least interesting it; Saliel points out the witchcraft thing, Athan pulls a bit of previously hidden metaphysic out of his arse to prove that it's OK, and that's it; there's no real resonance or connection to actual human emotions because it's a dilemma that doesn't exist in our world and never did, unlike rape and class anxiety. It's an irritating aspect of the resolution of the romance plotline; my other problem with it is that we start seeing less and less of the story from Saliel's point of view during the escape from the Empire, which is a bit of a shame because I like her more than the slightly wet Athan. I can see why Gee did it - the romance plot hinges on Saliel's objections to their union being overcome, so it would be difficult to maintain tension if we were following her thought processes all the time - but the romance plot is so comfortably predictable I almost wish Gee would drop the act and stop pretending there's any doubt about the pair getting together.

That, however, is a non-romance reader's objection to the book, so Gee's target audience probably won't care. As far as fantasy goes, however, I think that The Laurentine Spy is top-notch. Gee even writes really tense and gripping fight scenes, so there's fun for everyone. Highly recommended, unless you really don't like the idea of a rape victim eventually succumbing to the charms of a rapist.
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Comments (go to latest)
Dan H at 13:32 on 2009-06-04
I just can't get over the idea that Games Workshop publishes original fiction.

I mean, dude.
Dan H at 13:38 on 2009-06-04
A quick googling reveals some interesting things.

1) They publish Brian Lumley these days.

2) They have a rather nice mission statement thing which basically says "we sell geek books for geeks"
Niall at 14:25 on 2009-06-04
Solaris have a *weird* list, I reckon. Most of it is, how can I put this, the sort of core genre material that is not to my taste (which is not to say that all core genre material is not to my taste), but at least seems to have been bought with a coherent audience in mind; and then they throw in occasional books by, say, Adam Roberts, or Keith Brooke, not to mention their very admirable attempts at original anthologies. It makes for a somewhat schizophrenic brand. I have a lot of time for them, but I can't say I'm entirely surprised that GW is trying to sell off Solaris at the moment.
Guy at 15:13 on 2009-06-04
I remember reading somewhere that the rape scenes in romance novels are about a kind of fantasy in which women can enjoy sex (because the perpetrator is ruggedly handsome &c &c) without subverting the normative feminine ideal that nice women don't enjoy sex (because it's not the woman's fault that it's happening, she's been forced, so it's not her responsibility, so it's OK to enjoy it). I kind of feel weird about making judgements or pronouncements in area where I'm not an expert, but this struck me at the time as being seriously fucked up. Would a female protagonist who simply and straightforwardly enjoys consensual sex ruin the protagonist-cathexis more effectively and more often than one who sort-of enjoys being raped and then forgives her rapist / regains her power over him and then ends up marrying him? I guess I don't feel right about making any kind of judgement about anybody's sexual fantasy life because, people are entitled to whatever damn fantasies they like, but I guess my horror and revulsion at real-world rape makes it hard for me to understand, just in an intellectual way, what is going on with fantasised rape. Anyway, all of that is a preamble to saying that it's kind of interesting that what you've described happening in this novel could be seen as a subversion of that whole trope or it could be a kind of extension of it. A subversion in that, instead of the rape providing the original "connection" between two characters which later events re-order or strengthen or transform or redeem or whatever, in this case the rape is an obstacle to the characters connecting... but an extension in that, it kind of puts the male character in a similar position to the female character in traditional romance novels. The ordinary structure has the man forcing himself on the woman because he can't help himself, because she's so beautiful and &c, and this inability to control his lust is both evidence of his passionate nature and a demonstration of the ineluctable connection between them... but anyway, the subtext of "it's OK to enjoy it because you didn't decide to do it" which is normally only applicable to the female character could be applied to the male character in this novel, ie, it's OK for him to enjoy raping someone because he isn't actually a rapist because he's been forced to do it by circumstances beyond his control. Maybe that would be a subversion too. Hmm. I suspect in spite of all my intention to be open-minded there's a judgementalness there that impedes my ability to think clearly about this stuff because I can't... suspend my horror at the evil of rape.
Dan H at 15:27 on 2009-06-04
I think the deal with what the genre euphemistically calls "forced seduction" is not so much that it allows female characters to have sex without responsibility (which would be fucked up) as that it allows an outlet for rape fantasies which are, in fact, very common. The actual trappings of "fantasy" rape are fairly common in a lot of people's sexual fantasies. There's elements of power play, elements of uncontrolled passion, and so on.

I'd also be a *little* bit careful talking about your "horror and revulsion" at real world rape. Real world rape isn't horrifying, it's banal, and that's sort of the problem. Part of the reason that so few rape trials result in conviction seems to be that people can't match their "horror and revulsion" at the "reality" of rape with the perfectly nice looking guy in the dock.
Arthur B at 15:45 on 2009-06-04
Dan:
1) They publish Brian Lumley these days.

Well, that's it then. Exterminatus, burn their offices to the ground, kill all the employees and smash the printing presses. Not even Emily Gee is good enough to justify printing Lumley's dreck.

Ugh, it's not just Lumley either, it's yet more Necroscope sequels. For fuck's sake.

Niall:
I have a lot of time for them, but I can't say I'm entirely surprised that GW is trying to sell off Solaris at the moment.

GW seem to have had a policy recently of trying interesting, experimental things, and then selling them off or licensing them to third parties once they've got off the ground. They did a similar thing recently with Black Industries, the Black Library imprint that made collectable card games and non-miniatures boardgames and tabletop RPGs based on Games Workshop properties: they set the thing up, it turned out to be profitable but not profitable enough to justify GW themselves spending time on it, so they shut it down and licensed all the products to Fantasy Flight Games, who are proving pretty good custodians of the game lines in question.

Guy:
The ordinary structure has the man forcing himself on the woman because he can't help himself, because she's so beautiful and &c, and this inability to control his lust is both evidence of his passionate nature and a demonstration of the ineluctable connection between them... but anyway, the subtext of "it's OK to enjoy it because you didn't decide to do it" which is normally only applicable to the female character could be applied to the male character in this novel, ie, it's OK for him to enjoy raping someone because he isn't actually a rapist because he's been forced to do it by circumstances beyond his control.

I think part of the reason I was able to cope with it in this context is that, in a way, Athan is also a victim in the scene in question. I mean, the guardian wasn't standing behind him with a gun to his head throughout the entire act, but both Athan and Saliel have just seen bloody evidence of what the spycatcher does when he catches a spy (there's a third agent in the cell who gets captured and, later, rescued by Athan and the guardian, and Saliel talks to him briefly and is able to get some clues out of him before he dies). What's more, Athan knows that he can't lie to the spycatcher thanks to the spycatcher's magic powers; he's only avoided suspicion so far because he's managed to appear absolutely boring and uncontroversial - and if Athan gets caught, he might lead the spycatcher directly to the others (only the aforementioned rescue attempt prevented the captured spy from revealing the cell's secret meeting place). So he knows that if he attracts suspicion by not acting precisely how he's expected to act, then he's going to blab, he will almost certainly get tortured and killed, and there is a damn good chance the guardian and Saliel will get tortured and killed too.

Not that Athan is completely absolved, of course. He could have committed suicide rather than rape someone - although without him to get the codebook, the guardian's demands couldn't be met, so he'd be leaving Saliel to an uncertain fate. He could have said to Saliel-as-Petra "Look, I don't like you and you don't like me, so why don't we just keep up appearances but not actually touch each other?", but of course, since he isn't aware that Saliel has been ordered to go along with the marriage, he doesn't know that Saliel-as-Petra won't immediately go running to the Consort and triumphantly declare "My husband won't consummate the marriage with me - I demand an annulment!", which would be a very sensible thing for her to do if she really doesn't want the marriage (assuming annulments work the same in this setting, and since it seems culturally very important for husbands to fuck their wives we might expect this to be so).

Basically, Athan is in a situation where the absolute best way to protect Saliel, the guardian, and himself is by raping Petra, and any course of action which doesn't involve raping Petra could (as far as he is aware) potentially put Saliel, the guardian, and him at risk. Had he known that Petra and Saliel are the same person, of course, things would be very different, but the guardian has very deliberately not told him. I would say that the guardian is more guilty of the rape than Athan is, although Athan still bears some responsibility; the guardian put Athan in a position where he had to hurt someone whatever he did, but Athan decided that raping some foreign woman was less bad than potentially risking the neck of him and his colleagues.
Arthur B at 16:08 on 2009-06-04
I'd also be a *little* bit careful talking about your "horror and revulsion" at real world rape. Real world rape isn't horrifying, it's banal, and that's sort of the problem. Part of the reason that so few rape trials result in conviction seems to be that people can't match their "horror and revulsion" at the "reality" of rape with the perfectly nice looking guy in the dock.

For what it's worth, I should point out that the rape in question doesn't involve Athan violently pinning Saliel down and having his way with her as she struggles and bites and scratches and weeps. On her part, she doesn't want to do it, but realises that she has to as part of her job, and so she takes the stance that it's no different from what the whores in the slums she grew up in had to do to get by, only she's doing it for the Protectorate so it's kind of noble. (In other words, she's literally lying back and thinking of Laurentia.) For his part, Athan knows that Saliel-as-Petra doesn't like him, but will submit to his attentions anyway because that's what Corhonese culture demands of her, so he mechanically does his bit and then quickly leaves because that's what Corhonese culture demands of him, even though he knows that Saliel-as-Petra would not have chosen to do it were she not married to him.

It's still rape, because neither party would have consented to it if the threat of force wasn't hanging over their heads, but it's not the easily-identifiable sort of violent rape we know from the tabloids.
Dafydd at 00:28 on 2009-06-05

!
He could have said to Saliel-as-Petra "Look, I don't like you and you don't like me, so why don't we just keep up appearances but not actually touch each other?", but of course, since he isn't aware that Saliel has been ordered to go along with the marriage, he doesn't know that Saliel-as-Petra won't immediately go running to the Consort and triumphantly declare "My husband won't consummate the marriage with me - I demand an annulment!", which would be a very sensible thing for her to do if she really doesn't want the marriage (assuming annulments work the same in this setting, and since it seems culturally very important for husbands to fuck their wives we might expect this to be so).


How would either of those circumstances have worked in that Culture? Athan says "I don't like you. I have a God-given right to torture and humiliate you. So I will decline this opportunity to torture and humilate you."
Meanwhile Saliel is ordered to submit to torture for the sake of the "Greater Good", the torture don't happen and instead of blessing her lucky escape, she goes to Court and demands her right to be oppressed.

POIGNANCY of a good man forced to do Evil acts:
"Fiddler on the Roof": beginning - Constable is under orders to hold a small Pogrom, the Story emphasizes that it hurts him to do this evil act.
Middle - Tevye's beloved daughter marries a Christian; he repudiates her and excommunicates her from the clan. Again,Tevye is a Good man forced to do an evil act and it hurts him.
Finale: Constable is under orders to hold a BIG pogrom; again it hurts him to do evil.

It hurts Athan to do the Evil act. The Poignancy is a valid trope.

I remember an newspaper article about Mossad, the Israeli spy service. Mossad was different from Nato spy services because female Mossadis were never ordered to be whores. When a mission needed whores, Mossad would just hire regular whores to do it; only when a mission required trained Patriotic spies to do it, they would send spies to do it.
Dan H at 00:49 on 2009-06-05

It's still rape, because neither party would have consented to it if the threat of force wasn't hanging over their heads, but it's not the easily-identifiable sort of violent rape we know from the tabloids.


Is it actually identified as rape in the text? Because if so it'll be one of the first times I've seen a (deliberate) portrayal of rape in a work of fantasy (or possibly even a work of fiction) that didn't involve either overt physical violence or rohypnol.
Arthur B at 01:37 on 2009-06-05
Dafydd:
How would either of those circumstances have worked in that Culture? Athan says "I don't like you. I have a God-given right to torture and humiliate you. So I will decline this opportunity to torture and humilate you."
Meanwhile Saliel is ordered to submit to torture for the sake of the "Greater Good", the torture don't happen and instead of blessing her lucky escape, she goes to Court and demands her right to be oppressed.

I don't understand the rest of your comment so I'm not going to address it, but to clarify a point: of course, if Athan had refrained from abusing Saliel, she'd have just counted her blessings and tried to make sure nobody noticed. But Athan had no reason to believe she would do that, because for all he knew Saliel wasn't Saliel, she was Petra, and Petra would seize any opportunity to get the marriage dissolved.

Dan:
Is it actually identified as rape in the text? Because if so it'll be one of the first times I've seen a (deliberate) portrayal of rape in a work of fantasy (or possibly even a work of fiction) that didn't involve either overt physical violence or rohypnol.

Yes, but a qualified yes. I don't think either character directly uses the word "rape" in reference to it, but it's obviously a massively sensitive subject for both of them. On Athan's side, whatever you call it he feels that he's committed a horrific and unforgivable crime against Petra/Saliel, and there's a bit where the spycatcher, sadist that he is, says to Athan "You know, if your wife isn't co-operative in bed you can always just rape her, it's allowed" (paraphrased), and Athan almost loses his shit, presumably because it strikes too close to home.

So I think, on balance, that we are meant to understand that Athan considers it rape, and in that sense it's identified in the text as rape. Saliel might not, but only because she is treating the subject with a truck full of denial and detachment.
Dafydd at 03:11 on 2009-06-05
I don't understand the rest of your comment so I'm not going to address it, but to clarify a point: of course, if Athan had refrained from abusing Saliel, she'd have just counted her blessings and tried to make sure nobody noticed. But Athan had no reason to believe she would do that, because for all he knew Saliel wasn't Saliel, she was Petra, and Petra would seize any opportunity to get the marriage dissolved.

To explain the xplanation: Corhese culture expects the Husband to rape the Wife. Suppose Athan don't rape Petra. Petra will either think I am lucky to have a non-pervert husband, OR I must divorce Athan and get a proper pervert husband.

Masochist: Hit me.
Sadist: NO.
Masochist: Thank you.

Corhese culture is based on Man v Woman: Laurentine culture is based on noble v Peasant. Athan and Saliel cannot be together in either state - star-crossed lovers.

It hurts good!Athan to do the evil act. I cited similiar examples from FoR. If you ain't seen "Fiddler" ....


Sonia Mitchell at 03:33 on 2009-06-05
Sounds like an interesting book, even though I've also never read romance. To be completely superficial, aside from the rather silly border that's a pretty cover for a fantasy novel. Although I don't like the way Saliel appears to be holding a knife pointed to her own neck. What if she falls over?

I'd also be a *little* bit careful talking about your "horror and revulsion" at real world rape. Real world rape isn't horrifying, it's banal, and that's sort of the problem. Part of the reason that so few rape trials result in conviction seems to be that people can't match their "horror and revulsion" at the "reality" of rape with the perfectly nice looking guy in the dock.

I may have missed your meaning here Dan (apologies if so), but isn't the problem there the mindset that 'only blatantly horrific people do horrific things'? Which applies to a whole spectrum of crimes, but doesn't make the acts any less terrible for the false link between the crime and a monster-criminal.

Seeing rape as banal is one way of shifting perception to match the everyday-looking-rapist with the rape, but surely the shift that's needed is the dissolution of the link itself? I'd have thought horror and revulsion at real-world rape is a completely valid response.
Wardog at 10:27 on 2009-06-08
Seeing rape as banal is one way of shifting perception to match the everyday-looking-rapist with the rape, but surely the shift that's needed is the dissolution of the link itself? I'd have thought horror and revulsion at real-world rape is a completely valid response.


Seconded.

I have less to say on the subject of rape (which sounds like it's genuinely sensitively presented and intellectually interesting here, although I'd have to read it to guage my emotional reaction) and more on the subject of romance novels.

Obviously I haven't read it but it sounds to me like it's a fairly standard fantasy novel with a strong romance plot - you seem to be the one arbitrarily deciding it deserves the classification of "fantasy romance" and is lurking in disguise, lest readers retreat in fear of getting romance-cooties.

Ultimately there are books that are classified as romance, and there are many sub-genres, including fantasy-romance, paranormal-romance, sci-fi-romance and historical-romance. Fantasy romance does not secretly aspires to be pure fantasy any more than fantasy with romantic elements secretly wants to be romance.
Romance is *not* a "lesser" genre infilitrating fantasy with its girly preoccupation with relationships, you know.

Anyway, regardless, I'm glad you liked the book - I'm tempted to read it myself.
Arthur B at 11:02 on 2009-06-08
Obviously I haven't read it but it sounds to me like it's a fairly standard fantasy novel with a strong romance plot - you seem to be the one arbitrarily deciding it deserves the classification of "fantasy romance" and is lurking in disguise, lest readers retreat in fear of getting romance-cooties.

Really? The author herself on her official website describes it as a "dark and romantic fantasy novel" and happily declares that her previous "dark fantasy with romantic elements" was nominated for two RITA awards by the Romance Writers of America.

Gee self-identifies as a romance author, classifies her books as romances, and happily promotes them as such. We can bicker about where the line between "fantasy with romantic elements" and "romantic fantasy"/"fantasy romance" lies, but it's clear that the romance community has embraced Gee more than the fantasy community has, unless she's been nominated for some fantasy awards I'm not aware of. (I can also vouch that in the case of The Laurentine Spy the resolution of the romantic plotline is vastly more important than anything else in the second part of the book, to the point where it almost pushes every other plotline out of sight).

But Solaris, for whatever reason, doesn't see fit to actually classify the book as a romance, and seem extremely reluctant to admit that romance plays much of a part in it. Not only that, but they seem to have very little interest in marketing it to a romance audience, fixating solely on the fantasy audience.

IIRC, they don't even see fit to mention her award nominations on the back cover (or if they do, they're coy about the precise nature of the awards in question), which is especially bizarre since publishers are normally keen to mention such things.

I do not think romantic fantasy is a lesser or compromised genre which needs to pretend to be something else to be accepted on the fantasy shelves. All I am saying in the review is that I think Solaris do think that that is the case, based on how they are marketing the book; they appear absolutely desperate to make sure that shops stick it in the fantasy section rather than placing it with the romances. I have no idea why this might be the case. They might have gotten it into their heads that they'll get a better audience from the fantasy market, or they might think they'll get in trouble from their bosses at GW if they don't cater to the business's core audiences (to be honest, I think it's more likely to be the latter), but it's still a really strange way for a publisher to behave.
Dan H at 13:23 on 2009-06-08
I'd have thought horror and revulsion at real-world rape is a completely valid response.


Horror and revulsion is a completely valid response to real-world rape, but it's also a very *rare* response. The most common reaction to real world rape tends to be "Are you sure? Do you not think that maybe you led him on a bit? I just don't think Steve is that sort of person. Really this puts me in a very difficult position." (apologies to guys named Steve). Actual rape very frequently doesn't sound like the sort of thing that so many people are "horrified" by.

Basically it's one of those phrases that pushes the same buttons for me as "I'm not racist but" - not meaning to cast aspersions on Guy but I've seen one too many people saying "I believe rape is totally evil" before going on to say "but it sounds like in this case...". I'm not particularly meaning to get at Guy here, just making a point which I was worried might otherwise get glossed over.
Andy G at 14:32 on 2009-06-08
I don't quite understand which of the following you mean here Dan:

a) Rape is (or should be) horrifying but people don't actually react with horror
b) People are often hypocritical when claiming to be horrified
c) Rape is not "horrifying" but some different negative adjective

I think c) would only be true if something "horrifying" would have to be manifested in overtly shocking or dramatic ways, and I'm not sure that's true - though that's basically just a semantic disagreement.
Dan H at 14:58 on 2009-06-08
Really? The author herself on her official website describes it as a "dark and romantic fantasy novel" and happily declares that her previous "dark fantasy with romantic elements" was nominated for two RITA awards by the Romance Writers of America.


If you'd looked more closely, you might have noticed that those two awards are "Best First Novel" and "Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elements". It has not, in fact, been nominated in any of the Romance genre categories, because it's not a romance novel.

I do not think romantic fantasy is a lesser or compromised genre which needs to pretend to be something else to be accepted on the fantasy shelves.


Umm ... for somebody who doesn't believe that, you spent a large amount of time in your review talking about how you picked up the book "without giving it enough scrutiny to realise it was a fantasy romance novel," about how the book is "awfully coy about being a romanctic fantasy" continually referring to it as a "romance novel" and by reference to other romance novels. You clearly wouldn't have picked the book up if you had "known" that it was "romantic fantasy" - you go to great lengths to point out that you're not a romance reader, that the parts of the book you identify with the romance genre didn't work for you.

You did, in fact, devote a lot of attention to the idea that this wasn't a "proper" Fantasy book, carefully segregating out the "Fantasy" and "Romance" elements. The very fact that you feel the need to categorise the book as something other than just "Fantasy" strongly implies an unwillingness to rank Emily Gee alongside such luminaries as Wolfe, Tolkein and Robert Jordan.
Dan H at 15:25 on 2009-06-08
I don't quite understand which of the following you mean here Dan


What I'm saying is a little bit more involved than any of those. What I'm saying is that it is often, but not always the case that when people talk about how horrifying rape is, they're talking about a specific media stereotype, not - say date rape or rape by intoxication.

If the logic went: "Rape is Horrifying, this is rape, therefore this is horrifying," it wouldn't be a problem. The trouble is that the logic frequently goes "rape is horrifying, this is not horrifying, therefore this is not rape".

For example, I was reading an article a little while ago (in the Times, not on some random weblog) which insisted that Roman Polanski should have been acquitted of the rape of Samantha Gailey, chiefly on the basis that she had eventually stopped saying "no". The author of that article went on to say that of course "if it had been a violent rape" that would have been quite a different matter.

Basically I just think it's one of those things where you have to be really careful how you self-define - like insisting that you're not a racist. Otherwise it becomes very easy to fall in to patterns of self-justification.
Arthur B at 15:41 on 2009-06-08
If you'd looked more closely, you might have noticed that those two awards are "Best First Novel" and "Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elements". It has not, in fact, been nominated in any of the Romance genre categories, because it's not a romance novel.

It is true that it has been nominated in those categories. But it's also true that it has not been nominated for, say, the Hugos or the World Fantasy Awards or the Nebula Award (which is the equivalent award given out by the SF and Fantasy Writers of America).

Arguing that Emily Gee's books are fantasy novels and therefore not romance novels is like arguing that most Regency romances (of which Emily Gee has written at least one) are historical novels, and therefore not romance novels. This is patently false. Given that "fantasy" or "historical" are tags based on a book's setting, and "romance" is a tag referring to the fact that a book's plot is driven by a romantic relationship between two protagonists, there's absolutely nothing mutually exclusive about the genre tags.

The Laurentine Spy is equally a fantasy novel and a romance novel; its author is published by fantasy publishers but celebrated by organisations of romance authors. It straddles the two worlds almost perfectly evenly. The very reason I keep stressing that I'm not a romance reader in the review is to point out that I'm reviewing it as a fantasy reader reading a fantasy novel and that I am probably not qualified to compare it especially strongly to other romance novels; despite this, I don't think any reasonable person, on reading the book, could really argue that the central feature of the book about which all the other plot elements orbit is the developing romance between the protagonists. The RITA nominations for Gee's earlier book doesn't lock her work in this setting into the romance category forever, but it is an important indicator that the books can be read and appreciated by romance readers as romance novels just as, say, Lewis can be read and appreciated by students of Christian apologetics as theological allegories whilst their kids appreciate the exact same books as exciting fairy stories.


Umm ... for somebody who doesn't believe that, you spent a large amount of time in your review talking about how you picked up the book "without giving it enough scrutiny to realise it was a fantasy romance novel,"

You're making it sound like I'm complaining about it, like I say "accidentally read a romantic fantasy novel" in the same tone of voice you'd say "accidentally ate a dog turd". Given that I go on to say that I honestly don't mind the romance angle I don't understand why you say this.

about how the book is "awfully coy about being a romanctic fantasy"

When I lend it to Kyra you are welcome to examine it and see for yourself. I think that "romance" and its synonyms are used precisely once in the advertising blurb, and even then it's tucked away in a quote from a magazine review at the bottom. The main bulk of the blurb talks about espionage, betrayal, magic, and learning to trust each other; it doesn't mention anything about falling in love, and considering that that's what the entire latter half of the novel hinges on that's a pretty major omission.

continually referring to it as a "romance novel" and by reference to other romance novels.

This being the feature which distinguishes to me from the sort of fantasy novel I usually read.

You clearly wouldn't have picked the book up if you had "known" that it was "romantic fantasy"

As evidenced by the fact that I didn't finish reading it and hated it.

Oh wait.

you go to great lengths to point out that you're not a romance reader,

The height of honest reviewing would, of course, have involved me concealing this fact and pretending to be an expert, perfectly able to judge the book from the perspective of a romance-reading audience rather than just a fantasy-reading audience.

that the parts of the book you identify with the romance genre didn't work for you.

Ah, you're going to have to point out where I do that. Is it the part where I complain about how we slightly lose Saliel's point of view once the escape sequence starts? Because that's not an inherent weakness of romance plots, it's a difficulty with the way that Gee has chosen to resolve this particular romance plot. I would have been much happier with a more balanced distribution of viewpoints, between Athan's wrangling with his guilt and his social prejudices and Saliel wondering whether she dare mention her occult gifts to a man who's already on the verge of running away screaming because she's of common birth.

You did, in fact, devote a lot of attention to the idea that this wasn't a "proper" Fantasy book, carefully segregating out the "Fantasy" and "Romance" elements. The very fact that you feel the need to categorise the book as something other than just "Fantasy" strongly implies an unwillingness to rank Emily Gee alongside such luminaries as Wolfe, Tolkein and Robert Jordan.

The very fact that I end my review with the line "As far as fantasy goes, however, I think that The Laurentine Spy is top-notch." would strongly suggest that you are reading a completely different Ferretbrain than the one I am.
Arthur B at 15:56 on 2009-06-08
(It strikes me that in the above there's a contradiction - I keep protesting that I'm not a romance reader, but keep analysing the romantic elements of the book anyway, which might have led to some of the confusion. This is inevitable; if I didn't address the major romantic elements of the book, I would have to ditch about 50% of it, including all of the interactions between the two major characters. Reviewing The Laurentine Spy without mentioning romance would be like reviewing Animal Farm without mentioning Stalinism.)
Wardog at 16:53 on 2009-06-08
Arguing that Emily Gee's books are fantasy novels and therefore not romance novels is like arguing that most Regency romances (of which Emily Gee has written at least one) are historical novels, and therefore not romance novels.


*cries* There's a difference between a historical novel which happens to be sent in the Regency period and a Regency romance novel. Notice on the e-harlequin website it says specifically: "Emily writes Regency romances as Emily May and dark, romantic fantasy novels as Emily Gee." i.e. she writes Regency romances and fantasy novels that are also romantic.

The Laurentine Spy is equally a fantasy novel and a romance novel; its author is published by fantasy publishers but celebrated by organisations of romance authors. It straddles the two worlds almost perfectly evenly.


It doesn't. It's a fantasy novel. Yes, it has romantic elements and people fall in love and sleep together but this does not make it a romance, any more than having, um, marriage in it makes War and Peace a romance novel.

I know this probably sounds like I'm fencing over trifles but wrongheaded attitudes to the romance genre bother me generally.

In order to make the distinction, here is a recognised author of fantasy romance.
Arthur B at 18:16 on 2009-06-08
OK, I've read synopses of a bunch of the books on Abe's site and I honestly can't tell what the difference is except Abe has more dragons, but it strikes me that we're both arguing without a full picture here; you've not read The Laurentine Spy, I haven't read a "recognised" fantasy romance. I'm trying to diagnose the patient without the medical textbook, you're trying to diagnose without actually seeing the patient, we're both not going to get very far.

A propsal: you read The Laurentine Spy, I read a fantasy romance of your choosing, we come back here and pick this up once we're done with that?
Arthur B at 20:17 on 2009-06-08
(And just so my last comment is clear: if anyone's in the wrong here, it's nigh-certain to be me, given that I'm commenting on something well out of my area of expertise. I'm sorry this got so emotive.)
Wardog at 00:01 on 2009-06-09
No, no, it's fine. It's an emotive issue only in the sense I'm over-sensitive to what I perceive as People Not Understanding romance. Basically I am an emo teenager about it :)
Dan H at 00:04 on 2009-06-09
(And just so my last comment is clear: if anyone's in the wrong here, it's nigh-certain to be me, given that I'm commenting on something well out of my area of expertise. I'm sorry this got so emotive.)


It's cool - I don't think anybody's genuinely angry.

I think part of the issue here is that there's both a defined subgenre of Romance called "fantasy romance" and a defined subgenre of fantasy called "romantic fantasy" and they're both distinct things (although some argue that they're the same thing, and some use the terminology the other way around).

From What You've Said To Me (that really needs an acronym) The Laurentine Spy can probably be classified as Romantic Fantasy - it includes common genre tropes like magic-as-innate ability, focus on social interactions and so on.

On the other hand it seems to lack a lot of the common trappings of actual romance novels. Comparing, for example, the synopses of Shana Abe's "Queen of Dragons" and Emily Gee's "Thief With No Shadow" we get:

Melke is a wraith, able to walk unseen. Feared by all, hunted and hated, she has lost everything--except her younger brother. Now she is forced to do the unthinkable: in exchange for her brother's freedom, she must use her magical gift to steal.


Compared to

Kimber, Earl of Chasen, is more new to his role as Alpha of the English drákon, but there's nothing elusive about him. He is powerfully, unmistakably male, and destined to rule his tribe. He's also been engaged to Maricara for years—although she doesn't know it.


The first one basically sets up a fantasy adventure story about a young woman. The second clearly sets up a romance with a traditional alpha hero (he's even referred to in those terms) and marriage plot.

I think it's often easy for people who don't read widely in a genre to categorise other things as part of that genre, when people who are familiar with the genre wouldn't. It's sort of like when you tell people you play role-playing games and they assume you're either talking about some kind of computer game or "the bishop and the milkmaid".
Guy at 03:42 on 2009-06-09
Horror and revulsion is a completely valid response to real-world rape, but it's also a very *rare* response. The most common reaction to real world rape tends to be "Are you sure? Do you not think that maybe you led him on a bit? I just don't think Steve is that sort of person. Really this puts me in a very difficult position." (apologies to guys named Steve). Actual rape very frequently doesn't sound like the sort of thing that so many people are "horrified" by.


G'day Dan,
I think this is a completely valid and important point, and I agree completely that there's a lot of hypocrisy in our society about rape. Recently there's been a high-profile case in Australia involving a famous rugby player - Matthew Johns - and a team "celebration" in which he and a group of fellow players engaged in various kinds of sexual activity with a young New Zealand waitress. The circumstances are too complicated to go into here but there's some ambiguity about the situation because the girl never actually said "no", but in my view what happened was absolutely clearly morally wrong and if the legal definition of rape doesn't include it then that definition should be expanded. Anyway, from the point of view of this discussion the relevant thing is that the man in question is a very popular, likeable, charismatic guy and it's meant that the media and the society have been engaging in a kind of public version of your "Steve" conversation. What's been most upsetting to me is to see friends of mine - not many, but still a few - defending Johns. The circumstances are complex enough that intellectually I can see that there is an argument to be made in his defence (not in my opinion a good argument) but emotionally I... find it hard to respond rationally. I hear them say these things and think, do I know you?

I also think your comments about the banality of evil are insightful - have you read "Eichmann in Jerusalem"? To me the important thing to understand just in a conceptual sense about evil is that it's not, as a rule, motivated by dark and terrible forces in the psyche, but by a kind of inattentiveness or carelessness. I believe that a person's conscience isn't something that has to be wrenched out of them by violent, overwhelming force in order for them to do immoral things... a conscience can simply fail to develop through lack of the right nourishment, and the person who has failed to fully develop their conscience will often appear essentially absolutely ordinary... banal. And such people may be tremendously common - very few of them become Eichmanns because the opportunity to be an Eichmann is not, historically speaking, very often available.

I do... hmm. Um. I think that allowing oneself to be offended by things that people say on the internet is a recipe for perpetual unhappiness, and so I... intend the following remark to be as neutral as possible, but I guess I just want to... point out that there is a difference between talking about the fact that there is a lot of hypocrisy around about some topic, and then going on to imply that therefore it is likely that a particular person is a hypocrite. If I've... shown myself to be a hypocrite in some way, I'm happy to talk about it (and maybe even change my ways!) but if it's just an assumption... it's a pretty unflattering assumption. And I didn't want to make a fuss about it, except that I guess now I kind of have, but... I guess that it seems like not saying anything at all might feel like an endorsement of that assumption.
Arthur B at 06:35 on 2009-06-09
The first one basically sets up a fantasy adventure story about a young woman. The second clearly sets up a romance with a traditional alpha hero (he's even referred to in those terms) and marriage plot.

I think it's often easy for people who don't read widely in a genre to categorise other things as part of that genre, when people who are familiar with the genre wouldn't. It's sort of like when you tell people you play role-playing games and they assume you're either talking about some kind of computer game or "the bishop and the milkmaid".

OK, I'd be really interested in talking about this once you or Kyra have read The Laurentine Spy, because I do think it might cross the line from romantic fantasy into fantasy romance at around the halfway point. I know I keep stressing how different the escape segment of the book is from the spying-in-the-citadel segment, but there really is a major gear change at around the point the pair leave the citadel. Athan spends most of the second half being extremely alpha (he personally co-ordinates almost every important aspect of their escape), and whether or not Saliel consents to marry him (for real this time!) becomes the major question driving the plot. It gets to the point where the spycatcher's pursuit ceases being the central problem the heroes have to contend with, as it is in the first part of the book, and ends up becoming just one more obstacle between Saliel and Athan and a happily-ever-after marriage (although it's quite a dangerous one).

Again, it's probably for someone more used to the genre to make the call as to whether it actually crosses over at this point, but you don't need to know the genres in question to notice that the second part of the book is a different beast from the first. I can completely accept that the first part of the book doesn't fall under any traditional definition of fantasy romance - it really doesn't - but the second part of the book demands to be treated separately, because it almost reads like a different novel altogether. Gee's quite good at making sure this isn't jarring - it helps that the first part of the novel is characterised by the structured routine of the spies' existence in the citadel, which we'd naturally expect to disappear once they leave the citadel - but it's still very noticeable.
Dan H at 16:45 on 2009-06-09
I just want to... point out that there is a difference between talking about the fact that there is a lot of hypocrisy around about some topic, and then going on to imply that therefore it is likely that a particular person is a hypocrite


Sorry Guy, I in no way meant to imply that you were a hypocrite, just that I thought your choice of words was unfortunate.

The reason that I initially objected to the phrase "horror and revulsion at the reality of rape" is because *everybody* experiences horror and revulsion at the idea of rape. I'm sure your Johns-defending friends do as well. That doesn't make them hypocrites, it just means that like everybody they tend to assume that the way they react to a situation is the correct way to react.

Basically I just think it's important to be aware of the possibility that you could, potentially, have an inappropriate reaction to a situation, that you could potentially hear about a Very Bad Thing and, instead of reacting with horror and disgust instead say "so what's so bad about that?"

Again, I don't mean to imply that you have in any way misrepresented yourself, or that your beliefs are in any way inconsistent. I just think it's important to recognise that there is seldom a direct 1:1 correlation between "things which are wrong" and "things one has a strong emotional reaction against".
Guy at 14:41 on 2009-06-10
No worries Dan, I suspect I just misread you. And yes, I agree... there's a real problem with the tendency to think that reacting strongly to something tells us that it's wrong. I think that's what I was trying to express in my clumsy way in my original post; because I have such strong feelings, I try to be wary of my own judgement because I know that those feelings are likely to colour that judgement. It's rather difficult, though, to actually be wary of one's own judgement, rather than merely intending to be...
Jamie Johnston at 23:24 on 2009-06-11
All this interesting discussion of genres has got me imagining a new Ferretbrain theme: So-and-so's guide to such-and-such-a-genre. It could identify the classic features and recommend some examples for the beginner.

Probably much easier said than done, but hey... :)
Wardog at 13:14 on 2009-06-30
AHEM.

This is slightly painful.

I was wrong. Arthur was right.

It's a romance.

At least the 3 chapters I've read have bourne all the hallmarks and several of the tropes of romance.

The fact that the hero is thinking about sleeping with the heroine from the second page...

The sexually charged antagonism...

The red-haired heroine whose beauty can only be appreciated by the hero...

At least it's definitely on the hazy borderline. The fact she's put such a lot of effort into world-building pushes fantasy buttons, the fact the focus is primarily on the relationship of the two central characters pushes romance buttons.

But, yeah, she writes real purty.

I'm kind of impressed now you read it through without flinging the book at the wall going "THIS IS FOR GIRLS" and going out to bash your head against a lager can. I'm not implying that's the sort of thing you'd do, but it's the typical male attitude to romance.
Arthur B at 13:34 on 2009-06-30
They laughed at me! THEY ALL LAUGHED AT ME! They told me it couldn't be done! They told me I couldn't find a romance novel published by Games Workshop! But who's laughing now? WHO'S LAUGHING NOW???

Ahem.

I'd be interested to see whether you feel that it crosses the hazy borderline at any point and becomes unambiguously a romance; I certainly think the second half does so. There is a bit more world-building, but it's much shallower than that in the citadel (unsurprising, since the characters don't stay in any one location very long), and there's pretty much no plot aside from the blossoming romance between protagonists and their efforts to escape (and arguably the latter is important only because the former is in jeopardy until they are home safe).

I'm kind of impressed now you read it through without flinging the book at the wall going "THIS IS FOR GIRLS" and going out to bash your head against a lager can. I'm not implying that's the sort of thing you'd do, but it's the typical male attitude to romance.

The killing helps, as is the fact that Gee is really good at characterisation (even of characters who have nothing to do with the romantic plotline). Also, it's a standalone fantasy novel with little in the way of filler, and these days I'll take what I can get.
Arthur B at 13:40 on 2009-06-30
(Oh, and I'm glad you enjoy the book. :D )
Wardog at 09:29 on 2009-07-06
So, I just finished The Laurentine Spy and I really enjoyed it and I agree, broadly, with pretty much everything you've said. I thought the rape and its aftermath was well-handled from both directions - I particuarly like the way Athan's first reaction to the discover is Saliel is Lady Petra is to beg her to marry him so he can make it "right" and that this simplistic response develops into something more complicated and less selfish the more time he spends with her.

I absolutely loved the stuff in The Citadel, I thought it was wonderfully claustrophobic and ominous, and the meticulous world-building really shone here. Like you, I found the second half of the novel considerably weaker. Maybe she was just running out of word count but, as you say, there's a lot of emotional development and a lot of travel and it all whooshes by a bit quickly.

I was also disappointed at the resolution of the romance - I mean, come on, he *raped* her, that's enough of an emotional barrier to overcome so the obstacles simply felt like overkill. I wish we'd had some more information about the Laurentine Protectorate - both Saliel and Athan think of it longingly because women are allowed to enjoy sex but, in its way, it seems just as oppressive and fucked up as the Empire. Equally it didn't seem either emotionally or pscyhologically plausible that Athan would be all "oh well, fuck them" to the entire social structure in which he was raised. At least, presumably his adventures in the Corhonese court must have changed him but, again, it all happens so quickly I was a bit kind of "whut?" about it.

Also what was with The Guardian?! He was just a maniac.

I did really like though, it's just a shame the second half didn't live up to the first.
Arthur B at 10:30 on 2009-07-06
I wish we'd had some more information about the Laurentine Protectorate - both Saliel and Athan think of it longingly because women are allowed to enjoy sex but, in its way, it seems just as oppressive and fucked up as the Empire.

On one hand, I quite like the fact that a) the oppression in the Protectorate is along class lines rather than gender lines, so you can clearly see that there's a culture clash but at the same time it isn't an incongruously modern and progressive culture, and b) we really don't see too much of it, beyond what we learn through Saliel and Athan themselves, because the fact that they feel this attachment to the place and its values in a land where the place is cursed daily and the values are nowhere to be seen highlights how isolated they are. I particularly like how we get more details about it as the escape segment progresses, and how it seems less noble and wonderful as good the closer we actually get to its sphere of influence.

On the other hand, I do think that we should have had more detail in the first half. We have basically none, beyond Saliel's reminiscences; all we know about Athan's background, we learn in the second half, and because we didn't really know much about it beforehand it seems thrown in at the last minute to toss up yet another arbitrary barrier between the couple and a happy ending. As it is, as you say, it's too rushed. "I'm a noble! I'm angsting! I quit being a noble! I'm fine!"

Also what was with The Guardian?! He was just a maniac.

The Guardian's awesome and I think he's one of the best features of the book. He's a complete monster but the logic behind his actions is pretty easy to see - the cell needs someone to remind them of their duties to the Protectorate and to prod, push, and manipulate them into actually risking their necks and doing some spying, otherwise their natural tendency would be to keep their heads down and just try to survive.

I'm glad you like the book. In retrospect, the problems with the second half bother me more and more and more; it was mildly irking at the time but something I was willing to overlook when I was basking in the afterglow of the first half, but the more I think about it in retrospect the worse it looks. I remember being irritated that they ditch the kitten soon after rescuing it - yes, I know the incident is meant to tell us something about Athan's character rather than giving them a new travelling companion, but I thought it would be nice for Saliel to adopt the kitten as they go along, despite the fact that it might be used to identify them, as part of the process of constructing a new identity of her own in the wake of the collapse of the cell.
C J Morgan at 00:51 on 2009-10-26

Is it actually identified as rape in the text?


Little late to the party here, but my copy just arrived the other day.

The word is explicitly mentioned in one scene, about the middle of the book. On re-reading, I'm not entirely sure it's explicitly used in reference to the earlier incident on the wedding night.

Briefly, Athan is speaking to the spy-catcher, who tells him that as having sex with his wife (and presumably, having children as a result) is his duty to the Empire, and if his wife doesn't like it or him, then he best develop an enjoyment for using an unwilling bed partner. Of course, since it is duty, the spy-catcher brushes off Athan's use of the word rape.

I did appreciate that the marriage night was covered very briefly, perhaps three total pages between the two viewpoint chapters that covered for it. And I will bow down at Gee's shrine forever for the fact that Saliel does not remarkably start 'enjoying it' in the middle of the wedding night rape. That has always ticked me off when I see it.

However, I did roll my eyes and want to slap Athan for his offer to have sex with her again, so she could see what it should be like. Sorry buddy, duty or not, that boat should have well and truly sailed for you. But I guess it is a common trope in romances, and for what it was, it was done okay.

I agree that the second half is weaker, but overall, the book had a good length, and flowed quickly. I finished it in a handful of hours, and overall it was a satisfying read.
Arthur B at 16:38 on 2009-10-26
Briefly, Athan is speaking to the spy-catcher, who tells him that as having sex with his wife (and presumably, having children as a result) is his duty to the Empire, and if his wife doesn't like it or him, then he best develop an enjoyment for using an unwilling bed partner. Of course, since it is duty, the spy-catcher brushes off Athan's use of the word rape.

I remember that bit; it's not explicitly connected to the wedding night incident in the sense that Athan doesn't say "I raped my wife on our wedding night", but I think it would be a big stretch to say that it isn't connected at all. Athan gets extremely upset (although he can't allow it to show) when the catcher makes those remarks - if I remember right, it's the one point where he seems most likely to break and give something away to the spycatcher - and they hit home with Athan because the situation the catcher describes precisely what actually happened.

I think the fact that Athan a) recognises the situation as rape when it's described in the abstract, whilst he's clearly thinking about the specific incident as well, and b) is consumed by guilt and realises that he may have scarred Saliel for life is enough to say that Athan almost certainly sees what he did as rape - at least, I can see no textual argument to suggest that he's in denial. (If anything, Saliel's efforts to dissociate herself from what happened seem much more like denial than Athan's regular attempts to address the incident directly.) He's a fuckwit for thinking he can make it better with his dick, but that's a different issue (and admittedly he does kind of end up making it better with his dick).
Wardog at 17:13 on 2009-10-26
I was genuinely quite impressed with the way the rape (and, yes, it is rape) is handled actually - it had psychological consequences for both characters and, yes, although the heroine was eventually able to recover from it, I saw this, again, as being fairly sensitively done. After all, it's just as problematic if people never deal with sexual abuse than if they shrug it off.

Also I think it's good that the text does start blowing rape trumpets as us - I think it's important to recognise that 'rape' is not solely a crime perpetrated down the dark alley at the hands of barbarian hordes.

In terms of Arthan trying to make it better with his cock, I think that was, again, a nice touch (so to speak). I think it's probably a very natural reaction to having hurt another person - and it's very much presented as Arthan trying to deal with his sense of guilt and shame in a selfish, clueless way. It's not especially a romance trope, as far as I know.

That he does later make it all better is a romantic trope but, hey, it wouldn't be much of a happy ending if both of them were pereptually traumatised by their sexual abuse.
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