Conversation Post: Arrow’s Fall #ReadingValdemar

Hi, readers! Please be aware that when Jackie and I post conversations about the Valdemar books, we are unabashedly discussing everything. So, there are spoilers everywhere. Proceed at your own risk!

Jackie: Melanie. I just finished reading Arrow’s Fall. I have so many thoughts! The first and foremost being, I CALLED IT. Or, at least most of it. We didn’t resolve the whole Gwena question, but I have hope it will be resolved in Elspeth’s trilogy (The Mage Winds). We definitely ended on the verge of war. No war yet… but it’s going to happen. And Lord Orthallen was a totally a traitor! I felt like his reaction to Elspeth and Talia confronting him was a little extreme, considering how cool he’s played it up until now. Why the sudden switch?

Melanie: I don’t know, maybe all old white men are just nutty? He lunged at them and then POW! Elspeth nailed him with her dagger, the special-secret dagger Skif taught her to use. Is Skif not just totally f-ing cool? In my book, I highlighted the whole of what happened after Elspeth killed Lord Orthallen: Elspeth was faint, she puked everywhere, and then cried. I really liked this, as I hate the way characters in fantasy novels are just suddenly used to killing and death, even after they’ve killed their first person. It was a very human reaction that I appreciated.

Jackie: Yes! I felt like this was an appropriate emotional reaction for anyone’s first kill. Elspeth has had years to deal with the fact that she will be expected to be able to kill someday and yet she still fell apart. It was perfect. Which, honestly, only made me angrier about how Talia’s emotions are handled.

Can we dig into this whole rape thing? I was frustrated in Arrow’s Flight when rape was a plot point. But how rape was handled in this book gave me a lot of rage. We had a ton of foreshadowing, so I knew it was coming. But Talia is gang-raped, tortured, brutalized, and more-or-less left to die in the dungeon. The gang rape is given two sentences; that’s it! It feels like we “expected it,” so we didn’t need to go into detail. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to read it. But I want it to be more than a footnote, as it’s incredibly traumatic! Then, we are given a handful of lines throughout the rest of the book that imply Talia has emotional trauma from this experience, but thanks to the magic of Healers she is able to move on within a few weeks!? I just am really frustrated with how this whole thing is handled. And don’t get me started on Talia telling Dirk he was “emotionally raped.” Wut.

Melanie: This is a lot to unpack, but an excellent conversation to have. I enter this conversation as a person who has never been raped, nor do I wish anyone to present traumas in their past as a way to validate their opinions — that includes you and anyone following along with #ReadingValdemar. I just know that I can’t speak from experience. However, here is what I do know about rape based on articles and books (Missoula, I’m looking at you) that I’ve read: rape is about power — taking it away from the victim, exerting power at will, that sort of thing. And, there is no one standard way a person reacts to rape. So, here’s the way I see Talia’s gangrape at the end of Arrow’s Fall: three nameless, faceless prison guards have a defenseless young woman in their charge, a young woman with zero hope of escape. They have no concern of consequences because Prince Ancar is just as, if not more, brutal than they. The fact that Lackey implies Talia is sexually intimate with Dirk weeks after this happens disgusts me, but some women do engage in sex shortly after. I’ve read it’s used as a means to normalize, and I’ve read some women become promiscuous in an effort to re-live the rape with the exception of being in control as a means to change what happened. Looking mainly at the way rape is a way to take power, I’m okay that it was barely mentioned. I see what you mean when you say that the victim deserves more, that such a trauma shouldn’t be glossed over, but I think authors will use sexual assault as a way to easily shape a character and make us think, “Ah, this person is a power-hungry piece of garbage. That’s all I need to know about him.” I think it works, but I think there are more creative ways to do the same thing.

The “emotional rape”? Yeah, that was garbage. It just sounds like Dirk was a pawn for a short time in a game played by some court lady who had the hots for his sexy friend, Kris. It’s a misstep on Lackey’s part for sure. I thought Dirk’s pity party was silly every time it was mentioned. The woman was always called a “bitch” (ugh) and Dirk’s love for her confused the rules — Heralds aren’t supposed to fall in love with everyone. It’s supposed to be rare, which is why lifebonds are so special.

Jackie: The struggle I have with Talia’s rape is that I don’t see Lackey using this as a way to shape Talia’s character. It is mentioned and thrown away. Yes, power is exerted and we are asked to lightly touch on the repercussions. All the right things are in place, but they feel like lip-service. In the first book, Talia was ready to ride back and rescue all the women from Sensholding! She felt a combination of rage and fear when dealing with “pretty” men. Where did that passion go? Why is this event not pushing Talia forward? And, if Talia has grown and matured beyond revenge and the like, why don’t we explore this? We got page after page of Talia’s internal debate over the ethics of her Gift. We get next to nothing about this traumatic experience. It feels disjointed.

And yes, Lackey does use the torture-rape to help us better understand Prince Ancar and Hulda’s characters. But, I only feel like this boosted Hulda’s character, not Ancar. Hulda is a character we have previous knowledge of, and, therefore, preconceptions. But, the torture could have been done without the previous rape scene. I just don’t think it added anything to the story. In fact, I think the rape could be removed entirely and nothing in the story would have changed. . .

Melanie: OMG, I TOTALLY SEE WHAT YOU MEAN NOW. I never connected the rape scene in Arrow’s Fall with Talia’s passion to help women in the first two books! I mean, think about what she did to that man who was assaulting his own daughter in Arrow’s Flight and then compare that to Talia’s own response to what happened to her. I was VERY icked out when Skif suggested Talia give Dirk a memorable going away present that would make him hurry back. W.T. actual. F.

I also wanted to talk about how Elspeth decides she’s going to get attention from her mother by sexually engaging the court boys Lord Orthallen has told her are looking at her. The teen sees it as a way to prove she’s grown. After having this whole conversation about sexual assault, it’s weird to think of the different ways we’ve explored sex in Lackey’s books. The way we use our bodies, and the way others use our bodies, is so complex in ways I didn’t really ponder before this conversation — I never really had a reason to do so with another person.

Do you want to talk about Robin and Alberich? To me, they were the stars of Arrow’s Fall (in terms of stand-out characters, not showy heroics or most time on the page).

Jackie: And Elspeth, being a hormonal teenager, doesn’t really understand the ramifications of what a tryst means to her country — only what it means in terms of her family. That said, I felt like poor Elspeth has a double standard she has to live up to. The Heralds are all sexually active, taking birth control, etc, etc, and yet Elspeth cannot be expected to participate the same way? I was a little surprised that the Royals haven’t grown past this yet. But I guess they have to deal with the court in a way few other Heralds experience.

Speaking of Elspeth and Alberich! This is the best writing in the book, in my humble opinion:“That’s when he said something really odd, Alberich, I mean.” This is a simple sentence Elspeth says in the middle of explaining herself to Dirk. But it’s EXACTLY how someone speaks. Like, in real life. I was filled with such joy reading this sentence. It’s perfect. Elspeth truly came alive for me in this moment.

Anyway! Robin is 100% my favorite character in this book. I wish we had gotten more of Robin. He’s honest, dedicated, passionate . . . I hope he shows back up in Elspeth’s trilogy (The Mage Winds). And Alberich is definitely the unsung hero of the whole trilogy. He watches all the Heralds so closely. Why don’t people seek counsel from him more often?

Melanie: I think he puts on his strong-man face to make them band together against him and not like him. I was really moved when I learned that after the Death Bell tolls, no one will see Alberich. He’s off on his own, grieving hard core because he feels like a Herald’s death is the result of his inability to train them properly. I like that he trains each Herald to his/her strengths, such as using Skif’s past as a pickpocket to train him differently, and then using Skif’s methods to teach other Heralds who are smaller, like Talia. It’s the antithesis of what we see in The Sword in the Stone in which everyone has a big-ass broadsword.

I think Robin will come back — as a Herald. He is too good, kind, and attentive to not be Chosen. He may be a blue now, but I don’t think he will be forever. Speaking of predictions, remember how we never learned about where Gwena comes from? WELL. Kim @ Travelling in Books said that readers DO learn where Gwena comes from and she’ll spoil it for us if we like. I said NO,…..but could I have a teensy clue about which book the answer is revealed in?

I like that you identified a quote that spoke to you. Here is one that got to me:

Most Heralds weren’t highborn, and didn’t grow up with the intrigue and politics that were a part of the rhythm of Court life. Things Kris accepted matter-of-factly disgusted them. But the fact was that Heralds were very sheltered creatures — except the ones who lived and worked in the Court, or were highborn.

I respected that Lackey decided class, gender, sexuality, and kingdom of origin didn’t matter when it came to being Chosen. Yes, Kris is from a family steeped in Court life, but Talia knows about child-rearing and difficulties when people lack luxury. I also like that Lackey implies some of the things Court people do is horrid, preventing readers from thinking the class system permeates the Heralds’ honest and good way of thinking.

Jackie: There is a lot about class in Lackey’s world that we barely address. I get the feeling from her writing that Lackey knows her court and the classes much more intimately than we do. I hope we explore this more in future books. There is a lot of text to cover still, so I have hope.

Oooh, I like your prediction about Robin! I hope it comes true. As far as my predictions are concerned, I predict we’ll learn about Gwena in Elspeth’s trilogy. No spoilers, Kim!! I also predict that we will learn Vanyel’s legend has been HIGHLY embellished in The Last Herald-Mage trilogy. I’m super excited for this next trilogy. It’s good to get a break from all this “modern day” Herald drama and have a chance to learn about magic before this war we will experience with Elspeth (The Mage Winds). I cannot wait to dig into this with you. And, hopefully, with some of our readership! After all, each of these series is standalone. . . *hint hint*

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17 comments

  1. Well dang this was a fantastic conversation! I have not been doing the read-along as I have read a lot of these books in me younger years. But I am highly enjoying following along and reading all of the comments and posts. I particularly enjoy yer discussions about the sexuality and rape topics of the books. As I get older the use of rape as a plot point irks me to no end. It can be a useful tool in a story but I really don’t like when rape is used just to show that the bad guy is bad. I do like the idea that Elsepth actually reacts to killing someone. That seems realistic. I think, for me, the odd thing about me reread of the first book of the trilogy was how progressive certain parts of the books were in terms of birth control, discussing periods, accepting of causual sex, etc. And yet in terms of plot and writing there were so many parts that do feel backwards in juxposition with the progressive parts. I assume that some of that stems from when the books were written and because she was a new author having learning curves. I am interested to see what the latter books feel like in comparision. I look forward to spying on yer journey. Arrrr!
    x The Captain

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    • Which of the Valdemar books did you read? I’m about half way through Magic’s Pawn right now, and I can already see that Lackey’s writing style has changed–in some ways for the worse–and improved in other ways. How did you discover Mercedes Lackey?

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      • Oh goodness. I can’t even remember which books I have read at this point. The problem is they all blur together. I read them over 20 years ago now. I do remember loving take a thief the most. And I loved the ones about the Heralds of the far past. I discovered her because I was horse obsessed and her books were in the fantasy section with a horse on the cover. Telepathic horses rocked me boat. Still do actually. At me young age horses and dragons often chose what I would read next. As an adult I still don’t own a dragon and I am wicked allergic to horses so books have to do.
        x The Captain

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        • I’m just laughing at this response! You are so funny 🙂 I can’t wait to read about all these side characters in the Valdemar books that Jackie and I are reading together. Skif and Alberich are at the top of my list, as are these hawkbrothers described in Magic’s Pawn. I hope the hawkbrothers are the people in the Owl books (flight, sight, and knight).

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  2. Interesting conversation with regards to the portrayal of sexual assault in fiction. It can be very difficult to get the balance right between honouring the physical and emotional brutality of the act, whilst not becoming gratuitous. It’s also frustrating when it feels like a mere plot device to denote either weakness in the victim, or evil in the rapist. Equally, underplaying the impact of rape can make it seem flippant, and it sounds like that may have been the case here. It offers a real chance for emotional development and social commentary, and it’s a shame if that opportunity is passed up.

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    • After Jackie and I had this conversation, I really couldn’t think of a time when rape should be included in a work of fiction. Except there’s one problem: it happens all the time in real life. It’s not a plot point, it doesn’t tell us more about a person, and it often goes unreported. Are we asking for sexual violence to make sense in fiction when it often doesn’t in reality?

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      • Very true. It would be remiss to eradicate it from fiction, given how prevalent it is in real life, but it does seem very difficult to represent with due respect and impact, without it feeling like a device on the author’s part.

        Asking For It by Louise O’Neill is perhaps the best portrayal I’ve seen, in terms of its look at a realistic psychological impact (for some victims; everyone is different, of course), and its look at society’s wider perspective on the issue.

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  3. It’s very easy for depictions of rape, and of violence in general, to be voyeuristic. Lackey seems to avoid this, perhaps at the expense of trivializing it. As an old guy I mostly need to listen and absorb when you guys discuss this stuff.

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    • It’s challenging. This conversation with Jackie and then others chiming in has given me a lot to think about. As I mentioned to another person, why do we ask that sexual violence have a point in a story when it seems to make no sense in real life. It’s not as if it’s planned out (at least not in the stories I read or hear about in the news), and sexual violence doesn’t have any meaning in real life other than one person felt they could exert power over another. But in fiction, we seem to want something from it, for it to make sense or be treated sensitively. I have no answers, nor do I have a strong opinion because I’m still thinking about it.

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      • To be honest, I avoid fiction that features sexual violence because dealing with the legal ramifications of the reality is a large part of my job (and I need my fiction to be an escape… that might explain why I love the happy endings of YA!). I’m actually working on a brief right now–I’m working from home because we have a snow storm today–about the revictimization of a minor whose almost 60-year-old assailant has asked the court to cross examine her personally (rather than have counsel do it). So yeah, I hate it when fiction downplays rape by making it seem like survivors “move on” from it within weeks.

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        • Yes, I completely agree that too much fiction moves on to quickly from assault. Not only did the character in Arrow’s Fall move on too quickly, the author implies that she immediately engages intimately with her partner. That kinda made my eyes want to bleed.

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