Category Archives: A Song of Ice and Fire

I’ve finished reading A Clash of Kings even if it didn’t show on my reading queue and I’m not going to “officially” review, but I wanted to write down some scattered comments about it and put some kind of content on the blog.

Overall I think it’s not a strong as the first book. Martin did a good job with it, but I think the merit is mostly on the first book, setting up really well all the various parts. Book 2 makes it more a task of running with the ball, and that’s well done. Something that I didn’t expect is that Martin jumps some events more than the first book. The PoVs dictate the flow and the scenes that don’t strictly belong to one are avoided even if they could be significant. I fear that moving on with book 3+ this will become an exception and Martin will feel compelled to bog in unnecessary detail. In fact I remember a recent interview where he said that if he could rewrite ACOK today he would put Robb PoV back in and describe directly the campaign (hint: this wouldn’t improve the book at all and I’d rely more in Martin’s past wit than his most recent…).

Most of the merits of this second book are about sticking to those PoVs and make the characters’ drama drive the story in a way that feels plausible. Some of the best chapters tell a self-contained mini-story that ranges between 8 and 20 pages. In this book Martin begins having a more cumbersome, heavy prose that sometimes indulges into lists of names or other things that one reads only to immediately forget, but being the chapter “chunks” rather short it still makes for a good flow. Every time one of these chapter closes you have the urge to know what happens next (and I often went to read the first pages on the same PoV, sometimes almost 200 pages ahead), and I don’t think anyone else gets this compelling reading formula better than Martin.

Characters are always well written and truly “grey”. I think this is an aspect often misdescribed. It’s not about making a character morally ambiguous, but about making it somewhat plausible. There are definitely “heroes” that Martin wants the reader to root for, taking sides actively. The book is NOT neutral. Its strength is in making it work. Arya, an heroine the reader is supposed to love and recognize/sympathize with, can murder some nameless guy. This is from one side coherent with the character and the truly unforgiving world, and from the other side the reader finds it acceptable. As if this case made the murder totally acceptable. Necessary in some way.

This contrasts with murder that is not necessary, and while considering this I noticed how Martin uses this device every time he seeks for a certain response and shock the reader with some unpredictable death (and there are MANY). What defines these deaths, that are supposed to move and shock the reader, is that they are usually unnecessary (and unexpected). The result of some hate, or spite or brutal violence. But not strictly necessary, it’s an exhibition of violence. That’s how some characters (like Arya) can still be readers’ favorite even when they do something controversial. And I think this prepares the path from some characters’ arc like Jaime. The trick is the PoV, when you get into a character and learn his motivations you get to understand and sympathize.

At the micro level you can appreciate how well written everything is, but at the macro level some evident shortcomings start to show. For example the “pinch” that is made by the two extreme sides that close on the story, Ice/Jon Snow and Fire/Daenerys, is very obviously lagging behind while the center (the clash of kings) is getting bloated out of proportions. It’s not surprising that Martin started to have problem managing the thing (“the story grew in the telling”), since it’s only this central part that gets bigger in comparison with the rest. Daenerys PoV is a total of 60 pages in a book of 950, and in those few pages she’s basically idling or chasing after prophecies that are used to foreshadow how the story develops. Jon PoV is about 100 pages, but it’s mostly all preparation and flavor, used simply to move Jon to a new position. These two PoVs go together because they are disengaged from the rest of the story. They are like side-plots that wait to converge in some later book.

Another observation about the macro level is that the book is filled with Deus Ex Machina. I know people complain about this in Erikson’s books, but if you accept that kind of broad definition of DEM, then Martin have aplenty in this book, and all at crucial points of the story. To begin from the obvious: Melisandre.

In a world soaked in deceit and betrayal, she’s immune to both (the Prologue, to begin with). I guess Martin “has plans” to rule her in the later books, but within this one she’s a personified DEM for the simple reason that all the rules that apply to other characters DO NOT APPLY to her. Being a DEM personified she also leads to crucial DEMs in the plot. She can make prophecies that are NOT revealed as delusions. They really work. She has the DEATH SPELL. When I read that part I was absolutely sure that Martin was tricking me, but he wasn’t. In a world that establishes itself as “low on magic”, so that everything comes down to men and their affairs, she can simply “wish” that someone dies, and they do. At least in the Malazan world the power is in check. An action triggers a reaction, and it’s the power itself being a delusion. I don’t remember anyone dispatched as easily. But here nothing exists to keep the balance. She proceeds by killing a core character and another relevant one. Without these two deaths the WHOLE story would have spun in a totally different direction. About as much as dramatic as that certain death in book 1. And this huge plot bend is entirely a Deus ex Machina. Death spell, no saving throw. In a world with no magic and with kings being the show runners, being able to pick one and kill him in an instant is the exact equal of an I-WIN button.

It’s kind of ridiculous that when matters get serious and she can be used to easily win the war (and kill someone not made into a redshirt) she’s sent away with an excuse: “Your Grace, if the sorceress is with us, afterward men will say it was her victory, not yours. They will say you owe your crown to her spells”. The point being she’s one step away from breaking the whole story, and Martin has to rely on this artificial trick to limit the power he gave to her. Yet, she steps out and the other major DEM enters the picture: wildfire.

This is a sort of “magic” fire, whose DEM potential lies entirely in the fact that, being magic, no one anticipates it (well, Davos does, but only so much as to the lead to the powerless Big “No!” trope). It really gives this feeling of “magic entering the world” and subverting everything, a meta-device that enters the picture to make it change the natural course. On the micro level you have the character dramas that are written very well and work perfectly (in their big-picture-irrelevant stories), but on the bigger level there’s the whole war on the continent and the clash of kings. EVERYTHING on this level is artificially steered through all these Deux ex Machina. First Melisandre changing the course by killing two key characters by wishing it, and then by wildfire, whose power of subversion simply turns around the outcome of the biggest battle in the whole arc of the first two books.

A third major DEM comes with Jon, who has a magic dream (by the way, this book is filled with dream sequences, and I wonder why I don’t see them criticized as similar scenes in other books) that shows him what they are going to find, and so he’s able to save the whole company by making them turn around. Magic dream = magic rescue. A classic Deus ex Machina.

Now you can tell me that there’s very little magic in this world, but Martin has used it in the WORST way possible. By steering artificially the plot whenever something truly major was about to happen. Makes it feel the plot is on a leash. And yet it works, because the characters are so well written and relatively safe within their smaller cocoons of plot. It gives an idea of a complex world because it’s as if the main PoVs are caught in the events and not controlling them, which is the way “reality” usually feels. They try to survive while pieces more around them. Martin is the god moving the pieces from out of the picture, but at least he stays true to the characters.

I often try to pinpoint and understand certain things. One of these is about narrowing down the reasons why George RR Martin is immensely popular, and why his prose and style of writing feel so strong and vivid. I compare writers all the time, but not to decide who’s “better” and coming on top. I compare things because it lets me carve out stuff I’d otherwise miss. Because stacking things together lets me better appreciate in what and how they differ. So I constantly try to do this “gauging” of writing styles, but I lack the proper tools and knowledge to analyze a text, and so have to resort to my own vague, unspecified “feelings”.

In the last few months I’ve deliberately juggled writers to juxtapose the most different styles. Jumping between Abercrombie, Glen Cook, Martin, Erikson, Donaldson, Gene Wolfe. And especially reading twenty pages of Erikson and then immediately moving to read twenty pages from Martin’s “A Clash of Kings” (that I’m reading also because I want to clear the book before the TV show starts), and the opposite, from Martin to Erikson. As I said, since I can’t analyze, I need this so I can understand how it “feels”. Because I believe there’s something quite relevant that I’m missing and so that is hard to describe.

It’s important for me because it’s the opposite of “flattening” writers to a singular measure of quality. The comparisons I do are instead meant to “bring out” the differences so that I can better appreciate them.

What I found out is that moving from Erikson to Martin there is not so much to notice. It makes a kind of uneventful transition. I notice differences, obviously, but it’s not something that draws the attention. But if instead I do the opposite, reading Erikson after I’ve read Martin, the feeling is strong and I can only describe as: dismaying. It’s truly dismaying because this transition modifies the way I read Erikson. Suddenly I perceive something missing in Erikson’s prose that otherwise I wouldn’t notice. A strong feel. A gaping hole. After reading Martin, Erikson’s writing appears as barren and lacking. This is what I observed, but what I believe is important is the fact that all of this comes out only in one direction, but not in the other. From Martin to Erikson.

When trying to describe these feelings I thought that a good example retaining the quality of the comparison is about food. Martin’s way of writing is like a very rich meal. A banquet not unlike those described in the books. Bountiful and seducing. Going to read Erikson (notice that I’ll dramatize a lot to draw out these differences) is like being offered a plate of bones. You crunch noisily bones with your teeth and is not exactly as pleasant and gratifying (fulfilling) as sinking those teeth in juicy meat, grease dripping down your chin. It goes without saying that going from that kind of banquet to a plate of bones is definitely dismaying.

Looking into this I was wondering that the idea is also alike the writers themselves (at least what I see in pictures, since I’ve never met either). Martin himself has this charming, generous and bountiful, benevolent figure. While Erikson is wiry, a more nervous, withdrawn, angled figure. I’d say that if you put them side by side you’d notice Erikson definitely “missing” something (see where I’m going). It seems to me more than a mere coincidence that the way they are reflects so well in their respective writing styles.

It’s an interesting observation because it consequently leads to something else. I believe that Martin writes in a style that is strongly “outward”. It’s what I notice the most in everything, from descriptions to characterization. Martin is colorful and explicit. He’s not “unsubtle”, since the characters have admirable depth, but it’s still a style of characterization that I define as outward. Reaching out, to expression and the reader. Spoken sincerely, but manifest and specific.

Where I’m going with this? I noticed that most of ASOIAF style of plot and intrigue, including character focus, is essentially the same of the gameplay of Crusader Kings 2. These big families seeking to secure powers, betrayal, fratricide, arranged marriages and so on. Thematic greed, selfishness, survival in a cage with wolves. Yet, don’t you notice? There’s a HUGE missing element in this particular recipe: religion. Crusader Kings 2 (as well the historical reality it is inspired to) is all about religion. It makes a significant axis that is curiously missing from ASOIAF. In Martin’s series there’s religion, but it makes a very superficial, immaterial layer holding no weight. Martin doesn’t seem really interested in it.

I’m writing all this because I believe it brings out a certain thing. Read this blog post by Scott Bakker, I think it explains well why my reactions above were one-directional only (from reading Martin to Erikson). Both writers have a style of writing that on its own feels “sufficient”. Maybe Erikson’s style isn’t so warm and welcoming, but whether you like it or not you don’t feel like there’s something that is lacking. It’s sufficient, perfectly walled as meant to be. So is Martin. But if you pose one against the other then differences surface and become visible and significant. You may think that this was a consequent rationalization, but my thought actually went down this path in reverse. I suddenly noticed that the kind of characterization that Erikson was doing was also completely missing from Martin. It’s just not there. You can take out paragraphs of text and, even adjusted or rewritten, they just wouldn’t belong to Martin’s book. They are alien. It’s stuff completely missing.

So the whole deal is figuring out that Martin writes “outwardly”. Because Erikson is blatantly the opposite. He writes inwardly. They go in opposite directions. Realizing this made me discover a number of different aspects. Erikson’s plate of bones is the result of meticulous carving, as a writing research. It’s the result of that inward, personal path. Peeling of layers, like skin, then fat and muscle. I can make an effective comparison with the movie industry. Compare Hollywood, or western in general type of narration, that is “outward”, explicit and loud, very carefully driven to an effect, compare it with the “indie” or eastern style of narration. That is quite often feebler, more intimate, quiet and understated. Easy to blot. Martin’s style has the power of drawing you in regardless of your disposition. Eventually you’re won even if you weren’t fully willing. It’s like a movie that drags you in using competently all its devices. This is what “swallows” the big public, being (the public) so fickle and capricious, heterogeneous, and so hard to capture (and hold down) as a whole. Erikson is the opposite. Either you are “devout” to listen carefully, or it pushes further away if you try to stick to it even if it doesn’t immediately grab you. It’s almost hostile, uncompromising, unforgiving. It’s quite selective, which isn’t exactly a good thing for a book.

In the end it seems coming down to spirituality, which is why I pointed out how religion is absent from ASOIAF. Spirituality is about going inward, is the kind of personal journey. The interpolation of this model underlines many things. You can see outward and inward characterization, you can see how the world and things are described. In Martin’s story there’s always so much the characters have on their hands, that is immediate and tangible, that they never really stop to think. It’s interesting for example that Martin deals with “mystery” either in a classical way (folk tales and similar), or he gets quite clumsy and awkward. He fumbles whenever his characters aren’t earthly guys (and excels when they are). Whenever he steps out of his outward approach, he is less effective. The meal is rich and so you don’t notice if something’s missing, but this is an illusion created by abundance. If you know where to look, you’d notice certain “lacks”.

It’s again so similar to the recent discussions about consciousness. Moonlight versus bright, dominant sun. Midnight tides versus Kings. How the argument is not symmetric, and how the slanted vision makes you see things wrongly. Intuitively they are in that way, but intuition is often wrong. The same was my “feeling” moving between Martin, Erikson and back. Noticing how Martin conquered spaces, of attention, appreciation. Marching on uncontested. In this, similar to a western school of movies that are all projected out toward the public, to reach and draw the public in. Like the Oscars, or the Hugos, ideally meant as external, overreaching institutions of absolute judgement, closing down on everything. But then there’s this very manifest risk that the loud voice will completely overshadow the feebler ones. A problem of domination, of doing things “better”, more effectively. Flattened to a single path. Of seeing rising popularity to obscure everything else.

You have to listen carefully.

I’m not one of those accusing Martin for not being a reader’s bitch and watching football instead of writing, but I do “blame” him for this:

– I am heading up to Toronto in less than two weeks.
– Back home after that, and back at work, but then at month’s end I am off again, this time to the UK
– In between all this, I have, hmmmmm, lemme see, one two three four FIVE projects that I am currently working on

This on top of him taking almost all of the past year off from writing ASoIaF.

Everyone is free of making his own choices, but this speaks loudly about priorities. You just don’t commit to more “projects” if you feel like your big one already takes all you can give and is at serious risk of not being completed.

Martin just isn’t Steven Erikson, or Dan Abnett or Brandon Sanderson, who have demonstrated they can handle and deliver what they commit to. I’m not there to judge what he does and how he does it, nor I’m complaining that he so candidly tells us. The problem is that he seems out of touch with the reality of what he’s doing.

The problem is fitting in your own plans. If you’re aware that finishing a book can take you years you don’t plan a seven book series, or even let slip between the lines that two books won’t be enough to close it. You need to plan realistically around what you can deal with. Ambition requires commitment. If you plan large then you need to commit large as well.

So the issue is not that Martin indulges with distractions or watches football instead of writing all day long. The issue is that his series has not the priority and commitment that it requires in order to be realistically finished.

Recently on the forums there was a discussion about when someone’s talent peaks in writing. There are plenty of exceptions to make a rule, but it’s not unlikely that the older Martin gets the more problems he’ll have dealing with the intricacies and smallest details of his work. The mind can stay sharp, but it’ll likely have problems dealing with the sheer number of small parts involved. It should be in his own interest to stay focused on his work and handle it the best he can while he can do it, but he seems more interested in finding excuses to divert his attention to other things.

Do one thing, and do it well. Do you even TRUST who you’ll be in ten years? Are you sure he’ll do a better job than what you can do now?

Compare to someone giving her best:

Destiny’s Conflict will get finished on schedule.

If I took that long to get a book down, I think I would perish of boredom…the only conceivable delay would not be caused by guilty pleasures, but if financial need reared its ugly head and I had to find a day job. With gas prices and cost of living sending all expenses rocketing up, sales of the books will have to rise to compensate.

Every working author I know is swimming in the same rat race. :)

Well, not Martin’s case, obviously:

me and my assistants and my accountant must find time to prepare my taxes, so I can write the IRS the biggest check that I have written in my life.

For some writers the possibility to commit and focus on one project is a privilege they wish they could have.

Just some superficial comments, as I’m far behind reading ASOIAF while still following how the opinions develop on the internet.

One reason why I appreciate ASOIAF without being a huge fan is because it’s to my eyes limited in some way. I recognize the mastery of the craft of writing and plotting, but it’s as if this craft is not in the service of something worth it. As if the pagecount is proportional to skill, but not to ambition. A great story, a great experience, but lacking a certain purpose or absolute necessity. It lacks a dimension.

All this contained in its structure. A song of ICE and FIRE. But five books in, the Winter is still coming. Fire and ice have yet to meet. What is at the periphery is still there, creeping in but still away. There’s lots of plot, but it’s like suspended in a stasis, with only the illusion of movement. And in two books all this is supposed to come in with a bang and then be resolved. It has yet to begin, but it’s already almost over. A very, very long prelude.

A step further, it seems to me that Martin doesn’t know what to do with the more “fantasy” elements of the story. They are atmospheric but not meaningful or done in an interesting way. Not dealt up to their potential. I’ve read the Prologue of ADWD because it received specific praises and was a self-contained story, but I didn’t find any particular inspiration in it. From the beginning, and with a precise intent, Martin has kept these fantastic elements subdued. They were only a spice, adding a certain flavor to the real meat of the story, which was about intrigue and family matters. But as the focus is supposed to shift, those “fantasy” elements don’t seem to be hiding a greater depth, and the story loses its steam.

Specifically about LOST what got my attention is trying to narrow down how mystery and mythology can be done well. From my point of view LOST finale was met with some disappointment because of a focus shift. It started in season 1 as an mystery/horror, then moved to mystery/sci-fi/pseudoscience and finally “dropped” its mythology to go fully mystic. The first transition worked, the second didn’t not go equally well.

The fact is that LOST in the beginning kept the people watching because it had a good rhythm and tension. It wasn’t the good ideas that kept the audience, but the execution. In fact I believe pretty much everyone started watching feeling quite skeptical. It then “earned” some faith as it started to give the illusion that everything that was shown wasn’t random but part of a cohesive vision that could eventually make sense. A vast, intricate mythology/puzzle that would give an unitarian vision to the disparate parts. While, with the last season, this huge mythology was essentially put on the sideline as if it became suddenly superfluous and uninteresting. In that way, it betrayed some expectations.

So what is that “worked” and that then didn’t live up to those expectations? From my point of view it’s about the core idea of the “hatch”. The “hatch” represented a pattern of mystery and mythology done 100% successfully. It felt compelling and satisfying. Opposed to the later developments that instead felt dry. The distinction between mystery done well and it being deluding lies on whether or not it opens a window on a new scenario. The hatch is a good example because it became the pivotal axis of the first season. Everything revolved around that big mystery, and people came back for the second season to finally see what was beyond that hatch. A door opening onto something. An hole in the veil of mystery. The revelation did not disappoint. Why? Because it wasn’t a dead end, but it lead up to disclose a big new dimension of the mythology (The Dharma project and all it contained). The mystery felt compelling and satisfying because it branched out, it was a seed for something far greater. A box to open to discover a new world.

Back to ASOIAF, so I can make the link. What characterizes this series are the shocking, unexpected events, like a certain death in the first book, which remains like a signature. Yet that specific event “worked” not simply because it was unexpected and shocking. There were two main reasons why that specific event was so successful: (1) because a “way out” was already explicitly traced and readers believed it logical and true, a plausible development. The shock arrived because the death wasn’t the culmination of a scene filled with danger, but because it arrived once the danger felt already behind. (2) Because that death wrestled the plot in a whole new direction. It works because of mind-boggling consequences and repercussions it has on every level (characters and plot). It “opens up” instead of being just a dead-end and miserable death. It’s not a conclusion, but the true starting point. It becomes the spine of all that follows.

So there are these similarities between the successful (and unsuccessful) mysterious/mythological aspects of LOST and the successful (and unsuccessful) unexpected turns of plot that keep readers reading ASOIAF. The mystery/revelation chain works when it becomes a seed delivering a greater picture. Or comprehension that unifies disparate pieces of the puzzles. Same as in ASOIAF where it’s not an unexpected death to be compelling, but how the reader is directly engaged with its consequences, the opening and closing of possibilities.

If someone tried to replicate the success of ASOIAF following the widespread idea that “no one is safe”, then he’d only end up in failure. Because what works isn’t in that pattern of simply doing something unexpected, but in giving the new perspectives and knowing how to kick the story up to a higher level.

One wonders if Martin knows, with two books left, how to close the story in a meaningful way as he was able to do with its beginning, instead of being squeezed in that pinch made by fire and ice, that seems to have no real way out.

Just a passing thought. In this blog post Bakker says he’s currently writing his next, and last in the series, book “The Unholy Consult” and that specifically he’s working and jumping between fifteen chapters without having completed any yet.

This “process” is similar to how George Martin writes. He jumps around and works at the same time on a number of disconnected chapters without following a narrative linearity, which also means that it’s not possible to pinpoint how much of a book is completed since there’s not a linear progress. The writing proceeds sparsely across the whole body of work.

Erikson instead is a special case. From one of his recent comments it can be deduced that he writes linearly not simply because of restraints due to deadlines, but because it’s structural to his peculiar process of writing. He writes linearly, page after page, with the scenes following exactly the final order they’ll have on the published book. And he specified that jumping back and forth, rewriting and moving scenes, switching order of chapters and so on, would feel like “cheating”, and that this way of doing allows him to stay true to the characters and context, providing that limited perspective in which he thrives.

My thought was about the result, which is quite odd. Both Martin and Bakker jump all over the place when they are writing, but then the finished book has a strictly linear narrative. The scenes are ordered in chronological order. Erikson on the other side writes linearly, but the final structure delivers the opposite: scenes are scrambled in chronological sequence AND narrative direction. You can read an outcome in book 1 whose “cause” appears in book 5. How can he do this?

It’s like all three of them work by fighting what would come natural: Bakker and Martin have to restore a linearity after they “built” the whole book in a non-linear way, while Erikson has to have his mind jumping around an do the extra work so that he can set up the roots of the narrative complexity that he is going to realize.

Am I the only one finding this curious?

Collecting some comments I wrote in the Malazan series re-read at Tor.

Tyrion or Jaime or Sansa in GRRM’s series where there’s more transition that leads to personality changes and development.

Oh, I so disagree. Martin, in those cases and more, just expertly pulls at heart strings. Whatever he does with a character is VERY deliberate and very precise.

If even one reader develops antipathy for a character like Tyrion, then it means the book failed. There’s nothing truly open to interpretation if not the illusion of it. Martin always chases an effect as is typical of Hollywood/western writing. Nothing can be accidental or uncertain. Which is why he writes and rewrites incessantly till the experience isn’t absolutely perfect and works the way he wants for everyone. The book is built to be successful when EVERY reader has the exact same response to it.

Tyrion is one of those characters whose negative traits are cleverly exploited to ADD to his sympathy. It’s anti-hero done in a trivial way (written and executed well).

With Felisin instead Erikson creates a character that can trigger a different response depending on how you approach her, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to get the character. I’m not more “right” than you saying that I loved Felisin. Erikson doesn’t shove the reader in a specific direction that “feels” natural but that is instead carefully defined. It’s not on rails. Whatever you draw from that story is up to you, a subjective emotional response and all the “truth” about it, you keep it to yourself and no one can say you’re wrong. The character arc has nothing of the typical uplifting destination, and a lot of true ambiguity.

People always tell say they love gray characters when what they love is to read heroes who are “gray” only in a slight, but pleasing, nonconformity that feels very “hip” and “modern”.

Martin is a great executor and a very good writer. But it’s all pre-chewed material.

I also kind of chuckle when I see that “maturity” is taken as synonym of wisdom and moderation. But it very rarely is. Maturity only defines someone more broken than another. It’s just a collection of the number of pieces you’ve shattered into and how deluded you are about them.

Nope, you’ll rarely get to put the pieces back together. And that’s is valid both for Felisin and everyone else in the real world. Well, besides fantasy stories. In fantasy stories you can.

When I started to read the prologue of DG it was right after finishing the last page of GotM, I was well aware of who Felisin was and also of the fact she was going to be a major character in the next book.

The prologue starts with a very cinematic scene. You can see the camera panning while following the Hood Priest. The Priest is the initial focus of the scene and the PoV follows it as it walks toward its mysterious destination. Only after this initial set-up Felisin comes into play and we discover that it’s instead her PoV. We see the Priest approaching right toward Felisin, who’s merely an observer of something that seems to have gone “wrong”. Feelings of foreboding, the slaughter, the season of Rot, the mule, but still no mention of how this is going to be related to the plot (or to Felisin, she’s still out of the scene, out of perceived threat).

So up to this point Felisin is an external/passive observer. It came to me as a total shock that she was chained with the others. You have this Priest walking toward someone or something. Felisin wonders if it’s really her to be the target. But for the reader this becomes about discovering that it’s her the *victim* already. There’s no way out. We have been shown a Felisin chained right from the start, without any hope to get free. The fate is sealed.

Usually we see a character who faces danger and struggles to find a way though. We read anxiously how the story develops. It builds tension. Here we are thrown in a situation in which “possibility” is crushed. The chains locked before the first written line but the reader’s realization comes with delay, and in the text is completely understated, almost tangential. The scene is then followed by an escalation of brutality that shows clearly that there’s no way to turn back. It’s a path carved deeply into hell and the more you go down the worse it is. Even if you find a way through and up again the price you’ve paid would be already way too much to find any sort of absolution or justification in it. The threshold has been already passed and the reader somewhat forbidden to experience any sense of hopeful possibility.

What’s worth saving is already irremediably lost.

I’m still awed by the prologue and how it works spectacularly on its own. In two pages the reader goes through the feeling of having chains locked by having Felisin only entering the scene last. It’s her PoV right from the start but Erikson structures the scene so that the perceived PoV is completely overturned as one reads. From a side we have a cinematic scene, from the other we have an effect that is basically impossible with a camera, since the PoV would be already “bound” to the character.

Erikson uses cleverly everything that is unique to the writing medium. Even a small scene like this is brilliant not just because of what happens, but in how it is carefully structured and narrated word by word. Defiant of expectations, and ambitious.

Whichever way you look at it, I don’t like the idea—it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

I guess it’s worth discussing. On your blog you posed the question whether “rape” can be “art”. The discussion is broad, but also quite straightforward from my point of view.

What’s the purpose of a book? Flatter its reader with edifying stories and encouragements?

Is “art” whatever we enjoy, and non-art whatever we despise and contemn? Is art exclusively self-congratulatory?

The point here is that the book will tell its story. The book has EVERY right and legitimation to tell its story without censorship. It’s the reader who decides how to personally weigh what he reads.

So should a book just tell a story that makes its readers comfortable and content? Nope, all stories are legitimate as long there’s someone who wants to hear them.

At the same time not feeling comfortable with a story and refuse to read it, is a personal and legitimate choice that should always be respected.

So I really won’t support the idea that criticizes Erikson for tackling certain themes that may hurt common sensibilities. Every reader can make there a personal choice whether or not to read it, but one can’t attack a writer for writing outside certain expectations.

Writing, as part of culture, MUST break through imposed or perceived barriers and limits.

And I write this not because someone has stated the opposite, but because that idea always lingers in these types of discussions.

I think it is too ingrained in some people to be judgmental about her trading sex for favors in the prison camp. Or the drinking and smoking scenes, just because we tend to frown on that as a modern society

You can as well stop that first line at “it is too ingrained in some people to be judgmental”. That’s enough.

I’m very, very uncomfortable even thinking of JUDGING Felisin personally. I feel it very wrong and perverse.

I think personal choices are always to be respected because the external point of view is so hypocritical and partial. It’s too easy to nitpick from the outside about the personal choices someone else makes. It’s haughty and arrogant.

Felisin makes choices that are solely about her. She hurts herself in some cases. She never deliberately takes action against someone else (at least up to this point).

So, whatever is her choice, I would always respect it because it’s not a restraint on someone else’s choice. Maybe not approve it, but respect it.

People shouldn’t tread carelessly and be judgmental over pain and trauma of others. It’s a delicate topic.

Even posing the question whether one of her choice is “right” or “wrong” is about taking a truth out of it and rationalize what can’t be rationalized.