So, remember how last week, I raved about Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Remember how said I hadn’t finished the series yet, so if it sucked, I was sorry.
Yup, I’m sorry.
Spoilers for the rest of the trilogy, and Trigger Warnings for discussion of rape and assault.
And on that cheery note, I want to talk a little bit about author responsibility. When we write, we hope to convey certain ideas and themes to our audience. We are taking part in the social narrative of our day, regardless of genre. Historical, non-fic, fantasy, it doesn’t matter. The themes transcend, and most especially when writing YA, authors must be mindful of what messages they send to their audience.
I am getting damned sick of rape as icing on the evil cake.
In the context of this trilogy, it makes perfect sense for the bad guy to make an assault play. It’s totally in line with his character, I would have honestly been surprised if he hadn’t, etc. What bothers me is the message the MC’s thoughts and reactions send to young girls. She acts like she didn’t see this coming, literally thinks the thought “he can’t hurt me”, and lets herself be put in harm’s way. This man has actually assaulted her before, tried to rip her dress off in public, and she spends the entire second book afraid of him, unable to sleep, barring her door, etc. But she lets herself be alone with him, she lets herself be overpowered by him– she completely departs from her previously established character, just so we can have a rape scene.
And then we just carry on, like it’s not a big deal. Her closest friends don’t react, don’t treat her any differently, the two men in love with her have raging hate boners for the bad guy, but that’s about it. The MC herself barely spends any time on it, mostly just wanting to shower. What the actual fuck?
So yeah, I’m not 100% what I’m trying to say here. As an author, I’m annoyed to see the strings behind the puppets as it were, having the scene so obviously orchestrated just so we can be absolutely sure we all know the bad guy is bad and the friend who rescues her is selfless and good. The MC herself becomes a cardboard cut out, shuffled along in the current of the plot, absolutely passive, in no way participating in her own narrative or acting like herself in any way.
As a young woman, with younger sisters I want to see grow up safer than the world I was raised in, I am disgusted and appalled at the treatment of rape as –ya know, not even as a narrative tool, but as a means of characterization. On a character already well established as evil. It served no point, had no impact, and made a victim out of a previously very capable character. When her family is taken from her, MC goes to incredible lengths to get them back. She is fierce, indomitable, resourceful, and frighteningly determined. And then she just… gives up. Rolls over. Let’s herself be bullied by a man who assaulted and murdered her in a past life and lets herself be alone with him– Again, what the actual fuck?
She then spends the rest of the story basically being too in love to function, or something like that, I honestly can’t say because I lost all pathos and interest in the character. I can’t imagine what this would do to young girls who’d been looking up to MC, who are trying to forge their own identities and come up with this as a guidepost.
Again, still not 100% what I wanted to say with this, and writing it out hasn’t made it any clearer. Just… be mindful as you write, ok? Remember that someone is going to read this, and someone is going to take lessons away, with no chance for you to say “But that’s not what I meant!” This is your voice. Use it thoughtfully.