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Violence! Rape! Agency! The rapiness that comes before


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First, congratulations to the board that the prior thread ran for a full 20 pages instead of getting locked!

(Maybe the mods were just asleep? Or has post quality improved?)

Well, I was asleep for 9 hours, that might've helped. ;-P

Kalbear, you mention you have issues with the Tyrion/Tysha subplot, more so than with the Terez scene. Could you elaborate?

(I mean, I think we're both rearing to accuse each other of horrible personality flaws, but I figure I need a little justification before hand.) ^_^

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a full 20 pages instead of getting locked!

if it's because of merit, rather than moderator negligence, it marks a certain maturity. threads such as these are the only serious reason to have a literature subforum, which might otherwise degenerate into requests for recommendations (i.e., marketing), reviews (marketing), and mere appreciation (less than marketing?).

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WHAT romance novels? I've read a bunch of romance this year, and so far I haven't come across any examples of "lesbian getting raped by the guy she was a jerk to".

I'll have to admit some ignorance and note that I've only personally seen it in the Fabio story he wrote; the girlfriend at the time kept bringing it up. I'm fine tossing this one if you like.

Well, let's see. In the whole First Law trilogy, we have about 6 female characters with any significant character description, maybe 7. Of those 6 or 7, 2 are lesbian. Yup, that's even more than 20%. So you should be happy now.


not really; it's not just speaking roles I'd prefer. And there's no specific quota either. Basically as long as minorities/sexual orientations are there and not being used as the token value or to be damaged because of their minority status, I'm more happy. I'm most happy when it's just not a big deal; when things like 'lesbian' and 'black' in fantasy novels serve only as basic descriptors and are not particularly important to the plot.

Exactly what would constitute sufficient "thought" to satisfy you? And how would those satisfying changes be materially different from censorship?

The Wire is a good example of something that does it right and could have easily done it wrong. But some examples of things that would make me enjoy it more or not have issue with it:

-if someone is victimized by rape, have their viewpoint be explicit and more important than the men around them

-if sexual orientation is used, have it be for more than a tool against a person OR have it be not used for anything special at all

-if misogyny is used, have female characters that are clearly awesome and are in a shit situation

Really, for a lot of these simply having good, well-drawn characters is enough to satisfy me. For instance, I don't have an issue at all with Buffy season 6 or Willow's portrayal. I can understand if someone did, mind you, but I don't personally.

What in the everlovin' world has any of this got to do with Abercrombie??

And there's the real tragedy here; despite 20 pages of text there's been no real movement.

What it has to do with Abercrombie is that Abercrombie is using sexual orientation in a way that is stereotypical to those minorities, and in a specific way that enforces negative characteristics of those minorities. I don't think he's purposely doing it any more than a friend of mine shouting 'that's so gay!' when we were out of beer to his gay friend was meaning to be mean to him. It is one example of a common stereotypes. And instead of subverting the stereotype or making it particularly important, it is simply used as a way to make two men more dark.

That's one of the real issues here, Contrarius - that rape and hurting a lesbian is used not to be an integral plot point to the characters directly affected but to the people around them. That they are being used as a prop.

Please try and READ what I'm telling you. Terez is made to suffer BECAUSE SHE IS REFUSING TO HAVE SEX. REGARDLESS OF HER SEXUAL ORIENTATION. The motivating force is her lack of cooperation, NOT HER LESBIANISM.

Did you actually READ it this time??

Breathe, Contrarius.

For about 4 pages many people on both sides argued she did not need to be a lesbian at all. You very strongly argued that she did. That she couldn't be coerced particularly well without her being a lesbian and having a lesbian lover. Now you're arguing that she doesn't need to be that? I'm very confused. I don't think you can have it both ways.

Either she must be a lesbian and have a lesbian lover because the major point is the visceral reaction we get to a lesbian being raped (which is what you argued) - in which case her being a lesbian is very important AND the reason that she suffers more is because she's a lesbian. Or her lesbianism is not that special and unimportant, in which case it can be safely removed. Which of the two is it?

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Interesting stuff.

People may well not be particularly interested in my take on this – death of the author and all that. But some of the discussion goes to authorial intent so I thought I might venture my perception of what fails hard in this scene and what perhaps not-so-fails, then folks can do with it as they will. I daresay anyone who hates my stuff and this scene in particular won’t hate it any less as a result of my feeble self-justifications, but bear with me. Or stick your fingers in your ears and go NAH-NEE-NAH-NEE-NAH until I’ve shut my face.

It’s always a little difficult after the fact to effectively untangle what you had in mind and how you came to write something the way you did. What I was ham-fistedly trying to investigate was that fantasy stalwart of the promised couple, you know the hidden prince with his promised princess, who are forced together by prophecy and strike bitchy sparks from each other until the tinder of lurve takes light. They often turn out to be perfect affairs and so I wanted to look at the opposite possibility, as I did with some other things in these books, as it seemed to me that arranged political marriages might just as easily be extremely unpleasant affairs. I’m slightly uncomfortable with having to have a 'reason' for a given character to be gay, but in this case the thinking was that if the promised princess is a lesbian then this particular promised couple can never, ever work out to be the glorious romantic union of myth. It was also in the back of my mind that historically a lot of gay people must have been forced into arranged marriages (and indeed still are). As with anything there were other ways of doing this scenario and this scene but I’m not sure I necessarily see any of the suggestions we've had as a meaningful improvement without the key improvement I suggest below. Some specifics, if I may:

On Terez’ isolated position in the Union – I’d say she’s very isolated. She’s been given away by her father to cement a vital alliance so he’s not going to be interested in listening to any complaints, and she’s hundreds of miles from friends and allies. The Inquisition are in the ascendant in the Union. We don’t really know whether Shalere has a family but are either Orso or the Union authorities going to give too much of a toss about their complaints? If they even find out enough to complain? Or care themselves? The problem, of course, is that unless Terez is a complete idiot or, you know, a stuffed manikin behaving in whatever way suits the author’s short term goals (ahem) she’s going to be well aware of that and doing her best to tread carefully and cultivate alliances.

On her improbable iciness – yeah, pretty improbable, and one of several things that make her a rather shitly written character (see below), but, in moderation, she may have been prepared to be sold off in a Styrian political marriage (where she might have had much more freedom to openly keep a lover of either gender) but that’s very different from what she sees as exile to a backward, cultureless country and an utterly demeaning marriage to a bastard she sees as vastly her social inferior. This seemed fitting within the relationship, since Jezal is himself an utter snob who treats others like shit because they are his social inferior (Ardee in particular).

On this scene being titillating – Read on its own, just about maybe, but it comes just after the – surely highly unpleasant – scene in which Glokta has forced Terez into it so the audience can be in no doubt what is really going on. Jezal thinks it’s the promised princess coming round, we know it’s a revolting violation. Surely the least titillating thing rather than the most is that she breathes in his ear exactly the words Glokta has told her to use. Eugh. Anecdotally I’ve read and listened to a lot of opinion about these books, as you can imagine, and I’ve heard people disgusted by this scene a few times but never someone titillated by it. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, I guess, furiously wanking...

On ‘she need only witness the mighty cock to be cured of that silly lesbianism nonsense’ well, that may be an absurd porno trope but I don’t see any evidence in the text for it here. There’s no indication at all that she ‘gets to like it.’ Later on Jezal laments to Glokta that he hears Terez weeping at night. He diagnoses homesickness and prescribes some landscaping of the gardens.

On writing from Terez’ point of view – I made a conscious decision to stick to six viewpoints and everything in the trilogy is from one of those six. I felt I had to exert some discipline and not lose focus, as it’s easy to just endlessly use more points of view and I chose six to stick with. It may be Terez would have been a better one to pick than some of the others, particularly in writing this scene, but ultimately you have to decide what story you’re telling and place the limits somewhere. Some characters will be central and intimately known, others will be less central and defined partly through their relationships with the primaries. Is it better to handle a rape from the point of view of the victim? It may well be. I’m sure it’s possible to do a disgraceful job from the victim’s point of view and to do a good job without the victim’s POV. Did I do a good job here? Clearly it worked in the intended way for some readers but overall I'd have to say no, not really, largely because:

Where I think I failed pretty badly is that Terez is really not a good character. She’s one-noted, shrill, icy, bitchy, and just doesn’t come across as a particularly convincing or well-rounded real person. It stretches credibility that she wouldn’t behave more cannily and carefully in this situation. That’s shoddy writing by any standard, but worse yet it plays into a really ugly stereotype of shrill man-hating (possibly quite thick) lesbian, and that badly undermines any attempt to do something interesting with this situation. If Terez is a much more convincing, multi-faceted, less stereotyped character with an authentic voice and a more believable motivation I’m sure many people would still have their problems with this scene but from my point of view at least it would be much improved. The Wire I think is a very good example because the reason it (for me at least) succeeds so well in its depiction of black criminals is that it makes each individual a powerful portrayal with their own voices and motivations. It doesn’t help at all that the female characters in the First Law ain’t that great across the board, really. Ferro is the only female point of view and for various reasons probably outside the scope of this particular thread I think I could have done a whole lot better with her too. I actually think the other (almost) rape in the series, in the second book, is worse, because it’s handled more or less completely disposably and the female character in that case, Cathil, is still more absent of personality than Terez and pretty much exists to elicit certain responses in the men. Which is kind of sexist writing 101, sadly. There’s also a rather ugly pattern, so obvious to me now that I can hardly believe I failed to notice it at the time, of pretty much all the central female characters having been the victims of abuse of one kind or another. I suppose you could say a fair few of the central male characters have been as well but that’s pretty weak sauce as a defence.

Still, it’s my belief that as a writer you really have to let it all hang out, write from the gut and so on and accept you’ll make mistakes and piss people off. Far better to write something bitter and flawed that some love (or at least like) and others hate (or at least viscerally despise) than to turn out some bland crud that no one cares about. Or indeed buys. Then when you get pasted you take your lumps, let the criticisms sink in, laugh off the silliness of some and wince at the perceptiveness of others and hope that you absorb some good sense and sensitivity so that next time you let it all hang out you do it somewhat better than before.

So in conclusion I’d say rape shouldn’t be off limits, lesbians shouldn’t be off limits, but shitty, lazy, ham-fisted writing is never a good idea. Especially in dealing with a rightly sensitive issue like rape. You might think the avoiding of shitty writing should be an obvious lesson for a writer. All I can say is, you’d be surprised how difficult it is in practice…

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First, congratulations to the board that the prior thread ran for a full 20 pages instead of getting locked!

(Maybe the mods were just asleep? Or has post quality improved?)

Definitely not asleep. And if this discussion is going to continue, let's make sure it does so within the usual understood bounds for the board.

To begin with, no flaming. This would be assisted by things like not making broad personal criticisms or accusations or making the debate personal in other ways. Debate the issue, not the person. Also avoid posting anything in all caps, making sweeping generalisations, and getting het up generally. If you are indignant and upset, come back and post a response once you've calmed down. If you think something that has been said is so egregious that you just can't calm down, report it. Don't threaten to report it: report it.

More importantly, remember that the topic is a particularly sensitive and even personal one for many of those reading and participating. It would therefore be a good idea to avoid sweeping generalisations about what is and particularly what isn't rape, to take care to distinguish between personal opinion and fact, and to remember that most of us are not experts in this area.

It would also be wise to avoid mind-reading, either of authors' intent or of the intent of other participants in the conversation.

Make no mistake: the mods will shut this thread if we think it's more hassle than it's worth. [/mod]

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I'm a little curious why authors have to show why women have a lack of agency. I mean, they probably could mention that eight hundred years previous to the story there was a religious reformation - or in the case of Islam after the Mongol hordes, a complete decline of their society in terms of freedoms and rights - but unless it is directly relevant to the story, does it have to be put in there? I mean, part of this goes back to the idea now that authors have to put in homosexuality is accepted.

As Abercrombie just mentioned, not everything can go into the book.

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I'm really astounded on how Glokta's treatment of Terez in the last books can arise so much revulsion among readers when considering all things Glokta had done in the first two:

  • Salem Rews, an army buddy of him, is left: "His lips split and bloody, his sides covered in darkening bruises, his head lolled sideways, face swollen almost past recognition." After sending him Angband, Glokta says that it would be more merciful to kill him right now, since "that swine won’t last six weeks in the North."
  • Sepp dan Teufel, a bureaucrat, gets his thumb cut. Glokta explains. "You know, they did it to a corporal who was captured with me, one cut a day. He was a tough man, very tough. They made it past his elbow before he died.”
  • Magister Hornlach, a merchant, is forced to confess by beating him repeatedly: "Do you know how dogs are trained? Repeat, repeat, repeat. You must have that dog perform his tricks one hundred times the same, and then you must do it all again. It’s all about repetition. And if you want that dog to bark on cue, you mustn’t be shy with the whip. You’re going to bark for me, Hornlach, in front of the Open Council."
  • Harker, a fellow inquisitor, has his nipple burned with a hot iron. Harker’s words dissolved into a bubbling scream as Frost ground the brand into the wound and the room filled slowly with the salty aroma of cooking meat. (...) Probably he has no clue what became of Davoust, but that changes nothing either. The questions must be asked, and exactly as if he did know the answers. “Why do you insist on defying me, Harker? Could it be… that you suppose… that once I’m done with your nipples I’ll have run out of ideas? Is that what you’re thinking? That your nipples are where I’ll stop?”
  • Ambassador Shabbed al Islik Burai, coming to negotiate terms to a besieged city, is cut to pieces: “Next will come a toe. Then a finger, an eye, a hand, your nose, and so on, do you see? It’ll be at least an hour before you’re missed, and we are quick workers.” Afterwards he is beheaded.
  • Ambassador Tulkis, coming to Adua looking for peace and agreement, is framed for a crime Glokta knows he is inocent of. But he tortures the confession out of him anyway. When he is publicly executed, "There were light bruises round his face, tracks of angry red spots down his arms and legs, across his chest. Impossible to use hot needles without leaving some marks, but he looks well, considering. He was naked aside from a cloth tied round his waist. To spare the delicate sensibilities of the ladies present. Watching a man’s entrails spilling out is excellent entertainment, but the sight of his cock, well, that would be obscene."

In short, Glokta is a monster. He is the bad guy. He does terrible things. In fact, one could argue that he has a soft spot with women (lesbian or not), seeing how most of the other persons that have crossed his path end being tortured, stripped of their status, publicly humiliated, and killed. Ardee, Eider and Terez can be considered lucky, in comparison.

Accusing Abercrombie of being "anti-lesbian" has, IMO, as little weight as accusing him of being racist. After all, Glokta actually despises "brown" people and murders a couple of them.

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No, it isn't. It is mostly related to her refusal to have sex with Jezal -- regardless of her sexual orientation.

I would say that in the story her primary defining moment is that she is willing to be raped to save her lover, and the only reason that that can happen in this book is because she's a lesbian and has a lesbian lover. If you disagree that's fine, but I hope you can understand that others can have a different interpretation and that interpretation is fairly reasonable. I can see a point made that her being uppity is her primary defining character too, as you basically state. Not that this is that much better, but it's still there.

There isn't much sexiness to it, actually. They swap spit with squelching noises. Jezal grunts. Terez quotes Glokta. Where's the sexiness??

I actually wanted to get back to that; you said it can't be rape without penetration, right? Well, Jezal finger fucks Terez quite clearly in the text. So I guess we do see the actual rape. Heck, we even see her have pain because of it. Here ya go:


He grunted softly as he slid his hand over her arse, down the side of her thigh then up between her legs, the hem of her shift gathering round his wrist. He felt her shudder, felt her flinch, and bite her lip in shock, it seemed, or even in disgust. "

We brought up the other quotes earlier, the ones that could very easily belong in a romance novel. If you disagree with that I guess there's nothing more to be said, but I think it's reasonable to state that one way or another they're very descriptive. We get a description of Jezal's rising cock, how the kissing feels, a slow description of him touching her, etc.

(it's also interesting to note that both Jezal was surprised she was not a virgin, so being a virgin bride isn't a big deal, and that Jezal doesn't think for a second that she could not like men, though that's probably more attributable to jezal being a complete dumbass).

Oh please, because he gets a tingle and grunts??

Okay, guess we do need to get that quote again:


There was a pleasant tingling building in his crotch as he pushed his tongue into her mouth."

I guess you don't get the specific mention of how many inches Jezal is or how turgid or throbbing his manhood is, nor do we describe it as a fat pink mast. (those are all GRRMisms or pornisms, if you're curious). And it's also clear you don't find it titillating or evocative or even all that descriptive. I hope you can understand others disagree and that it's reasonable to do so.

In case you didn't notice, Jezal is one of only 4 POV characters (uhhh....is it 5? I'm nearly asleep right now, I forget!) throughout the trilogy. Terez is not one of those 4 characters. Logically, therefore, the scene shows Jezal's train of thought but not Terez's. Duh.
Yes, and to me that means you don't need a Pov of the rape. Or heck, you can introduce her as another PoV character just for that bit (like Donaldson does, in an explicit goal to specifically avoid the 'rape and what it means to someone else' thing.

I've questioned the scene being included at all, so the argument that it must be from Jezal's eyes isn't that useful.

Sure, but we wouldn't have seen Jezal being clueless; we wouldn't have seen Terez capitulating; we wouldn't have seen how the encounter between Jezal and Terez could look so different from their two perspectives. A lot would have been missed.
Apparently things like Jezal being erect and Terez actually getting penetrated would get missed regardless. I don't think we need to directly see Terez's capitulation and acceptance of being raped; the reason, as you mention so many times, is that we do so because it's more of a visceral scene. Which means we're using rape for the shock value. Which has been another problem many have had.

Queens can't safely take male lovers before they produce heirs. Obviously, that would hopelessly confuse issues of inheritance, and seriously piss off the king (not to mention Bayaz). So Terez could never safely flaunt her lover, regardless of whether she's lesbian or not, until after heirs have been produced with trustworthy bloodlines.

That's true in our world. Not Abercrombie's. Note that Jezal is actually surprised she's a virgin. Ardee sleeping around is not a big deal. It's a magical world with fictional moralities and is apparently totally fine with premarital sex and has fairly effective means of contraception; I don't see why it needs to be the case that women having lovers who are magically or non-magically infertile is impossible. Put it another way: if you're fine believing that Abercrombie's world is totally fine with lesbian relationships despite the medieval period being pretty brutal to homosexuals in general, you should be fine believing that women can take male lovers during marriage and it being totally fine too for any number of reasons. Probably more fine with that, since there's historical precedent for women having lovers and men being cuckolded.

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also, really thanks for coming in and talking, Joe Abercrombie. I don't personally think that the author talking about their work and their opinions is invalid or bad, and it's always interesting to see what your intent was and your personal view. I do agree with you that ultimately what makes it probably most problematic is that Terez is not that well fleshed out, and as a result her few characteristics (uppity, lesbian, beauty) stand out more.

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I appreciate your candor and reflective thoughts. Yes, it's easy to pick out what doesn't work but what I'm learning the hard way as a translator is that it's even more difficult to smooth out a thorny patch that you realize needs more work. Thanks for sharing and not taking critiques as a personal attack.

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also, really thanks for coming in and talking, Joe Abercrombie. I don't personally think that the author talking about their work and their opinions is invalid or bad, and it's always interesting to see what your intent was and your personal view. I do agree with you that ultimately what makes it probably most problematic is that Terez is not that well fleshed out, and as a result her few characteristics (uppity, lesbian, beauty) stand out more.

Pleasure to be here, always fascinating (if occasionally hideously painful) to see people's opinions on your work. In many ways the writer's opinion is the least important one, but it's the only one I got...


I find your expression of reasoned mild dislike for my books vile and wrongheaded but I will defend to the death your right to do so...

Reading and writing certainly are hugely different disciplines. I'm not by any means saying that you have to write to criticise, but it's not until you do write (at least in my case) that you begin to conceive of the horrifying multiplicity of different ways you can fuck up. In ways you never dreamed you would. In ways you never even considered. In so many ways that if you thought too much about them when writing you'd be utterly paralysed. Which is why I say you have to just let it flow and accept you'll make mistakes. Big mistakes. Offensive mistakes. That doesn't mean you don't think and consider and hope to avoid mistakes, but there are pitfalls you'll just never see coming.

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