Sunday, 13 November 2011

That book with all the rape ...

In the last few months I've had occasion to blink at some fairly extreme portrayals of the book I wrote (Prince of Thorns)

Here are just two of many:


"Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence.  It was exactly as I expected it to be–which is to say, full of unrelenting rape"



(referring to THIS scene from Donaldson's Lord Fouls' Bane (1979))  "Prince of Thorns makes that depiction seem beyond mild in comparison"



Facts have surprisingly little bearing in such matters, but for the sake of completeness I felt I should toss a couple of them out there.

Below are both the rape scenes in the book. Technically they constitute very minor spoilers, so take advantage of the spoiler space if you need to or if you feel they might be too harrowing.


















1)   I saw what they did to Mother, and how long it took.

2)   The fat girl had a lot to say, just like her father. Screeched like a barn owl: hurt my ears with it. I liked the older one better. She was quiet enough. So quiet you'd give a twist here or there just to check she hadn't died of fright.








35 comments:

  1. What? Someone said that the rape scenes are bad, or what? It's just a part of the book like it is and always was in the world. Well, maybe not much women/men were raped by a 13-year-old boy but it is a book, for good sake, a fantastic book but although a book and furthermore the describtions aren't that ... detailed. My friend - who read the book because I praise it so highly - and I talk about it and I have to admit that even if there had been more detailed we wouldn't have a damn problem with it. It a part of this world.

    Julia
    PS: My friend also liked the book a lot and two other going to read it ; )
    Is this book set after the ... the apokalypse? Because she and I discuss about that all the time ...

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  2. @Julia - the rape in Prince of Thorns has been described/characterised variously as making Donaldson's page of graphic mechanical detail seem mild by comparison, as having made some physically ill, as being like drinking from a sewer, as being a dominant repeated theme... Like I say. I've had occasion to blink :)

    And yes, the setting is in our future a thousand years after a nuclear war.

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  3. Hardly harrowing; discreetly disturbing, but so is real life. I had a French friend once who told me that in reprisal for partisan activity in his town, a hundred citizens including his mother and father were lined up against a brick wall and shot while all of their children were made to watch the bloody scene that made them all orphans. This is emotional rape, which is probably harder to accept and deal with than physical rape. Keep up the good writing.
    My best.

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  4. Bwahahahaha! You write a hell of a lot better than we already thought you did if people believe there not only are harrowing rape scenes where none exist, they're sure they'ved read it. I'm so jealous.

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  5. In fairness to whoever wrote that I did come away thinking there was more rape in the book than just two passing mentions, I'm not sure exactly why and it didn't bother me at all or put me off the book, but nontheless I'm surprised to learn it was only in twice.

    PS loved the book, can't wait for the next one.

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  6. Obviously these people haven't read R. Scott Bakker... Now that man can write a brutal rape scene... These darker themes are what makes this new scene of "dark fantasy" so good IMO. I think it gives the books a sense of realism and puts fear in the reader thus building suspense. There have been a great many discussions about this new Nihilistic type of fantasy, but for me it hits home the most. Perhaps that says something about my generation...

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  7. Jorg is an evil bastard at times. But I have read "worse" from Joe Abercrombie, Richard K. Morgan and G.R.R. Martin.

    There was a certain trend to ever darker fantasy for years already. Still there seem to be many readers who don't want and can't stand that. Quite a lot of my friends like "The Name of the Wind" and "The Wise Man's Fear" by Patrick Rothfuss. Violence is barely described and only really bad guys do that. Black vs White characters, that's something that bored many people but a lot of the not so vocal readers seem to like it that way. Jorg is ... a bad guy? A good guy? Why does he do such horrible things?! How can I still like a bad person, he did wrong... once... twice! :(

    That's their line of thinking and I doubt there is any way how you can make them enjoy your books.
    With only a few words you are pretty good at creating an intense atmosphere and as you noticed high impact on the reader.

    That's actually high praise.

    What is not so nice is when people who can't stomach that go on raving. I just wonder how they can watch television or just live at all.

    Some people found Martin's female characters to be unacceptable, the whole society anti-feminist to the bone. That ruined the whole book for them. Martin violated their view how the world or books should be. I just don't get it how they can really focus on picking on every maybe sexist aspect of the book and totally hate all of it for that. I totally can't agree that his novels are casually sexist to the core. Doh.

    Some of my friends find G.R.R. Martin's ASoIaF too brutal and his work by far too dark. You know, Eddard dies, people lose a hand and all that. Is that already excessive? I found many Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan to be very very dark and depressing, everyone was mean and evil and all that. They would probably have killed the people who complain about you or Martin.

    Sidenote, "The Cold Commands" by Richard K. Morgan is quite nice, no pure violence only useful to take aback a lot of potential readers but more focus on witty dialogue and story. I quite like that.

    My grandma thinks the same of "The Borgias" as there is apparently so much sex in this series! And people die! How horrible! (I don't dare to show her True Blood).

    Playing Panzer Corps (remake of Panzer General) makes me a latent Nazi and attending a muslim marriage makes me a terrorist, for the good christians in my neighbourhood turned down their invitations. But Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty are just games. I don't want to spoil their kids the fun, but I can't follow the logic of their parents anymore.

    Prince of Thorns will polarize early on. I know which books I would recommend people who are already in despair after reading the first pages of PoT! (I know which books would totally destroy them hehe)

    I don't like a certain kind of mindless violence and brutality that kicks in when authors run out of ideas. I consider that cheap. Some of my favorite authors unfortunately did that, thinking of brutality like sugar. No ideas how to fill some pages or what else to write? Sugar=brutality is always a good filler for a cake/book.

    It just doesn't work like that. But you never did that so far. Prince Jorg is a fascinating character because he is like you made him. You can't change him to a character that's acceptable for everyone because he simply doesn't fit in a black/white scheme of thinking.

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  8. Well I did have to go back and check but there are lines these:

    "There’s a lot to be said for not being in a queue, or not having to finish up before the flames take hold of the building. And the willingness! That was new too, albeit paid for. In the dark I could imagine it was free."

    This is not to say that the book is a promotion guide for sexual abuse, but I think there may be more mentions of such things than you originally accounted for.

    I also should note that when I first saw a complaint about this, the blogger removed the last line which I think is sorta telling.

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  9. @Anonymous - if the lines you cite were a rape scene then you'd be right that I missed one. But they ain't :)

    In fact they're a fairly oblique reference to the original brief and rather distant 4 lines.

    But yes, I agree there has been selective editing on various occasions to try and support misleading portrayals...

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  10. I feel your pain, Brother Mark.

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  11. It might make more sense to you if you'll consider that there are a lot of things that are beyond authors control such as a reader's expectations, experiences with other books which may lead to making presumptions about future plot lines...
    For me the mention of rape made it seem like a story about a group of people who only go around looting towns and raping women...yeah it could happen in real life but my real life is bad enough so I just don't see the point of reading about worse things...

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  12. @deathbysunlight - but you wouldn't of course post a review that told other people that it was a book with 'all the rape' just on the basis of your expectations having read a few pages? I mean if it wasn't your sort of book you'd probably just move on, rather than posting a review about what you thought the contents might be and giving people the impression you had read it... yeah? ...because you'd understand this is someone's livelihood here...

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  13. I think there's a dilemma in the mind, sometimes the very deep down mind, of the reader. They need to really connect with the character in order to care about what they're doing, but they don't want to connect with nasty characters, or even just characters who do nasty things, because wouldn't that mean they were nasty?

    Then you get the people who want to believe that the whole world is sweetness and light and only lovely things happen in books. They don't want to read about dark, real-life-type stuff in books, but other people do. So, you know, live and let live.

    If the story is a gruesome one, it's going to have icky bits in it. You can hardly have a book which goes, "well, there was this prince, and some nasty stuff happened to him, so he essentially murdered his way across an empire to get revenge. Which you can kind of understand because he was only a kid, bless him."

    Well, you could, but it would be very short and might have some issues getting published...

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  14. I read the 'heinous rape' reviews before reading the book and can honestly say that I got to the end and thought I must have missed them, because I didn't even remember reading a rape scene - only oblique references to it.

    I then questioned if these reviewers were on crack.

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    1. well here's a comment that came today but appeared to be posted to a blog that it had no relevance to so I'll add it on this one:

      Jonathan M. wanted to say:
      -------------
      Maybe if you stopped writing about rape people would stop discussing the rapes featured in your books.

      Just a thought...
      --------------

      To which I would reply:
      --------------
      Since the rapes featured in my book occupy 61 words out of 85,000 it seems a strange characterisation. I spend far more words describing doors . . .

      Even so, I would be perfectly happy for people to discuss the rapes featured in my book (singular) - it's when they discuss imaginary ones that I boggle a little. At 61 words I should think anyone wishing to discuss them could include them in their entirety for completeness rather that create the wholly false impression which is demonstrably given out in many instances.
      -------------


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    2. I'm now going to refer to this book as "the book with all the door porn".

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    3. Only yesterday on twitter somebody described the book as a 'rape-fest'. Testimony to the enduring power of stupid.

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  15. Hey Mark,

    I remember when Prince of Thorns was compared to Lord Foul's Bane. I also remember being shocked that those critics thought the "rape scenes" in PoT were so graphic and numerous. I just started reading Lord Foul's Bane and I finished the rape scene. I was truly disgusted by what I read for numerous reasons and wanted to share the contrasts I found between the two books.

    For fairness I am going to paste the quote from LFB here. For those that do not wish to read it, please skip the rest of this post and move to my follow up post (tried to post it all together, but I broke the 4096 character limit... oops!):

    Lena flared with sudden courage. "I do not believe it. It may be that your world-but the Land-ah, the Land is real."
    Covenant's back clenched abruptly still, and he said with preternatural quietness, "Are you trying to drive me crazy?"
    His ominous tone startled her, chilled her. For an instant, her courage stumbled; she felt the river and the ravine closing around her like the jaws of a trap. Then Covenant whirled and struck her a stinging slap across the face.
    The force of the blow sent her staggering back into the light of the graveling. He followed quickly, his face contorted in a wild grin. As she caught her balance, got one last, clear, terrified look at him, she felt sure that he meant to kill her. The thought paralyzed her. She stood dumb and helpless while he approached.
    Reaching her, he knotted his hands in the front of her shift and rent the fabric like a veil. She could not move. For an instant, he stared at her, at her high, perfect breasts and her short slip, with grim triumph in his eyes, as though he had just exposed some foul plot. Then he gripped her shoulder with his left hand and tore away her slip with his right, forcing her down to the sand as he uncovered her.
    Now she wanted to resist, but her limbs would not move; she was helpless with anguish.
    A moment later, he dropped the burden of his weight on her chest, and her loins were stabbed with a wild, white fire that broke her silence, made her scream. But even as she cried out she knew that it was too late for her. Something that her people thought of as a gift had been torn from her.
    But Covenant did not feel like a taker. His climax flooded him as if he had fallen into a Mithil of molten fury. Suffocating in passion, he almost swooned. Then time seemed to pass him by, and he lay still for moments that might have been hours for all he knew -hours during which his world could have crumbled, unheeded.
    At last he remembered the softness of Lena's body under him, felt the low shake of her sobbing. With an effort, he heaved himself up and to his feet. When he looked down at her in the graveling light, he saw the blood on her loins. Abruptly, his head became giddy, unbalanced, as though he were peering over a precipice. He turned and hurried with a shambling, unsteady gait toward the river, pitched himself fiat on the rock, and vomited the weight of his guts into the water. And the Mithil erased his vomit as cleanly as if nothing had happened.

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  16. And now for the contrasts:

    The first contrast is simple. I like Jorg! You have a way with words that Donaldson lacks. You really know how to get your readers to sympathize with your anti-hero (for the record, I hate that word). Your first person POV helps, but it's not just that.

    Jorg is (rightfully?) pissed at the world (or his view of it) for crimes unanswered against his mother and brother and himself (and his poor doggy). Thomas is a self loathing leprous freak who hates and loves only himself. Really no comparison between the two in my opinion.

    As far as the rape goes, there's no comparison there either. So Jorg has done some bad shit. You did not endeavor to paint the scene in your readers' eyes. You mentioned it to show your readers his history and to warn them Jorg is not just some teenage kid. Thomas is simply a rapist - the type of guy I'd pay to witness his execution.

    The worlds are also very different. Future earth is kind of a hellhole. "The land" is a place of wonder and beauty. You can understand Jorg's actions being of self preserving types. Thomas is just a ravager of beauty and innocence.

    So those are the biggest contrasts I found. I wanted to make sure any potential future readers of yours are not dissuaded by these critics' opinions as their vocalizations are highly exaggerated.

    Nate

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    1. My only complaint about what you have said is that you are one of far too many people who views the covenant books through the light of a single scene, in fact you are very much viewing Covenant and LFB in the same way as the critics which you are complaining about. While the rape in LFB is obviously hideous it's obvious that it is designed to 'cause the reader to loathe covenant in much the same was as he loathes himself and becomes a key point in the later books. To use similar words to Mr Lawrence (who's books I love) the rape scene takes up less than a page in a series of books which is now rapidly approaching almost 10,000 pages. You describe Covenant as a "a self loathing leprous freak who hates and loves only himself." Firstly if you had actually paid attention to Covenants history you might begin to understand that A) he loves far more than himself and B) his entire character has been twisted and shaped by people viewing him as a "Leprous freak". Finally C) Covenant does not believe that what is happening is truly happening to him, hence his name in The Land, "The Unbeliever"

      A renowned and successful writer with a loving wife and a young son who comes down with leprosy, he has gone from being beloved of all to being reviled and hated, his wife has left him and taken his young son with her making it clear that Covenant will not be permitted to ever see his son again, let alone to live with him. He is reviled by those in town and deprived of all human contact but the torment and assaults by those who wish nothing more than for him to leave this mortal coil, All the while knowing that this will never change that his disease cannot be treated. Alone and without hope, left alone with nothing but his despair. All of a sudden after a particularly traumatic assault by his peers whereby a razor blade hidden in a bun cuts his mouth, a particularly dangerous event for a leper, He cleans his wounds, yet another reminder of the hate borne him by his fellow man. He receives a phone call and as he answers and hears the voice of his wife, the woman he loved, the woman who abandoned him. He falls. He bangs his head. He finds himself elsewhere. As if a dream in his unconsciousness he hears a voice, the voice of Lord Foul, Despair incarnate, telling him that he, Lord Foul, will destroy The Land. Believing, justifiably, that this is a dream he encounters a young girl Lena who mystically cures his illness, an illness that he KNOWS to be incurable, an illness that he knows will haunt and torment him until the day he dies. This merely reinforces his belief that he is in a dream. He's overwhelmed, he has senses again, he can feel the air and the sun on his skin and he is taken to a place where he is flooded with human contact, human contact that is not harsh or attempting to punish him for being near. It's as if his dreams are come true, or more correctly it's as if he's in a dream in which all his hopes have come true. He has spent so long in his despair and in his loneliness that were he not in a mystical land then it would still seem a dream, but the aura of a dream is only reinforced that he is somewhere that cannot exist in his worldview. He is sent off alone with Lena to travel to Lord's keep, and all of the information that he is being fed is merely reinforcing the belief that he stands in a dream. As he renounces once again Lena's statement that The Land is real he is horrified by the thought that he might be going crazy, that the only part of him that was not rotting due to the disease, his mind, is now working against him. He, in a fit of anger rapes Lena. The reader is horrified, Covenant is horrified that he is capable of such a thing. but it is still just a dream to him.

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    2. Donaldson provides all of the information and all of the tools to work out Covenants mindset, to see why he might have done what he had done. Who among us could say they have never done something in a dream that they would not do in real life. While the rape is still not acceptable it is a tool in this case, It shapes the events of The Land for thousands of thousands of years to come. You state that "Future earth is kind of a hellhole. "The land" is a place of wonder and beauty". This is a significant contrast, Jorg went from being loved and treasured by his mother to alone in a hellhole, Covenant went from being alone in a hellhole of despair and disease to loved and treasured in a place of beauty.

      I beg you, do not discard Lord Fouls bane because of this event, it's a key event. I think the differences between the two are that Mr. Lawrence's scenes were to provide a skeleton view on what future earth is like, while they might be the only such events that are mentioned in the book it is clear from the context that it is something that happens regularly around future earth, much as the same thing is made clear in ASOIAF (i'd like to be clear here that i love both series and think they are wonderful books) where as in Donaldson's work it is a key defining event, and forcing the reader to suffer through it puts a context on what Covenant, Lena, Trell and Atiaran go through over the years that pass in the land

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  17. I don't have the book at hand to get all of the context of those two lines but if someone wanted to be really pro-Jorg the second sentence is ambiguous enough that he may have witnessed rather than performed the rapes. It still paints him in a bad light but he is a bad guy at that point.

    I can imagine how annoying it is to have people mis-represent the book though. It's a bit like when authors get labelled with misogyny - it can be a hard one to shake off. At least in your case you can defend yourself quite easily with the evidence you only mention it twice in the book.

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  18. I'm not surprised, months later, this piece is still getting hits and discussion.

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  19. "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
    Of course I would not read this book to my 5 year old son, but it strikes me that the glorious 21st century still seems to be struggling with a fundamental literary principle.
    Gaia

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  20. I think Mark said something along these lines earlier but I honestly don't resent what these people think of the story and I'll admit that a part of me thinks they're idiotic for panning a book over one little detail that's pretty fecking irrelevant to the entire story but yeah I don't get why they're lifeless enough to sit down and rave about how much they hate some book they've clearly barely even read.

    I'll use an example; there's a tv series called Arrow that I somewhat dislike cos of the writing but I won't go any further however when random people ask me about Arrow; I just say I'm not too into it cos they'll just take it as my "personal preference", I mean why on Earth would you sit down in front of a PC or Mac or what have you or go out somewhere and rave on about how much you hate something you barely know jack about?

    People have different preferences, if you dislike something; just bloody move on. There's no need to ruin a show, movie or book's popularity cos you disliked what you saw in the first 20 pages or the first episode or first five minutes of a movie.

    I think we've just built up this weird little era where everybody's a butt hurt critic for some odd reason.

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  21. You've got to paint a picture of a cold, harsh world, and a 13-year old who's torn up both physically and mentally. People at 12 were giving birth back then, and consummating marriages by giving their wives and bit of the old in-out on their wedding night at 12,13. Surely rape and violence are a must in such a world, you're not writing children's books here. You're genuinely trying to paint a picture of a world full of evil bastards. You're doing a great job, and you justify any use of violence because your writing is decent. Concentrate on your writing, don't give a shit about "sensitive content". You should open your next work with a mass-rape scene.

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  22. Really enjoyed this book. I did find the violence and evilness shocking but I assume that was the intent. I believe there are far more references to rape by some of Jorge's brothers after every town they conquer. There are no scenes but it is assumed that that is what is going on, no?

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    1. This reply is really what this post is all about.

      "I believe there are far more references to rape"

      You believe this... but it isn't true.

      "There are no scenes but it is assumed that that is what is going on"

      You can assume what you like, but with no words to that effect... this isn't so very different from the reviewer who complained about the spaceship.

      You can - if you want - assume that rape occurs in every book where there are wars and conflict. But it would hardly be fair to call every war book 'the book with all the rape'.

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  23. I have read and enjoyed all three books and can honestly say I had forgot about the rape scene in prince of thorns until I saw this. That's how much of it there is. It aids in setting up the characteristics of jorg as a anti hero but is not crucial to the story. There is so much story this very minor part of the books is not what I remember most.

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  24. The reason I think that a lot of people find the rape scene problematic or jarring isn't so much because it's particular vivid or prominent. There are far more descriptive rape scenes in a lot of books that don't raise any eyebrows. The problematic phrase is

    "you'd give a twist here or there just to check she hadn't died of fright."

    It's jarring because it almost breaks the fourth wall to include the reader in the first person POV in the middle of the rape. If you had written it "I gave a twist here or there just to check..." you probably would have gotten a whimper instead of all the hype about it that you are now. But by saying "You'd" - who is Jorg referring to? The reader. So Jorg is saying that I as the reader would give a twist here or there - Uh...I most certainly would not be participating in this act at all thank you very much. On the other hand, the way you've put it has more impact as far as bringing Jorg's nature across - but it explains why it's struck such a nerve I think.

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  25. Oh please, some people will protest anything, anyone who considers Jorg's (Lawrence's) rather tame and unfocused description, and believes this to be a good reason not to ride the Broken Empire, is well advised to stay well away from anyone like George R Martin, Terry Goodkind, Bernard Cornwell or Brent Weeks (and kinda Jim Butcher but his setting is way different so its a bit iffy), all writers in the same relative genre as Mark, and all of fairly similar quality (above and beyond excellent) and their descriptions of rape are sometimes actually integral to the plot or story or a character, rather than Mark's sideglance at the rather common aftermath of what a rather rutheless bandit leader would do. I think it is simply more "shocking to reviewers as they see what they believe to be a slightly dark teen's book description inside the cover, perhaps they were expecting a medieval Artemis Fowl book? It ain't a kids book folks, sorry. This here is good, proper, genuine, adult, fantasy-sci-fi literature ladies and gentlemen (reading in a texas auctioneer's drawl is optional but advised). It's not unnecessary, it shouldn't be glorified but its not, it's a glance at the desensitization in the world and simply a part of the circumstances. Just read it, accept it, turn the page and continue on.

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  26. This must be really frustrating to have this false perception about your book. It's quite unfair.

    Have these folks not read Thomas Covenant? I mean, if one is going to label things "Rapey" at least get it right.

    Furthermore, in a medieval or post-apocalyptic setting one cannot exactly expect the rule of law. Bad things will happen.

    If a writer doesn't want to write a Dungeons and Dragons, light-hearted romp in which these truths are glossed over, they should be able to do so. Isn't the whole point of these settings is to remind us what was and what will be if the lights ever go out?

    I can only speculate (and I love to speculate) is that your book gets this bad rap because the mention of rape happens early, and it is done in a way that might work too well. Peoples' brains fill in the off scene rape with more detail than you can ever write.

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  27. I just finished all 3 books in a couple of weeks and came across this while looking for info on the Red Queen series - sorry to dredge up an old post!

    After reading a lot of Abercrombie, Martin and a whole slew of other authors I am flabbergasted at the hoo-ha regarding Prince/King/Emperor's supposed fixation with rape. I can't help but think these people haven't read the books, or perhaps the sly, sidelong portrayal of such a "fact-of-life" is what really stuck with them. I don't think I have been so effected by a series of books - I have been pestering my husband to read them since I was halfway through Prince so we could talk about it! I don't think it is the violence, or the rape or the "world gone to sh*t" portrayal - for me it seems most to be that you find yourself hoping that Jorg actually triumphs, and absolutely disgusted with yourself a heartbeat later for so hoping.

    Please, for the sake of everyone who loves your work, keep doing what you do best and don't be discouraged by the internet warriors and all of the "butt hurt critics" (so eloquently named by a commentor earlier) who have difficulty stringing together a coherent email, let alone a novel.

    I can't wait until Prince of Fools!

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  28. I like how so many people get so worked up about two extremly mild scenes. The one with Jorg's mom could even be played of as something else. Seriously dont get these people. (all the ones having a fit)
    But in the new book from Brent Weeks, theres about 5 scenes where a man gets his junk mutilated and nobody so much as bats an eye.

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  29. I bet all the same people are watching Outlander, (seen at least three attempted rapes so far) or loved seeing The Snake in GOT order young men to stay behind and join the orgies. It's just an easy attack point for people who don't like the book or who want to jump on their moral high horse but are too lazy to just finish the book and critique it properly.

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