Portraying Evil

by  Christian A. Brown  |  April 19, 2015  |     2 Comments

Recently, I had a lovely blogger review that praised many aspects of Feast of Fates. On that list—and what stuck with me the most—were the reader’s commendations toward some of the darker material in my book. Life is composed of many shades and colors: passionate reds, golden acts of kindness, and the blackest evils. I believe that stories of the scope I wish to tell should encompass that spectrum. Therefore, while I write some beautiful scenes, I also feel the need to balance the scales, to flesh out a realistic environment by adding the unsavory. Neglect, depravity, racism, murder, physical and sexual assault. None of these topics are comfortable to discuss. None of these topics should be handled with anything but care. I deal with each of them in my work. I choose to depict them in the raw, ugly fashion in which they are experienced by their survivors (not victims—there is a notable distinction). As a survivor of assault myself, I see no other way in which these events should be portrayed. As horrific as one imagines—or writes—these scenarios, I assure you the reality is worse. More crippling, more haunting, and usually more violent.

I don’t write dark things because I am a lover of the macabre or a sadist. In fact, often writing these scenes makes me feel as repulsed as when my readers read such material. Good. If whenever Brutus comes onto the page, your skin crawls and you are terrified of what deplorable act he will do, then I’ve done my job. Evil should not have a soft-touch (unless it’s the insidious kind). Evil should make you shiver. How soon we forget in our comfortable North American lives that we live in the same world where Malala was shot for going to school. Where the Montreal Massacre of women seeking to better themselves happened. Where we have genocides and child soldiers. I wish that the events that I write were less dark than those occurring outside Geadhain. Though, they’re not. I feel it is necessary for evil to be accurately described in order to illustrate the journey one (character) takes toward healing.

A Feast of Fates case study, if you will. Please stop reading if you’re spoiler averse and haven’t read the first book yet. (And hurry up! The next one is out soon!) In Feast of Fates, we meet any number of characters who have endured trauma. Mouse, who is sold into sexual slavery. She breaks this fate at the cost of her humanity—which she later regains and then some. Macha, who is a displaced indigenous girl that also suffers a reprehensible separation from her family. Kanatuk, another indigenous person who endures a lifetime of horrific abuse—he, too, eventually finds his humanity and strength. Vortigern, who loses his family, his memory, and lives in a state of living-death and forgetfulness. The list goes on. I do not discriminate between male and female, between who should be “fairly” suffering and who shouldn’t. That’s the nasty part about life: it doesn’t give two shits who suffers or why. I’m a sensitive person, and it hurts to write these horrible fates for my characters. However, like the reader and like those of us in the real world, I hold to the hope that these people will learn from their lessons of pain. I believe in them. I believe that they have the power to heal themselves, and to remember the good of humanity. Most of the time, my characters do not disappoint me.

In what is a less easily perceived emotional struggle, we have Lila. She is Queen of Eod and living a glorious and seemingly immortal life with the Everfair King. Long ago, Magnus saved her from a misogynistic, caste-driven society (and marriage). And for a thousand years thereafter she and Magnus were happy together, blissfully happy. That happiness lasts until a horrific—and again, this incident has to be ghastly to sunder a bond of one thousand years—assault by her husband while he is under the possession of an entropic force. A number of complex issues and questions stem from this event. How responsible is Magnus? Can Lila forgive him for this one grotesque incident in their thousand year marriage? He certainly feels guilty. Lila, at the time, puts on a brave face and forgives him. After all, she is the stoic queen of a nation of hundreds of thousands, and her country must come before her needs. She has that mothering sense, of sacrificing her emotions and comfort for others, even though she has not borne children from Magnus (the Immortal king is sterile—at least with her physiology). So she buries her trauma (as people do), and says that she forgives him for the pressing sake of dealing with what evil took over her husband. Sadly, Lila’s story is not unique. Most first time incidents of domestic abuse are forgiven or simply unreported. That’s a statistical reality.

As time and progression through the novel shows us, however, Lila neither forgives nor forgets. The scars are too deep, and those wounds cannot possibly heal in weeks or months—not to a woman that knows eternity. In many ways, Lila is brought back to the very situation and oppression from which she believed herself to have escaped. She questions everything about the brother-kings, their connection to each other and to her, and her sense of individuality and pride. She questions who she really is, for she has become a stranger to herself. The growth and arc of her character is quite broad, spanning all four novels. I have to say though, she is one of my favorite and certainly one of the most inspiring characters once she finds herself. Lila’s journey is one to which many women can relate—regardless of whether Lila is real or not. Being confused. Being lost in the darkness. Forging ahead, even when all she knows is a sickening fear and agony that she can tell no one about. Lila is a composite of all that I’ve learned and seen of women pushing past their station, pushing to define themselves after trauma, and discovering new limits on who and what they thought they could be.

The ripple effect of the Lila’s assault carries through to all those in Magnus and Lila’s inner circle. It begins a world war between the brother-kings. It destroys the relationship between Magnus and his foster-son, Erik—and drives that man down his own dark path of revenge, repentance and conflict. Indeed, this event fractures countless loyalties and trusts. It is a single action that tears a hundred seams in the fabric of Geadhain. And back to where we started with this blog, all this ensuing strife would not have had the same believability, the same impact, or overall the same impetus for character growth if I had put on my fluffy, cuddly writer mitts. Sure, I could have said: “some dark and terrible things happened to Lila that night. Come the dawn her bloodmate left for war.” First, that’s lazy writing. Second, screw that. The reader deserves to see how Lila suffered. To see from where her hate and madness has festered. Then they can cheer with Lila as she conquers those demons and becomes a kick-ass, self-possessed and liberated character.

Darkness only blinds us if we refuse to move through the fear and into the light.

All my love,

—C

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2 Comments

  1. Cheryl Noxon on April 20, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Okay, first…. I am fan girling just a bit. However I wanted you to know that if there wasn’t that delicate balance of wonderfully good and horrific evil, your story wouldn’t have carried us away like it did. It truly is a analogy of the world in which we live. The biggest questions are the same; where does the blame really lie? We know from statistics that many abusers were abused themselves, and their abusers abused before them. A child soldier, who becomes a ruthless killer, was taught that what he does will earn him eternal glory. How much fault can we lay at the feet of Magnus, as he was controlled by his brother. Yet is Brutus to be blamed, having sought solace in the evil that has eaten his mind, even if it was sought out of loneliness?
    After a second reading, I’m still astonished at how delicately you balance beauty and love with horror and selfishness. No matter how much I cringe at the thought of the state of Brutus’ mind, or how much I want to hold little Macha and tell her she is safe now, I wouldn’t suggest you change a thing. The most beautiful dawns follow horrible storms of the night, and I have a feeling we will see one hell of a sunrise. Take care!

    • Christian Brown on April 21, 2015 at 3:43 am

      Cheryl,

      Your review was among the most thorough that I’ve had–including the editorial ones. You really captured the spirit of my book, and there’s nothing more rewarding than when I know I’ve made that connection with a reader. FoF is very much a discussion on humanity and all of our behavior and its consequences. I wouldn’t change a thing about the characters and their destinies, either. And little Macha does get her happy ending…eventually 🙂 That’s not the last you’ll see of her.

      Not long before the 2nd book! I should have a galley next week and I’ll be posting excerpts, revealing ads and teases. All the best.

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