This isn’t a review. Quite the contrary: I was reading a review of this book and it reminded me of a certain something. As the subject title suggests, this is going to be triggering as fuck.
So, right off, I’m going to tell you that I think very, very little of Abercrombie. I don’t see anything exceptional in his books: to me they are nothing more than yet another tired and tiresome effort to out-gritty, out-grimdark George R. R. Martin except with even less engaging characters, and more shittiness. Yes, that’s right babies, I declare Abercrombie’s narrative shittier and creepier by far than Martin’s–and that’s Martin with the rapeyness and the “Aryan Savior of Mongol Horde” fame.
What cinched this, you ask? The Last Argument of Kings, the conclusion of his First Law trilogy.
A little context. You don’t need to have read the book or the preceding two, but the basics are: one of the main characters, Jezel, has become king. Another main characters–a POV in fact–is Inquisitor Glokta, who’s achieved ascendancy in his organization, which specializes in torturing confessions out of people. Princess Terez, daughter of Duke Orso, has been politically sold to Jezel to marry him and become queen. Except Terez hates Jezel’s guts and has no use for him, and doesn’t do much to hide it. She refuses to have sex with him. Glokta, finding this situation quite untenable pressured by asshole wizard Bayaz, decides to intervene to ensure that a royal heir will be born:
‘You don’t have much use for men, do you?’
The two women looked up at him together, then Shalere snatched her hand away from the queen’s shoulder. ‘I will have your meaning!’ barked Terez, but her voice was shrill, almost panicked.
‘I think you know my meaning well enough.’
Terez’s voice being shrill and shrieky and screechy is going to be a theme. Countess Shalere is Terez’s childhood friend and lover. Yep, Terez is a lesbian. A man-hating lesbian at that, because where would we be in an Abercrombie book without a lazy stereotype?
Take a guess where this is going. Oh, guess!
The two men and the two women lurched around the far end of the room in an ungainly dance. One of the Practicals seized the Countess by one wrist, dragged her away from the queen’s clutching hand and forced her down onto her knees, twisting her arms behind her, snapping heavy irons shut on her wrists. Terez shrieked, punched, kicked, clawed at the other, but she might as well have vented her fury on a tree. The huge man barely moved, his eyes every bit as emotionless as the mask below them.
Glokta found that he was almost smiling as he watched the ugly scene. I may be crippled, and hideous, and in constant pain, but the humiliation of beautiful women is one pleasure I can still enjoy. I do it now with threats and violence, instead of with soft words and entreaties, but still. Almost as much fun as it ever was.
One of the Practicals forced a canvas bag over Shalere’s head, turning her cries to muffled sobs, then marched her helplessly across the room. The other stayed where he was for a moment, keeping the queen herded into the corner. Then he backed off towards the door. On his way he picked up the chair he had moved and carefully put it back exactly as he had found it.
‘Curse you!’ Terez screeched, her clenched fists trembling as the door clicked shut and left the two of them alone. ‘Curse you, you twisted bastard! If you harm her—’
‘It will not come to that. Because you have the means of her deliverance well within your grasp.’
The queen swallowed, chest heaving. ‘What must I do?’
‘Fuck.’ The word somehow sounded twice as ugly in the beautiful surroundings. ‘And bear children. I will give the Countess seven days in the darkness, unmolested. If, at the end of that time, I do not hear that you have set the king’s cock on fire every night, I will introduce her to my Practicals. Poor fellows. They get so little exercise. Ten minutes each should do the trick, but there are plenty of them, in the House of Questions. I daresay we can keep your childhood friend quite busy night and day.’
Yep, you read that right. Glokta is blackmailing her into marital rape. Not just once, oh no, but to “set the king’s cock on fire every night” for seven days. Oh wait, not just seven days. But years, enough to have four children. By threatening to have her lover gang-raped.
A spasm of horror passed over Terez’ face. And why not? This is a low chapter even for me. ‘If I do as you ask?’
‘Then the Countess will be kept quite safe and sound. Once you are verifiably with child, I will return her to you. Things can be as they are now, during the period of your confinement. Two boys, as heirs, two girls, to marry off, and we can be done with one another. The king can find his entertainment elsewhere.’
‘But, that will take years!’
‘You could get it done in three or four, if you really ride him hard. And you might find it makes everyone’s lives easier if you at least pretend to enjoy it.’
‘Pretend?’ she breathed.
‘The more you seem to like it, the quicker it will be over. The cheapest whore on the docks can squeal for her coppers when the sailors stick her. Are you telling me you cannot squeal for the king of the Union? You offend my patriotic sensibilities! Uh!’ he gasped, rolling his eyes in a parody of ecstasy. ‘Ah! Yes! Just there! Don’t stop!’ He curled his lip at her. ‘You see? Even I can do it! A liar of your experience should have no difficulty.’
JOE ABERCROMBIE YOU PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING
YOU FUCKING WASTE OF OXYGEN
Not enough yet? How about this.
‘Terez, my…’ he fumbled for the word. Darling scarcely seemed to cover it. Nor did love. Worst enemy might have, but it hardly would have helped matters. ‘Can I—’
She cut him off, as ever, but not with the tirade he was expecting. ‘I’m sorry for the way that I have treated you. For the things that I have said… you must think me…’
There were tears in her eyes. Actual tears. He would hardly have believed until that moment that she could cry. He took a hurried step or two towards her, one hand out, no idea of what to do. He had never dared to hope for an apology, and certainly not one so earnestly and honestly delivered.
‘I know,’ he stuttered, ‘I know… I’m not what you wanted in a husband. I’m sorry for that. But I’m as much a prisoner in this as you are. I only hope… that perhaps we can make the best of it. Perhaps we might find a way… to care for one another? We have no one else, either of us. Please, tell me what I have to do—’
‘Shhhh.’ She touched one finger to his lips, looking into his eyes, one half of her face glowing orange from the fire, the other half black with shadow. Her fingers worked through his hair and drew him towards her. She kissed him, gently, awkwardly, almost, their lips brushing, then pressing clumsily together. He slid one hand round behind her neck, under her ear, his thumb stroking at her smooth cheek. Their mouths worked mechanically, accompanied by the soft squeak of breath in his nose, the gentle squelch of spit moving. Hardly the most passionate kiss he had ever enjoyed, but it was a great deal more than he had ever expected to get from her. There was a pleasant tingling building in his crotch as he pushed his tongue into her mouth.
He ran his other palm down her back, feeling the bumps of her spine under his fingers. 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. He jerked his hand back, and they broke apart, both looking at the floor. ‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered, inwardly cursing his eagerness. ‘I—’
‘No. It’s my fault. I’m not… experienced… with men…’ Jezal blinked for a moment, then almost smiled at a surge of relief. Of course. Now everything was clear. She was so assured, so sharp, it had never even occurred to him that she might be a virgin. It was simple fear that made her tremble so. Fear of disappointing him. He felt a rush of sympathy.
‘Don’t worry,’ he murmured it softly, stepping forward and taking her in his arms. He felt her stiffen, no doubt with nervousness, and he gently stroked her hair. ‘I can wait… we don’t have to… not yet.’
‘No.’ She said it with a touching determination, looking him fearlessly in the eye. ‘No. We do.’
She dragged her shift up and over her head, let it drop to the floor. She came close to him, took hold of his wrist, guided it back to her thigh, then upwards.
‘Ah,’ she whispered, urgent and throaty, her lips brushing his cheek, her breath hot in his ear. ‘Yes… just there… don’t stop.’ She led him breathless to the bed.
Not enough FUCK YOU in the world. Or EWWWWWWWW for that matter.
Now do I believe Joe Abercrombie in real life endorses the rape of lesbians? Well nope, fucking duh. But in his rush to masturbate to his own gritty grim darkness he’s contributing to a narrative where women–and gay women especially–must suffer. If they aren’t angsting they are being raped, blackmailed into marital rape, or being punished in some way because oh my god she doesn’t want cock and we can’t have that, can we? Lesbians must be put in their places most of all for the crime of not wanting sex with men. It’s a damaging narrative. It’s a bloody fucking awful narrative that reinforces a greater trend and which, moreover, is something Abercrombie will never be hurt by. I’ve no idea if he is straight but he’s very certainly a man, which makes this about a thousand times more repulsive and disgusting than the worst M/M rape fetishization can ever hope to be.
The most hilarious part, and I use that word in the angriest way possible, is that Inquisitor Glokta is something of a fan favorite. I mean I even liked him before I read this fucking book. Like so:
Glokta: Awesome ending and my favorite character alongside Logen. So much character depth. On the one hand, life has taught him that weakness and naiveté are rewarded with severe punishment so he rarely has anything resembling happiness or hope in his life. Despite that, he still clings to his humanity and offers glimpses into it despite his understanding that it is unwise to do so (Sparing Eider’s life more than once, sparing Vitari’s life more than once, stopping the torture of Severard when he understood that he was not lying about the Sult, last and not least of all, having feelings for Ardee and fearing and preparing for her rejection when he asks her to marry him and continuing to fear her rejection of him afterwards.)
And that’s from someone who has read The Last Argument of Kings, and thus is probably aware of–you know–the whole blackmailing into rape thing. My goodness that poor naive man. His feelings about the love of his life! That makes him multi-dimensional, right? Makes him totally human and sympathetic, no? This redditor is hardly alone in his favorable, glittering opinions of the character either. Unsurprisingly if you love Tyrion you’ll be sure to love Glokta. Like, Tyrion Lannister? The guy who participated in the gang-rape of his own wife? Wooooo. Real big hero that. But we are meant to sympathize, see, feel bad for him because isn’t that an awful thing and so sad? It’s about Tyrion, the rapist. Not Tysha, the raped.
Excuse me while I go vomit.
And this, more than anything, pins down Abercrombie very much as a neckbeard writer writing for other neckbeards. People can praise him to high heavens for his astoundingly clever “inversion” of fantasy tropes, of his depthful handling of violence and characterization or… whatever it is that neckbeards think he does, or whatever it is that Abercrombie thinks he’s doing. But at the end of the day it’s still the kind of narrative where a lesbian woman is threatened with rape, another is forced into marital rape, and the person responsible for both gets away scott-free because Abercrombie is more interested in emphasizing how broken Glokta is and how abloo blooooo what a poor man, what with his Nice Guy antics around the love of his life, Ardee West–another woman who’s been abused, by the way!
Excuse me while I go vomit. Again.
ETA: awww yeah the buttmad fanboy brigade is on it. See Westeros.org thread.
That is probably the most poorly written piece of screed i’ve seen given as evidence of anything in a long time. What a piece of shit article, and a truly stunning display of ignorance.
It’s just the standard “appearance equals endorsement” argument plus extra CAPLOCKS RAGE!, with all the usual whining about how this supposedly contributes to a Culture of Rape/Sexual Violence/Whatever.
Isn’t it stunning how a bunch of fanboys don’t give a shit about rape culture?
It’s not so much what shes saying as the way in which she is saying it, with the random all caps sentences accusing Ambercrombie of being a rape monster, etc. Plus the there’s a snide comment down a ways about Ambercrombie fans that makes her sound like….well a bitch.
Awww, and “a crazy bitch” later on. Keep being classy, George R. R. Martin gritty grimdark fans. Here is what people defending this lovely portrayal of lesbian rape have to say:
- She’s gay, so she wants nothing to do with fucking Jezal (or any man). She’s rich and powerful and Jezal is a bastard, so she looks down on him. And further to that she thinks she can get away with shutting down any sexual advances of his. What’s not understandable here?
- IMNSHO, Abercrombie actually “just wanted” to stomp on the HEA good and proper — so, instead of making the queen be a loving, biddable, brainless bimbo, he made her a strong-willed harpie bitch who was determined to get what she wanted. And then he squashed her just like he squashed everyone else.
- So a book can’t contain scenes that reflect bad things that happen in real life? How does this “support rape culture”?
- But I don’t see that. Why is wrong that Terez exists only to be raped? Is it poor story-telling? That’s a criticism I could understand. But Kalbear and others give counter-examples like making her heterosexual, or having Glokta threaten her brother. What is wrong with taking a previous trope – the rape of a lesbian – and using it? Similar to Stone and Parker, I don’t see what they did as wrong, and I don’t see what Abercrombie did as wrong. Neither parties condone the scene, nor do I agree that the scene is as titillating as some would think. And even if it were, why does it matter? The scene is from Jezal’s point-of-view and he’s an idiot. If it were the most erotic scene Abercrombie has ever written, it wouldn’t matter because it’s conceivable that Jezal is stupid enough to experience it like that.
EDIT: Abercromblah showed up to confess that what he did was shitty writing relying on a lazy, offensive stereotype. Which makes the fanboys flailing over this that much more laughable.
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. [...] 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.