The Great Book Sort, Part 5—rape

September 16, 2022 at 5:15 pm (Uncategorized)

Way too many hack writers use rape as either backstory, drama, or peril for female characters (and all the more so if it provides handy motivation for the male character—double ugh).

Way too many actually-pretty-good writers use rape too.

And so do some brilliant writers.

It’s an instant red flag for me as a reader. I relate hard to my fictional characters and if they get traumatised there’s a strong risk that I will also be traumatised. I wish all books came with content warnings, like movies and TV, so at least I had a choice about whether I was about to be tricked into imagining being sexually assaulted! Those who claim it’s important for “historical accuracy” (oddly enough, especially in fantasy worlds) are welcome to it. But it’s definitely not for me.

I’ve written at least one character who was raped, and now that I’m older I do regret it.

Any child who is a good reader will read a rape scene far too young.

But sometimes a story with rape in it is worth it, even for me.

Favourites

Pamela Freeman’s “Deep Waters” trilogy (+ 1) series has plenty of rape, some of it ‘on-screen’ (always more traumatic to read) and I have to brace myself before reading it. But the series is so incredibly good that it’s worth it.

As I sort my kindle books, I’ve re-discovered another amazing Aussie author, Glenda Larke. She has several trilogies, and the Isles of Glory trilogy was the first one I read this time around. There is a LOT of rape, and torture (explicitly described), and even a post-rape baby that is genuinely evil (which I imagine is extremely triggering for some people). But this series still made the ‘Favourites’ pile, in part because it’s female-led and the women basically treat rape and torture in the same way—it really really sucks, and is frightening, but it doesn’t change anything about who you are. If your friends are in danger and you know you’ll get raped if you help them—well, you’re gonna choose to get raped.

I definitely still brace myself before reading anything by Larke—partly for all the violence, and partly because I get so badly drawn in that I’m not 100% in real life until the trilogy is finished.

I’ve also read her “Mirage Makers” trilogy very recently, and it was just as compelling without nearly as much rape (but rape was still very much a thing—in this case, lots and lots of rape of male child slaves before the stories began—fortunately I’m pretty sure it was all ‘off-screen’ and without detail).

Nah

Juliet Marillier is famous enough that I don’t need to remember how to spell her name. If I search for anything similar, her actual name will come up. She also has quite a lot of books, and I’ve bought a solid chunk of them.

This is the one that traumatised me as a child, and then again as an adult. It’s definitely not the most awful rape scene ever, but there are several elements that make it extra difficult, the main one being that you’re in the moment with the heroine.

Now, all her books are really good! The ‘tiny pale-skinned heroine with magic and enormous hulking brothers and/or love interest/s’ gets a little tiring after a while. I could definitely handle reading these books again…. but I have other books that are just as good that don’t require me to go through that experience again. Plenty of her other books also have rape or attempted rape, but I think this is the one with the most detail.

Nope

“The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” by Meg Elison is a good book, but I never want to go into that world again. There’s been an apocalypse that wiped out most women and children, and made childbirth deadly. The heroine basically finds women who have been claimed by a gang of men (that is, they are prisoners who get raped a bunch by all of them), and gives them contraceptives so at least they don’t get pregnant.

It’s a profound angle on post-apocalyptic literature (memo to self: in the apocalypse, make sure to loot the contraceptives as a lot of people will really need them) and is well-written and well-developed. Not surprisingly, there’s lots of sex and violence. Although the book is definitely not devoid of hope, it’s way too dark for me.

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