On Isabel and Pelas in Paths of Alir « Official Author Website of Melissa McPhail

On Isabel and Pelas in Paths of Alir


When I wrote the scene with Isabel and Pelas in the second half of Paths of Alir, I expected it could become controversial. I knew it would hit some readers in a way that felt morally uncomfortable, but I never imagined that the scene would be interpreted as a rape. I'll explain more of what I did expect in a moment.

To be very clear from the outset: this scene was not intended to be a rape, or even to imply any undercurrent of rape. Isabel, by her own choice and decision, intentionally guided Pelas to use sex as a means of channeling the compulsion that bound him, and through this lower harmonic of desire (sex), she guided him to be able to find higher harmonics (art and creative expression) of Darshan's compulsion. As Pelas learned to channel the force of Darshan's compulsion into sex (a still higher harmonic of the violent acts he'd previously been forced into), he was then able to see a way to channel the same compulsive desire into any creative activity. Through Isabel's self-sacrifice, Pelas was able to fully overcome Darshan's compulsion, and ever after, he will be able to maintain his own determinism over it.

I was stunned when I first heard that a reader had interpreted this scene as a rape. With this said, I have a responsibility for the communication I delivered. Obviously, at least a few people received it in a way I did not intend. I've gone back to the ebook and made a few changes to the scene for future readers, which will hopefully prevent any further misinterpretation.

I haven't change the essence of the scene, however. It's important for many reasons. To understand why the scene is there, and for clarification about the larger message (and the reason behind the general subtopic in Paths of Alir), read on:

A Pattern of Shadow & Light is an exploration of viewpoints. It's also an exploration of evil. The series is not trying to present evil as black and white (as many books in the fantasy genre do), because evil's influence is rarely black and white in real life. The series, being allegorical, attempts to raise broad questions—how do we define what is evil, especially when both sides feel entirely justified in their acts? Are we able to label an act as right or wrong when both of the conflicting parties have the basic human right to maintain and uphold their beliefs? How do we determine if a choice is right when ethically it benefits the greater good but at the same time violates moral principles?

The series doesn't seek to define or label these acts for the reader (though I do try to show examples of things I feel are honorable actions). I'm not interested in preaching my own dogma. I am interested in raising the questions, so that others might think about them and come to their own conclusions, based on their own beliefs.

Sex can be a volatile force. The use of sex to dominate, influence and subjugate in our relationships and in society at large is rampant. It can act as a form of evil, and one that many people choose not to examine. Being unexamined, it has more power in our lives. Women and men are both trapped in relationships via sex. An entire darker subculture of domination and subjugation, promiscuity and true avarice exists along this fundamentally dynamic line of survival for our race. To avoid the darker side of sex simply because it's uncomfortable would be to break the integrity of my series. I'm trying to look at difficult questions. I'm trying to illuminate areas of our lives—dark corners that we would prefer not to peer into. The area of sex is one where many people critically compromise their integrity. It deserves a deeper inspection.

With all of this said, I'm not trying to torture my readers. I skimmed most of Jacqueline Carey's fourth novel in her Kushiel series because at least 75% of it involved her main character being tortured—or at least it felt like 75% to me. If I went back and added up the pages, I might be surprised. Just like you might be surprised if you added up all of the pages involving Trell and Taliah's interactions, of Sebastian's recollection of his time with Dore, and of Isabel's time with Pelas. Do this, and you'll discover less than 40 pages out of a nearly 800-page novel. If those 40 pages made you uncomfortable, if they were hard to read, if those scenes were the ones that made the most indelible impression on you…I sincerely apologize. It's my hope that for 90% of the book, you were entertained.

With all this of said…the point actually wasn't even about sex. It was about integrity, causation and choice. It was a look at how even in the darkest of situations, we can still choose to maintain our sense of self, our beliefs and our honor.

Trell's storyline with Talia and Isabel's storyline with Pelas are both illustrations of subjugation in similar yet varying contexts. How did these two characters (Isabel and Trell) maintain self-determined action in the face of domination? How did they choose to maintain their sense of self, their place of “causation,” as opposed to becoming “victims” of a suppressive situation? Isabel maintains her integrity of choice through her faith in her beliefs, and she sacrifices herself for what she believes to be the greater good. Trell makes no compromises except in dignity. Switch the two characters in those scenes, and we would see drastically different outcomes. It's worth taking notice of.

By this, I'm not trying to imply there are no victims. I am trying to show that in every moment of our lives, we have choices. I chose to explore these topics, knowing I might upset some readers.

I have no interest in changing anyone's viewpoint about the scenes or the story, or even in trying to justify my choices in the writing of Paths of Alir. I do feel a responsibility to make my intentions for those scenes clear, especially where there is a chance for misinterpretation as a result of my not being more clear in the original work. That is entirely on me, and for that, I apologize.

I'm grateful to all of my readers. I'm especially grateful to the ones who were adversely impacted by parts of the story and communicated about their experience. If any of my beta readers had mentioned this possible interpretation, I would have addressed it sooner.


If you'd like to read the updated Pelas and Isabel chapters, Isabel and Pelas chapters.

I'm always interested in your feedback. Please feel free to communicate with me about anything you've read in my series.

37 Responses to “On Isabel and Pelas in Paths of Alir”

  1. William says:

    WJR From Amazon

    I owe the author of this book a sincere and heartfelt apology. The apology is for the conclusions I drew and expressed regarding her motivations, conclusions that were clearly wrong. I realize apologies aren’t always enough but offer mine just the same.

    Ms. McPhail, I apologize

    I had previously written a highly critical review of this book when my reading of the text led me to the conclusion that a female character had been raped and that act had been glorified. The author graciously clarified that while there may have been some confusion created by the dialog, which she took the time to clarify and update, the interaction wasn’t intended to portray a rape but a consensual act, a choice, and as a result I’ve edited my review.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Hi William,

      I’m very glad that we’ve been able to clarify the confusion. I’m more grateful that you chose to comment on it.

      As an author of a work that is both philosophy and fantasy, I try to assume different viewpoints to attempt to discern how my communication will be received. I’m usually pretty good at it. But clearly there are an abundance of viewpoints to be taken – as many viewpoints as there are individuals to occupy them – and I seem to have missed an important one in crafting the scene with Isabel and Pelas. I appreciate the feedback you offered. It allowed me to make some changes to the scene in a way that removes the chance of misinterpretation (i.e. a different interpretation than my intended communication) and it also allowed me to take a look from the perspective you offered.

      I’ve changed the scene to hopefully make it very clear that Isabel chose this course of action. If you’d like to read any of the new scenes, let me know. I’ll send them to you.

  2. Melissa Bowling says:

    Wow. I would never have interpreted it that way! I thought it was pretty clear. Oh well….

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Many readers had the same response as you, Melissa. We all see the world through different filters. The probability of engaging a host of varying viewpoints is actually central to my series, as you’ve probably noticed. So it’s really interesting and rewarding to me (even if sometimes a little disturbing at first) to hear from readers who’ve taken differing viewpoints from my own. In a sense, this experience encapsulates the overarching message of A Pattern of Shadow & Light: every action can be seen and interpreted from many (and differing) points of view.

  3. William says:


    I could go in to great detail as to why I drew that conclusion but it would be counterproductive to where we’ve arrived. I’ve apologized for my assumption of intent and will continue to do so. Ms. Mcphail has shown grace in her response.

    I can read the continuing story without feeling guilty….

  4. William says:

    The updated 5 star review for goodreads and amazon…

    Not unquestioning as some….but my honest opinion… I suspect that’s what you’d want..

    While the style, poetry and complexity of the authors writing remained the same if not better, the content of this third book somehow felt much darker and violent which created some discomfort for me. My lack of comfort with the darker content of this book poses an issue. While it’s not comfortable, the story is so well crafted, the ideas so challenging, I care so much for the individual characters, I can’t help but want to know how their tale unfolds.

    The concept of this book was supposed to be patterns of shadow and ligh, it *felt* much more dark than light in balance. Thus far, for most characters to stay on their “Path” they must endure extreme sacrifice, which is fine but I felt the book spent too little time spent exploring just why that sacrifice is worthwhile.

    The Isabel story-line is a good example for the “worth it” question not being asked or answered… What goodness is there in Isabel’s life that makes the continued sacrifices she and Ean keep making worth it? I don’t know, they seem convinced the sacrifices are worth it….they seem committed to continue to make the sacrifices but I have no earthly idea why its worth it. Isabel sacrifices her body and the mortal love of her soul mate Ean, to remain on her “path”. While I know Isabel believed the sacrifice was necessary to say on her path, and her path for the game…does that mean staying on your path are being happy are mutually exclusive? If staying on your path and being happy are mutually exclusive..who the heck cares if you win the game that requires you stay on a path to unhappiness.

    In contrast the “worth it” does get answered by in the Tanis story-line, by far the best in the book, a great mix of light and dark…. the sheer joy in his exploration of life, coming to love, discovery of his family clearly demonstrates why following the path, seeing this hard thing through is worth the cost.

    The Pelas story-line still bothers me immensely – I still believe Pelas is portrayed as far too perfect, with every adjective by every person. Perhaps worse, thus far he is literally responsible for nothing. Perhaps my feeling that Pelas gets away with everything without consequences or cost is a sign that I still hold some lingering animosity from the whole Isabel rape/not rape question, but I honestly believe it’s more.

    I think I’ve figured out why….Living a life should cause some ripple, some change good and bad, some accounting..and that accounting should include both consequences and rewards for your choices. Even the most perfect creatures, even Pelas should have some accounting–some loss, some gain,some regret, some joy, some debt owed, some balance due. Thus far, all of Pelas’s accounting seems to have been placed on plus side of the ledger ledger.

    By the way the Pelas story has unfolded he gets to jump right into the middle of the story and life with all the rewards (Isabel, Tanis) and none of the consequences of a life lived. The two most wonderful people in the book adore him despite how much more others have already sacrificed and contributed. It feels..I’ll say it…unjust, a reward for *who* he is not what he’s done, a golden child. It seems unfair to those who have ALREADY sacrificed then seem to be cast aside, forgotten in consideration for what Pelas might do in the future. Pelas receives an account filled to brim for what he “will do” while others who have done, like Ean accounts seem empty. (heck he was absent from the last 1/4 of the book)

    I hope Pelas taking away Tanis’s right to choose, buy bonding with him without telling him about the interaction with his mother at least starts him having an account with both debts and credits, like everyone else.

    Silly I know- I still strongly believe the choice to take Isabel …one last time, after the compulsion was gone, when she asked her to trust him, was awful in light of her willingness to give him whatever he need, what she’d already given and his knowledge of what he’d already taken, again a withdrawal on a account with no deposits.

    I hope the next book focuses not on how the game can be won, but more why it’s worth winning. If that takes place, I imagine it won’t seem so dark..

    If you can’t tell, I loved the book and the series…these aren’t complaints …call it challenging passion.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      This is SO wonderful! Thank you for providing me such an in-depth look into the feelings and conflicts you experienced in reading Paths of Alir.

      First, let me reassure you on one point (I hope you’ll feel reassured): One of the things I changed in the Isabel and Pelas chapters is your point about Pelas taking Isabel twice. It no longer happens. I read all of your comments and thoughts on their interaction and took a new look at the chapters, and I took out any reference to Isabel admiring Pelas and all references to her possibly enjoying sex with him. Her voice in the chapter is more muted, but I think it’s appropriate.

      I don’t often make big changes to my story because a reader finds a scene disturbing. But your points deserved more inspection, and upon that inspection, this is what I saw:

      As the author, knowing what I know of the characters, knowing their history and background, and knowing where they’re heading, I obviously have an omniscient perspective. Isabel, being nearly immortal, certainly having an immortal’s view of life and livingness, has a certain perspective about her body and her spirituality, if you will. I was writing the scene from this viewpoint, with those ideas in mind, because we’re going to get into this topic deeply in book 4, Kingdom Blades.

      With that said, I didn’t spend any time indoctrinating the reader into Isabel’s viewpoint about her body, herself, her immortality – only about her path. So there’s really nothing to explain – no data the reader can use to extrapolate – why Isabel would feel the way she felt about Pelas in that scene (forgiving, gentle, compassionate despite his torture, and on the other end, any sense of enjoyment).

      Moreover, showing Isabel to have taken any enjoyment in the act invalidates her feelings for Ean. Your point on this was very well made and not something I had looked at in that way before.

      You might say that I’ve sterilized the scene, toned down her moments of desperation – they were misleading, because I never meant to convey her as truly desperate in the sense that a victim would be desperate – and I’ve tried to emphasize that she made this choice knowingly.

      In the new edit of the Pelas chapters, Isabel thinks to herself that Pelas would have to face the consequences of his actions. And he will. You’re absolutely right in pointing this out. I do understand how it feels like he’s gotten everything and sacrificed nothing. In real life, this happens too – frustratingly so. People who just seem to have immense luck, for whom everything turns to gold, who lead charmed lives… they exist. I didn’t mean for Pelas to mirror such people, but there is a sort of shadow of this kind of personality in him. Going forward, we will be exploring what consequence looks like for an immortal being who’s chosen to play a mortal game. Atonement may not be what people expect, but then I would be disappointing you if everything I did was predictable.

      In your review above, you said: “…does that mean staying on your path and being happy are mutually exclusive? If staying on your path and being happy are mutually exclusive..who the heck cares if you win the game that requires you stay on a path to unhappiness.”

      This is such a vital point, so well made, very well taken, and absolutely will be addressed in Kingdom Blades. If only I could’ve gotten there in Paths of Alir! But it’s a large topic – a huge topic – and it heads very deeply into faith and spirituality. I absolutely want to show everyone why the game is worth the sacrifices these characters have made in trying to win it.

      You were also right in seeing those rewards along Tanis’s path. His path is simple. Others’ paths are not. But few of us have simple paths in real life. We go through great times of darkness, and they can seem never-ending. How do we face them? What choices do we make while in them? Do we succumb, do we fight through it, do we blame others, blame God? There is a lot of darkness in Paths of Alir, but it lays a foundation through a shadowed valley that will bring us out to the highest vistas in books 4 and 5. Without the darkness of Paths, those vistas might not feel as rewarding. Just like in our lives.

      Does that mean that I think we need to endure hardship in order to know joy? I’m not trying to say that. I am trying to convey that no hardship is worth the sacrifice of one’s honor, and I felt a good deal of darkness was needed in order to illustrate this. In truth, I haven’t finished making this point; rather, I’ve laid the foundation for it to be explored further in Kingdom Blade. Not with more darkness – we’re mostly done with that – but with where we go now that the dark lies behind us.

      In our lives, we have these moments – weeks – years sometimes. It would be glib to say “all should live brightly” without illustrating that all the happiness we ever find lies in ourselves, that sacrificing our honor, our integrity, comes at a far greater cost than anything that can be done to our bodies. I’ve only laid the foundations for further exploration of these subjects. Those foundations lie in dark places so that in showing the power these characters find in themselves they can shine that much more brightly in contrast.

      It’s unfortunately true that some readers need one chapter to get the point and others need ten. You’re probably right that Paths didn’t have to be so dark, but I can’t help feeling that it was necessary. I can say that Kingdom Blades will bring us back out of that valley of shadows with everyone firmly upon their paths and their eyes on the sparkling peak.

      If you’d like to read the updated chapters, I added a link to the original blog post.

  5. William says:

    Ms. McPhail..

    Accepting that Isabel will feel guilt, warranted or not as Pelas is not the man she loves.

    The issue for me was does Isabel succumb, (yield to overpowering appeal or desire), or submit (permit oneself to be subjected to something), I’m glad you chose to give Isabel the strength to do the latter, much like Trell.

    In the previous version, Isabel sacrificed herself to Pelas and betrayed Ean’s love by succumbing to Pelas. – Weak Isabel

    In the current version, Isabel sacrificed herself for Pelas, and honored Ean’s love by enduring what was necessary. – Strong Isabel

    In this change the action is no longer a mandate on Isabel’s love for Ean, it’s her willingness to sacrifice of herself, to own her choices and live with the consequences.

    A profound difference, one I imagine was more along your original intent.

    I had to read it here as the update hasn’t propagated to my kindle yet so thank you for providing the link…

  6. William says:

    Ms. McPhail,

    My last post for awhile as I don’t want to prove all the “don’t ever reply to critical readers” they will become stalkers!! right…but wanted to share the impact of your book, it’s really made me think. As I’m sure is obvious, I found the Isabel/Pelas situation deeply, deeply disturbing, beyond what should exist for a fantasy novel, a work of fiction.

    For context, I’ve been married to my best friend, my wonderful wife for 20 years and will be until I die. It’s not quite eternity but as mortal the best I can hope for.

    Perhaps unintentionally I saw her in similar circumstances as Isabel, myself as Ean and had deep empathy for Ean. As I ran the multiple consequences of this situation through my head, I just never saw a happy outcome for Ean, each iteration was worse than the previous when taken to potential conclusions. As a result I wanted to defend Ean’s, and his right to have his feelings, hopes, love, fears matter. Since I assigned all these emotions and motivations to Ean, you’ll not be shocked to know they were easy to understand.

    I’m sharing my decidedly male perspective, perhaps what some might consider an insecure male perspective after reading this post.

    While I still believe the original writing left some question to the encounter being a choice by Isabel or not, Isabel owning the decision, that’s not the point. I now believe even if she had, I would have still found the encounter deeply troubling, especially the more sexual/intimate version the one you’ve already changed.

    As I saw the encounter through Ean/My eyes….

    This isn’t a critique or review….

    Why I hate Pelas, for my buddy Ean….

    1. The woman I love being taken or giving herself to another man, whatever the reason and he hurt her.

    2. The woman I love seemingly enjoying the encounter, showing him the type of affection that should reserved only for our love, as needed conveniently setting aside our love in the process to be something she dealt with later.

    3. This man, despite her awful circumstances, that he’d hurt her, having power over her responses and raising the specter of his passion/sexual prowess being something she actually wanted or would desire in the future.

    4. The woman I love choosing to encourage a relationship between this man and her (our) son, Knowing what watching that relationship would do to me, and not caring.

    5. The fear that the reason she wanted the relationship with the man and her son, my son, was so that she could keep him near, to have continued access and maintain a relationship with him.

    6. The realization that now that he’d bonded to her/my son, he would be a constant part of both their lives.

    7. The fear that given what she’d already sacrificed for him, if the need arose again, any need, she would always choose to meet his needs. I and our love had been relegated to secondary, disposable, not truly important in comparison to him.

    8. That he was not deserving of all she, we were giving.

    9. That I would be forced to either abandon my relationship or emasculate myself to stay close to her if she chose to continue a relationship with him. And that either outcome would be preferable to her, to loosing him.

    So you see, most my reaction came by insecurity channeling Ean…. and that’s why I hate Pelas so much….not as much for what he’s done… (though a little) but because of the fears he exposes… That’s why the the repeated representation of him being perfect made things even worse…like a rock in your shoe.

    Of course Isabel felt the opposite, she has faith, their love was eternal, everlasting…not subject to threat or question. This will pass…

    Now we get to see if Ean or Isabel was right..

    Funny stuff.

    To clarify one point…. Whatever Isabel’s perception of Pelas, his inherent goodness or value to the game

    Ean is still a man, not a prophet… even if he posses an immortal soul. He’s living this life….

    Not only did Isabel give herself to Pelas, but now her family is now bound to him, for eternity. There is no good Pelas/Ean/Isabel/Tanis relationship on equal footing.

    So, Ean is left with the choice of abandoning Isabel and Tanis for now..or his complete emasculation, either way he looses…

    Poor Ean..I got ya buddy…

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      These are all undeniably valid points! I appreciate your sharing them with me, and I will definitely keep them in mind as I’m writing Ean’s thread in Kingdom Blades.

      I loved getting your viewpoint on this scene, but I feel badly that it had such a negative impact on you. I deeply apologize that it has been so disturbing. I wanted people to think about the conflicts inherent in the situation, but I certainly didn’t anticipate causing quite so much turmoil in the process.

      When I wrote the scene, I had in mind already the philosophical topics it would open up for book 4. Much of the reason I wrote the scene was to lay that foundation/conflict for Kingdom Blades. And I probably need most of book 4 to be able to bring people to understanding of it. So I certainly don’t expect to be able to do it here.

      But I do hope to offer some solace in the way of additional viewpoints you might take and observe the scene through newly. You’ve done a stellar job of communicating your viewpoint to me. Hopefully I can do the same in conveying some other viewpoints that you might be able to assume in return. It’s my hope that these might help dispel some of the trauma surrounding the situation with Isabel, Pelas and Ean.

      Here are some things to think about:

      One of my purposes for writing the scene was to present an ethical dilemma in a way that would be real to the reader. Ethics and morality are rampantly misunderstood subjects, often with each word being used to define the other. But they’re not interchangeable terms.

      Ethics is a personal thing. It is used to describe a choice based on rationality towards the greatest good for the greatest number.

      Morals form a code of conduct which has been set down by the society, having seen that certain actions lead towards survival for that societal group.

      A choice can be ethical yet not be moral, depending on the mores of the group involved. It’s perfectly acceptable, for example, for a Frenchman to have a mistress. It’s almost expected. In America, we shake our heads and call this adultery. But this is a widely accepted practice in French society. It doesn’t seem to conflict with their moral code. But it might conflict with an ethical one.

      There is a clear ethical/moral dilemma in Isabel’s choice to help Pelas. Saving Pelas, because of his potential to help, undeniably forwards the greatest good for the greatest number. The long-reaching ramifications of Pelas’s choosing a path to save the world cannot be underestimated. Any personal disgruntlements with Pelas aside, he has power, and he will be a force on the playing field.

      Björn made a similar choice during the Adept Wars. He knew they were ultimately working for the survival of the entire world, yet no one could say there was anything moral in letting so any people die. Ethical and moral dilemmas exist in our lives, and this is an area that I felt needed to be explored.

      So we have an ethical choice clearly indicated for Isabel, yet the choice to help Pelas was actually made by Epiphany’s Prophet.

      And that takes us to the second philosophical topic of this scene. Isabel is both the woman and the Prophetess. She wears these two hats at all times. They’re inseparable parts of her, yet they are definitely two separate parts. What Epiphany’s Prophet must do and what the woman Isabel want are not always aligned, but the choices of Epiphany’s Prophet always come first, because they always lie on the highest ethic level.

      Think of some of the ethical/moral dilemmas we face in our lives, conflicts between our work and home life, our families or our faiths. We all have many hats, and there are plenty of times that one hat gets to wear the whole head and the other hats suffer.

      Isabel has the integrity to take responsibility for the actions she felt she had to take while wearing the hat of Epiphany’s Prophet (clearly the most ethical choice in helping Pelas), yet she regrets the moral consequence of betraying Ean.

      But let’s be clear about something: this is a moral consequence, and this is partly where our parallel universes (the fantasy world and the real one) diverge.

      Isabel and Ean are bound to each other, but what does that binding mean for them? You understand what it means for you and your wife, yet you and your wife are also bound within the mores of this society. Even with their implied monogamy, there is a higher truth that defines Ean and Isabel’s relationship.

      Isabel is nearly immortal, but were she to die, she would live again as an Adept of all 4 strands. She would always be who she is in any lifetime, even were she to be born again in a male body. The shell doesn’t matter, she would still be herself.

      Ean has a visceral reality on having lived before. He doesn’t question this truth.

      These truths are part and parcel to the society that they live in. Ean could’ve returned as a female. Isabel would still have known him and loved him. They would still have bound themselves again. Do you see? This is a society with very different underlying mores from our own.

      We haven’t gotten into all of this yet, so you wouldn’t necessarily have put much thought into it. I plan to explore the topic in book 4, and the introduction of this Isabel/Ean conflict is the launching pad for that exploration.

      You pointed out that Isabel never waivered in her love for Ean/Arion, which is true. But the gritty reality—what has to be confronted within the mythology of their universe, is that these beings are not the shells they wear.

      Where does Isabel’s betrayal lie? (especially now that I’ve sterilized the scene of any pleasurable moments – thank you again for that point).

      She gave her body to help another man do what? It wasn’t for the act of pleasure. It was to find his freedom. Her body was the key to his escape. That’s all she gave him.

      She does feel guilt in the intimacy of the act without her blindfold, and she will have to face that truth with Ean. But when we’re looking at adultery in the context of our world, those people are joining for the purpose of sex as carnal pleasure. You don’t see many people having sex in America in order to make free beings who can save the world. Truly, if having sex one time with one person would bring world peace, wouldn’t you consider it? And if not…what happens to us when we’re faced with an ethical choice for the greater good and choose a selfish one instead? Two people’s happiness versus an entire planet’s? Really? Couldn’t those two people find happiness together in a joined sacrifice of dignity or morality or whatever?

      While there are necessary parallels between life and my fantasy universe, this situation can’t actually be held to the same standard of explanation (or justification) or even to the same standard of fears, insecurities or blame.

      Let’s look at this another way: Isabel made her unbreakable bond with Arion Tavestra. She sees the man she loved in Ean, but Ean’s body isn’t the body Arion wore when they fell in love. Does that make her love him any less? If Arion/Ean isn’t the shell he wears, if she can see him beneath any mask, what makes her shell so important that it should not be used to free another immortal from a degrading captivity?

      Now yes, she feels regret over hurting Ean. But she doesn’t view the act with the same moral conscience as you and I would look at our real-life spouses. She regrets the potential of causing Ean pain, even as I regret causing you pain in having written a scene that disturbed you. But she made a choice to serve the greater good – the entire game is about serving the greater good – and there is no compromise for Isabel in this.

      So… whereas all of your points are completely valid framed in the context of our society, Bill, they don’t necessarily all fit properly in Isabel and Ean’s.

      They both have to atone. Ean, as Arion, discovers his own treasons in book 4, the things he’s been fearing to see. Neither of them can cast stones at the other.

      As to your point on emasculation… Of course I completely see how you would feel that way, but in looking at the scene from Isabel’s viewpoint (as covered above) what is the real cause of emasculation? Is it perception from others? Perception from ourselves? Why should Ean care what others think of him? He should only care what he thinks of himself. This is integrity. Moreover, why should Ean feel emasculated in forgiving Isabel? Did Christ emasculate himself when he washed his disciples’ feet? Do we emasculate ourselves in humility and compassion? In forgiveness?

      Bill, I don’t expect you to agree with any of these points. I expected to have an entire book to explore them with my readers and look at them from many different points of view. I offer them here simply to give you another point from which to explore the scene, and maybe to think about it a little differently; maybe give you a little more space between the parallels you empathetically drew between your life and Ean’s.

      I hope this may have helped you a little bit.

      I’ve posted this to my site, because I think its valuable for anyone following the discussion, but if at any point you would like to make the conversation private, please use the Contact page to email me. I’m happy to have as much dialogue as needed to help bring this to closure for you.

  7. William says:

    Ms. McPhail

    Once again thanks for the great response.

    By some of your response I feel like I didn’t do a very good job of expressing my intent in the previous post. I’m not upset or disturbed by the current content of the book in any way. I in no way require or expect your apology.

    ….. sorry if I gave that impression

    I was trying to channel Ean….

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      And you did a really excellent job!

      Truly, all of the points you raised are valuable, and I’m grateful to have your perspective to keep in mind for Ean in book 4.

  8. Lisa says:

    Hi Melissa!

    What an amazing job you have done with this series so far! To bring out such an emotional response from people demonstrates how far you have drawn your readers in. It’s like that movie character that makes you want to spit on them if you saw them on the street…. You have to take a step back and realize what an amazing artist that actor is to create such a powerful emotional response from you

    I think shadow allows us to perceive the beauty of light a little easier.

    I am looking forward to your future work

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Thank you so much, Lisa. I greatly appreciate your praise and encouragement. I love your idea that shadows allow us to perceive the beauty of light more easily. We’ll definitely be climbing back towards the light in books 4 and 5, having weathered that darkness. Thank you for weathering it so beautifully!

    • William says:


      You are absolutely right, it’s obvious that the dialog from my perspective was driven by an emotional response to the characters and their situations… a response that would not exist if readers (me) had not been drawn into the story and characters. I cannot deny it…at an visceral level, seeing all the people and symbols Ean loves and values being given/sacrificed for Pelas…in whatever form that takes really ended up bothering me at an emotional level. -not them, me-

      That response means the world created, the characters, impacted me the reader.

      I’m reminded of the YouTube videos of people’s responses to the “Red Wedding” in the Game Of Thrones. I’m just glad Melissa took that response and turned in into a wonderful dialog, others might not have been as gracious.

  9. Harald says:

    Hi Melissa,
    loved your books, just finished with the Paths of Alir and jumped to your website to find out when the next book would be out. (a good sign for any writer). This thread caught my attention mostly because of your willingness to change your work based on feedback from your readers. I had problems with the scenes discussed not because of the sex but because of the brutal torture before which could be interpreted to hinder her thinking of a “better” solution than surrender herself. When one choice remains, is it then really a choice? Where is altruism when your acts gives you benefits (torture stops, she is set free and so on AND the universe has a bigger chance of surviving…).
    But these are my feelings, my thoughts, I want to read your thoughts. I understand that your next sentence will always be influenced by your experiences (Reading reviews of you work, discussions on Facebook and on your blog, world events, personal events …). But how much should we as readers influence Your work? I’m not sure this new world of interacting with writers gives the best result. It worries me a bit, would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


    • Melissa McPhail says:

      I’m thrilled you’re enjoying the series so far, Harald. It’s an interesting point you make about Isabel – how much of a choice did she really have when faced with those consequences? Isabel’s view of that experience is one of the first things we take up early in Kingdom Blades. I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts once you’ve read it and gained her viewpoint more fully.

      I thought your question about author-reader interaction was so interesting that I wrote a blog post to answer it. You’ll find it here.

  10. Kristina Pry says:

    I probably read the edited version because I only bought the book around Christmas, but I definitely interpreted it as choice. I’m stuck on your skimming of the Kushiel novel, though. I think you must mean the 3rd book, not the 4th? Avatar featured a lot of torture but Scion had very little.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Kristina, I think you’re right. I meant Kushiel’s Avatar, book 3. Thanks for correcting me on that!

  11. Richard Parker says:

    Howdy Melissa,
    The scenes involving Pelas and Isabel have been one of the most defining experiences, to me, in the book series thus far. The reasons why are pretty much listed in your above explanation, and even before reading this post, it never occured to me that consent was not attained for either party. It was a very traumatic scene, regardless, and to me, did not just show the shades of gray that is Evil, but the shades of gray that Good can be. That in most religions and cultures, fidelity is that prized, uncompromising virtue for which there is no excuse to relinquish.

    This scene shows the ignorance and arrogance of such notions. Even though my heart goes out to Ean and Isabel, the results of this scene sets the framework for the struggles that occur between relationships and duty, as well as laying the framework for an even more powerful fellowship/alliance surrounding Tanis, who (like mother, like son) I assume to be Cephrael’s Prophet.

    I HATED reading this scene on an emotional level, but philosophically, it is wonderful.

    Thank you for the clarifications!

  12. Les says:

    Very interesting comments, having read the new version I didn’t have so visceral a reaction re Pelas/Isabel although I didn’t like her having to use sex, what with the Trell/Taliah situation. But great to have the clarification. My worry now is a long wait for book 4, by which time I would have forgotten everything!

    So When can we expect books 4 (& 5)?

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      It’s really interesting to me that you say this, Les. I actually wrote a blog post to give a little better answer on your comment about Isabel choosing sex as a solution.

      Kingdom Blades is due for publication in 2016. Thank you for reading!

  13. Locklear says:

    I don’t see that scene as a rape. I honestly got the indication that something was going to happen with Isabel, considering that from the time Isabel was introduced she said do you want the Prophet’s opinion or Isabel’s opinion. I had expected some sacrifice with her to come at some point, honestly. Though it’s interesting to note that while Isabel/Pelas was brought up as a “why is this happening, this shouldn’t have happened” type thing, the story with Taliah/Trell who was raped on a daily basis, was considered tragic but accepted. Why is this?

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      That’s an excellent question, Locklear. I’ve observed the same reaction, yet I don’t have an answer for it myself. Somehow one scenario must appear more socially acceptable? Or was it because the way Trell dealt with Taliah made it so he never felt like a victim to the reader?

      As the author, I know that while writing the scenes, even when Trell had no control, he didn’t react as though things were out of his control. I was always aware of some strength in him that would never break. When writing Isabel, she was so conflicted and yet so determined…it made it a very different experience to take her viewpoint.

      Whatever the reason for the variance in reader reactions, it’s definitely a question worth exploring. Thanks for your comment!

    • Slick says:

      I never saw it as rape what Pelas and Isabel did but I hated and still do hate that scene with a Passion. It was a necessary sacrifice that’s going to hurt everybody involved. Pelas saw it as a chance to free himself from his brothers and to stop mutilating healers and to finally choose his own path and i wouldn’t be surprised if he falls for Isabel now. Isabel saw the chance to turn the great game on it’s head, winning a powerful ally while robbing their opponents of a key asset, all for the greater good. She did what she did with full knowledge of the ramifications and consented, as a reader i can’t and wouldn’t hold it against her.

      Poor Ean though, poor Ean. My favorite character. Isabel is practically an immortal and with the ‘we are not just the shells we wear’ and her wisdom gained through the centuries, Ean is a young man in this life and this is going to hurt him fiercely and he’s going to react like a young man.

      • Melissa McPhail says:

        Slick, You’re absolutely right in your estimation that this is going to really be a difficult blow for Ean. I can’t say too much about it here without giving out spoilers, but it is safe to fall back on the old adage, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I’m looking forward (if rather nervously) to feedback on Kingdom Blades, particularly along Ean’s story thread.

  14. Kate says:

    Melissa, thank you so much not only for your incredibly rich and intriguing books, but also for your obvious interest in your readers. Not only do you take the time to answer questions, but as evidenced here, you do so thoroughly, thoughtfully, compassionately, and with an open mind. I don’t know many authors that would care so deeply about helping readers work through an emotionally disturbing response to a scene but you have done a wonderful job of not only listening to concerns but actively including feedback into your writing and responses. Thank you!

  15. Mary says:

    Hello Melissa! I adore your series and you so much. I love and enjoy the moral dilemmas and the questions they bring as much as I hate them. 🙂
    I have just finished Kingdom Blades and discovered your site and have been looking round I am glad I found this page 🙂 as it’s helped sooth me a little.

    I felt betrayed and awful for Ean after these chapters, the version I read certainly seemed consensual and all too willing. I much prefer the newer version as it felt more like a sacrifice and less like a tryst. I was crying by the time I finished. Ean and Bjorn are still my two strong favourites.
    There is so much on my mind after flying through your series: Is Pelas the main focal point of the series now? It feels as though he has kind of come from nowhere and taken priority in the storyline? Also will the Isabel/Pelas cheating issue be followed up in book 5? It’s been niggling at me and i was hoping it would be resolved in book 4. I cannot seem to bring myself to enjoy Pelas much, I feel as though I’m failing as a reader but with his entrance things seem to have detreated greatly for Ean. I was concerned if I was being irrational since I seem to have linked the two incidents in my mind? I was also hoping for a Isabel POV to help see from her standpoint and how she was experiencing the aftermath of her path.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Hi Mary,

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series overall. I’m sorry for the deep upset you’ve experienced over Ean and Isabel.

      Let me say first: we will definitely (finally) resolve their upset in book five. There just wasn’t time to make it happen in Kingdom Blades.

      I didn’t feel that Ean could grow beneath Isabel’s shadow. He had to be on his own, making his own choices for himself and not for her. He had to learn that Isabel’s betrayal was no different in truth than Arion’s. Isabel used her body to free another man from compulsion and seal a powerful ally to shift the balance of the game. Arion sacrificed his life in an attempt to do the same and abandoned his son and Isabel in his failure. He’s not even in the same physical form she loved anymore, right? But she was willing to see through his shell to find Arion animating it, which begs the question from all of us–if we aren’t the shells we wear, then where is the betrayal in using them for the greater good (i.e. the game?)

      Arion and Isabel were very much aligned in this understanding – she never blamed him for dying, though he deeply blamed himself. Ean and Isabel were not quite on the same page on this view, and it took a while for Ean to realize this. Now it will be up to him to choose if he wants to join her on that page, because after everything Isabel and her brother have done for this game…it’s unlikely that she would abandon the game for Ean.

      I’m guessing you see and understand all of this and still feel upset over what happened. And that’s right, too. The point of an ethical right and moral wrong is that it’s not easily reconciled. We as individuals have to overcome the feeling of being wronged and assume a pan-determined view. We have to decide the greater good is more important than ourselves and act accordingly – even if that means setting aside personal grievances and feelings of injustice.

      Here’s another look: Isabel was Pelas’s prisoner. Yes, she was trying to help him, but she was still captive to him (and more so to Darshan’s compulsion).Think of all the ways she could’ve responded – she might’ve fought bitterly, valiantly, bravely…all to no avail. She might’ve clung to dignity, or righteousness. How would these have benefited her? How would any response have helped her more than showing him compassion?

      The more we fight something, the more we fall prey to it. The only way to overcome it is to duplicate its point of view – to become it, in a sense – whereupon we are able to change its mind to our own aims. Any other action is to elect an enemy. So I toned down the scene, because I wasn’t trying to make her enjoy it, but even if she had…she’s having sex with another man every time she mates with Ean. That body isn’t Arion’s. Do you see that? Isabel KNOWS this in every fiber of her being. What happens to the shell is inconsequential. She wasn’t betraying Arion in her actions, and Arion would’ve understood that. At the same time, she knew that Ean wouldn’t, hence the sacrifice.

      If you can elucidate any continuing conflict you feel over this, I’ll try to help you through it without spoiling what’s still to come.

      lv, Melissa

      • Mary says:

        Wow thank you so much for your response! Out of all my favourite authors you are the best at taking the time to converse with your fans, it’s really amazing and very appreciated.

        I can see your points and I respect them greatly, I can now see the relationship between Arion/Isabel differs greatly from the one she has with Ean. It seems in hindsight Ean assumed this was a normal relationship and Isabel was assuming they would have the same understanding as when she was with Arion. Their conversation together in KB suddenly makes more sense now. I had honestly never considered that everytime she was with Ean it was essentially a different man. I also agree Ean could never flourish if he was consistently being under Isabels highly capable kick ass Shadow. After everything both of them had sacrificed it just felt a little like blow after blow, Pelas and Isabel, then the blindfold, then Pelas and Tannis. I just felt so bad for him 🙁 and I agree she’d also never leave the game for him or vice versa I’d like to think.
        Regardless of why you altered the scene, i’m going to thank you for it. In my mind the new version is canon and the can no longer hurt me so thank you! 🙂

        I also find Trells situation interesting. Everyone I know was horrified by what happened to him but got over it pretty quickly unlike the situation with Isabel. Do you think it is a gender thing? If Ean for example had to have sex with a beautiful woman to achieve the same goals that Isabel had to with Pelas nobody would consider it a real sacrifice or hardship but if what happened to Trell happened to a female character there would have been havoc.

        Thank you for such a wonderful series 🙂 Don’t let my griping fool you into thinking I’m not quivering in anticipation for book 5. I am seriously hooked haha
        Love M.

        • Melissa McPhail says:

          Hi Mary,

          I agree, the new version is cannon – and really what I intended all along. I have a reader to thank for seeing something I failed to, and for writing to me quickly to bring it to my attention.

          I think you’re quite right about Trell, and I’ve looked at that and really don’t have a good answer for why his scenes are not as disturbing. Perhaps those scenes doesn’t also factor in betrayal, but I think it also has to do with the way he’s unbending. He never seems not in control, while Isabel feels very much beneath Pelas’s control – even though she believes in her heart that she still has some power to alter their paths.

          I agree that if the roles were reversed and Taliah was a man, I would’ve gotten hell for it. 😉 The very fact that there is this differentiation is fascinating to me. I hope (and believe) it’s a conversation many have taken up as a result of this book, and that makes me very happy. Anytime some hidden standard lies uninspected, we as a society can fall prey to it. Much better these viewpoints are spotted and discussed – even openly argued about – than to lay hidden beneath our observation.

          • Bill says:

            There is a fairly significant difference between the two scenes, less subtle, more obvious, the outcome- trade them, trade the perception.

            Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  16. Beau says:

    I can not tell you how much I hate this scene. I loved these books until this one. This book was just so…depraved. Plus, the betrayal, I can’t stand it. I think I’m done with these books.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      I completely understand, Beau. It’s a tough few days for Isabel. I encourage you to continue because there is enormous purpose behind this. I never throw in a scene just for the shock value. There’s always a reason it has to happen.

  17. John says:

    Hi Melissa,

    I’m not sure which version of the Pela/Isabel interaction I read.. I will need to check. I bought the book a good while back and then for whatever reason stopped reading the series for a while after finishing the second book. I just finished reading the first 3 books and am reading the kingdom Blades at the moment.

    All that said…..

    I did not read the scene as a rape. Trell was raped quite vividly (both mentally and physically), and it sounds as though Sebastian enjoyed his own rapes just sans details.

    And before I ramble further, I have to add for anyone reading these wonderful journeys and paths, they would do well to remember it is fiction, it is make-believe while balancing that with understanding bad things happen to people every day. Sometimes we need to remember this and to accept it when we read about something bad happening to a character in a book we really like. But in the end, it is fiction!

    But there is a dichotomy in society still. A contradiction of sorts and I do not think it is limited to one gender or the other. I can’t speak for males my son’s age (he is 22, I am 55) but I do know I have grown up with a sense of wanting to protect the women in my life. Not to any extent suggesting women cannot protect themselves (I am actually very much a believer in equality among genders). But I do recognize we have been made in such a fashion to complement one another versus each gender doing every single thing the best.
    As such, when I read a story in the media regarding a 28 year old attractive female teacher engaging in sexual activity with a 16 year old male student (rape), my first thought is “that never happened when I was in school “ followed by “a dream come true” for the kid, before rational thought brings me back to the ground and I know it is wrong on every level. But it is difficult for me to see the true harm from a male perspective. A part of me would have died for that to have been me when I was 16! BUT.. let’s reverse the sexes, and have an article stating a 16 year old girl was having sex with her 28 year old male teacher. I would daresay most men react far differently to that, a different set of emotions and nobody would feel the young woman was lucky to have had a sexual romp at her early age. Why? It literally is the same event. Both are equally wrong, morally, ethically, and legally. My guess is with the latter a fair number of fathers would want to do serious harm to the male teacher.

    So in the books Trell was literally raped. I assume erection aside that it was a magic induced erection and not one of true desire. If so, he was being mentally raped, physically raped, and instead of pleasure he was feeling extreme pain while she raped him. Sebastian’s rape was probably even worse from a male’s point of view (nothing like the thought of prison rape to make most men cringe). Yet very little pushback from the readers. This parallels what I wrote above. People are conditioned to accept men being hurt, etc. but not women (not saying this is true for everybody).

    Society still does not want to see women coming home in body bags from wars, nor do they want women to be captured, raped and tortured. Not that anyone wants men to be captured, raped, tortured or killed, either. But they are socialized to accept this more so for men.

    I may have read the revised version but it did not come across as rape. But I can understand why Ean would be upset given his age, the newness of his relationship with Isabel in this shell (she is after all 300+ years mature while he is 18 ish years old and very male with normal surges and insufficient maturity to counter balance! Not to mention the description of Isabel makes her sound more than a little desirable. Had she been raped, I would ponder if Ean would have reacted differently. Rape is not sex and in my assessment is one of the purest forms of true evil as what it takes physically is minimal to what it takes mentally and emotionally. From my male perspective, if my partner/wife were raped I would not in any way view that as a betrayal (why further victimize her?).

    On other hand, if you find your partner has willfully engaged in sex with someone else (potential health consequences aside…. I certainly don’t want to be exposed to her new partner’s sexual past), I believe I would be a tad less than happy. This though stirs a lot of other thoughts…. Regarding shells and acts, without question Isabel is having sex with a different man with Ean (if she likes variety the return and new shells makes an infinity of sex with same person look a bit more tantalizing). Of course, he is oblivious to this being young in this new shell. So, my philosophical question is this…. Which is worse from a betrayal perspective… one’s partner engaging in a sexual act with another person sans any emotional connection, or you discover your partner is emotionally in love (and in contact) with another but have never had sex.

    Isabel chose to have sex with Pelas to relieve him from the compulsion that was driving him to do horrific acts of violence. But she had also been physically tortured brutally. On one plane a person could argue she did what she had to do for survival. Self-preservation instinct runs strong. From Ean’s perspective, seeing his wife having been tortured in my opinion should have affected him emotionally but it did not. I know he is connected to her in ways we in our world are not, and he knows she feels the betrayal she committed. But she did not do so with enjoyment in mind.

    To that degree though I think you did capture things well for how a male might react. As a female writer I am never aware of your gender, which is a compliment. Most men I have know are fickle when it comes to infidelity. For many they find their sexual improprieties as more forgiving than that of their partners. Perhaps Ean’s response supports that.

    Sorry for the ramble. After all of this I do think those who were outraged at the rape and/or tryst committed by Isabel should question why they were not equally upset when Trell was being raped multiple times. Trell was allowed his release as well in some instances so I have to assume that meant release with pleasure. Yet he has not gotten the same reaction as did Isabel. I think we are seeing many many years of a patriarchal driven society in play. However you slice it, and even though this is a fantasy book, it is interesting seeing how people react differently when it is a male or a female. Many double standards exist and this may illustrate this.
    By the way I am half way through Kingdom Blades. Enjoying the series!

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      John, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful commentary on this dichotomy. I definitely was hoping that others would see the contrast you touched upon. Trell, Sebastian and Isabel all had similar threads in Paths of Alir, but each character approached their trial with different mindsets. And of course, as you pointed out, the world very much sees these characters’ experiences through different filters.

      I think the majority of readers were tracking with my intent for Isabel and, like you, did not see her experience as rape. But I also knew I was getting into a sensitive area with this topic. Some of us just have painful experiences that get too stirred up – it becomes difficult to separate reality from fiction when the emotions we’re feeling are exactly the same.

      So I knew some people might get upset when the story started going in this direction (maybe I misestimated just how upset in some cases), but for the series to maintain its integrity, I had to go there. I wasn’t going to shy away from an important illumination (exactly to the points as you outlined above) just because it might become controversial.

      I am always sad when my story causes a bad effect, but I’m very glad that these scenes have sparked so much dialogue. Philosophically, it is a topic of our patriarchal society (to your point) which has too long been sidelined in the shadows.

      I would love your thoughts on Kingdom Blades once you finish!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment here, and thank you for reading.

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