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.