“Scars are scars; they don’t just vanish.”: The Untold Read-Along Part 8
Welcome to The Untold Tale read-along! The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey is the first book in the Accidental Turn series, the second book of which, The Forgotten Tale, will be released on December 6th. To prep for book two, we’re sharing a ten-part series that will be part recap, part review, and part discussion of the book that has been called the “most important work of fantasy written in 2015.”
If you want to read along and avoid the SPOILERS that will follow, you can pick up your copy of The Untold Tale from major online retailers.
About the book
Forsyth Turn is not a hero. Lordling of Turn Hall and Lysse Chipping, yes. Spymaster for the king, certainly. But hero? That’s his older brother’s job, and Kintyre Turn is nothing if not legendary. However, when a raid on the kingdom’s worst criminal results in the rescue of a bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Forsyth finds his quaint, sedentary life is turned on its head.
Dragged reluctantly into a quest he never expected, and fighting villains that even his brother has never managed to best, Forsyth is forced to confront his own self-shame and the demons that come with always being second-best. And, more than that, when he finally realizes where Lucy came from and why she’s here, he’ll be forced to question not only his place in the world, but the very meaning of his own existence.
Smartly crafted, The Untold Tale gives agency to the unlikeliest of heroes: the silenced, the marginalized, and the overlooked. It asks what it really means to be a fan when the worlds you love don’t resemble the world you live in, celebrates the power of the written word, challenges tropes, and shows us what happens when someone stands up and refuses to remain a secondary character in their own life.
Part One: “I assume the body is a corpse.” Chapters 1 and 2
Part Two: “Information, at last!” Chapters 3, 4, and 5
Part Three: “Your brother is a slimeball.” Chapters 6 and 7
Part Four: “It’s not cheating to know your enemy.” Chapters 8, 9, and 10
Part Five: “I’m allowed to want it.” Chapters 11 and 12
Part Six: “I wasn’t any help.” Chapters 13 and 14
Part Seven: “That’s the magic of being a fan.” Chapters 15 and 16
Part 8 – Chapters 17 & 18
In the aftermath of the showdown with Bootknife, traumas come to light not just for the newly released Pip, but for Forsyth as well, as he reveals to Kintyre the abuse he and their mother suffered at the hands of their father during the hero’s absence. Jealousy swells in Forsyth at his brother’s open affection with Bevel.
Pip refuses to share details of her capture and enchantment, so Forsyth secretly scrys her first moments in his world. The heroic but badly bruised band moves on from the graveyard and into the forest, where they end up on a side quest that challenges the narrative of one of Kintyre’s most famous victories.
Forsyth attempts to push his luck with a still-recovering Pip, and fails. Majorly.
There’s a lot of material to work with in these two chapters, and for me it comes down to two main ideas: first, that it’s difficult to conceptualize someone else’s trauma no matter what one’s own might be, and second, the expectation that love is more important than recovery.
Pip shuts Forsyth out in order to cope with what was done to her, a strategy I know well. He knows and understands that she was enchanted by the evil Viceroy before she was “rescued” by the Shadow Hand’s men, and that the Viceroy had been controlling her more and more completely over their whole acquaintance. Despite this knowledge, Forsyth begs Pip to tell him the “things [the Viceroy] said. That he taunted [her] with.” (pg 436) When she refuses, saying he doesn’t have to know everything about her, he implores her not to keep secrets about this, her trauma.
It’s really astounding, given that not much later, Forsyth is telling Kintyre, apparently for the first time, that their father physically abused him and their mother.
Hypocrisy aside, Forsyth’s narration in these chapters show him to be really, truly bad at imagining that Pip’s road to recovery looks different than his. He reminds himself to give her space (and resents advice to that effect from Kintyre and Bevel), but then spends twice as much time being bitter and upset at what he’s lost, and still manages to confront her with his needs several times–and, in a pivotal moment, barrel over her explicit request in order to satisfy his morbid curiosity about her imprisonment.
Forsyth’s childhood is long over, so the only view of his experience we have is the knowledge that his resentment of Kintyre is driven in large part by Kintyre’s failure to protect him from their father. His trauma is shared in the narrative only, it seems, as one of two options for Proper Manly Backstory, and does not come up again in this section. It deflects for a moment from Pip’s pain, but in the end, it further complicates our view of his behavior.
What we see in Forsyth through these chapters is a person who is perhaps too well-shielded from their own painful memories to accommodate the freshness of Pip’s–chapter 17 is literally the night of her liberation–and lend a truly unbiased ear to her in their wake. He is consistently more interested in his own current pain at her loss than he is in really conceptualizing why she has pulled away. It’s that common situation where he knows, intellectually, what she must be feeling, but has not connected it to any kind of visceral emotion that he can relate to and respect.
This comes to a head near the end of chapter 18, after he scrys Pip’s capture and after Kintyre suggests that perhaps Pip began to love him before the Viceroy began to aggressively control her. Though Forsyth was heartbroken by what he saw when he scried, he obviously never intended to tell Pip what he’d done. She catches him when a slip of the tongue reveals it, and her anger at his betrayal is met with indignation, claims that she’s being unfair, that he was just researching–and he never apologizes. At least not in this section.
What does he do instead of apologize?
He grabs her and says he will not let go until she listens, declares his love, and then kisses her–imagining that this is his “heroic task”, a meaningful way to convey to Pip that she is not alone. He intends to “kiss her until she understands.” (pg 504)
Pip is furious, and rightly so. Frey is obviously and deftly calling out one of the tropes I dislike the most, the Forceful Kiss. In this instance, Forsyth is ignoring Pip’s words–her line of dialogue before this, as she’s trying to escape his grasp, is “There’s nothing you can do!”–in favor of his macho “knowledge” that deep down inside, she’s actually in love with him.
Even if that were true–and we’ll get to that in the next section of the read-along–it is, shall we say, incredibly short-sighted of Forsyth to not realize the depth of his failure here. She’s spent weeks, months, as the puppet of a truly evil sorcerer, forcing her to have sex with Forsyth, which he acknowledges to be rape. And he makes this mind-bogglingly stupid heroic gesture that forces intimacy on Pip, and has the nerve to be frustrated by his “own inability to help Pip, to make her understand, to make [himself] understand what she needs.” (pg 505)
What’s happening here is that Forsyth is falling into the trope that romantic love overcomes everything, even severe PTSD, just days after the torment ended. After Kintyre figures out that Pip may have actually started to care for Forsyth before the Viceroy really took over, Forsyth hardly waits to try the theory out. It doesn’t even matter that he got this interpretation from Kintyre and not Pip. It gives Forsyth what he needs, and so he abandons what Pip, current Pip, has asked of him in favor of what months-ago Pip might have felt before being actively mind-controlled for weeks on end.
More on this in the next section.
Next week, hosted by Pug and Books, hits chapters 19 and 20 and covers the final showdown with the Big Bad!
About J.M. Frey
Toronto-based J.M Frey (pronounced “fry”) is a science fiction and fantasy author, as well as a fanthropologist and pop culture scholar who appears in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH has been nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, was nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly.
Find more of J.M Frey online.