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Severian4Scadrial

Severian4Scadrial - Chronicle of the House Andronikos Pt.2 Ch.1 - 4774 Words (LV)

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Hello Hello Hello, 

This is the first chapter of the second part of a fantasy duology. The atrociously long summary of Part One (like Aeromancer's timeline from last post, only if necessary) is in the e-mail, as well as some specific questions that reveal plot details and such. I'd love any and all feedback! 

Best, 

Severian

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Looking forward to it!

Overall

I think one definitely needs the intro to understand the story. I've not read it, and to give you an idea of what I retained:

* there are two women with similar names

* there are a number of men, one of whom killed his son for no apparent reason

* this appears to be a seaside town in a medieval fantasy setting... which now that I think on the beginning, has clarinets. Those didn't come about until the mid to late 1700s in Europe in their current incarnation and I don't know if they were necessarily traveling minstrel type things. 

* the world has a LOT of characters

* one of the women sees ghosts 

What I don't know is the plot or through line, and I didn't see an inciting incident. There were a lot of scene changes that didn't seem to flow together and I couldn't parse much of the dialogue. 

I wonder, since this is book two (yes?) if you shouldn't introduce some key plot elements into this first chapter. Many books in series do do this, and it helps old readers remember, and new readers catch up. It might help with the comprehension level. This isn't bad by any means, but I think it needs tightening and a more obvious through line.

Your questions:

is she too immature or mature, too annoying, too much of a Shallan Clone?

I can't get a feel for her at all. I don't have a feel for any of the characters, really. I don't have any buy in because I don't know what the stakes are and I didn't get any real emotion time with our lead character. Who is she? What are her motivations? Why does she do what she does? Why did she have that weird screaming match with the person whose name is basically the same?

my weird games with the Narrator (did I overplay my hand?). 

I'm not a fan of this narrative style so take my comments here with a grain of salt. It wasn't so bad at first but really pulled away in the middle, when it looked like one of the characters was actually talking to the narrator. This can be pulled off in fiction (and certainly has) but it gives a certain flavor to the work, and that flavor isn't the same as what you had already cultivated. I'd suggest back it off, if not cutting it entirely.

 

As I go (having not read the summary, as requested)

- I love the imagery of the first sentence but I think it's a shade too long. Break into two maybe?

- broken clarinet is GREAT 

- the narrator speaking directly to the reader is a bit odd but I'm willing to give it a go

- pg 3: I just want to take a minute to say thank you for making sure the group wasn't just men

- pg 4: who is she who is doing the stabbing? I love the line but don't know who it is referring to. With that noted as well, you've got quite the work to introduce seven characters at the start of book and get the reader to not forget them immediately. Here on page four I couldn't name any of them for you or their introductions, but I'm not turned off, either, so that's decent

- pg 8: I don't understand the ghost scene. It comes perhaps too fast after the dream sequence, which introduced a lot of world and people, and then the ghost part confused me. He turned to stone? But he was a ghost? Was it ghost stone? What was the purpose of the sequence? I'm not sure what I was to pick up from it.

- pg 8-9 the narrator sequence further confuses me. What is happening? I'm not sure where I am or why I care or if the palace is sentient or not

- pg 9: is she talking to the narrator? 

- So is Eu not human? That's why you describe her as simian?

- I'd suggest not naming two characters so closely. It can make it very hard to read and keep the characters apart, even if they have very similar voices

- which one of them is the maid?

- In the scene with the two E characters, I have no idea what happened, or why. One of them appears to have an inter dimensional space pocket though which is pretty neat

- pg 12: science aside - if the fungi are big enough to be a curtain or covering, then they are in fact quite healthy, not sickly

- pg 16: I can't track the dialogue here. They're jumping around from topic to topic and it doesn't make any sense. For instance, how does she get 'you must have kids' from someone saying someone is nuts?

- pg 20: bird and sea are the first real feeling I've gotten not only for what time period we are in, but what the land looks like

- pg 22: dude killed his son? Very harsh. 

- unsure of the note the ending line is on

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Hello! This is my first critique, so I think I'm just going to keep it short --

I'm German, very into Medieval Fantasy, and really really detailed oriented. And so the thing I was really looking for in your chapter was an overarching feel/flavour of your fantasy world. And I have to say -- it's confusing. The mention of mosaics means I assumed that it leant more into Italian-inspired Medieval Fantasy, but this got lost. The setting of your first scene could really clarify this -- what does the room look like? I hate describing things too, so I can totally see why you didn't want to, but just saying "it was beautiful" doesn't give any good anchors. Even just indicators of the color of the walls, the type of chair (or bench) people are sitting on, and the way the tables are organized could give a reader a lot of insight! Defining what beautiful means in this fantasy setting makes all the difference!

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I had a hard time following this because it moved so fast, and becuase there was so much going on right away. I think if this slowed down enough so that it felt like narrator (and the reader) could pause and take a breath, it would have the makings of a fantastic story. 

The most confusing part was the opening in the bar scene -- character after character was introduced and I didn't know who they were and why they were doing what they were doing. Here are some comments I made while reading the section.

..."Farden, who had sauntered..." At this point, I was lost and struggling to keep track of the characters.

"...bald man -- his looming abilities..." the whole set up around this guy and the lantern was hilarious. I loved it.

"...meat-- more precisely..." How did we end up on the subject of meat?

"There poised himself, following a courtly bow..." I was lost as to why this guy went in the cellar and took out this idol.

"She stabbed him." Who is she? This stabbing seems to come out of nowhere. 

"It got into her shoes." I'm not what 'it' is in this sentence. The knife? The man's blood?

"The murder had been a bit of an oversight" ok, how is a murder an oversight. I don't get it.

The next section was better. It still had a racing thoughts no time to breathe narrative voice, but there were less characters, so that made it easier. E is interesting, though the fast pace made it hard for me to engage with her. More as I read comments:

"That went well," she whispered." I wasn't sure what she was referring to. 

"In his niche...M... nodded." I had thought she was a lone, but then M showed up which had me confused until later I realized he was some kind of ghost -- part of the wall.

The initial description of the moving mosaic had me confused. Maybe slow this down a little? 

"Guardsmen's flair for oral multitasking" Is this supposed to make readers think raunchy things?

The next scene had my favorite pieces of writing in it. 

"Sparkling particles winked blue..." from here until the fourth wall break, the description was gorgeous. The pace had slowed down enough for me breath and pause and enjoy it. 

"I'm afraid, dear reader..." This fourth wall break caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting it, and it pulled me out of the narrative. After that, we were in first person, which was pretty confusing because I didn't know who this person was in terms of the story, and before this, we had an omniscient and close third narration. This is almost too much.

And eventually, it gets back to E, with more nice description about the room and I was following along okay until 

"...man's shoes with clay" What does that mean?

The two M names are too similar. I kept thinking Ma was My from the mosaic. 

"R... he knows. He wouldn't." I didn't know what this was referring to.

After this point, I didn't make any specific line by line comments. I found my self skimming when I got to the last set of characters, a little board because everything had gone so fast I couldn't keep track of it. Reading the summary didn't really help. I think between not really knowing the characters yet and having the super fast pacing, I had a hard time staying interested. However, it does seem like between the murder, the upcomming marriage, and the war, you do have a good set up for the story line. 

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Welcome to Reading Excuses! Glad to have you aboard!

Like the others, I had some trouble getting into this, simply because there are so many characters and world events that seem to hinge on the first book. 

On 1/21/2019 at 9:36 PM, shatteredsmooth said:

The most confusing part was the opening in the bar scene

I'll second this. I'm still not sure what it has to do with the rest of the chapter, and it could probably be cut or moved to get to E quicker.

While a lot of the writing is witty, I'm getting lost in the epic-length sentences. I've forgotten what it's supposed to be about by the time I get to the end of the explanation. I'm also not a big fan of this narrative style, but it is very well written. I'm going to go with "Yes, you overplayed your hand."

To your main question, I thought E "acted" well in the story, but like @kais, I don't get a good sense of who she is. There's a part where you show she's injured, but it comes out of the blue and I have no idea why. I'd peg her as 11 or 12, just from context.

On 1/21/2019 at 6:21 PM, kais said:

I wonder, since this is book two (yes?) if you shouldn't introduce some key plot elements into this first chapter.

I think this is a really good idea. I'm working on my first real sequel as well, and I'm having to balance having an exciting first chapter with reminding the reader enough about what's going on.

So overall, good writing, but a bit heavy on the narrator and over-long sentences. It can be tightened up a lot to make sure the reader remembers what happened in the first book before getting into more narrative tricks (if at all).

 

Notes while reading:
pg 1: Wow that's a long first sentence.

pg 1: "rather like a broken clarinet"
--I listen to a lot of classical music and I have trouble hearing this.

pg 3: "He was revealed to Our Unfortunate Guest, who was even now attempting to shake the old woman’s fingers from her arm, in a burst of flame, for the bald man – his looming abilities born of a massive and similarly spherical stomach -- had attempted to light a lantern while holding two wine-glasses, and dropped all three."
--I had to read this sentence several times.
--and the one after this. It might be even longer.

pg 4: "“My friends – She stabbed him."
--ok, that got my attention.

pg 5: "She opened her mouth again. Explaining the murder had been a bit of an oversight. Then it all disappeared."
--Now I'm just confused.

pg 7: I like the mosaic...

pg 8: still pretty confused, but I like the story. The prose tone is a little offputting.

pg 8: This is...another POV? The palace's POV?

pg 9: Wait, we're still with E? Confused.

PG 10: "She had the full range of motion now, but hadn’t quite figured out how to use it."
--What range of motion?

pg 11: "spiteful cook who had once left a finger on it"
--do what now?

pg 12: I feel like starting in at this point with footnotes is overkill. They could either be used before this point to shorten some of the longest sentences, or taken out.

pg 12: So is E2 actually a simian? Or is she somehow human but withered away or something?

pg 14: It's at this point that I decided to read your summary of book 1. M's sparkling outline was what finally did it for me. I was trying to go through as a new reader, but there are many hints in here that this is the continuation of a story, and if I was reading, at this point I'd be trying to find book 1 to figure out what the heck is going on.

pg 18: Nope, still not really sure what's going on.

pg 19-23: This last section explains things a little clearer, but there's a lot of the two men interrupting each other, which makes it hard to understand. I also don't know the significance of the frayed paper R signs, so the end of the chapter doesn't really resonate with me.
 

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Hello and welcome to Reading Excuses!

Overall, the world seems very interesting and I don't mind the subjective omniscient narrator so much, though it is rather uncommon nowadays.  However I'm afraid I found this section very confusing, both in the plot aspects and from a technical standpoint.

Plot-wise, I'm with the others. I have no context for what is going on and receive little sense the characters as individuals. The characters come so many so quickly that I had a hard time keeping them all straight. Since I couldn't get a handle on the characters, I couldn't really figure out what was going on with the plot. either. A small summary of the important events from book one would probably have helped me.

Comments as I go:

Having sentences of varying length and order is a good thing, since it keeps readers engaged in a work. However, I found many of the sentences in this piece were so long that I lost the thread of what was going on, while others were so confusingly arranged that I couldn't figure out what they were trying to say.   Be careful of run-on sentences, sentences with too many dependent clauses, or multiple clauses that need to be broken up into their own sentences. 

I like the narrator's personality, and that it's in a style that's not often seen nowadays. It feels to me like you are very comfortable with it as well. However, like @Mandamon, I do think it's overdone at times and comes across as a bit twee. Likewise, the descriptions are very evocative but at times seem to me to be a bit overwritten. None of it is wrong, but I feel like it could be dialed back a couple notches. 

The switch to first person for the narrator caught me by surprise and confused me. Is this a character in the story or just a commentator? Either way is fine, it just needs to be consistent. 

"Simian" is a really awful way to describe a human, much less a servant, if they are not an anthropomorphised gorilla or monkey. It has some really unfortunate implications.

From your summary the story seems very interesting and I would like to see where this goes. :) 

 

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Thank you all for your wonderful feedback; it looks like I've got my work cut out for me! I know I'm not really supposed to respond to these things, but in times like these, one may have to ask for a bit of proscription, or at least a bit more advice going forward, as well as, as I have seen other posters do, explain some of the ways I might go about fixing these issues. 

 

20 hours ago, Mandamon said:

I think this is a really good idea. I'm working on my first real sequel as well, and I'm having to balance having an exciting first chapter with reminding the reader enough about what's going on.

Agreed. I'm thinking of moving up the connection between the bodies and E's visions; I didn't have her connect them at first because it would feel too much like a paranormal mystery story, but I do agree it needs a bit of urgency. 

The other thing I'm getting overall here is that most of this chapter doesn't work without a hefty helping of Part One. I'm actually thinking, partly based on somebody's comment that E comes across as eleven or twelve, of just blasting away the timeskip between Parts One and Two and making them one long damnation book, thereby giving E more time to interact with M and come into her full abilities (and full ability to not be a passive character) before the wedding. The looming threat of war was there for added urgency, but everyone's feedback that it all comes too fast is making me think that the last thing we need right now is another layer of plot just to ramp up the stakes; it means, if anything, that the murder plot won't get sufficient treatment, when this is what turns E into, uh, what she becomes later. 

 

20 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 8: This is...another POV? The palace's POV?

pg 9: Wait, we're still with E? Confused.

Hrm. This is interesting. Thank you all for this one, because in my current outline the Narrator is introduced in a sudden transition from R's first-person narration in book one (R stops writing, and this mysteriously semi-omniscient thing just picks up where he left off). I'll have to make sure this is considerably less jarring than I'd originally planned it, especially since it all happens in one of Part One's most important scenes, and that said shift comes across as a first-person character shift from the get-go, not just a sudden jump to third person. 

The Narrator is rather a complicated character (yes, he, or part of him, appears in this chapter, for everyone asking), who isn't really comfortable with the pronoun just yet -- he won't be for a long time; this is, in fact, a goal of his -- but for purposes of clarity I might wind up moving his narration later to allow him to reflect and cross-analyze things (I have been having some difficulty with time, especially in Part One where I'd originally thought of R's narration as a journal, but then got horribly annoyed writing it). 

 

On 1/21/2019 at 9:36 PM, shatteredsmooth said:

The most confusing part was the opening in the bar scene -- character after character was introduced and I didn't know who they were and why they were doing what they were doing. Here are some comments I made while reading the section.

 

Yeah I need a big revision here, even if I wind up introducing it at the end of Part One; there's too many damnation characters! I think a lot of this could be fixed if I just moved E's reveal earlier; I may have fallen into that auld trap the denizens of r/fantasy call false mystery, whereby, for no apparent in-world reason, I try to conceal characters' identity to heighten the tension. I'm hoping this will work out better if I add some explanation about the heist (the idol, for instance, came from the tomb they robbed) and restrict full character descriptions to people who actually talk. 

________________

 

This one I'm looking for some advice on: 

 

On 1/21/2019 at 6:21 PM, kais said:

- So is Eu not human? That's why you describe her as simian?

 

She is, in fact, human. Alas...

 

12 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

"Simian" is a really awful way to describe a human, much less a servant, if they are not an anthropomorphised gorilla or monkey. It has some really unfortunate implications.

 

The Unfortunate Implications are precisely why I described her as such. E and the Narrator (for complicated reasons that are explained later and that I never really sufficiently introduced here, largely because of E) have an unfortunate opinion of both servants and disabled people. E, in a dreadful amplification of a common trend in her society, tends to view people with physical or mental disabilities as sub-human, something she desperately needs to avoid becoming, because that, in her mind, would justify all the wrongs done to her. It doesn't help that she's got both in spades, and she's only comfortable interacting with people she can look down upon; this comes out in the worst way possible when she goes full Kill Bill later.

The problem is... how do I do this without coming across as an absolute asshat? These views are widely held in her society, and they're pretty much never challenged. She's not supposed to grow out of them (in fact much of this story is her, and, in part one, her father, adamantly refusing to do things like grow as a person, and thereby killing thousands), but they are a key and really nasty expression of one of her primary character motives. 

Obviously I need to axe the "simian" metaphor in the next draft, because it's confusing and offensive, but, overall, are there any suggestions as to how I could do this as a background bit of awfulness that might come out at random moments without seeming like I endorse it? 

(It might help that part of the plot is the reader slowly realizing that she's kind of the villain here, or the closest thing to a villain the story will actually have, but it's not like anyone else is any better; R and A, both lowborn, think nothing of slaughtering rioters -- and I mean slaughtering, not the normal tear gas and night stick stuff you see today -- because in this world most people are considered, theologically if not literally, the Emperor's personal property). 

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57 minutes ago, Severian4Scadrial said:

The problem is... how do I do this without coming across as an absolute asshat?

This isn't an uncommon problem, and I think because of your more active narrator, it will be easier to solve in this sort of narrative. Generally the consensus is that you can have bigoted characters, but the narrative voice must clearly counter the bigotry. So, your characters can be bigoted, but the story can not.

The narrative voice or in your case, the narrator, must make it very clear that bigotry is not okay. It's a balancing act between narrator and characters. A short read you could do for research is the early sci fi Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Almost every character in the book is horrible to some degree, but the narrative voice is clear that the bigotry is bad. 

Less relevant for your particular story, since I don't think you've mentioned skin tones at all, is making sure if you're presenting a balanced set of characters. This is an easy way to start changing narrative voice by showing wide support for diversity. It doesn't mean you have to change your lead POV characters around necessarily, but it does mean that the supporting cast shouldn't just be white dudes. Specifically for your story, it may mean giving skin tones to everyone as a starting place.

@Robinski recently had to revamp part of book due to this and might be able to talk about mechanics a bit more. 

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7 hours ago, kais said:

but the narrative voice must clearly counter the bigotry.

True. It might be a bit difficult because both narrators (R and the mysterious fellow from this chapter) are actual characters in the story who are just as manifestly Godawful as everyone else, but, given this, I think there is a way to solve it. For one thing, this issue only really comes up in book two with E, and The Narrator only really merges with E over time; the bigotry of the narrative voice, or at least, the report of the Narrative voice given in the story, might actually be a good metric of him starting to take on E's opinions. I'll certainly check out Kindred to see how Butler does it. 

For another, having a bigoted character narrate the story doesn't, I think, exclude presenting this sort of thought as cruelty. I'll just have to remember to include as much material as possible that we the audience would find problematic to highlight the contrast between what the narrator is trying to tell us and what he or she is actually doing. When Frankish Chroniclers celebrate the Sack of Jerusalem and start crowing about the victorious knights' kill counts, modern audiences understand instantly that theirs is an evil perspective, at least according to our perception of the world, because the said Chroniclers had gleefully described how the Crusaders had slaughtered thirty thousand men women and children and piled their bodies in the streets. What I really need to avoid doing is sort of brushing over the cruelty of the narrator's perspective, as I do believe I did here. To drive the point home, I might, for instance, have E say something terribly demeaning offhand to E2, but then make sure to record the other character's reaction; even if the Narrator, by way of E, hardly notices it or thinks it's "only natural," we're meant to notice the incongruity. 

So yeah, head up that's what I'm juggling -- all the characters, including the narrators, share some awful beliefs -- so please feel free to look for that in the upcoming submissions if you like.

> skin tones (not quoting because quote doesn't want to work).

Oh I agree. I'm kind of experimenting with the whole skin tones thing, because skin tone doesn't really play much of a factor in these peoples' worldview. They can be horribly, horribly racist, but in a more Graeco-Roman way; Hippocrates, for instance, really closely linked physical and moral characteristics, linked both to land, and believed that by moving from one place to another you could only go downhill (thereby a German will always be strong and emotionally-compromised, even if he moves to perfectly-balanced Greece), but he never really connected this to skin color. I may apply some good old Tacitean Geographic Determinism here, but I'm hoping to describe skin color as just another physical characteristic, like hair or eye color. Most people in this series look sort of Mediterranean and darker, though if you head far enough North they start going white. I've pictured E as having darker skin than most people in the capital, and R, who's from rather a Northerly region, as quite a bit paler, but I'm not sure how much of a marker to make that. People with pale skin are usually associated with a stereotype of barbaric brutishness, because people from that climate usually have pale skin, but it's not discrimination against the skin color, per se, as people who come from an area cold enough to be white. 

 

Edited by Severian4Scadrial
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9 hours ago, Severian4Scadrial said:

The problem is... how do I do this without coming across as an absolute asshat?

@kais has the TLDR of it -- the voice of the narrative, not just the characters, needs to refute the bad opinions, and I would add that both the characters holding the opinions and the characters to whom the discrimination applies need to be fully fleshed out with depth, and not stereotypes.

It's not just what the characters say, either, it's the voice of the author as it comes through the prose as a whole, and unfortunately silence or neutrality will be perceived as acceptance of the problematic views.

By saying that E's not supposed to grow out of these beliefs, you're already making the job much more difficult for yourself. Characters growing out of problematic ideas, while it can become a bit gimmicky or mawkish, is one of the more common ways of showing that the problematic views on display aren't being portrayed positively. Likewise, using your narrator to show that these beliefs are not something acceptable to modern audiences is another common way to avoid making the work seem like it is praising problematic ideas. Simply upping the horror is not going to be enough to refute the entire cast's sentiments, and in fact, it would likely go towards proving authorial support of them.  

Two possible suggestions I have as a way to start addressing this problem would be to introduce characters who don't share the prevailing views of the time, and to make the maid a more fully-realized character instead of a caricature. Even when the prevailing thoughts of an era say horrible things, there are always people who believe otherwise and work towards changing those beliefs. Acknowledging that such alternative points of view exist will help keep the opinions contained to the characters that have them. Secondly, the maid seems to be the underclass character that will have the most contact with E, and so playing the maid (or any other characters marginalized character E comes into regular contact with) sympathetically and with depth instead of for cheap, shallow laughs will go towards showing that E is not stating facts of her world, but merely her own opinions. 
 
Lastly, I have some links, essays and other tips that I think will help as you navigate this issue:

For general "quick 'n' dirty" tips:

the TVTrope's article on How to Avoid Unfortunate Implications is a good place to start. It talks about writing fully-fleshed out characters and avoiding writing for the lowest common denominator (which is sometimes here called going for the "low-hanging fruit")
 
Also this Legit Writing Tip talking about how to write problematic characters in general (you'll see a couple options noted there that have already been mentioned).
 
More specifically for your work, I would suggest these two Writing Excuses episodes. In the season 9 episode, Mary Robinette talks about her experience writing a historically-based fantasy story and how she managed to balance maintaining accuracy in portraying historical biases while also writing something acceptable for modern audiences. In the season 11 one, DongWon Song talks about how to write characters whose opinions you don't agree with.
 
Writing Excuses Season 11, episode 48: Elemental Issue Q&A with DongWon Song (transcript is here: https://writingexcuses.com/transcripts/11-48)
 
Finally, here is a link about modern "problematic opinions:"

Writing with Color on writing racist characters -- Writing with Color is a great blog for questions about how to handle racial issues in writing. I know this is not precisely the issue at hand here, but I believe there are tips that would be applicable.

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Thanks for the tip @industrialistDragon, I'll definitely check out those articles. Come to think of it, I haven't yet introduced any characters who would bat an eye at this sort of stuff, but I might make some of the surrounding cultures less amenable to it, to the point where they could confront E over her treatment of E2 and others like her. I generally tend to shy away from dropping a character with mostly modern worldviews into a place like this just to give the audience a reference point, but it would actually be an interesting gimmick to slather on all sorts of other horrible things to the said person and watch our two characters joust. That, at least, might reasonably be presented through a neutral lens and not attract recrimination.

And you're right, for seven years E pretty much exclusively interacts with E2 (well, outside of M, who she also considers sub-human, which enables her to not be horribly paranoid around him). E2 appears in book one before she's tortured, her tongue is cut out, and she completely breaks down (hers is less a born disability than WW1-veteran level PTSD, which I'm still working on portraying properly). She also teaches E most of her practical knowledge, especially her mad gambling skills, which come in handy later ;)

It's not entirely cruelty and dehumanization on E's side either. She does teach E2 how to read and write, it just comes across (hopefully), as rather like teaching a dog to sit or roll over; it's less hatred than E positively refuses to let herself love the woman. 

---> Edit: damnation you just prompted what's probably going to be a whole night of straight worldbuilding. I'd been looking to flesh out the neighboring Kingdom to which E and co. eventually flee after a coup, and I think the outline's actually got rolling now... all because I had to think of a viable culture that would get really, really offended at E's attitude towards disabled people and R's caste-ism. They're horribly patronizing, because they hold up the "weakest" members of their society as examples of their parent clan's strength (the analogy one character uses, I believe, will be like male peacocks trailing about with all those extra feathers). I think, though, that horribly patronizing but outwardly if selfishly kind vs. overt discrimination might produce something closer to useful commentary than I had with my background meanness. 

So uh... thanks. 

Edited by Severian4Scadrial
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