I’m so sick of people getting all huffy over the “morally gray” character or the “touch her and die” or similar tropes in dark fiction, mainly fantasy but also in many books set in the real world. They get slated for being “problematic” and “unrealistic”. Well, obviously. It’s fiction, so what do people expect?
Firstly, I don’t know about other readers, but I read these books to purposely escape my boring life without the danger or consequences. Dark fiction takes readers out of a typical situation and transport them to something they wouldn’t experience otherwise. It’s just enticing as something new or curious or an excuse to escape for a while.
Secondly, if people can’t separate unacceptable behaviour in fiction from what we’d accept in our normal lives, then they should reconsider whose fault that is.
Lot of dark fiction and fantasy characters get slated a lot on bookish media because many compare them to human standards. Stupid thing is, most aren’t human and therefore aren’t subject to human standards or they’re a very unique character with questionable behaviour. Most of these books have a way of calling out this character like a friend or in fantasy, someone from a human world.
Let’s break down some examples. This includes general thoughts but not necessarily spoilers for Folk of the Air, A court of Thorns and Roses, and Zodiac Academy and Haunting Adeline.
Folk of the Air by Holly Black
Jude is human but has lived in the faerie realm for several years. The other characters are faeires who live in a “eat or be eaten” kinda world. They live carefree until they’re forced to conform to whatever is expected from them by their parents or guardians. This includes abusive behaviour and inability to communicate openly.
A Court of Thorns and Roses
The Fae are descendants of beasts. BEASTS. And some still have an inner beast they can shift into and that controls their instincts. So again, not human.
Tamlin tries to make up for stealing Feyre away by sending money to her family. Then we learn it’s all to save his people from a curse so how can we fault him for doing something to save all those people?
Rhysand is doing the lesser of two evils at the end of book 1 because he gets her drunk so she doesn’t realise what he’s actually doing. He’s making her play the fool for him to keep her from Amarantha. Messed up? Yes, but in his mind, he’s doing this to spare her from worse.
They’re all shifters of some sort who’ve grown up in a very violent and cruel world. They fight for dominance like animals and use politics to make it look civilised when it’s all just a pissing contest. Then we get Tory and Darcy who are fae but grew up in the human world. It takes a few books for them to realise that the people around them live by different rules, standards, and morals based on their inner beast. But the initial shock and surprise is expressed through the girls’ perspective.
The Heirs, Darius, Caleb, Seth, and Max, all have their parents breathing down their necks about making the girls’ lives a misery. And Darius… He’s hurting Tory because he knows his father would do worse to his brother, and the other Heirs are somewhat aware of this so play along too. Again, they’re protecting their families in their own twisted way.
It’s complicated and inhuman and not meant to be realistic in these senses.
Zade is unhinged and would scare the crap out of me in real life. But this isn’t my life, and Adeline has a dark mind too. So when these 2 get going, you can see how they fit even though it’s a crazy start. Zade wants her to see him at his worse now rather than later. Again, effed up by normal standards, but in a crazy way, it makes sense.
It’s okay not to like these books and tropes, but let readers enjoy them as something that gets our blood pumping over these complex and curious characters.