Can you untwist from a twisted situation?

So! Because life is currently punching me in the balls (erm, not that I actually have balls), I am doing another book review this week! I know I’ve been putting off my “How to Topple a Dystopia” post, but it’s in the works, I promise! Here’s a screenshot as proof:

That’s not the real first line btw; the real first line embarrasses me, so I wrote a placeholder. Anyway, onward!

This is a post about the final book in the Rise of the Death Fae series. This entire series explores some pretty heavy themes, but in a way that I would say is super-optimistic and positive. Essentially, I feel like the characters were all put into untenable situations that made them a little (or a lot) twisted, and they all managed to come through UNtwisted. I think this is really crazy and amazing, so I put my analysis below! But first, to the review!

Of course, first, logically, the ending! It’s wondrous! Although each storyline has a different dark path and they’re varied in tone, they all end happily in their own way, and all are perfect for their characters (in my opinion). For example, the male MC who sings made-up songs to his partner’s pregnant tummy (and then to his kids) – totally precious ๐Ÿ™‚ And the one who’s not suited to be a husband (haha, I bet you can’t guess which one this is :-P) – that was hilarious. But my favorite is the one who’s always laughing, and how their house is a bit like a maze with rooms tacked on as kids pop out ๐Ÿ˜€ I wasn’t expecting their happy end, but it works! I really love how everything wraps up.

And as to the journey to get there in this book: I have COMMENTS!

Renccius – for realz? haha he’s a jerk, though I get where he’s coming from. To be fair, too, I thought he was going to mess things up a lot MORE when he first showed up in this book ๐Ÿ™‚
Magnerius’s wife Claudia – lady, I feel for you, wanting to please someone who can’t be pleased! I also wonder about Laia, and her feelings on what she did for her half-sister, but I’m always wondering about minor characters I shouldn’t ๐Ÿ˜€

I think I can state the following book summary without revealing spoilers: Magda rebels! Duranth has epiphanies! Larent has to get it together ๐Ÿ˜€ Onivia has to keep her patience haha. Isha and Cassus continueโ€ฆ their ‘thing’ ;-D Albus is Albus, and Galvina just kind of weathers it all ๐Ÿ˜€ And Marta has Ideas. Which was much fun! Especially with Onivia kind of sighing and gritting her teeth about Marta’s Grand Plan.

Now as to my feelings on the whole series, here comes the analysis part, y’all!

I don’t think I’ve ever read an author who has done before what Val has here, because what I mentioned above – the “I feel like the characters were all put into situations that made them a little (or a lot) twisted and they all managed to come through UNtwisted.” – is very apt for every single pairing in here (also a heads up –> beware of spoilers if you haven’t read the previous books!). It’s actually really utterly fascinating, because let’s break it down:

Larent – he was a victim of sexual abuse (at the very least subject to a situation with EXTREMELY dubious consent considering he was both a kid and a slave when it began), which he was pushed into by / with his father’s human wife. And later, he was bullied by Akiel into behaving toward Onivia in a way that Larent found unacceptable in himself. For the entire series, he struggles with having perpetrated this behavior. Onivia was his victim while he was, himself, trying NOT to be a victim – only he ended up victimizing both himself and Onivia by doing what he did. They had to afterward work to untwist themeslves from what he’d done. Onivia had to understand that he was a victim, too, and decide that she didn’t want to be HIS victim anymore, and he had to decide that he could leave his behavior in the past when Onivia offered him a way into the future – and they both have to find happiness with each other beyond his behavior toward her in the beginning (when he was twisting himself in unnatural ways in order to make hismelf fit in the unnatural world he was in). Ergo: they were both twisted into a bad situation and then worked toward untwisting themselves from it.

Duranth – he was the victim of physical abuse. Enslaved, maimed – his hand cut off, his father executed – I think his necromancy magic was symbolic of all the trauma that twisted him into something unnatural until he killed without satiation. Eventually, he realized he didn’t want to be that twisted person controlled by the magic (read: trauma), and he lets it go. Afterward, he still has to patch things up with Magda plus figure out that he can still actually be a decent person himself, which of course isn’t necessarily easy. But the fact that he can laugh by the end is just amazing, really. It makes me think of how people in our world might be able to live if only their stress and anxieties were magically removed as Duranth’s magic was and they were allowed to do what they loved in life instead of being forced into the current system of labor slavery. The difference that makes!

Albus – while Albus is not himself abused, he has to untwist himself from the abusive culture he’s internalized (hating the fae), plus come to realize how to unconditionally accept abused partners. Onivia helped him become the man who accepts Galvina in the end, and Galvina accepts him even though he is a member of the race that enslaved her.

Cassus & Isha – Cassus has S&M tendencies that come out during his time of being a twisted inquisitor-type character who tortured fae for information. Isha was his victim who was twisted by being his captive and by what he did to her while she was. They have to untwist themselves from the screwed-up way they began together and come to let themselves realize that they can enjoy what started as taboo. They, too, find a way to take the negative beginning and make it a positive ending.

When I realized how all the characters took their former ‘twistedness’ and turned it into happiness, I realized how absolutely amazing it was, as in what a novel concept to take things that are typically seen as things people can’t ‘twist themselves out of’ and show a positive exploration of turning it around! I think this is, in a way, implying that people CAN twist themselves out of anything, depending on how they decide to interpret, accept, and behave toward it. It’s fascinating, and I would wholly recommend this series for anyone who wants:

  • entertainment mixed with romance & plotting
  • to see how you can enter dark places where the characters still manage to make light in the dark

Aaand now here we go again with an author interview because I HAVE QUESTIONS lol ๐Ÿ˜€ [My questions are in bold; Valerie’s answers in plain!]

What do you think of my analysis of the romances being twisted and the characters untwisting themselves? Do you ever do something similar in your other books or is this a first?

Yes, they are definitely all untwisted! A lot of times, especially with romance, I feel like each of my characters has a certain emotional wound, and the story is about resolving that wound, because usually they can’t give love and/or accept love until they’ve resolved it. Obviously, there’s more complications than that with some of the characters in the Death Fae books because of various reasons. But I’m primarily a character writer, yeah. The rest of the stuff is all in service to characters changing in some way or the other. That’s what gets me the most excited about reading and writing stories.

Characters for the win! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Which pair was your favorite and why?

I could not even say. I loved them all in different ways. I think the story mostly revolves around Larent and Onivia, however, so they were the people I kept coming back to and the real engine making the whole thing go. But because of that, they were sometimes maybe more difficult or frustrating to get right (and I’m still not sure that I did get them entirely right) so I feel more pure pleasure when I think about Cassus and Isha or Duranth and Magda because their journeys seemed a little simpler in some ways.

Some characters just don’t make it easy for us writers, dammit!

Which scene stood out most or was most fun to write?

Gosh. That’s hard. I probably still go back to the scene in Battles of Salt and Sighs when Larent is having a nightmare and they end up having sex, which is maybe their first truly consensual love scene. That’s a scene I like to reread, as well as the part right afterwards where Akiel comes in and Larent’s all, “I will light my world on FIRE to keep you from touching this woman, she’s MINE.” I don’t know why I always go for a sex scene, haha! A non-sex scene that was in my head to write from the very beginning was the scene in which Galvina is watching the big battle from up in a tower, and it’s all going on, and it’s just this crowded room of terrified women and children waiting it all out. I was inspired by similar scenes in Game of Thrones and The Silence of the Girls. I like giving that female perspective of war. To me, it’s almost more tense than reading a big actiony battle scene, and it’s more emotionally affecting.

“I will light my world on FIRE to keep you from touching this woman, she’s MINE.” – I love this sentiment so much! Swoon. [No, dang it, I’m supposed to be stronger than this! :-D]

“the scene in which Galvina is watching the big battle from up in a tower… that female perspective of war” – I think these can be more powerful than actual battle scenes because you have no control. You have to just wait and hope that the battle will be won, because if not, they’re coming for you, and then what will you do? That sense of powerlessness is–well, powerfully tense because it’s utterly out of your control, while the characters battling have a lot more agency.

Was there anything in the books that was inspired by something in real life? Anything interesting you came across in research?

Well, it’s pretty obvious where the historical inspirations are coming in. There’s the Roman influence, the American Civil War, and the French Revolution. I tend to think, a lot of times when I’m writing epic fantasy series, “Okay this country is like France.” So Vostria and Dumonte (from King Breaker) are both rather France-like. Emmessia is like England with all the ex-patriots of the upper class running there for sanctuary. France is the more interesting of the European countries, right? France has all the cool shizz!

I did not model the slave revolt on a real slave revolt from history, because they are actually never quite as successful as the revolt is in my book. Um. Pretty sad, but it makes sense because slaves never have the resources nor the funding nor the training to really make a real stand against the people in power. So, my excuse for the death fae revolt working is magic. That’s why fantasy is fun. You can just be like, “Okay, I want the French Revolution with slave revolts. Never mind that makes no sense! Magic!”

“France is the more interesting of the European countries” – nope, I must disagree. The Czechs are the most interesting by far, and that’s not–cough–not at all just because I live here ๐Ÿ˜‰

That’s sad but true about slave revolts. Interestingly here is that the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution was actually bloodless AND successful because the Czech dissidents formed an underground counterculture that set up precepts on which they wanted their new governing culture to adhere to.

Was there a character in this series you wanted to smack across the head? (I know the answer but this is totally giving you the chance to flagellate him)

So, I did have a point during which I was really frustrated with Larent, but I probably will have to reread the whole thing at some point to decide if I’m still annoyed with him. I think I solved the problem (finally) of feeling as if he kept needing to go through the same redemption/self-forgiveness/flagellation arc over and over again and it was really boring to reread it, and also the character was losing character growth. It read as if he had worked through something and then felt the need to work through it again. In real life, I think people actually do this, like you have to keep re-learning the same lessons a lot, But in fiction? Come on. Anyway, I think I eventually fixed that, but then, I think I screwed up Onivia in the process, and she started to maybe seem as if she wasn’t valuing her own trauma, soโ€ฆ? Meh. At the time, Larent still felt really real to me, like a person who would not LISTEN to me, and I wanted to SHAKE him, but now I have some distance, and that aliveness of the characters has faded out since I’ve kicked them off out into the world.

It basically sucks, but the book had gotten to a point where it had been rewritten so many times that it was never going to be good. You can do that. You can rewrite all the goodness entirely out of something, and there’s a scene in Our Vast and Yearning Ends which was rewritten so many times that it’s justโ€ฆ

But overall, I think Larent’s character finally kind of survives, so who knows. I wish I could have solved that problem the way I wanted to solve it, but I’m still proud of the series overall. My next epic fantasy series will be BETTER! Or something. What are you going to do?

“since I’ve kicked them off out into the world” – poor characters! ๐Ÿ˜€

“You can rewrite all the goodness entirely out of something” – maybe you’re just writing its excitement out of yourself?

What was the most challenging thing about writing this series? [Aside from Larent :-P] Or did the story mostly just come out by itself?

Um, no, it was just Larent.

Every rewrite I had to do was his fault.

I had to rip up the third book and rewrite every. single. scene. he was in, because I accidentally wrote that book without giving him a motivation, and he was, like, incredibly unlikable. I ended up keeping most of the unlikable stuff he does in the rewrite, but once I figured out that he was trying to kill himself, it all worked better. And I had to rewrite Emmessia a bunch of times too, Larent and Onivia in Emmessia. I felt like, the whole series, I was chasing that peak moment they had already had together, the scene where they have sex after his nightmare, and I kept trying to get that back and it was very difficult to keep finding it. There were times when I was like, “Okay, Onivia just needs another love interest and I’m going to kill him. Die, Larent, die.” I think we made it there in the end, though, somehow, lol.

“once I figured out that he was trying to kill himself, it all worked better.” – only an author can write this and sound sane ๐Ÿ˜€

“Larent and Onivia in Emmessia” – I really loved them in Emmessia! So many tender and heartrending moments!

“Okay, Onivia just needs another love interest and I’m going to kill him. Die, Larent, die.” – another thought only authors can safely have (well, er, not always for the safety of the characters…)

Will there be more spin-off books from this world?

Yes! It will be a prequel series set in Emmessia hundreds of years before, (maybe a thousand years?) like a medieval-type setting with minimal technology. There will be fae!

Fae! Be still, my heart…

Haha, also, why did you make the Seelie so horrid? I mean that scene where Duranth ends up in the fae realm and they’re total d*ckwads to him ๐Ÿ˜€ As an aside, I love that he’s all like, “Hmm, what’ll happen if I infect all your nooks and crannies with my filthy magic?” Lol I did cheer him on there!

Ha! I have another fae series ( and it’s a much more typical fae depiction, much more Holly Black, and the Seelie are silly and stupid in that one. I think I just enjoy inverting things, and also immortal people tend to be dicks. It’s just what would happen if you lived forever. Nothing would matter and you wouldn’t care about anything.

Nice! Although I would like to think that Anne Rice’s vampires would represent how longlived beings would truly act if they existed. At least as my friend described them: “they live for beauty, for creativity, for art, for emotions and passions and sensations, and for the deep bonds they form with others. They can easily become extraordinarily fixated on another, or on a source, or a form, of beauty, so much so that their dedication will appear to go well beyond what the vast majority of people would consider sick obsession. However, that definitely doesn’t mean they’re weak. Instead, it means their capacity to love and cherish and appreciate is so much greater. It means the emotions and sensations they’re able to experience are so much more intense. It means they can focus so much better, and treasure and maintain, and possibly improve, what they have

I also really loved how most of the women in your series had some pretty strong solidarity with each other, especially in the third book with Pressia and then in the fourth book with Laia trying to help Claudia. I was really relieved you didn’t go all “other woman” drama. Do you generally avoid that? Or what are your favorite dynamics to use between women in books?

Well, there is the bit with the Emmessian queen. I’m not immune, I don’t guess. Yeah, I think it probably has less to do with not wanting to do “other woman” drama and more with not wanting to make new conflicts to screw around with because I was trying to end the damned series! I am an angst junkie. All the angst. Get in my veins. I don’t care where it comes from. I’m justโ€ฆ yeah. Catty women can be very fun, I think.

“Catty women” – all the catty women! ๐Ÿ˜€

Haha I came across this quote while reading – spoken by Duranth “No, I have to die, Magda. Men like me have to die. It’s the way these sorts of stories go.” – and this is something I’ve thought myself in books: WHY is the only way to redeem someone who has killed so many people always that they have to die themselves? [Kylo Ren, anyone?] Why do you think this is – or what are your thoughts on it?

Honestly, death-as-redemption doesn’t bother me that much. I don’t care when characters die at the end of a story, because the story is over anyway, and to me, they’re basically dead since I don’t get to read anything else about them. It’s all the same to me. It has come to my attention that my opinion is the minority, however. When I started writing Pride and Prejudice variations, they all had to end in happy marriage, and I got in the habit of trying to find my way to a happy ending, one that felt satisfying to me, one that resolved all the issues, and one that I believed was realistic and made sense for the characters, and nowโ€ฆ I like happy endings even better! I try, with my epic fantasies anyway, not to be too sappy, and to give characters more than just each other and a passel of babies. I try to give them meaningful occupations and to acknowledge there are still interpersonal conflicts between them but show how they deal with them.

Anyway, I think death-as-redemption is typical ending to a different sort of story (not a romance story) and the Kylo Ren thing is so troubling because no one could figure out what kind of story it was they were telling. They had tropes from different sorts of stories, some of which were fairy-tale-romance, and all the people who noticed those were waiting for the typical fairy-tale-romance ending, but I don’t think the people making that movie thought they were telling a fairy-tale-romance, and so they went for an ending that fit with a different sort of storytelling tradition.

Readers, beware! To avoid spoilers, skip to the red text below!



Whatever. No way was I killing Duranth. I thought I’d broken enough romance rules that a reader might think maybe I’d break that one too, butโ€ฆ nah, it was just a big fake out. I hope the reader thought he was actually going to die. (and I’m realizing this is all a huge spoiler, so I guess put it behind a spoiler tag, lol.) I also hope it’s not like that other scene in the new Star Wars trilogy, in The Last Jedi, where Finn gets a reprieve, and Rian Johnson set it up so well that some people were like, “What? He should have died!” I hope you were happy Duranth lived. Trust me, no one else would have been able to bear being saddled with Madga, so for that reason alone, he had to survive.

Overall, I would also say that Duranth doesn’t even really get a redemption arc. I mean, like, he sacrifices his magic or whatever (I think sacrifice is important for redemption, and death is sacrifice. It’s one way you can go. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast sacrifices his cure for his beastness when he lets Beauty go–that’s his redemption. Something like that usually works if you want to redeem someone without killing them, to answer your actual question.) But does Duranth become a better person? I think he’s still kind of a selfish dick, actually, but I meanโ€ฆ he stops killing people for fun, anyway, so that’s at least one mark in his favor.




“I try to give them meaningful occupations and to acknowledge there are still interpersonal conflicts between them but show how they deal with them.” – this is true in all healthy relationships: they deal with interpersonal conflicts using communication so there aren’t actual conflicts!

And there you have it, folks! My analysis and an interview, and now you must flit off and read if you wish and enjoy life! Find a link to the final book below! If you’ve not read the others, you can navigate your way from this one ๐Ÿ˜‰ More info on Val Saintcrowe: This pen name is a variant on her urban fantasy alter ego, Val St. Crowe, and she also writes mysteries and thrillers under V. J. Chambers, romance under Jove Chambers, and Jane Austen fan fiction under Valerie Lennox.

Be good, y’all!

Owner of two cats and huge dreams and author of any kind of love story so long as wild stuff is going on...

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Get mails about my new book releases and free short stories:
Get sneak peeks at works in progress on Patreon!

Click to be notified of new blog posts.

Sonya Lano

Sonya Lano

Owner of two cats and huge dreams and author of any kind of love story so long as wild stuff is going on...

View Full Profile →

%d bloggers like this: