“If Anne McCaffrey wrote Wuthering Heights, it might be something like OATH SWORN.”
Talk about an intriguing tagline. The reviewer went on to say, “Aralt syr Tremayne is a hero in the classic gothic mold: tortured by his past, too proud to admit weakness or ask for help, and teetering on the abyss of emotional instability. In other words, a deeply flawed human being.” Now, as much as I’d like to take credit for such intentional and careful design, I didn’t set out to write a “gothic fantasy.” The book has much humbler origins, and yet something about these comments resonated with me. These were the books and stories that gripped me as a young writer, their images, themes, and elevated language percolating in my brain right alongside Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and, yes, Anne McCaffrey. After all, that’s what we do as writers, isn’t it? We take it all in. Everything we read, everything we see, everything we hear. All of life is fodder for the imagination, from the most joyous, courageous heights to moments of true sorrow and terror. It all goes in, mixing in a delightful soup that spills over with ideas. Our roots go deep into that soup, and the results sometimes surprise us.
Gothic literature, such as that authored by masters of the art like Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, and the Bronte sisters, frequently deals with compelling themes such as love, death, distress, madness, and the supernatural. Hallmarks of the genre are atmospheres of mystery and fear that transport the reader into sometimes uncomfortable situations and places. Dreams and nightmares foreshadow doom and provide insight into characters’ psyches. Villains are complex, even sympathetic on some level. The reviewer is right. I had been thinking gaslamp—albeit without all the historical and cultural trappings of our world—but it does have a gothic flavor. The more I think about it, the more I embrace it.
Something readers will not find is a “damsel in distress,” as that’s one common gothic trope I have no use for. At least in this book. Alira Alwynn is many things and she does suffer some distress as the story unfolds, but she is a strong, capable woman, a devoted daughter, committed to her faith and willing to risk her life for Lian’s sake. Clever and compassionate, her courage and “grace under pressure” make Aralt love her all the more. And lucky for him that she does because while he is noble, he is every bit the deeply flawed protagonist the reviewer suggests. Unlike his true gothic counterparts, who frequently succumb to their passions, Aralt’s story is infused with hope for the restoration of relationships (and faith)—but not without considerable cost. I’ll spend more time on this when I address the topic of the “flawed hero” in another post.
What do you think? Do these elements resonate with you, or are they literary dinosaurs for which today’s readers have little (or no) patience?
Want to read more about gothic literature? Check out this blog: