To conclude this mini-series of posts on Anna Smith Spark’s stunning debut ‘The Court of Broken Knives’, as I do with every author featured here, I invited Anna to talk about any topic that she felt was relevant but more importantly, something that she was passionate about.
And after reading her book, it came as no surprise when Anna proposed an insight-article that I had never considered before – a timely one, too, seeing as ‘Game of Thrones’ has only just returned to screens around the world.*
Before I introduce Anna for the last time in this mini-series, I’d like to thank her for her time and efforts in participating in both the interview and submitting this guest post. I’d also like to thank the guys and gals over at Harper Voyager for sending me an ARC of ‘The Court of Broken Knives’. And lastly, I’d like to thank you, whoever ends up reading these posts, for taking an interest in them – I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I.
And please, do yourselves a favour and: BUY THIS BOOK! ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ is going to be one of the big releases this year, debut or not, and I am sure you will love it as much as I did.
*Warning: if you are one of the few people left on planet Earth that have NOT seen Game of Thrones season 1, be warned, this post includes spoilers for season 1/2/3. I repeat, season 1/2/3 spoilers. Who am I kidding, anyone who ends up reading a fantasy blog has seen Game of Thrones, am-i-rite?
A recent review of The Court of Broken Knives compared my novel to GRMM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, except that its ‘actually a good deal darker than George R.R. Martin’s work (no small feat) in the fact this is a book where there’s no House Stark [….] there’s no heroes in this book’.
Which is absolutely fascinating, because I fucking loath House Stark. They’re not the heroes. They’re the bloody bad guys.
So you start reading A Game of Thrones. You read it a long time back, before the hype, before everyone knows it’s a massive grimdark tit and murder fest, when you think it’s just another epic fantasy book. And there are the good guys, the Starks, Mr and Mrs Perfect Couple, their hoard of beloved children, their kindness to the local starving peasantry, they’re the moral centre of the book. Ned is A HERO. Ned is so good and virtuous the worst thing he’s ever done is sleep with one woman apart from his wife and acknowledge and care for the resulting child. Ned goes to King’s Landing, and he’s the moral innocent in the viper’s nest.
In King’s Landing, Ned discovers BAD THINGS. And he’s so unbending, inflexible, so utterly screwed onto his moral fucking high horse. And he gets his head cut off and fucks up everything for everyone around him. He’s so fucking noble and righteous he won’t compromise even to save his children. He’d rather die than compromise, even when the reward for compromising is his beloved family’s life. They offer him that, directly, remember? Confess, and everyone else gets to live happily. And he turns it down because he has to be morally right.
And why? What’s the big moral principle he’s sacrificing his own life and the life of everyone he loves for? He’s so fucking noble and righteous, he’s totally incapable of not telling Robert that Robert’s wife’s an incestuous slapper and Robert’s kids aren’t strictly speaking Robert’s kids. Which is such a noble thing to do to your already depressed, alcoholic, mentally fragile best friend.
Ned Stark is Teresa May. He’s Donald Rumsfeld. He’s Donald Trump.
He’s utterly wedded to his own certainties. He can’t go beyond them. He can’t see that sometimes if one shifts, if one makes compromises, if one thinks from another’s perspective, it might save everyone a lot of pain. His mindset is that of the religious fundamentalist, to whom it is better that children die in agony than that the world is not saved.
Think back to the scene at the beginning of A Game of Thrones when Ned executes a criminal by his own hand. We get a big speech then about how important it is to do it yourself, to see the man you’re killing die, not to flinch from what it is that justice is about. The vipers down in King’s Landing might have executions, blind their eyes to what it is they’re doing. The righteous face it. Hurrah for Ned’s honesty.
No forgiveness. No mercy. No doubt. You kill someone, and you know with certainty that what you do is the right thing. You don’t even try to pretend.
That’s the logic of fascism. Of ISIS.
Then Robb. Oh Robb, beautiful young king, Arthur, Aragorn, White Knight! He can’t compromise either. He can’t think beyond himself. He falls in love with a woman (and actually, strictly speaking, in the canonical actual book version, I’m not even sure he ever loved her, he was feeling vulnerable and randy and then he felt massive guilt and married the girl), and unfortunately she’s not the woman he’s already agreed to wed. He’s got a dynastic marriage all arranged that will secure him victory. But no. Gods forbid he might, you know, act a bit less than Prince Charming. And his followers end up being massacred as a result.
How many lives is that, Robb Stark? The real Red Wedding wasn’t your uncle’s. It was yours, when you doomed your whole army because you had to be the gentleman.
Then Caitlyn. The loving mother. So blind with grief she’ll destroy everything, everyone, burn the world to ashes, because her children are dead. Death consumes her. She sacrifices the only one of her children she knows is still living, so that she can seek vengeance for her children who are already dead. We leave her in the wild wood transformed into Lady Stone Heart, and I know some readers have complained about the fact that she’s sort of dumped by GRRM at that point. But that’s the point, surely. Her story’s over. She was a living woman, capable of change, of emotion, of life. She is transformed into the Death Goddess. The lamia. One of the Furies. She will bathe in the blood of other women’s children, because her own children are dead and she cannot move beyond her rage at that. She has nothing but death.
The horror, the irony, is that her children are in fact still alive. All of them, apart from one. But she cannot find them. Cannot see them. Because she can see nothing but vengeance and death.
Then Arya. Arya is death incarnate. She is too horrifying to contemplate. She is nothing, she has nothing, she gives up the sight in her eyes and her own name so that she might become death.
The Starks aren’t the heroes.
Or rather, if the Starks are the heroes, then heroism is not something of which I want any part.
Anna Smith-Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website http://www.greatworks.org. Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model.
Anna’s favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.