My Response to luvtheheaven’s Comment & Her Links

On my last post, luvtheheaven left this comment. It would take so many words for me to respond to everything luvtheheaven says and to respond to the links she posted that I decided to go ahead and make this a post. I think this is a good way to continue the discussion on ace/aro representation in fiction.

This post will discuss ace/aro representation fiction more generally than the previous post (i.e. it will not be so focused on the Old Kingdom books). However, at the end, I do have a spoilery section, which is marked.

First of all, I really appreciate that luvtheheaven linked these comments where Garth Nix talks a little about ace/aro representation in Clariel. I don’t have much to say about it, except that I was wondering how much research Garth Nix did and whether he was aware of asexuality / aromanticism and reader responses, and now I know.

One of the tweets which most resonated with me (even though it was not directly about the Old Kingdom series) was this one from Claudie Arseneault:

I have reached the points where while I do want more ace rep, I want people to Actually Support Ace Voices even more.

Yes, I also want more ace rep, but I also want more support for the [good] ace rep which already exists (that is not quite the same as what Claudie Arseneault is saying – she is asking support for ace writers specifically – however I also happen to be in favor of supporting ace writers telling ace stories). In the past six or so months, I’ve learned a LOT about the ace rep which currently is available in prose fiction. Since I’ve been on my ace-fiction binge, I’ve kept on seeing comments like ‘I want to see X in ace fiction’ and my response is ‘yes, you can find X in ace fiction, here is a list of stories which have X’. Sometimes, the response is ‘thanks, I’ll look into that’. And sometimes, the response is ‘well, I want to find it in the fiction I would read anyway, not have to go to some obscure source which might not fit my tastes in fiction’.

The latter response is valid. I wish I could find all of the ace rep I want without having to specifically look for it because it would just happen to be in the fiction I was reading anyway for other reasons. However, as things stand now, I would not have been able to find dozens of works of fiction featuring ace rep if I were not specifically seeking it.

However, while recognizing that it is a valid response, I also find it frustrating. I find it frustrating when people claim (or imply) that there is no ace fiction with X when I can think of at least three examples of ace fiction with X. I also find it frustrating that people who say they want X in ace fiction … are not supporting ace fiction which already has X.

You want more ace fiction with X? Then show it. If you have sufficient financial means, then buy it. If you do not have sufficient financial means, then tell your local public library to buy it. If you buy a work of ace fiction, and like it, then tell your local library to buy it so that people in your area who do not have financial means can read it too (my local library does not follow up on all of my recommendations of ace fiction, but it has followed up on some of them). If you do not have financial means, and you also do not have access to a public library, well, that sucks. Hopefully, you can at least find X in fanfiction online, and you will support it by leaving nice comments for the fic writer.

Anyway, here are another two tweets from Claudie Arseneault:

EVergreen thoughts on ace rep and where to find it: if all you know about is Clariel, Every Heart and We Awaken, you’re not paying attention

Oooooor you’re just paying attention to trad pubs. (Also Clariel is harmful stop putting on lists)

I completely agree with the first part – if all you know about is Clariel and Every Heart a Doorway, and We Awaken, then you’re not paying attention. I trust that anybody who has been following by blog at all in the past six months knows about more than those three works, since I’ve been posting a ton of reviews of ace fiction.

As for the second comment, errr, We Awaken is published by Harmony Ink Press, and how, exactly, does Harmony Ink Press count as a traditional publisher? They publish LGBTQ+ YA fiction – and nothing else. Does the mere fact that they print books and work through the large distributors make them a traditional publisher? Because if that is enough to make someone count as a ‘traditional publisher’, then the meaning of ‘traditional publisher’ is so broad that it’s not a useful term for me.

However, I would say that people pay a lot more attention to mainstream publishers than to independent publishers. This is partially justified, but if one is paying attention to mainstream publishing TO THE EXCLUSION of independent publishing, especially if one wants more ace rep, then yes, there is a problem (I plan at some point to write a whole post/rant about this topic, but I don’t want to go there right now).

As for the last point – “Clariel is harmful stop putting on lists” – I disagree completely. While there are many ace and/or aro readers who have found it hurtful, there are also many ace and/or aro readers who have found it validating. For example, I really appreciate this comment by LW, even though I do not agree with it 100%. LW loves grey-morality characters, is demiromantic, ace, and disabled, and particularly likes Clariel because Clariel is demiromantic (according to LW’s interpretation, and I agree that demiromantic!Clariel is a valid interpretation), ace, and disabled. LW also says in her comment that it bothers her when people claim that Clariel is bad ace / aro representation. It is for the sake of readers such as LW – and to be honest, myself, since Clariel actually is one of my favorites out of the 40+ works of ace fiction I’ve read – that I am opposed to telling people to stop putting Clariel on lists.

(and one could have a worthwhile discussion about the implications of Clariel being visibly disfigured, but I will not go there right now).

I am in favor of putting asterisks by Clariel when one puts it on lists (such as * ‘many ace/aro readers do not like the ace representation in this novel’), but I am against not putting it on lists at all.

Anyway, that lets me segway into a more Clariel focused discussion which luvtheheaven also linked…

[Clariel] goes for the stereotype that aro aces aren’t capable of making friends/understanding the point of friends.

I disagree. Clariel (the ace/aro character) actually does have at least one friend in the story (Belatiel), she values that friendship, and it’s strongly implied that she was friends with some of the borderers. She is also friends with her aunt, if one considers it to be possible to be friends with members of one’s own family. I did not get the sense that the story was supporting that stereotype at all.

A lot of why Clariel is socially isolated is a) her mother Jaciel b) being forced to be in a social environment where she does not want to be c) people refusing to understand Clariel’s concerns (and the few characters who are interested in her concerns do not spend much time with her due to circumstances). One of the parts of Clariel which most moved me was when Clariel finally figured out why her mother Jaciel is the way she is, that she is also like her mother in some ways and might be socially isolated for some of the same reasons (note: Jaciel is not an aro/ace character), and while Clariel does not excuse the emotional pain her mother caused, she understands that her mother did it because of her own personal struggles, not because she does not care about Clariel. (And also, the fact that Clariel eventually feels empathy for her mother, in spite of the fact that her mother hardly ever tried to connect to Clariel in a personal way, is solid evidence that Clariel does have feelings and can emotionally connect to people). (Also, it was refreshing to have a protagonist in this series who actually interacts with her living mother, as opposed to Sabriel and Lirael, whose mothers are dead).

Actually, looking back on both Clariel and Lirael, it is Lirael, not Clariel, who has more of a social isolation/friendship issue. But I understand that many readers do not perceive it that way, probably because Lirael’s one and only friendship is given plenty of pagespace while she avoids people as much as possible (so her interactions with people do not get much pagespace), whereas, *because* Clariel actually does interact with people more than Lirael, and her friendships do not get nearly as much pagespace, the fact that Clariel does not get along with many of the people she interacts with is more obvious. Come to think of it, the fact that the writer puts so much more emphasis on Lirael’s positive social interactions vs. her negative social interactions, and puts so much emphasis on Clariel’s negative social interactions vs. her positive interactions, is worth critiquing.

As far as “Clariel literally just wants to run away and live by herself in a forest” … Clariel’s first choice is to join the borderers who patrol the forest. It is only when she is convinced very early in the novel that that is impossible that she makes Plan B, running away to live by herself in a forest, her goal. I think that, if she were given a choice between joining the borderers, and living alone in the forest, she would not hesitate to join the borderers.

One last point before I get to the spoilery section – a point I made in my previous post – is that one reason I am not so bothered by some of the things in Clariel is that I have read so much ace fiction. One of the arguments people who are claiming that Clariel is bad ace/aro representation make is ‘imagine that this was the only time you ever saw an ace/aro character in fiction’ … but in my case it is NOT. Far from it. If Clariel were the only instance that I ever saw of an ace/aro character in fiction, I may feel differently, but that’s not my situation. I admit that I tend to get more irritated with certain tropes (such as Allo Savior Complex) the more frequent they are, but the negative aspects of Clariel’s aro/ace representation are not frequent enough in the ace/aro fiction I’ve read to irritate me that way.


Then the “Her isolation directly contributes to her fall. She becomes evil and is then an antagonist for the rest of the series” tweet. Yes, mostly. But it’s not her fault that she was isolated in a way which contributed to her fall. For example, Kagrin himself admits that he had not realized how much danger Clariel was in, and failed to give Clariel the information she needed to make a non-evil choice. Clariel herself did not like being isolated in Abhorsen House, and the Abhorsen justifies it as “well, I thought you liked being alone” and this leads Clariel to listening to the one sentient being who is around and willing to give Clariel advice – Mogget. Nobody warns Clariel that Mogget is kind of evil and that it is better to ignore his advice (to be fair, none of the other characters really understood that Mogget was kind of evil until it was too late).

One of the things I like about Clariel is that it counters one of the things I do not like about Sabriel. In Sabriel, Sabriel is clueless, and is really lucky that all of the entities who give her advice (because she did not know enough to make informed decisions on her own) was trustworthy, and that she has magically good instinct. I do not like that. In Clariel, Clariel is not as lucky as Sabriel, so some of the entities who give her advice are untrustworthy, and because Clariel is clueless (just as Sabriel was clueless at that age, though Clariel and Sabriel are clueless about different things), Clariel lacks magically good instinct, and she cannot tell that the advice is bad. This feels more realistic to me.

For that matter, Clariel counters something even bigger about the original Old Kingdom trilogy which bothers me. In the original Old Kingdom books, morality is very black and white (with the exception of Mogget) – the good are purely good, and the evil are purely evil, and have almost no character development to boot. Clariel has a more grey morality, in which the ‘good’ characters often do the wrong thing because they are uninformed / refuse to communicate well, and the ‘evil’ characters (with the exception of Kilp and Aron) mostly just want to be free, and the only thing which makes them ‘evil’ is that they are willing to wreck havoc in order to break free. Morality has many more shades of grey in Clariel than in other books in the series.

I want to say a few things about Goldenhand.

Like many readers, I was annoyed by the ‘all the protagonists get as Happily Ever After by romantically pairing up’ ending. It might have been less annoying if the romance part was well-written, but it was not.

Also, it turns out that Clariel’s fate was much more tragic than I thought at the end of Clariel (I guess I was too optimistic). However, we learn that Clariel has a dual personality – her evil persona is Chlorr of the Mask, but there is also ‘Clariel’ who, in spite of everything, refuses to do evil, so Chlorr of the Mask made her sleep. At the climax of Goldenhand, Lirael has to wake up good!Clariel, and good!Clariel is the one who delivers the final blow to Chlorr of the Mask (i.e. evil!Clariel), not Lirael herself. So when I was looking through the tweets which say ‘Clariel becomes the super villain which the allo characters spend the entire book trying to kill’ errr … yes, that’s true, but did you miss the part where good!Clariel turns out to be the one who eliminates evil!Clariel for good. (Yes, good!Clariel also dies, and having the aro/ace die while the allos survive deserves critique. In my opinion, Lirael also should have died because she RANG ASTARAEL TWICE IN A ROW, and the fact that she survived *in spite of having rung Astarael twice* was cheap).

14 thoughts on “My Response to luvtheheaven’s Comment & Her Links

  1. This seems like as good a place as any to share my thoughts on Goldenhand:

    *Spoilers ahoy*

    – The Nick/Lirael romance felt rushed and cliche. Garth Nix, to be honest, has never been good at writing romance, but this is the first time romance has been given significant screen time in the series (yes, other books had romance too, but it was much more back-seat). Here’s the thing, I don’t object to Nick/Lirael, but I’ve read far superior takes on it in fan fiction.

    – The Dog’s resurrection felt cheap (and as a comics fan, I’m used to cheap deaths). I know that as the remnant of the creator spirit Kibeth, “death” might be little more than a temporary inconvenience, but it strips her loss of it’s poignancy. Also, it undermines a lot of possible character development for Lirael by removing the impetus for her to learn to cope with her grief.

    – The plot felt flimsy. I get the strange feeling that most of the plot could have been averted if everyone had just stayed home that day. I mean, what specific reason does Chlorr personally have to invade the Kingdom besides that the plot said so? To kill Ferin? Again, if Chlorr is only staging these attacks to kill Ferin, then Ferin could have stayed home (and yeah, she would have died), but Arielle’s prediction of the destruction of the Athask would have been averted since there would be no big climactic battle. It felt less like the “race against the clock to save her people” trope and more like the “attempting to dodge a prophecy ends up bringing it closer to fruition” trope, except this time it still worked out hunky-dory at the last minute.

    – Also, I felt like a lot of the meat of the story happened off screen. What we read mostly consists of the protagonists reacting to events that we are told about secondhand, and never see unfold in person.

    – As someone who is fond of Clariel, I found this a disappointing send-off for her. Yes, this is Lirael’s story, not Clariel’s, but I still felt let-down by it.

    That said, there are a few things that I liked about Goldenhand though:

    – The world-building for the northern steppes was interesting. I was glad to see some cultural development for them.

    – The character development for Lirael about her growing confidence in her role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and the re-integration issues that arise from her revisiting the Glacier were all enjoyable.

    • *more spoilers ahoy*

      I am also not against Nick/Lirael, but yeah, not well-written (in the beginning, it wasn’t so badly written, but further along…) I was more annoyed by Ferin/Sam, because that was totally unnecessary, unless one is determined to romantically pair up all of the main characters. It makes me want Ellimere to turn out to be an aro/ace just so she won’t get romantically tidied up (though I suppose she’ll probably marry anyway for the good of the kingdom, but that’s different), even though she has never been a main character.
      – Yep, completely agree with you about the dog. I might have been more lenient if the dog’s resurrection actually served an essential purpose in the story, but it mainly seemed like an easy way out for Lirael’s grief
      – Actually, I think that applies to every book in this series (except Clariel). That’s one of the things which got me when I re-read Sabriel – if the Clayr had, you know, actually seen where Rogir’s body was when they told the Abhorsen to send his daughter to Ancelstierre, or, you know, just a few months earlier than they did, then so much pain and suffering (and the entire plot) could have been avoided. So much of the plot of this series is caused by the Clayr seeing things at just the last moment before it’s too late (my theory is that the Charter does this deliberately to keep the characters tough and wary, because otherwise one gets the situation in Clariel where most people take it for granted that free magic / necromancy is not an issue, and Charter magic is no longer valued). However, I could see the point of Arielle sending Ferin, because Ferin was the last link which could be used to trace Chlorr, and it’s possible that even if Chlorr would not have invaded at this time otherwise, if she had decided to invade 200 years later for whatever reason, it would be too late to trace her body then.
      – Eh, I did not feel that the meat of the story happened off-screen. But maybe that’s because I wasn’t super interested in the battle itself, so I was fine with having a lot of that offpage.
      – Yeah, Clariel’s send-off could have been better.
      – I also liked the worldbuilding!
      – I wish there had been more about Lirael growing into her role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting (especially her working relationship with Sabriel), and I also liked her return to the Glacier.

      • *even more spoilers ahoy*

        – Sam/Ferin barely even registered for me. Now that you pointed it out, yeah, it feels very forced.

        – I also just noticed a logic hole with the Dog’s resurrection. If she could re-spawn whenever she wanted, then what on earth was taking her so long?

        – You make a good point about Ferin being the only remaining way to find Chlorr’s body, so loosing her would mean losing access to Chlorr’s Achilles Heel.

        – I guess if I’m gonna be honest, lots of excellent stories could have been averted by the protagonist just opting out. I mean, the majority of The Hobbit, and indeed all of LotR, could have been avoided if Bilbo had said “screw you Dwarves; screw you Gandalf; I’m staying home.” The nature of prophecy in the Old Kingdom runs heavily on “the future doesn’t just happen; the future is made,” which is a good trope for stories that have prophecy but want to keep it from being overpowered. Likewise, the idea of “trying to avoid fate just brings it into being” is a tried-and-true trope in fiction (just ask Oepidus). For me, the execution makes these elements in Goldenhand feel more like bugs and less like features (which is odd, because these tropes were better handled in other parts of the series). Usually, the self-fulfilling prophecy provides dramatic irony and tragedy, whereas here… it’s the impetus of the plot, but without any of the pathos.

        – What I meant by “the bulk of the plot happens off screen” is that many of events that drive the plot (for example, Chlorr ordering her Offerings destroyed and said orders being enforced) are told to us but never shown. This novel, for me, failed the “show, don’t tell” aspect of story-telling. Other novels in the series did this too, but most struck a better balance (for example, Hedge engages in a lot of off-screen villainy, but does plenty of on-screen villainy too).

      • Granted I’ve only read it once, but Sam/Ferin read less as romance and more as pure attraction on Ferin’s side and a ‘ok, sure why not’ on Sam’s side. Given the long and mentally taxing journey Ferin had just gone through, this seems like a reasonable response from her insofar as I understand allosexuals. From what I know of sex-positive individuals, sex is useful for relieving tension and since she has been cut off from socializing within her tribe for years, latching onto a handsome stranger for physical and social gratification could make sense.
        I didn’t read them as a HEA, or even a HFN, but more as a temporary, primarily physical, pairing.

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  3. “it’s strongly implied that she was friends with some of the borderers. She is also friends with her aunt”

    I would say it’s strongly implied that Clariel believes that “friends” and “people you don’t dislike” are the same thing, when she’s talking about these supposed friends it focuses on how un-friend-like these relationships were with no genuine connection between Clariel and the others, lacking conversation or activities or hobbies that don’t suit Clariel’s desires:

    “Sergeant Penreth of the Borderers, a tough and silent woman who had let her trail along and learn by observation since she was thirteen . . . but again, she didn’t talk much, and Clariel had never felt the need to smile at her, or make conversation.”

    “But she was almost more like an old sister, an ally against her parents. Lemmin provided a useful alibi for her forest adventures, and was also an uncritical listener to retellings of her exploits, rarely offering a comment, let alone an opinion. She supported Clariel, and loved her, and that love was returned, but they didn’t really talk . . . her visits to her relative rarely encompassed more than a hug and a greeting, for with her aunt’s good-natured connivance, Clariel would go on out through the forest door, out to follow the Borderers into the deeper forest, or to join the hunters from the lodge.”

    And there’s nothing about why Clariel and Bel are *friends* rather than people who are related and have shared a traumatic experience and have mutual respect. (I chalk this up to the subpar writing quality in this book, but.) Clariel uses the word “friend” in a way that has very little overlap with how most people, especially acearos who thrive on platonic relationships, would use that word.

    “Then the “Her isolation directly contributes to her fall. She becomes evil and is then an antagonist for the rest of the series” tweet. Yes, mostly. But it’s not her fault that she was isolated in a way which contributed to her fall.”

    Weeeeell there is the bit where, canonically, being aroace and a singleton makes her more likely to succumb to evil:

    “Free Magic often appeals to the solitary, those who wish to order their lives without the constraint of others.“

    And her desire to live alone and be free is the same as Free Magic creatures’ desire:

    “To make it worse, over time many such entities have become impressed with a limited range of human feelings, usually the baser ones, without any counterbalancing better nature. But it is their desire for total freedom, regardless of others—including other Free Magic creatures—that leads them to kill and wreak havoc.”
    “I don’t want to kill or wreak havoc,” mumbled Clariel. “I just want to live in the Forest, and be left alone.”
    “Yes,” said Kargrin. “But how far would you go in order to live as you want to, alone in the Forest?”

    What am I supposed to take from this? That if Clariel hadn’t been aroace she wouldn’t have become a necromancer?? That her becoming a monster that must be destroyed was inevitable because she’s a loner aroace?? That if she’d just given in to Bel’s pestering everything would have been okay?????

    I’ve always liked Nix’s books and reading Clariel was like he was constantly slapping me in the face just because I can’t fall in love. He didn’t care about us enough to do any research and he didn’t care about us enough to not make being aroace one of the most significant factors in her becoming evil. I’m glad that some people don’t think it’s an offensive shitshow, but every time I see it being recommended it’s another slap to the face. And so often it’s recommended while ace and aro authors are just totally ignored. If an aroace had written a tragedy about how amatonormavity turned an aroace into a villain that would be palatable at least, but Nix’s treatment just comes off as gross, like “what would make an Abhorsen become evil? ah, not having a boyfriend! of course!” was all the thinking he did on the character.

    • I am very sorry that you feel that way. When I recommend books, it is definitely not my intention to slap anyone in the face. However, since there are some ace and/or aro people who are unhappy when this book is specifically unrecommended – in particular the aro aces who do identify with Clariel – well, what is one to do? I don’t want to say ‘nobody ought to mention this book ever, positively or negatively’ (especially since I’ve already written three posts on it myself), so it seems the best alternative is to do so in a qualified way.

      I only read the book once, and that was a month ago. Thus, I’m fuzzy on a lot of details. However, it is clear that our interpretations are very different, and your interpretation … does not feel like the book I read.

      I could go point by point about how my interpretation does not match yours, but I am afraid that if I did that it might feel like further slaps to your face, and that is not something I want to do. However, if you want me to do that, then I will.

      EDIT: Oh, I just realized that you are Penny Stirling. I am honored that you commented on my blog, though I wish it were on a topic which made you feel happier. You actually inspired the next ace / aro trope (because it’s a trope which applies to both) which I am going to submit to the Asexual Agenda.

      • Maybe it’s better to think we did actually read different books, that the Clariel I copypasted seven and a half thousand words of the second time I read it as notes for my critique essay is actually not the same book that you read, that you read a book which doesn’t paint loner aros as inherently dangerous, a book that wasn’t so utterly neglected by Nix and his editor that Clariel actually has sufficient internal dialogue to properly and positively portray things like friendship. Because the alternative is that one of us lacks reading comprehension or read between the lines with a bias and that’s a more troubling alternative to me.

        There are characters that I have identified with in my life, most coded ace and/or aro, who have meant an awful lot to me, who were like me in some or many ways, who spoke to me, who I resonated with at a level that I so rarely felt because there were never any characters written with me in mind, that I would never, ever recommend despite how important they were to me because they’re not good rep, they were never good rep. There are characters that I have written, aroace characters, who have been so important to me, who have represented some vital chunk of my life, my psyche, my identity, that I don’t recommend without warnings because they’re not good rep, they’re overcome by amatonormativity, they die, they become victims and monsters and and failures and destroyed because they are aroace.

  4. Hey i’m not sure if this is the kind of thing you do, but i’d really love it if you could share a list of asexual rep in real world fiction (or direct me towards where to look). I’ve really enjoyed all your reviews of stuff from small publishers, but it still mostly seems to be sci-fi or fantasy, and i’m sure not into that as a genre.

    Thanks for all your great work though, and look forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

    • By ‘real world’, I take it you mean contemporary fiction, yes?

      Here is a list of ace fiction set in contemporary times that I recommend – no sci-fi or fantasy.

      Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox
      Crush by Caitlin Ricci
      This Song Is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin
      How to Be a Normal Person by T.J. Klune
      We Go Forward by Alison Evans
      All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher
      Ball Caps and Khakis by Jo Ramsey

      I’ve written reviews of all of these stories, so if you want more information (for example, if you want to know what level of sexual content they have), you can look at the reviews.

      • This is a helpful list for me as well, as my current interests might be more in this genre, despite once upon a time adoring sci-fi and fantasy. 😛 And I haven’t been taking the best notes after reading your reviews despite how much they *are* influencing my future reading plans…

        I have been planning on reading Blank Spaces, All the Wrong Places, and ever since I received this comment: 8 months ago or whatever, also was planning to probably read How To Be a Normal Person. The more it’s mentioned the more I do want to. I’m also planning to probably read at least two… of the more fanstical ones you reviewed, Interface and Making Love. 😉

      • How to Be a Normal Person is probably the most popular/bestselling ace novel from an independent publisher. It’s the kind of book I’d expect most readers to enjoy.

        All the Wrong Places is not as well-written as How to Be a Normal Person or Blank Spaces, but in some ways it is more interesting (as ace representation).

        I’m probably going to write a post about this eventually but: if you are going to buy these books (as opposed to borrowing them from a library), I highly recommend buying them directly from the publisher. Amazon typically takes a 35-65% cut of the sale price (yes, 65%!) which leaves only 35-65% to pay the writer/editor/etc. Publishers also often run sales at their stores (for example, Dreamspinner, which publishes How to Be a Normal Person, currently has a 25% off sale which ends on April 17). I think the publishers run these sales so often to try to cut out the middleman (Amazon) – if they are not going to get full cover price anyway, they would rather have the savings go to the readers.

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