Fred Warren of Frederation, whose reviews are always insightful and entertaining, brought up an interesting point about By Darkness Hid yesterday:
Nature vs. Nurture: Given Achan’s terrible upbringing, it was a bit of a puzzlement how well he turned out. Kept ignorant, hungry, and hopeless, beaten and beaten-down at every turn, he was still kind, unselfish, well-spoken, and almost inhumanly persevering. There’s a strong implied argument for the power of “good genes” in this story, but there’s also credit given to divine mercy and protection. Kids with nightmarish childhoods can and often do survive and prosper, praise God, but in this story, I would have expected Achan to have internal scars as bad as those on the outside.
In this story, you might say that both protagonists are suffering a major identity crisis. Achan is named “trouble” by his guardian, and his whole life seems defined by that name. Then along comes Sir Gavin, and Achan’s identity begins to change. He becomes a squire; he starts to interact with other squires and noblemen as equals. He uncovers his bloodvoicing gift, a gift so incredibly strong that every bloodvoicer in the country can hear him and wants to know who he is. Formerly worthy only of the attention of bullies and peasants, suddenly Achan is thrust into a world where, for some reason, he matters to a lot of people.
Vrell is a young noblewoman struggling to play the role of a stray boy. As Fred put it, “Instincts feminine and patrician continually threaten to reveal her true identity.” Vrell’s identity crisis happens along an opposite arc from Achan’s: while he’s discovering what it’s like to be somebody, she’s discovering what it’s like to be nobody.
Neither arc is easy!
And yet, no matter how much their circumstances change, Achan and Vrell are not ultimately defined by them. Some reviewers have found Achan too noble considering his background. I don’t, because ultimately, our own choices define us more than anything else. Prince Gidon is a cad and a monster because he’s chosen to be one. Achan is noble because, in the fight for survival, he’s chosen to hate injustice instead of participate in it. He doesn’t respect Gidon or Nathak or the barnyard bullies, so he chooses not to be like them. He takes the only route that will allow him to respect himself.
Vrell, likewise, chooses sides not because of her birth status but because she cares about what’s right. She may be dressed like a Stray, forced to spend time with uncultured louses, and coerced into the service of a political schemer, but she never for a moment forgets who she is or ceases to act in accordance with her own values and priorities.
And that, ultimately, is where God’s gift comes in: He gives each of us the choice, not to define our circumstances, but to define ourselves. The values we set for ourselves will shape who we become.
Thanks, Jill, for the reminder!