Welcome to The Untold Tale read-along! The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey is the first book in the Accidental Turn series, the second book of which, The Forgotten Tale, will be released on December 6th. To prep for book two, we’re sharing a ten-part series that will be part recap, part review, and part discussion of the book that has been called the “most important work of fantasy written in 2015.”
If you want to read along with us and avoid the SPOILERS that will follow, you can pick up your copy of The Untold Tale from major online retailers.
About the book
Forsyth Turn is not a hero. Lordling of Turn Hall and Lysse Chipping, yes. Spymaster for the king, certainly. But hero? That’s his older brother’s job, and Kintyre Turn is nothing if not legendary. However, when a raid on the kingdom’s worst criminal results in the rescue of a bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Forsyth finds his quaint, sedentary life is turned on its head.
Dragged reluctantly into a quest he never expected, and fighting villains that even his brother has never managed to best, Forsyth is forced to confront his own self-shame and the demons that come with always being second-best. And, more than that, when he finally realizes where Lucy came from and why she’s here, he’ll be forced to question not only his place in the world, but the very meaning of his own existence.
Smartly crafted, The Untold Tale gives agency to the unlikeliest of heroes: the silenced, the marginalized, and the overlooked. It asks what it really means to be a fan when the worlds you love don’t resemble the world you live in, celebrates the power of the written word, challenges tropes, and shows us what happens when someone stands up and refuses to remain a secondary character in their own life.
Part Nine: Chapter 19 and 20
The band needs to find the Desk that Never Rots, the final piece of the spell that will send Pip home, but it could be anywhere in the mountains. To find it quickly, Forsyth offers to give his love for Pip to a zephyr wind spirit, if it will carry them directly to the Desk. It agrees, and sucks the love right out of Forsyth, who is left feeling indifferent toward Pip. Pip is extremely hurt by this.
Kintyre and Bevel are drawn off by Shades. Before Pip and Forsyth can perform the spell, the Viceroy shows up. He still has control of Pip, and makes them fight each other. Forsyth holds off both the Viceroy and Pip until Kintyre and Bevel return, knocking the Viceroy out.
After a disastrous negotiation with a Deal-Maker Spirit that leaves Pip stranded, Pip and Forsyth fall in love “again”–just in time to figure out how to use all the items they’ve collected to write her a way home after all. When saying goodbye proves too much, Forsyth goes back to her world with her.
What a ride this has been.
In this, our penultimate read-along, I have come to the conclusion that Forsyth is the worst.
Okay, in all seriousness, there’s plenty to like about Forsyth. But as a reader, I am fundamentally less interested in his story than I am in Pip’s; being the point-of-view character, though, his growth necessarily takes the front seat and I kind of hate him a little bit for that. Particularly in this section, wherein he continues to be more worried about his pain at losing a lover who never consented to the relationship, than about the trauma very recently suffered by the woman he purports to love.
When the zephyr comes, Forsyth does the manly thing. The emotion–love–hurts too much, so he gives it up entirely. The wind spirit takes his love and leaves him indifferent to, if not a little repulsed by, Pip.
I didn’t particularly enjoy this section of chapter 19 on my first read, and on a second read I like it even less. Despite the fact that he’s the narrator, I cannot comprehend Forsyth’s point of view; I can’t grasp how he can call Pip self-righteous, or equate his “right to desire” with Pip’s demand for agency.
He’s mad that she “never, not once, acknowledged [his] right to desire.” (519) But! The whole world in which he lives acknowledges it. The world of these books, as has been pointed out in the text many times, positions women as either maternal objects or sexual objects, in the vein of the genre classics. Pip has not needed to acknowledge Forsyth’s right to desire her, because that right is the foundation upon which the Viceroy’s subterfuge was built; it is some MRA-level bullsh*t for Forsyth to act like it is self-righteous for Pip to be furious about her rape instead of acknowledging, in some way that is acceptable to him, that he can, will, and should experience sexual desire in general and for her in particular.
This is the point where I think Frey’s devotion to character, and a realistic Mary Sue insert fic, undermines her deconstructive thesis. Forsyth’s actions and Pip’s responses are realistic as human experience; in Forsyth’s case especially, his behavior throughout the book here reaches its logical extreme. The downside is that Pip’s realistic reaction–hurt and confusion–leaves her no space to call him out on his crap, the way she’s been able to do before. Since she’s the outsider and the only one who can offer such a critique of a pillar of Elgar Reed’s worldbuilding, that means this behavior from Forsyth goes uncondemned in the text, and functions as some anti-feminist “gotcha”.
This makes me sad. We should move on.
To Forsyth’s ridiculous assertion that his love for Pip was making Pip miserable, and that is why he gave it up! It makes for an excellent little moment and a reinvigoration of their feelings for each other, but come on. While we could infer that Forsyth being duped and therefore developing feelings for a doppel-Pip of the Viceroy’s crafting was part of Pip’s angst, there’s no textual evidence that it was a huge enough part of her misery to warrant so dramatic a “sacrifice” on Forsyth’s part.
Forsyth relinquished his love for Pip because of his own emotional cowardice; that’s the only reading the text supports. The paragraphs before he offers his love to the zephyr are literally all about his sexual and romantic desire for Pip, and the validity of his feelings. So while it is clever to pull a switcheroo there so that they still end up together–namely, the zephyr took Forsyth’s love for “fake Pip” leaving him free to fall for the real Pip–it is pretty damn hand-wavey.
This romance has been integral to the quest, which is why I’ve discussed it so much, and all told, it’s imperfect but well-written. The good news is that these characters have at least one more book for emotional growth.
Next week, at long last: the final part of the read-along, and the release of the sequel, The Forgotten Tale! Part 10 will be back on the REUTS Publications blog, where we’ll talk with author J.M. Frey about the genesis of the Accidental Turn series.
About The Forgotten Tale:
Forsyth Turn has finally become a hero—however reluctantly. But now that Lucy Piper has married him and they’ve started a family in her world, his adventuring days are behind him. Yet not all is as it should be. Beloved novels are disappearing at an alarming rate, not just from the minds of readers like Pip, but from bookshelves as well. Almost as if they had never been. Almost like magic.
Forsyth fears that it is his fault—that Pip’s childhood tales are vanishing because he, a book character, has escaped his pages. But when he and Pip are sucked back into The Tales of Kintyre Turn against their will, they realize that something much more deadly and dire is happening. The stories are vanishing from Forsyth’s world too. So Forsyth sets out on a desperate journey across Hain to discover how, and why, the stories are disappearing… before their own world vanishes forever.
In this clever follow-up to The Untold Tale, The Forgotten Tale questions what it means to create a legacy, and what we owe to those who come after us.
About Author J.M. Frey:
Toronto-based J.M Frey (pronounced “fry”) is a science fiction and fantasy author, as well as a fanthropologist and pop culture scholar who appears in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH has been nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, was nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly.