Reading Redemption

Based on a recco from Sherwood Smith at the beginning of September, I picked up Lindsay Buroker’s The Emperor’s Edge. Today, I purchased the sixth book in the series, and should likely just pick up the seventh now so I’m not left without it should my Kindle be beyond internet reach when I finish Book 6. (Click! Done.)

Why, yes, I have enjoyed these books immensely.

I’m not alone in my liking. The series has been quite successful. So much so that I also invested some time reading the author’s blog, which then got me taking a peek at Wattpad, which then got me thinking about whether Wattpad might fit what I’m looking for as a reader and writer.

But that’s all provender for future posts.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why these books have a unique appeal to me. The writing style is spiffy and easy, the plotting clipped, the world interesting, and the characters a great deal of fun… But the true underlying reason for my liking? I’m a fervent lover of redemption stories. And I’m fascinated by those stories that examine redemption from the perspective of an externalized wide lens rather than an internalized dialog of regret and self-loathing. I love stories that approach a character’s life with the understanding that behavior is a continuum rather than an event, that tackle the interplay between forgiveness, condemnation, and acceptance. Stories that admit redemption is messy and irrational—that granting redemption is always risky, and withholding it sometimes damaging.

A redemption story is different from the “overcoming the past” tale. We all have a past to overcome—a challenging childhood, a severe trauma, a bad decision, a death in the family, a big disappointment, a dream unfulfilled. Big redemption, on the other hand, starts with a character who made choices and took actions that were both outside the bounds of what most would consider acceptable behavior and were harmful to innocents. And those characters are people we’d avoid in real life, people we’d warn others about, people we’d never believe could change.

But redemption isn’t about who someone was. It’s about who someone strives to become when most folks don’t give a damn.

Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series is a redemption story told over generations. Harry Connelly’s Twenty Palaces trilogy is a redemption story that seems obvious on one hand, but sneaks up on you on the other. Sherwood Smith’s Inda series is redemption on a societal, as well as personal, level. And Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series gives me a redemption story as well. The four authors differ greatly in style, scope, and storytelling methods. But they all challenge the reader to understand at least one character who ought to be condemned, and (here’s the important part) provides other characters the opportunity to change their minds and him or her.

As interesting as it is to look at redemption in fiction, it’s difficult to discuss the topic in real life. Some will see it solely through the lens of religion while others confine it to seemingly measurable comparisons. Its dynamics are incredibly personal. Its consequences are far-reaching. Perhaps fiction gives us a sheltered place to experiment with the practice in order to become more comfortable with it in reality.

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