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, or snag a free copy from StoryCartel (last chance!).
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 Two: Chapters 3, 4, and 5
In this section, Pip struggles with her slow recovery, while Forsyth just struggles. The man’s crush on his enigmatic guest only deepens, made worse by the waggling eyebrows, knowing grins, and cavalier innuendos of his friends and household staff, who all seem intent on shipping Pip and Forsyth harder than Destiel.
While Forsyth fights his feelings through a combination of duty and low self-esteem, he also attempts–sometimes clumsily–to get answers to his questions about Pip’s origins and the Viceroy’s schemes. It becomes clear to the reader in this section that Pip is from our world–she speaks English and reveals that her mother’s family is Chinese.
Though Pip does occasionally let things slip about her world and her life, she’s nowhere close to telling Forsyth any of the important things, like whether she’s a Reader and why the Viceroy brought her here. When Forsyth broaches the subject of getting her home once she’s well, she has an episode of PTSD that frightens Forsyth, and which he (unsurprisingly) blames himself for.
Despite Pip’s trauma, she’s excited for the small party Forsyth has planned in her honor; and so is he, until the infamous Kintyre turns up with his adventuring partner, Sir Bevel Dom. Forsyth requested that they come escort Pip home, since she must need a hero for such a journey, but Kintyre and Bevel come sooner than expected–just in time to reveal themselves as horribly rude and unintelligent goons.
Though Forsyth warned Kintyre about Pip’s triggers, the “hero” barrels right into them during the party, almost causing another panic attack for Pip. Overcome, Pip excuses herself. Forsyth follows, and comforts her while she unleashes all the pain she’s been trying to contain–and then she finally tells Forsyth the truth about where she came from, what she knows, and why the Viceroy pulled her from her own dimension into this one.
While I appreciate a single narrator, especially this particular narrator (as a character and in terms of the story framing), I admit that some of this is difficult to read without Pip’s perspective. But since the only one who ever belittles Pip’s trauma is Kintyre, I suppose it’s possible to make due with seeing her journey through Forsyth’s eyes.
Pip and Forsyth continue to get along well, and their chemistry is obvious to the reader even though Forsyth seeks her compliments as either lies or taunts. I personally dislike how often he sexualizes her, considering her injuries; but I’m asexual, so I honestly have no idea how legit his physical attraction to her may or may not be. And he is respectful of her physical and emotional boundaries, for the most part–the only hiccup in that regard was in part one, on her first night in the manor after the first time she flinched from his unexpected touch (one of her triggers). He made it all about him, saying “of course, no woman enjoys my touch”; however, when there is no opportunity to self-deprecate, he perfectly comprehends the power dynamic at play, with her as a recovering survivor of captivity and torture, him as her rescuer and caretaker (page 39).
But his sensitivity to Pip as a person goes out the damn window as soon as Kintyre shows up–even before, Forsyth is convinced that Pip will fall for his brother immediately, like all the women do. As the kingdom of Hain is an obvious analog for classic, vaguely medieval fantasy settings, Kintyre is an obvious analog for the swaggering, manly heroes of classic fantasy where all the women do swoon as if it’s the only option they have. Forsyth and Kintyre have many points of contention–like many such sibling characters before them, they are written as fundamental opposites–and this difference in romantic and sexual experience is perhaps the most sensitive. That Forsyth is so smitten with Pip only makes it worse, and he falls into the same toxic trap that many Nice Guys before him have faced: being disgusted with and angry at Pip for appearing to prefer Kintyre to him:
“Disgusted by Pip’s sudden degeneration into some maidenly moron by the mere presence of my brother, I turn away […] I wonder what I ever saw in the woman, if she is lapping [artificial flattery] up so.” (pg 110-111)
This despite a hundred pages of Forsyth telling himself that Pip isn’t interested in him, arguing with and being annoyed by the implications of mutual affection from the people around him, and even assuming that this very situation would come about. Still, he includes Pip in his ire. It’s definitely a low moment for Forsyth. Now, at the party, Kintyre’s terrible manners disillusion Pip entirely and she starts subtly making fun of him. This puts her back in Forsyth’s good graces–which, you know, it’s nice that he’s not mad at her anymore, but isn’t quite enough to make me forgive him for being an ass earlier.
Luckily, he has five hundred pages or so to redeem himself! Which begins at the end of this section, with Pip’s revelation that he and his entire world have been crafted by a distant Writer-god to revolve around the swaggering, macho, grope-first-and-ask-no-questions-at-all hero, Kintyre Turn.
With this premise established, in the next section we get to really see behind the curtain of traditional power-fantasy heroes like Kintyre, who is basically a Toxic Masculinity Ken doll. Get your mugs of male tears ready for next week, hosted by Kathy Palm at Finding Faeries. Part three will go live on Tuesday, October 18th and cover chapters 6 and 7.