On the Violence and gore in A Harvest of Ash and Blood
One of the things you’ll note with A Harvest of Ash and Blood is the sort of callus cruelty that goes along with many of the violent scenes. There is one part, in particular, that almost got taken out, when the invasion force is sacking a city. Apparently some people found it a bit disturbing. And they’re not wrong for feeling disturbed. But I’m glad that it stayed in the book, because I think it’s absolutely necessary not to sanitize war, and particularly to take a hard, honest look at how brutal it was in the sort of medieval time period that this book reflects.
There’s a really fantastic podcast called Hardcore History, by Dan Carlin. I distinctly remember several of those episodes, which recount not the broad historic strokes of strategic decision from generals and kings, but rather, what it was like to be the man on the ground when it was all going down. On one of those episodes, Dan Carlin gave a detailed account of the Rape of Nanking, which, unfortunately was not all that long ago. This is recent history. And I won’t even repeat the terrible things that were done in that city—you can listen to it yourself, and even get a slightly tamer version off of Wikipedia if you’re curious.
The Rape of Nanking is what happens when pissed off soldiers sack a city. And honestly, in comparison? The sack of the city in my book is actually pretty toned-down. But I remember looking at photographs—not of the gore, but of the faces of the soldiers that did it. And I remember looking at photographs of Nazi soldiers during pogroms in Poland. And on the surface, they seem so casual about it. Some of them even smiling. Laughing as they do terrible things. And maybe it was only my imagination, but I felt that, in their eyes, you could see the horror in them. Like they knew that they were damning themselves, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t stop.
It was the morning after looking at those photographs and hearing and reading about what actually happened in sacked cities, that I wrote the part of my story known as the Sack of Halun’s Landing.
So is it gory and brutal and disturbing? Yes. But not for sensationalism’s sake. For the sake of turning a mirror on ourselves and perhaps seeing the truth that…anyone can do these terrible things. Anyone of us can become that monster. All it takes is the right circumstances. All it takes is enough social pressure, and fear, and anger, and a guy in a big hat to tell you it’s okay.
So, as you read A Harvest of Ash and Blood, I challenge you to see what I saw, and what I hope that I effectively communicated.