The moral dimension

There can be some choppy waters when you write period fiction. You strive for accuracy (or, in my case, plausibility since my books aren’t intended to be historically accurate) but, at the same time you are writing for a modern audience. The typical reader has been raised in the values of western society which means that, in reflecting the values of an earlier time, I risk offending their modern sensibilities.

Take the role of women, for example. In mediaeval times women had a clearly defined purpose and seldom stepped out of it. What’s more, this role was reinforced by how the sexes thought of one another. In Balance of Betrayal one of my (male) characters remarks that women get what they want by manipulating others and clearly views them as a lesser class of people. That’s a deplorable condemnation in 21st century terms but what do I do? Do I emancipate my female characters at the risk of believability? I’ve chosen not, so I hope I am forgiven by women everywhere.

Corporal punishment is another area where 21st century society takes a different view to our ancestors. In the UK and in much of the western world, striking a child (or anyone else, for that matter), even as punishment for a misdeed, is considered an assault and an act of cruelty. Not so long ago, however, it was commonplace – even considered necessary and character building – for young people to be beaten “for the good of their soul.” Literature is liberally scattered with ‘lickings’ (in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky and Co.) ‘lamming’ (Tom Sawyer) and ever so many ‘boxings of the ears.’ Even nursery rhymes (from Jill to Tom) are in on the act. In the world of the Bremmand Chronicles I’ve reflected that and, with much of the action focussed on youngsters, it is a fairly regular occurrence. There’s still that doubt in my mind, however, that I’m somehow condoning it because Dale, one of the main characters on the side of ‘right,’ is also cast in the role of disciplinarian for the children.

So much for principles which have changed in the modern western world (not worldwide, of course – and just because my society thinks it, does not make it right, by the way). There are, however, more difficult issues to tackle as well.

The main premise of my books is that a small handful of local people are resisting the occupation of their kingdom by an invading empire. A simple story of good versus evil? Well, yes, of course. There is a ‘right side’ in this story – Bremmand has been invaded. The Empire is oppressing them and controlling them by force. Its people have every right to want their country back and to fight, don’t they?

Except, it opens up a really REALLY tricky debate, especially in our current climate. Is this about freedom fighters? Or is it about terrorism? Much of what the Hidden Army does is warfare by stealth and a lot of it is pretty brutal. In Line of Duty, Dale sneaks up on five lost Empire soldiers in the night and slits their throats while they sleep – a war crime by modern standards. Add to that the fact that the Bremmandish people have a religious motivation (the royal line is also a holy line) and there emerges parallel to modern fundamentalist terrorism. At the time I was writing Balance of Betrayal there were a number of terrorist attacks around the world (Tunisia, Paris and more) which made me begin to question this and really worry that my work might be called into question.

To be clear, I’m writing adventure fiction – fairy stories for grownups if you will – and I do not in any way condone or support terrorism, oppression of peoples for religious (or any other) reasons or acts of violence against the innocent. I believe firmly in equality for all and I’m against violence. Yet, in my books every one of those value is ignored for the sake of a good story.

I can’t find it in me to change my work, even so, but I do feel I need to defend my work by my saying, in the way of a disclaimer

“The views contained in the Bremmand Chronicles are those of the characters contained within it and do not necessarily reflect those of the author”

Cate Caruth is the author of the Bremmand Chronicles. To buy her books or learn more about them, go to

You can follow Cate on Twitter at

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