To Be Not Heard: Kiara, Penelope and the Question of Validation
TW: Discussions about mental health (including anxiety and trauma), minimization of the same, references to bullying, some of the screenshots I put up can be a bit distressing.
Author’s Note: This essay emerged partly out an anonymous ask that about the writing for Madeleine, specifically in relation to her treatment of Hana. In that essay, I spoke about narrative treatment, and how some characters get validation more easily than others. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been itching to talk about this ever since I finished my fail play of the TRR series.
In this essay I was be focusing particularly on Book 3, and the interactions the group have with the ladies of the court during the Unity Tour - with specific focus on Kiara and Penelope. The MC for my failplay is Persephone, and the one for my successful play is Esther.
This essay is going to be a long, long one folks. If that’s not your thing, the tldr is that TRR will not be very fair to you if you’re a woman of colour, that’s for sure.
The ladies of the court - specifically Penelope and Kiara - are a constant in the TRR narrative, outside of our closer friend circle (the LIs). They’re the ones who represent the court to us, and they fulfill different roles in different books.
In Book 1 the ladies of the court are competitors - most of whom become potential allies by the end. In Book 2 they do not provide us open support but maintain cordial relations with us regardless. They recede a little more to the background in this book (except for the point where the MC discovers Penelope had betrayed her), but are a constant during our engagement tour.
Book 3 is where the ladies of the court, and their families, finally come to focus. The narrative is centered around the Unity Tour, around earning support from the reluctant nobility, who struggle to see the “bigger picture” that the MC and LIs want them to see, because they’re so besieged by their own personal and professional issues. To do this, the group has to explore the issues plaguing these families, and resolve them. This also involves speaking to the courtly lady, and finding out what personal issues they have.
Why is it important to pay attention to the lady though, and not just pander to her parents? Madeleine tells us in Chapter 4, when highlighting why it is essential to get the ladies involved: Having an entourage at court is not about vanity, it’s about influence. Showing that you have support from the houses around you. (a neat little fact that Madeleine herself had ignored, considering her treatment of the women in her court). In some cases in Book 3 (not all), half of that support comes from the way you treat the daughters of that house.
So, not only are you required to listen to these noble families and figure out how to help them - you also need to address what a courtly lady in that House is facing as well. But does that happen in all cases? That’s a question I’ll answer in a minute.
Before we get into the Book 3 treatment specifically for Kiara and Penelope, we need to examine briefly how the two were written before the third book began. I have, unfortunately, heard people in the fandom justify the bad treatment Kiara does get by creating a false narrative around her, and forgetting the worst parts of Penelope’s story. Therefore, it is essential I go through how they’re built IN the narrative before I move on to how their pain is addressed.
Kiara and Penelope didn’t have incredibly set personalities in Book 1, to be honest. The initial chapters made mention of Penelope’s illustrious family and Kiara’s love for languages, but for the first couple of chapters, they seemed almost interchangeable. It is around Chapters 8 and 10, perhaps, that you start to really notice Kiara and Penelope independently as characters.
Penelope starts out not having any of the traits we now know her for (except for a one-off mention about poodle statues in Book 1 Chapter 4), and can be seen either reasoning with Olivia, making fun of the MC if she makes a misstep or occasionally talking to Prince Liam. Around Chapter 10 is the first time we catch her alone, upset by her inability to fit in with the court and stressed about staying - and we have a chance to gain her allyship by convincing her that supporting us in the long run would be beneficial for her. Shortly after this, she must have been given the offer to set up the MC by Bastien, yet every other scene we see of her after that involves her being sweet and friendly and ironically supportive if you gained her alliance.
In fact, just minutes before the scene where Tariq enters our room happens, we see Penelope vouching for the MC and stating that “she’ll be a wonderful queen” (or not), even as she has arranged for a man to end up in our room and paid a photographer to take photos of us while we were in our underwear. She congratulates the MC as well on the same night that the scandal ruins her reputation, a scandal Penelope had to be aware would be dropped that very night. But all this are things we can only see in retrospect (and perhaps in Book 1 this twist wasn’t even planned). In Book 1 itself, she barely had a personality in the initial scenes, and was viewed largely as comic relief in the second half. Most of the commentary on her poodles was played for laughs, and the MC’s reactions to it can range from friendly to merely bored.
In Book 2, the reveal that she was responsible for sending Tariq to our room and paying Rosanna for those pictures is dominated instead by the backstory of her anxiety, her struggle to stay in court without it affecting her mental health, Madeleine’s bullying of her and the reveal that her poodles are really her emotional support animals. From comic relief, she is elevated to a sympathetic figure - conveniently at a time when we discover what she has done. Her betrayal is referenced in her presence two times - one when we confront her and the other at the tea party where she apologizes - before it completely disappears from narrative consciousness and is just never spoken of again. Both times, thankfully, the MC is able to choose how she will react to Penelope.
Kiara is one of the first people we can approach to ally - in Book 1 Chapter 8 - and her pragmatism and ambition are the first things that define her outside of her knowledge of ten languages. She is one of the few people taking note of the MC’s progress (at least in one scene), but still is very distant even after we have gained an alliance, and she is pretty clear that they’re not friends. Though a lot of Kiara-haters will claim otherwise, she doesn’t “claim to be our friend and then switch sides”. She merely agrees to an alliance, fulfills the terms of that alliance (that she put in a good word for us), and when she can no longer support the alliance she comes straight to us and tells us so. Depending on how polite or rude we are to her at the time, she delivers that message accordingly.
However, as soon as it’s clear to her that Madeleine won’t have problems with her talking to us (Chapter 4, Applewood), she is on talking terms with us again, and interacts with us the way she always has. A lot of her story either focuses on her affection for Drake, or her friendship with Penelope. In the latter interactions she is shown as being bit abrasive in her approach to Penelope’s problems, but ultimately protective and concerned for her (if you point out to Kiara that her behaviour towards Penelope is wrong, Kiara responds that her words emerge out of worry, that she “just always can’t be here to look out for her”. And “look out” she does, as one can clearly see from her anger towards the MC at Applewood if the latter insults Penelope - “mon dieu, you don’t have to kick her when she’s down”!).
In Book 2, Kiara is largely in the background, as opposed to Madeleine who is an out-and-out rival, and Penelope who gets some space with the reveal of her involvement in the scandal. She comes to the MC, along with Penelope, at the end to apologize to her (after having drunkenly spoken to her in the Beer Garden about the MC “gloating”) and - in a build up to the next book - invite her to their estates. It is only in the beginning of the third book that we realize she is one of the few who had sustained physical injuries the night of the Homecoming Ball.
In Book 1 our interactions with both the courtly ladies are coloured by whether we win their favour or not, in Book 2, the necessity to win their favour is gone and there are no significant variations in the way they interact with you. Well, except for one sequence.
In Book 3, there is a change in the sense that all the ladies we visit, have struggles independent of their families’. Often related to mental health or emotional stress. So a lot of the “correct narrative” should hinge on validating their issues and helping them. Has the TRR team ever established before how one should behave towards a person struggling with a mental health condition? As it turns out - they have.
TRR Book 2 and Mental Health
A marker of how this narrative views ‘validation’ of very serious issues, lies in four things:
1. What buildup is given to the character’s issues?
2. What do you have the prominent characters do and say to said character by default?
2. What chances does the narrative give you to win their trust? Is there at least an initial interest in finding out what the character wants?
3. The kind of consequences we face if the MC chooses options that can make the character in question upset or uncomfortable, and what the MC gets to say in the most positive option(s).
As an example, let’s take TRR Book 2 Chapter 8, where we plan to get the truth out of Penelope about her involvement in the scandal.
The buildup for Penelope’s specific background (of struggling with social anxiety) begins at least two chapters prior in Capri, when she tells the other ladies in the court that she’s never liked parties and “big crowds make [her] nervous”. It’s a small detail, but becomes significant when we reach France. Prior to this we’re shown her generally having feelings of self-doubt and lowered self-confidence, increased tenfold by Madeleine’s bullying behaviour.
Post the reveal, the MC is justifiably angry, and her initial reaction reflects this (even the most sympathetic reaction involves the MC calling Penelope “pathetic”). But we are given the opportunity to change our minds about her over the course of the chapter:
1. Penelope personally confides in the MC and Hana about how much she misses her poodles, which leads to her confessing she has social anxiety.
2. We are given multiple opportunities to validate her and back her up, all optional - the MC and Hana can validate her feelings about her poodles and about her anxiety, telling her that there is nothing wrong with her. The diamond scene to model comes with an option to include her so as to bolster her self-confidence, and the MC and Hana can comfort her after Madeleine calls her a “constant disappointment”. The final set of options, where the MC reveals she knows the truth, can have the MC acknowledge her condition while still maintaining her anger towards Penelope.
Even if you don’t like Penelope at this point and don’t want to comfort her, the 'trust’ points you get from doing so work as an incentive, since it will help in your investigation. If you choose not to comfort her, Hana is made to fulfill this role instead.
So what happens if you don’t win Penelope’s trust, and eventually call her a traitor to her face instead?
Not paying attention to Penelope’s needs comes with serious consequences. She calls you out on not being genuine about your intentions towards her, and in that moment refuses to engage with you. You are not allowed to come and talk to her yourself. Hana will also point out that you are causing more harm than good with your presence, and you are ultimately excluded out of an investigation on something that happened to you.
In this moment of vulnerability and fear, Penelope is allowed to be more worried about not being caught. She is not required to show concern (until two chapters later) for the woman she had hurt nor express unconditional regret for doing what she did (in the “correct” version, Penelope’s willingness to talk to the MC hinges on “since you were so nice to me”).
Hana’s statement here - “Penelope may not tell us everything if she’s being stressed by you” - sends a solid message to an MC who is insensitive and dismissive of this girl’s condition - that while the resentment and anger towards Penelope is justified, ignoring the pain of someone struggling with their mental health never will be.
Since this is the first time the series deals seriously with discussions of mental health, it would help to take this as a rubric for measuring the writing for other women’s struggles in Book 3. As I mentioned earlier, the Unity Tour is about catering to needs, recognizing problems, fixing tensions. But most of all, it’s about the young women through whom we get to know these estates, and what they’ve gone through. Or is it?
The Unity Tour
The Cordonian Monarchy at the beginning of the third book is in a state of crisis, with an assassination attempt that strikes fear in the mind of the Cordonian people. The nobility, especially, are reluctant to support King Liam in the wake of the attacks, so the MC suggests a royal/celebrity wedding, and Liam follows it up with the idea of visiting Cordonia’s most prominent duchies in a Unity Tour. Having the support and presence of these noble families not only lends glamour and prestige to the occasion, but also sends a message to the attackers that Cordonia stands united and strong amidst the chaos.
Quite a noble aim, right? But the catch is, that these estates/families are currently facing crises of their own - some personal, some political, some related to the well-being of their people. A united Cordonia might possibly be the last thing on their minds. The group, then, has to get to the root of these issues, understand the families and pay attention to their needs in order to gain their trust and support in return.
But apart from this, there are the daughters of these families. All of whom have their own struggles and are themselves reluctant to return to court - all for good reasons. Madeleine not only has to go through the humiliation of being rejected by a member of the royal family twice over, she also has to face caustic comments about her failure from her father. Penelope not only is seeing her home in a state of crisis, she also has extremely negative memories of court, and owing to her social anxiety cannot see herself returning. Kiara…well. I’d better talk about that later otherwise I’ll probably begin my angry rant a little too soon.
So, how does the narrative treat the individual issues of these women? Keeping those four points about validation I’d mentioned in mind, here is a potential breakdown:
I don’t exactly want to include Madeleine here, since her issues are so different from either Kiara’s or Penelope’s. But it’s important that we explore her portion of the book as well, since her chapter kickstarts the format for the rest of the Unity Tour.
Parents’ Issues: Marital discord, different approaches and reactions to Madeleine’s broken engagement (Adeleide wants Madeleine to open up to her and doesn’t understand why her methods to comfort her daughter aren’t working. Godfrey, on the other hand, is a distant, negligent father who will take the flimsiest excuses to label his daughter a failure).
Madeleine’s Issues: Has a childhood history of being overlooked and having to deal with failure, which is not made any better by her father rubbing additional salt to her wounds with his caustic remarks. Wishes her mother would simply give her the space to grieve her loss rather than encourage her to ignore it and simply be happy.
Buildup for these themes in Madeleine’s story have been set up as far back as the Shanghai and NY portions of Book 2, where Adelaide gives us insights into the kind of pressure Madeleine is constantly under. By default, the LIs barely interact with her…however any one of them can be chosen to invite her for a drinking game with their group.
In this diamond scene, Maxwell and Drake are at least cordial in their interactions with her, but Hana is really the one who has to do most of the heavy work. Twice, she praises Madeleine for her charm and patriotism, and even in an option where the MC blames her lack of popularity on “not being nice”, Hana states quite simply that she could “catch more flies with honey”. This despite the fact that Madeleine bullied her mercilessly a mere book ago. To cut a long story short, the MC and LIs have a chance to reach out to Madeleine, listen to her and reassure her before they can (optionally) back her up in front of her parents.
It’s also interesting to note that even though Madeleine doesn’t have the best relationship with her parents, the options to make them agree to come to your wedding all depend on what you say about the way they treat Madeleine, and how to help her. You have to convince Adeleide that she needs to provide support on Madeleine’s terms (“this isn’t about you or your needs. it’s about Madeleine.”). You have to convince Godfrey that Madeleine is more successful and accomplished than he gives her credit for, and that he should be proud of all she has managed to achieve.
If you fail to make Madeleine’s parents see her point of view, they refuse to come to your wedding at all. The resolution of conflict in Fydelia is centered around Madeleine.
I’d like anyone reading this essay to remember what the MC says here to Madeleine, because I’m going to bring this up a few sections later. The “wrong” options either remind her of her failure, or disregard how Madeleine feels for their own benefit. The MC is called out on both. The “correct response” places Madeleine first.
If you screw this up, as a consequence you will lose out on Godfrey and Adeleide’s support and they will refuse to attend your wedding. Madeleine does go with us regardless, but we shouldn’t forget that she demands she get a job/her own department by the end of this tour. So even if her accompanying us is by default, she lays down the conditions under which she will take up this job…and we follow through by default too.
Like in Book 2, Book 3 reserves its most extensive variations (among the ladies of the court at least) to Penelope. How does this play out in the books? Let’s take a look:
Parents’ Issues: Landon has a soft spot for Penelope and worries constantly about her mental health, while Emmeline worries about the care for her people in Portavira, as the duchy is still struggling to recover from natural calamities.
Penelope’s Issues: She was always uncomfortable staying in court, has very bitter memories of the treatment Madeleine meted out to her, and is extremely reluctant to leave her emotional support animals - the poodles Merlin and Morgana - behind. She simply does not think she fits in. Her social anxiety, coupled with her experience with Madeleine, makes her not want to return to court.
Penelope’s themes don’t exactly need any prior buildup in Book 3, because she already told us plenty in Book 2. But the reminders that she is ultimately a fragile woman who requires plenty of coddling, are constantly there. Even before we meet her in Portavira, and after we gain her alliance as well, (if you point out she didn’t follow the dress code during our bachelorette, she is instantly reminded of Madeleine’s bullying behaviour), we’re reminded to be very, very careful with our behaviour around Penelope. Madeleine herself - now our press secretary - reminds us that it would be advantageous having her in our court entourage, and winning her favour would ensure her father’s support.
What actions do we see by default from our friends when it comes to Penelope? The group as a whole is mostly kind and rather friendly to her (Maxwell also states she is fun to be around in the non diamond version of the poodle palace diamond scene, mentioning that no one “understands cute dog memes” the way Penelope does), but perhaps the most obvious one is from Drake - who sees Penelope’s growing sadness and fear at the sight of Madeleine, and immediately jumps in to reassure her (“she’s with us, Penelope. We won’t let her bite”). I’d like to remind you…this is purely by default and not at all dialogue-dependent. And it sets the tone for a more positive meeting with her parents.
With Penelope, while one parent is more concerned about the crisis in the duchy and getting enough money to help her people, the attitude of the other one towards us is completely dictated by the way we treat his daughter. Emmeline may not understand Penelope’s condition or appreciate the sacrifices she would be making to adjust to a place like court, but Landon is acutely aware of what being there is doing to his daughter Penelope.
The entire setting of the scene in the restaurant is FILLED with opportunities to show him that she will be safe with us. You can agree with Emmeline that Penelope is your “best friend”, even though she hasn’t done anything exactly to warrant this “friendship”, you can include Penelope in your planning process for the polo match thus giving her opinion importance. When the topic comes to that of whether Penelope is in a condition to return to court we have two options - either we establish that Penelope need not return if she is not comfortable (thus placing her needs first), or we maintain that “Cordonia needs unity right now, and it’s hard to look united when everyone’s back at their duchies”.
The way you treat Penelope has an impact, especially in the way Landon responds to you. Convincing him that you care about her well-being unlocks an entire scene, and not doing so means he will not even want to talk to you afterwards. This is fascinating because Landon’s extra scene features him not only telling us he will come for our wedding, but also promising us that he will work on convincing Emmeline.
IF we fail at convincing Penelope or her parents here, the narrative gives us another chance personally with Penelope through a diamond scene. Spending time with her, meeting her beloved pet poodles, listening to what Penelope has to say about how court made her feel, giving her alternatives and promising her things will be different this time around - all of this contributes to making her more inclined to returning. By default the diamond scene frames the MC and her friends as understanding and wanting to help Penelope, making her receptive to their suggestions. This is possible even without the diamond scene, as long as you choose all the options where you regain her trust.
If you don’t, however, Penelope refuses to return to court with you altogether:
Penelope is firm about her refusal to come with you if you haven’t convinced her she is safe with your group. If you haven’t been understanding, and genuine, and polite, and patient with her, then she refuses completely to be part of your entourage. As with her cooperation for the investigation in Book 2, her agreement hinges on your behaviour towards her and how much you are willing to accommodate for her. The narrative is firm about its stance on this issue: even if you will not take Penelope’s plight seriously, we will.
Another interesting thing to note is that even in the worst possible playthroughs (like my Persephone one), the MC suggests Penelope bring her poodles along with her…by default. Even in the worst possible circumstances the barest minimum involves support.
In Penelope’s estate, we face consequences doublefold if you don’t approach her in the “correct way” (bringing up what she put us through isn’t even an option in the Portavira chapters, and essentially the narrative revolving around her betrayal is erased). Both her father and Penelope withdraw support in Chapter 4 itself based on our treatment of her, and Emmeline’s depends largely on how much money they get at the charity polo match. Essentially, if it doesn’t involve insane amounts of coddling for Penelope, both father and daughter aren’t interested.
However, she will come with us to Kiara’s estate Castelserraillian regardless. A friend who she seems to miss and last saw injured at a ball. Which means Kiara should get the same level of support if not more, right? Right??
The irony of Kiara’s segment of the tour is that centering her and her needs in this portion of the narrative would have actually made the most sense - even more sense than it would have for the other two. Kiara’s issues would have been directly related to the attacks at the Homecoming Ball, and would have at least raised important questions about security and the whole question of how events of this nature can affect you. As I will now show you, the difference between the treatment for the other two, and for Kiara, are poles apart.
Family Issues: Hakim is worried about his family’s safety and hurt over Constantine’s multiple snubs as a friend, but the most pressing issue is the food and art festival he is organizing so that Cordonia can be entered into the International Art Association. Ezekiel’s hinges on us giving him the confidence to tell his father that he’d rather be a veterinarian than a diplomat. Joelle’s hinges on whether she thinks you appreciate the importance of art in a thriving kingdom. Kiara’s…well.
Kiara’s Issues: As of Castelserraillian, she seems to have none. I mean, it’s not like anyone - the MC, the LIs, anyone - really bothers to ask her, anyway.
You don’t get through to Kiara by asking her what she wants, sitting with her, talking to her or comforting her. You get it either by emotional blackmail and calling her patriotism and trustworthiness as a diplomat into question (like Persephone does), or by manipulating her (like Esther does). This particular exchange lasts less than a minute, and no matter what, Kiara is forced by the narrative to agree with you and cancel her tickets to Switzerland.
At this juncture I’d like those of you who have read till this point, to think back to the previous two ladies and what we get to tell them. We are allowed to tell the court bully that she needs to put herself first before trying to help the people of Cordonia. We are allowed to tell the woman who betrayed us that her fears are valid and she has our support. In fact, the best option in this scene of Kiara’s (where Esther warns Kiara of the message she will be sending if she leaves Cordonia at this time) is the worst option in Penelope’s (“Cordonia needs unity right now, and it’s hard to look united when everyone’s back at their duchies”).
The group itself, in this chapter, has no interest at all in what Kiara wants or how she is feeling, even though it is at Liam’s event that she was injured. The entire group is silent as the MC either insults or manipulates Kiara into agreeing, after which Liam places the focus immediately on Ezekiel, who doesn’t even care about court. Not only is the entire group complicit in allowing this sort of treatment to Kiara, but so are her brother and so-called best friend Penelope - who made various demands for herself, but stood there and watched as other people got away with shaming her traumatized friend.
When you read Kiara’s scenes in that context, her brother Ezekiel’s attitude seems even more bizarre (especially if you buy his wine scene) considering he actually witnessed the group shame her into complying. He gets to say, unironically, that: “We’ve had a lot of guests here […] They try to impress us with their worldly knowledge. They compliment the wine. But they’re so busy trying to impress us or convince us of something that they don’t take the time to get to know us. But you’re different. I’d heard you would be”.
(<rant>DUDE. DID YOU EVEN SEE THE WAY WE WERE TREATING YOUR SISTER. WERE YOU EVEN FUCKING LISTENING. HOW THE FLYING FUCK ARE WE DIFFERENT</end rant>).
However, perhaps we must keep in mind that Ezekiel as a character wasn’t created at all to support Kiara - he was created as a reward for Penelope (why, I have no idea). So instead of actually showing an iota of concern for the sister who has encouraged and supported him in his pursuits, even though she doesn’t fully understand him - he and Penelope instead spend all of their time and energy focusing on each other.
Joelle is shown to be doubtful about the monarchy, undoubtedly because of a clash with Constantine’s ideals and possibly the treatment her own husband has gotten from him, but the concern for Kiara that she is allowed to show in other scenes (such as the epilogue scene) she never gets to show here. Moreover, if Joelle’s refuses on account of you not impressing her with your view of art, Kiara is disappointed by her rejection on our behalf! (“ugh, that’s my mother for you. I love her, but she can be so frustrating sometimes.”).
Like Kiara, Hakim is a default fixture of our wedding party. He is touched by the group’s unconditional gesture of helping with his exhibition when it seems to be on the verge of ruin (via the attackers flooding the area), and regardless of how we perform or whether Joelle agrees, he will agree to come to the wedding. In a complete failplay, Hakim and Kiara are the only nobles who will make it to our wedding by default, without any conditions or demands or requests for future jobs. The narrative does not give them the option to refuse.
On a level of buildup, it’s disheartening to note that Penelope gets to speak more about watching Kiara get wounded (in an option in her diamond scene), in Portavira, than Kiara gets to talk about her own wounds in Castelserraillian. Her injury is mentioned only once in Castelserraillian: when the MC arrives to the estate, in a very offhand manner after which it is then never spoken about in those chapters again (though it is implied as a reason for why Hakim is taking the entire family to Switzerland). None of her family talks about it either.
By default - as I have now laid out in detail - the group is pretty insensitive to Kiara or her needs and is only too eager to make the shift from pushing her into agreeing, to showering her brother with attention and flattery and listening to his unrelated-to-court problems.
The opportunities to help her are extremely low - in fact you really have none at this point. As soon as we are done with her, Kiara disappears for the rest of the chapter and only shows up just once in the next one.
None of the other family members’ decisions to join the wedding party or not are even remotely related to Kiara. She is treated as the least important person in a narrative that should be centered around her, even on the most basic level of this place being her home. Zeke’s decisions is about his dreams, Hakim’s is about cultural advancement, Joelle’s is about art and her ideals for a thriving kingdom. Hell, not even Kiara’s decisions are based on what she’s going through!
In Kiara’s case, you don’t see consequences for any of the things you say to her personally. Kiara doesn’t even allow herself to be upset by your words, but instead agrees with you no matter what. One can explain this away by pointing out that Kiara has very strong ideas of what strength and endurance mean to her, and she’s still trying to apply those principles to herself even while traumatized (this is eventually the explanation they have Kiara give us in Lythikos). But the fact of the matter is that scene wasn’t seen as important enough to write decently, or code properly - so we are stuck with a scene where an attack victim is forced into supporting the people who hosted the event she was attacked in, without even being asked how she feels, without being given the validation she deserves.
However, this won’t be the only time we get the chance to address Kiara’s issues. And perhaps the second time around, we can provide her the validation we failed to provide her in the first. But at what cost?
The lack of Kiara, in Kiara’s own estate, was obvious enough for even people who didn’t like her as a character to take notice. And there were questions about why. Shortly afterwards, Book 3 went on a hiatus so the team could work on changing certain things in the books, that readers had been complaining about (such as the copy-paste nature of some of the LI scenes) and working on the second half. One among those many changes included “making it clearer that Drake does not like Kiara back”, though why this was seen as so important I will never understand.
However, post hiatus things sped up in the narrative - Drake gets involved in a duel that catapults him to fame and glory within the nobility, Constantine dies after an attempt is taken on Liam’s life, we now realize that the traitor was someone amongst us. So the Lythikos leg of the tour, which lasts two chapters, is rife with suspicion and involves the main characters investigating and trying to question other people. One of them is Olivia, whose aunt Lucretia (who has just returned as well, right before Constantine’s death) was mentioned as one of the original suspects, and at whose event Madeleine was poisoned.
The other interesting thing that happens at this point, is that Kiara informs the group that she intends not to stay on in the tour. She will be there for the wedding and her family (at least her father) is already supporting the cause, but she wants to return home. There are three ways the MC can react to this news - either to criticize her for bailing out, comment that she may be afraid, or suspect her.
If you do suspect her, Drake is the first to jump at the opportunity (“we must suspect everyone”), Hana is conflicted (she looks sad and speaks of “reaching out” to Kiara before she leaves, therefore attempting to soften the harshness of what the MC is suggesting) and Maxwell makes a joke out of it (“a little friendly interrogation”). I find it immensely interesting that a woman who got shot at our event, who we didn’t even listen or ask questions to, who has now witnessed another goddamn attack, is asking us to let her go - and our reaction to her request is not concern, but suspicion.
Of course, one may claim that suspecting her at the Lythikos Ball in Chapter 11 is dialogue-dependent, not the MC’s default - but by Chapter 12, the Winter Festival, suspecting her and hoping to successfully interrogate her definitely is default.
(the first four screenshots are from the scene before they question Kiara, and the last two is from after. Not a single one of these dialogues is dependent on an option from the MC - they all are part of the default dialogue of the chapter)
Let’s evaluate this based on the rubric we established earlier: buildup, default actions from the MC and LIs, opportunities to validate and consequences if you make the wrong choices. Especially since this is supposed to be a sensitive scene where this kind of validation truly counts:
Buildup: Kiara is a brief red herring meant to stall us till the Anton Severus reveal, and on that level the buildup delivers. There is one scene at the Lythikos Ball that shows her excited about the MC’s wedding, depending on who your love interest is, and one tiny scene in the next chapter where she is with Penelope (if Penelope is part of the tour).
But on the level of her true feelings? Her constantly having nightmares? Her wanting to be strong but being extremely affected by her memories? Her being retraumatized by the attack at the Costume Gala, in which she may have witnessed a prominent political figure (as well as her father’s friend) losing his life? Very little, tbh.
Default Dialogue/Actions: No matter what the group agrees upon regarding Kiara’s motives at the Lythikos Ball - by the Winter Festival they’re clearly planning an investigation. It’s called one, she is called “suspicious” and “a suspect” by those involved (mainly the MC, Drake and Maxwell. Liam and Hana are nowhere to be found in this sequence). By default, the MC and Drake show zero remorse for putting Kiara through this hell, or for never caring to ask. Maxwell is allowed to quip about how “another suspect” is “off our list” even after it’s clear that what Kiara went through is no laughing matter. The three then casually move on to finding the next available suspect.
Opportunities for Validation: This does happen, in the one scene where we interrogate her. It involves asking her if she is okay, remembering that she was stabbed, and eventually telling her that she is struggling from the trauma of the event and needs help, and that if going away is what will help Kiara, they will not stand in her way. If you choose all of these “correct” options…it’s a good enough scene, though it is still tainted by the fact that they’re conducting an interrogation, that Kiara actually has no clue that that is what they’re really doing, and by the lack of shame or regret from the MC and Drake after they’ve forced her to relive such a horrific experience for their satisfaction.
So…why do I now hate this scene so much? The answer lies in the fourth point:
Consequences??? What Consequences?:
On my Persephone playthrough, this is what my MC is allowed to do:
1. She points out Kiara is uncommonly flustered (fair enough, it could be suspicion but one can also spin it as concern).
2. She forgets that Kiara was stabbed - which is understandable I guess, and which Kiara is understandably angry about. Honestly this is the only thing Kiara is even allowed to get angry about.
3. I personally find this part of the scene gross…and pretty triggering because dismissiveness of trauma is something I’ve been through, and I know that in some ways it can be just as damaging as the traumatic event itself.
That is exactly what happens in the scene I screenshotted above. After Kiara speaks of the shame she feels at being 'weak’, my MC Persephone is allowed to be dismissive of her trauma, and Drake - who speaks a big game about healing one day at a time in another option - agrees with the MC and minimizes Kiara’s trauma right alongside her. Kiara isn’t even allowed to contest this twisted logic. She’s not allowed to even be angry, not allowed to push back, not allowed to give the MC and Drake a piece of her mind and tell them they are garbage. Because, especially in this one option, they are.
The problem isn’t so much that this option exists. The problem is that the MC and Drake are allowed to get away with it, and how.
4. Persephone can finally finish it all off with a “Cordonia needs you”. Which Kiara thanks her for (!!!).
As with our exchange with Kiara in Castelserraillian, her responses at the end are pretty much the same. She thanks the MC and promises to think over what we said (even though she shouldn’t have had to). She is probably surprised the MC and Drake even bothered to talk to her, I suppose.
I was still hopeful that there may be consequences in the long run, so I paid particular attention to the Valtoria (where we see her again) and epilogue (where she praises us to her mother) sections featuring her in my failplay, to see if she’d leave or at least have a negative impression of us. This is what I found:
Zero consequences. Even with the worst options chosen, Kiara will still return to court and call you an inspiration (“There’s something about you. You bring people together. You make things happen”). She will still fight with the assassins at the boutique, even in a moment when she’s experiencing triggers. She will joyfully participate in our wedding. Eventually, when Joelle justifiably asks the MC about whether the MC looked out for her…Kiara will lie through her teeth to make the MC look good. Perhaps the only good thing that comes out of this is that from Valtoria onwards our dialogue options for her are largely positive, but by then it is too little too late.
Even in the best possible playthrough, with all the right options, the scene leaves a bad taste in your mouth because there is so much suspicion going in, and not enough remorse when they’re done questioning her.
When you measure this up against the treatment for Penelope, especially, the differences are glaring. If Penelope does join us in the tour, her romance with Ezekiel blossoms and she is generally comfortable and cared for and has her dogs brought along. If she forgets to wear muted colours for your bachelorette and you point this out, she immediately panics and becomes reminded of Madeleine, and it is Kiara who has to comfort her. Even now in TRH we are constantly reminded of Penelope’s social anxiety issues, but never once of what she did to us when we were still new to Cordonia. And even now, Kiara comforts her and reassures her and is protective of her, and you never really see anyone - not even Penelope - doing the same for Kiara herself.
Even Madeleine, who was an established bully in the previous book, is praised in Book 3 for “not lying or cheating, just playing smart” (!!!), and is told she needs to take care of herself first before committing to her people. Furthermore, you’re constantly made to praise her skills even though she’s…really not that great of a press secretary to begin with. Though she comes to the tour by default, Madeleine is allowed to make demands on the MC, which the MC also honours by default at the end of the book (Kiara also gets a position, but it was not something she’d asked them for…and it was certainly something Liam had a choice in handing out).
Think about it this way. No matter what we do, the narrative does not allow Kiara to push back or call the group out on their cavalier treatment of her. Hell, she’s made to believe that these questions emerged from a space of concern, not out of suspicions and an intention to interrogate her.
Both Madeleine and Penelope are allowed to either call the MC out in not saying the right thing, or to completely reject her offers if she has not earned their trust. Despite their own wrongdoings to the MC and her friends, Madeleine and Penelope get validation without ever having to earn it (which is often how it should be). But in Kiara’s case, despite her being the most honest of the three, she only gets this validation after having her concerns go unheard in favour of her older brother in her estate, after her trauma is largely ignored, after she is suspected and interrogated under the guise of 'concern’. She has to relive an extremely painful experience through her words, in front of two people who do not care, to “earn” the validation that Madeleine and Penelope will get without having to even lift a finger.
Understandably, part of these nuances will difficult to understand if all you’re seeing is a “correct playthrough” - the team that made TRR could cleverly hide the lack of consequences behind these optional responses, so that those who didn’t choose those options wouldn’t see entirely how messed up the whole picture is. Up until a friend did a failplay, I had absolutely no clue that Penelope could refuse to come with the group if they didn’t respect her, or that Kiara could return to court no matter what, despite our careless treatment of her.
“Put yourself first”, “your concerns are valid”, “we will be there to support you” - these are words that Kiara should have been hearing without being subjected to the amount of scrutiny and judgement the group put her through, by default. These were things she deserved to hear as much as any of the other ladies did, perhaps even more. She shouldn’t have had to jump through hoops to prove her loyalty to Cordonia to do so.
Kiara’s agreement to tour with the group, hinges on nothing but her beliefs. There is very little that she gets out of this, more that she deserves from them…and she is made to give the MC and the group more credit than they deserve despite their behaviour towards her.
The message from the narrative is clear: even if you take Kiara’s plight seriously, we won’t.
It would be remiss of me to talk about the narrative treatment for Kiara, without talking about the overall fandom reaction to her.
The team clearly didn’t care much about Kiara. That much is obvious to everyone who has read the series by now. Despite being the smartest and most skilled, she was often the last courtier to be paid much attention to in the books, and at times even other characters like Madeleine and the MC could question the validity of her skills (Madeleine claims she exaggerates her talents, the MC has the option to ask her what other languages she knows in a sarcastic way at the Coronation Ball, and Maxwell (optionally) gets to say sometime in Book 3 that he thinks she’s making up certain words knowing that the others don’t know French). So for two whole books, not even readers who liked her really expected a lot of spotlight on her…not until the writers made her a survivor of a violent attack. There was already a lack of care involved from those who created this character.
However, we can’t completely deny that a portion of the fandom also reacted with hate when she was showing interest in Drake. There was already a certain amount of annoyance from her behaviour towards the MC in Fydelia, but it took her crush on Drake for it to manifest into full-fledged hate.
A lot of the “justifications” to hate on her (if they can be called that) involved calling her “double faced”, “fake” and “opportunistic”, and implying that Drake deserved better than someone like her. Never mind that Madeleine herself believed the scandal when it suited her, and she didn’t get half the level of hate. Never mind that Penelope pretty much intended to remain friends with the MC without her ever finding out that Penelope helped drag her name through the dirt. However, Kiara has often been penalized or disliked for things found forgivable in other characters.
It’s also interesting to note that while Kiara genuinely liked Drake just as Olivia liked Liam, it was always “Olivia deserves better than being Liam’s sloppy seconds” for Olivia…and “Kiara’s feelings for Drake are one-sided, so what” for her.
On the occasions where Kiara could feature in a fanfic, she would often be villainized, or turned into some kind of an obsessive stalker or murderer or shown as being in cahoots with Madeleine or intent on betraying the MC and her friends. Or even just depicted as a “loose woman” foil to the “pure, virtuous” MC. There are exceptions, but the fact that this is the popular portrayal of her on the few occasions she is included, and you don’t see this much with a Penelope who DID try to sabotage us in Book 1…that is very telling of an overall fandom view of her.
Could a part of the insensitive treatment from the narrative be attributed to this hate? I don’t know, maybe. Clearly there were some parts that were a result of fanservice, especially the interactions between Drake and Kiara after Book 3 Chapter 10, where he can be rude to her in his own playthrough at Lythikos, and where his “sympathy” for Kiara’s plight depends completely on what the MC says - therefore making said “sympathy” conditional and fake. It was indicated once before on livestream that Kiara’s feelings were one-sided - just before the hiatus ended - and the coding for her interactions with Drake, post hiatus, (Kiara could be “wistful” at her estate if Drake was engaged but still have her feelings for him if he was single) switched from “lingering crush” to “barely there”.
But eventually…hatred for a character or pair never really stopped the team if they liked the character/pair that much. The writing for Madeleine, and the huuuge amounts of space that Bertrand and Savannah take up - are proof enough of this. The fandom did treat Kiara unfairly (the way they treat many black women especially, and many women of colour, unfairly), but the TRR team could have provided the validation she deserved, if they really, really wanted to. And they clearly didn’t want to.
This is something I’ve said before, and still stand by - the team that encouraged this kind of writing for Kiara did it because they could get away with it. They knew they wouldn’t get away with it so easily for Penelope, but would have an easier time getting away with it for Kiara. And unfortunately…they were right.
I’d like to thank the following people for various forms of help in writing this essay:
@callmetippytumbles for her illuminating, razor-sharp insights
@nikkisha16 for allowing me to rant repeatedly about this and being my personal cheerleader
@pixieferry for (literally!) making sure this essay went up, and also for the encouragement
The wonderful anon who asked me to elaborate on this topic in the first place! 😀
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Brushed Under the Carpet: Madeleine as an Alternate LI
Trigger Warning: Discussions on bullying and toxic behavior, minimizing of the same.
Alternate LIs are awesome. Often when we play a Choices book, we find ourselves in a situation where we have a favourite LI, one we love dearly and will choose in the end. But there are also times when we find ourselves caring for a few other LIs as well. In such a situation, we as readers and players fear breaking this character's heart, fear rejecting them, worry about how they will feel when they realise the MC doesn't return their feelings. My LI of choice in TRR is Liam, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't break my heart to see Hana withdraw and return to best-friend mode after my MC Esther turned her down in Book 1.
Alternate LIs are great, especially for romance-oriented books where the MC gets to finally pick one person. The presence of an alternate LI allows the player to be at least a little guilt free in their choice of love interest, allows that particular character to find love and hope in another person besides the MC. (Note: I'm not talking about everyone, just those who would like the other LIs to be paired up with other people).
For example, a number of people in Book 1 worried about how they could turn down Liam for their LI of choice because he seemed so in love with her, but the moment it was revealed that Olivia truly loved Liam, and wanted to marry him for him and not for the kingdom, there was hope for those people that Liam would eventually find someone who loved him the way he deserved to be loved.
Alternate LIs in TRR
So far in the books, there are two alternate LIs that have been confirmed in canon: Olivia Nevrakis for Liam and Lady Kiara (to some extent) for Drake.
Olivia was confirmed as the other option for Liam at the end of Book 1, when she confessed to the MC in a diamond scene that Liam was the sole reason she participated in the social season in the first place:
"Not this. Not just being Queen, or the crown, or the palace. What I wanted was Liam."
As she says this, the narrative around Olivia subtly shifts her role from being an antagonist to the MC, to being someone the latter can admire, respect and sympathize with. In Book 1, she is aggressive and abrasive, leaving no stone unturned to ensure the MC, or Hana, don't feel at home. But if there is one thing one cannot question regarding Olivia, it is her love for Liam. In the Lythikos chapters, it is pointed out to us that Liam was her only support, her anchor at a time when she had no one, and her unconditional love had remained for him ever since.
Because a huge chunk of the story revolves around Liam's need to find a Queen, giving him an alternate love interest becomes pretty much a necessity. Unlike Drake, and unlike Hana after she has left her parents, political protocol demands that as King be married and have a Queen to rule his country with: ergo, his history with Olivia will then be well-developed and his bond with her cemented - MC or no MC. The narrative, especially in Book 3, makes efforts to show us that she can be as competent a Queen as the Liam-MC: showing her as being resourceful, decisive and proactive, having her make the suggestion at the burnt Applewood orchard to show the people that the MC is as angry as they are, excelling in her self-defence classes. If the MC is marrying someone else, at least one mention is made of Liam and Olivia holding hands.
Kiara's relationship with Drake isn't quite as well-developed as Liam x Olivia, possibly because marriage isn't a requirement for Drake the way it is for Liam. In Book 1, she is not shown interacting either with Liam (and she is one of his suitors!) or Drake. In Book 2, however, her crush on him is set up early on. She is shown openly admiring him at the barn raising, chatting with him about Savannah at the picnic in Applewood and flirting with him at the tea party in Paris. If the MC questions her perceived lack of interest in him during the social season, Kiara responds thus:
"Not all of us wear our hearts on our sleeves."
She confesses to him that she was close enough to his sister Savannah to consider her "one of us", and that Savannah learned French from her. It is also clear that her feelings for Drake aren't a one-off, that she has been feeling this way for him for a long time. Like Drake, Kiara also suffered injuries from an attack at the Homecoming Ball. If Drake is engaged to the MC, Kiara is said to have a "wistful look" when she sees him, and is shown complimenting him on his suit if he is not. While her role is not as prominent or her feelings as pronounced as Olivia's for Liam, it is clear that she is being set up to be an alternative for Drake if the MC is not marrying him.
Both Olivia and Kiara are shown to have a long and emotional history with the men they have fallen for, and the narratives clearly diverge on how they react to Liam and Drake if the men are committed versus if they are single in Book 3.
What About Hana's Alternate LI?
Hana is in a unique position when it comes to the prospect of love and marriage. Like Liam, marriage was once a priority for her in the beginning. Like Drake and Maxwell, it winds up not being as important for her after she leaves her parents.
Hana was brought up to believe that her life's purpose lay in marriage into the right kind of man (an aristocrat), the right kind of family loaded with positions and wealth. The necessity for marriage - with or without love - was so ingrained in her that she forced herself into maintaining her engagement with Peter, and the social season with Liam, even though she felt nothing for either of these men. But the engagement tour is a period of time that changes her as a person, and allows her to think of life beyond the trappings of forced domesticity, so that marriage no longer becomes her purpose in life.
This is why she can propose to the MC so quickly if she chooses Hana, but can choose to live a happy, single life if she doesn't. The focus on marriage in her upbringing makes marriage to the MC the automatic next step for her in her relationship, but her new-found freedom also allows her to bask in her uncertainty.
In Book 2, two suitors are introduced, and reveal an interest in Hana. Lord Neville Vancouer of Cormery Isle and Lord Rashad of Domvallier, are both presented by King Liam and Countess Madeleine as suitors to the ladies-in-waiting, and leave the picnic impressed by Hana's wit and talent. Neville spends the rest of the book enamoured by Hana and constantly trying to talk to her. It is made clear in the narrative, however, that there is no chance either man can be paired with her, because she shows zero interest in them. By the end of the book, she openly rejects Neville. This leaves us with the question of who her alternate LI will be, if the MC is not engaged to her in Book 3.
Book 3 shows us a Hana who is happy with her new-found freedom, but also uncertain about who she is and how she can contribute to Cordonia. At present, there seems to be very little scope for romance in her life - preoccupied as she is with helping her friends in the Unity Tour - and there is no one who seems explicitly interested in her. However, there are hints from one person who may be viewed as hiding secret feelings for Hana:
(Thanks to @callmetippytumbles for these screenshots of the drinking game scene)
This isn't conclusive proof that Madeleine views Hana in a romantic light, but there is a possibility of a hidden crush in the way Madeleine drunkenly calls her perfect, in her shock at admitting this, and in Hana's reaction. However, this narrative thread wasn't picked up in subsequent chapters, so this possibility could be brushed aside. Until this week.
Proof that Madeleine May Be Hana's Alternate LI in Book 3
At the Costume Ball, the MC is given a choice in who to carry a conversation with: either Hana/Olivia, or Maxwell/Justin/Madeleine. In both conversations, Hana and Madeleine refer to each other.
The debate between Hana and Olivia begins with the two talking about who is wearing the best costume among their group, asking the MC to settle the discussion. Following this, the MC herself gets to ask the two women who they would pick from the entourage. In my playthrough, she picks Madeleine. Olivia is visibly disgusted ("Until this moment, I was dangerously close to holding you in high esteem. Thank you for taking me down from that unfortunate ledge"). The discussion then branches out into Hana's tendency to see the good in everyone and the differences in Hana's and Olivia's approaches to communicating with people.
The discussion between Maxwell, Justin and Madeleine covers a range of subjects, including her famous 'oath of the orchard', PR clients, Justin's wealth of knowledge when it comes to royalty, Madeleine feeling unappreciated by her own client and advice from Justin on which areas she can improve in. Before leaving, Madeleine tells the MC to send her regards to Hana, and the MC can choose how to respond to this (anger, curiosity or indifferently stating that Madeleine can talk to Hana herself). Depending on this, we get to know that
1. Madeleine admits to finding her "one of the more interesting people here, present company included".
2. She doesn't show any remorse for what she has put Hana through.
On its own, this doesn't exactly mean anything. People talk about other people all the time, especially in the offhand way Hana and Madeleine do in the above scenarios. None of the above is conclusive proof that the narrative plans to make Madeleine, Hana's love interest.
However, there is one interesting difference if you play the Hana/Olivia scene as a Hana stan, whose MC is marrying her:
(The second screenshot is from the Abhirio's YouTube channel)
When the MC asks Hana who outside of their circle is best-dressed as a friend, Hana (who is single) compliments Madeleine, following an initial hesitation. If she asks Hana this question as a fiancée, her immediate answer is Kiara. The way Hana answers this question as a single woman vs a committed woman is also different. She compliments Madeleine on her looks and abilities, but her compliments to Kiara focus on her outfit instead. In the Liam-MC, Drake-MC and Maxwell-MC playthroughs, Hana's answer remains the same, but in a Hana-MC playthrough where she doesn't need another LI, she offers a completely different answer.
Why would Madeleine be replaced with Kiara in a playthrough where the MC marries her, unless Madeleine is being written as a love interest for a single Hana? Why would Hana's compliments on their appearance be so diametrically different? Why would there be a divergence here?
Why is This a Problem?
Assuming that Madeleine is being set up as Hana's love interest, I will now delve into why it should not be so.
To understand what is so problematic about pairing Hana with Madeleine, we need to take a look at Book 2.
The dynamic between Madeleine and Hana was barely existent in Book 1: the only time they seem to havw interacted with each other is the baking contest, if the MC does not insist on keeping Hana in Olivia's team. In Book 2, however, the equation changes to a great extent: in exchange for getting engaged to Madeleine and agreeing to her terms, Liam insists on having Hana back in Cordonia as part of Madeleine's court. Madeleine conveniently leaves out this bit of information when she speaks to the MC in Book 2 Chapter 2, but both she and Hana know that her return to court was Liam's idea, not Madeleine's.
The trouble is...only these two know that (up until Drake tells the MC - but only if we pay the diamonds for that scene. Liam - in order to not raise suspicion - cannot let it be made public that he was responsible for Hana's return).
This means that in the eyes of everyone else, Hana has returned as a result of Madeleine's magnanimity, and therefore is obligated to stay on her terms. Madeleine takes full advantage of this: she reminds the MC that if it wasn't for her, Hana would be on the other side of the world (a lie), and that "dogs remember those who feed them", a statement directed both at the MC and Hana.
At the picnic, she places immense pressure on Hana to catch a suitor, failing which Hana will not be allowed to stay as part of her court. Hana is visibly disturbed after this conversation; she excuses herself, the MC notices her "distressed face" and Hana is so filled with self-doubt that the MC can either offer to be wingwoman or suitor to calm her nerves. Madeleine in her position as future Queen exercises her control over all the women in her court, but her behaviour towards Hana is a lot more threatening than to the others.
All of this, however, pales in comparison to the hell she puts Hana through during her bachelorette party.
(Screenshot from Abhirio's YouTube channel)
At the bachelorette party, the MC is confronted with several uncomfortable truths: Madeleine having no part to play in the conspiracy being one of them. However, shortly after the MC realises this, Madeleine outright rejects Hana's chosen activity for the bachelorette, going as far as to accuse Hana of trying to kill her and threatening to throw her out of her court. Hana at this point is so distressed that she bursts into tears, messes up her dress and agonizes over being considered a failure again. It takes an entire diamond option to cheer her up again, and we only get to know that Madeleine lied to her the entire time at the end of the night, when a drunken Madeleine gloats over the power she has over this woman.
Notice the power imbalance between Madeleine and Hana in this scene. Notice how Madeleine finds pleasure in pushing Hana "over the edge", in breaking her. She enjoys abusing her power over Hana, enjoys making her feel miserable enough to fall apart one day. She may pretend that Hana "doesn't have the decency to act like she wants something" but the fact of the matter is that Madeleine hardly views views Hana as a person, or even human. She speaks of Hana as if she were a toy - breakable and expendable, an object whose feelings and emotional state don't matter. To Madeleine, exerting her power over Hana in hurtful ways and watching her break...is 'fun'.
In addition, she shows no remorse for this in subsequent scenes:
1. When the MC confronts Madeleine in Paris, Madeleine backtracks and dubs the entire ordeal "your official hazing...and you passed!", positioning it as 'rite of passage' and thereby ensuring that she doesn't get called out on her behaviour.
2. Madeleine repeatedly insists on labelling her past behaviour as "not coddling others" or not needing to always keep the feelings of others in mind. This would almost pass off as being honest...except that for a significant chunk of Book 2, she goes out of her way to make people feel unsafe in her presence.
3. Whenever her behaviour towards Hana in particular is referenced, she places the onus on Hana to "let bygones be bygones". Hana - the person she tormented so much and with such joy during her engagement tour - is expected to be the bigger person. She is expected to let the matter go and not bring it up, and it's her luck that Hana does exactly that.
4. In none of the above does Hana ever get to know that Madeleine wanted to psychologically break her. The MC in her confrontation goes only as far as to mention that Madeleine lied about being allergic to chocolate to torment Hana, and the latter is allowed to twist that narrative into some sort of 'rite of passage'. There is a difference between 'torment' and "I want to break her". If Madeleine is being considered an option for Hana, this means a single Hana has no idea that her love interest tried to find her breaking point and exploit it.
In Book 3 itself, the narrative seems to brush what happened previously under the carpet, minimising it into "mean things" and allows Madeleine to dismiss it as her being blunt instead. In addition, Hana herself is hardly given space within the narrative to address the treatment meted out to her and call Madeleine out on it on her own. It is clear that it affected Hana, that this behaviour caused grevious hurt. Yet, she is rarely allowed to ever address it in the books.
There is a diamond scene where Hana is allowed to tell Olivia exactly how she feels about Olivia's behaviour towards her, in Book 1. But even in a diamond scene Hana is not allowed a voice to speak about her experience with Madeleine. During the drinking scene if the MC tells Madeleine to be nicer, Hana is reduced to stating that "perhaps you will catch more bees with honey" rather than calling her out on her power-play over other people (this may be because Hana knows the group needs Madeleine, but it doesn't explain why Madeleine's treatment of Hana is swept under the carpet later on).
Compare this with Penelope's concerns in Book 3. Penelope's biggest cause of worry is that she might face that same treatment that Madeleine gave her, and the group has to reassure her that it won't happen again. (In this I have to give the writing team credit, they ensured that Madeleine is consistent in her lack of remorse - she hardly even considers that her past behaviour is the main reason why Penelope won't return to court, and it is the MC who has to essentially fix her mess) The narrative sees Penelope's issues with Madeleine as legitimate and ensures that the group goes out of their way to prove they are different. Her fears in particular are legitimized and validated, and the writing frames ensuring that she is safe from Madeleine as the right thing to do.
This validation, is something the narrative has not given the only two (non-determinant) prominent women of colour in this book. Kiara's safety, fears and concerns, after the attack at the Homecoming Ball, are never addressed - in fact they are ignored both by the group and the narrative. Hana was treated just as badly - if not worse than Penelope - by Madeleine and yet...yet she is not allowed within canon to air her issues and give legitimacy to the way she felt back then. Forget having a clearer discussion - both Kiara and Hana are not allowed to even mention their hurt, their experiences, how this makes them feel.
Hana is made instead to hail Madeleine as a patriot (claiming she would take a bullet for Cordonia in the drinking game) and admire her, is made to view her as someone she can have a future relationship with. All while her former tormentor dismisses her experience and her pain as "bygone", for her own convenience.
Madeleine is a woman who has found pleasure in bullying Hana and Penelope, feels no remorse over doing so, and in fact dismisses and minimizes and never admits to how damaging and toxic her own behaviour is - forever expecting other people to put their feelings aside for her comfort. Does this sound like a person anyone would have a healthy relationship with?
Let's remember this before I close this essay. The narrative, essentially, is implying that Hana be paired up with her bully.
Madeleine being considered as an alternate LI for Hana is disturbing on multiple levels, and vastly different from the other two alternate pairings. Both Olivia and Kiara are flawed women, but their love and genuine concern for the men they have feelings for shines through, and is very very real. Olivia acknowledges that she is a terrible person, and has resigned herself to not winning Liam's affections, and Kiara gets to apologise for not believing the MC, and later jumps at the chance to help Cordonia through the Unity Tour, even though she had been hit by a knife. Madeleine, in contrast, isn't asked to address her behaviour even once, and is allowed to get away with it.
It is bad enough that Hana, in general, often isn't done justice in the writing as an LI. Her truth that Liam was responsible for her return, not Madeleine, comes out of Drake's mouth, not hers. Most of her scenes during the engagement tour are either group scenes (fondue party, night market) or hardly focus on her and her issues at all (Parisian runway, champagne scene). There have been chapters where she doesn't appear even once and no one even mentions her - something that will never be done to Liam, Drake or Maxwell (well, at least not in Book 2). In Book 3, we explore Drake becoming a duke in detail, but somehow never bring up the fact that Hana becomes a duchess too if we marry her.
The narrative would never have Liam or Drake matched with women who have bullied them or caused them grevious harm. So why does Hana have to get someone who has? Why is she not worth the effort of getting someone who loves and truly understands her??
This isn't the first time a narrative in a Choices story heavily implies forgiveness and allowing an toxic person back in your life, and I doubt it will be the last. Towards the end of RoE, Aunt Mallory was given a heavy redemption arc, and it was implied that her daughter, nephew and nieces all eventually forgave her even though she physically harmed them and emotionally abused her daughter. In Hero, Caleb dismisses the destruction and damage he has caused - esp to the MC and their friends - as "water under the bridge", minutes before a diamond option to recruit him pops up. Recently in RCD, the MC is made to run from one LI to another to give her "friendships" with Matt, Teja and Victoria a chance, without even an indication that their initial behaviour towards her (in the original draft of the scandal scene) was highly problematic. In all of the above examples, the onus is on the MC or the characters who were harmed to forgive or not, and the narratives have often encouraged forgiveness and compassion first.
This does not mean that Pixelberry hasn't improved in this regard. They have written situations where the characters can choose not to forgive, and the narrative takes that into account and shows scenarios where the character is happier for it. Lily in ILITW is given the option of rejecting Britney altogether at the end, and is rewarded for it in the epilogue. Chris in The Sophomore throws his father Frank out of his life when he realizes he has given the old man too many chances, and states that there are people who don't deserve them.
It is possible that even if Madeleine is explicitly mentioned as a potential LI for Hana, that the focus may not be on them as much as it would on Liam and Olivia. But that's not what's disturbing about this option. The point isn't whether they are the focus. The point is the very fact that it's a possibility. It's the fact that the text seems to hint at an attraction between a former bully and one of her victims, while the bully is still flippant and dismissive of what the victim went through. It's the fact that Madeleine's toxic behaviour is brushed under the carpet and a santized version of her is presented in Book 3 as an option.
It's the fact that Madeleine x Hana shouldn't have been a possibility at all.
Credit: A huge, huge thank you to @ladynevrakis and @callmetippytumbles for all the help you've given me for this essay! XD
Also thank you to these two (for Liam and Drake), @violetflipflops (for Drake) and @lizarella (for Maxwell) for confirming that Hana mentioned Madeleine in all their playthroughs, thus confirming that Hana mentions Kiara only if you're already engaged to her.
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one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine
Jaebum AU Series
pairing: im jaebum x reader
genre: drama, romance, angst
plot: bleeding hands, and a bleeding heart or two
a/n: its real rusty lmao not edited, real rusty, read at your own riskhi, im back. it has been a long time so my style of writing has changed and its so rusty so go easy on me. hope y’all like it tho! i do!!
Tuesday purred against your leg as you retreated from Jaebum’s bathroom.
“Where’s your brother?” You brushed his soft grey fur as your eyes scanned for Jaebum. It was strange that he hadn’t made himself visible yet, or tried to make sure you were okay again.
But, this was better in a way, it gave you a minute to gather yourself.
What happened earlier today was the first time, and it was horrible. Just the thought of those dirty hands and their filthy gaze threatened for bile to rise up your throat once again.
You didn’t want to know how worse everything would’ve gotten if Jaebum didn’t show up.
You didn’t want to know what would happen if you remained as pathetically scared as you were in that room.
You sighed as you threw your head back, letting the light ceiling cover your vision. You felt tears prickle your eyes, but you pushed them back. You didn’t feel like you had the right to cry, not after you let that happen to yourself.
Why couldn’t I fight back?
Everything else that you suffered through, you do it because you deserved it. Because you let it happen to her; you let so much worse happen to her. But even she wouldn’t have stood for this; heck even Jenny would have saved you. All and everyone would save you, all except yourself. You had no one else to blame, but yourself. You let yourself become so pathetic, so weak, so disgusting.
Tee must’ve felt your sadness as he snuggled closer to your legs. He meowed softly, as he rubbed his softness against you. It was almost as if he was telling you that it’s okay, that next time, just fight harder.
You scooped him up into your arms, before twirling him gently. You nuzzled your face into him, as he purred in delight.
“I’m sorry, Tee,” you whispered to him, “I’ll try to get better.”
Just as the words left your lips, you heard the door code be entered. Jaebum strutted in with a handful of the cold winter raging outside.
“Hi,” you whispered softly, as you walked up to him and took the bags from him.
Jaebum froze for a second, before smiling brightly at you.
“Hi,” he beamed as his eyes began tearing up. “It’s been a while since I was welcomed back home.”
It was now your turn to freeze in your spot as Jaebum shook his head, dismissing the tears. He cleared his throat before, taking the bags from you and walking towards the kitchen.
Your heart broke as you stared at Jaebum making his way through the kitchen like he knew it like the back of his hand. He wasn’t even looking at the cupboards as he perfectly placed everything in its place. Instead of a homey familiarity, you saw a lonely boy who did everything by himself, enough to know every aspect of his house as if it were a part of him.
You took a step towards him, as you studied his dark hair moving with him. The different shades of brown and black shining and mingling under the fluorescent lights of his kitchen. His hands strong, arms long, him; comfortable and warm like home.
You sighed as you looked at him, not knowing exactly what you were feeling. All you knew that it was happiness and warmth.
“Is ramen okay for dinner?” Jaebum looked up at you, as he nervously scratched the back of his head.
You kindly smiled at him as you nodded. Anything is fine with you; everything is perfect with you.
“Great,” he smiled nodding, before holding up a container. “The old lady next door gave us some side dishes!” He shook it victoriously making you chuckle slightly before you noticed the blur of colours spreading over his hands.
The smile instantly fell from your lips, as your brows furrowed in concern.
“Jaebum?!” You gasped as you raced to his side. You hurriedly placed the boxes down on the counter before clasping his hands in yours. You inspected the deepening purple, blue and dried blood swelling on his hands. Your heart hurt seeing this.
Your teary eyes peered up to meet his dreamy brown ones, taken aback as he stared at you, bewildered.
“Does it not hurt?” You whispered to him, however along the softness and worry, there was anger. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
There was anger, so much of it; too much of it. It consumed every inch of you as you pulled Jaebum to the bathroom and made him sit on the cabinet as you pulled out the safety kit.
You slammed the clear box on the white surface, before whipping it open and reaching for Jaebum’s hand. Despite your furiously racing breathing and sharp actions, your touch on Jaebum was so soft it was scarcely touching him.
“This will sting a bit,” you told him, concentrating on the dampening cotton.
You tried to ignore Jaebum’s heated gaze that remained on you. He watched you and refused to look away.
He smiled as he saw the way your brows furrowed adorably in anger and concentration. His chest filled with warmth as he noticed the frown on your lips from the worry you felt for him. Jaebum felt happy seeing you care about him.
A hiss left his lips as the alcohol burned his cuts.
Your gaze immediately snapped up to meet his in worry.
“Are you okay? Does it hurt too much?” The words left you a hundred miles a second. “Just hold on for one more second; it’ll be over. Just count back from ten for me.”
Jaebum just nodded, as he tilted his head to the side to watch you better.
You gently blew on his bruising knuckles as you cleaned it with alcohol. It didn’t hurt anymore, Jaebum noticed. It felt nicer now, it felt sweeter. It made him feel lightheaded.
Despite what Jaebum felt inside, the panic and anger inside you would not reside. Especially with the little winces, Jaebum failed to hide. You applied the cream in silence trying to calm yourself down, but as the process began to wrap up, you were nowhere near your dawn.
You pinned the bandage securely in its place, but instead of moving away, you placed your hands on either side of Jaebum holding him in place.
“Are you stupid?” You glared at him, finally voluntarily meeting his eyes.
“Huh?” Jaebum stared at you, eyes widened, unsure of how to react.
“Huh?” You mocked, before biting your lips to hold in the tears. “Don’t you see how you get yourself hurt to help others? Do you realise how dangerous it was today?
“I get that you’re the bad boy of the school and what not, but there were three of them and one of you. Do you realise how bad this could’ve ended up on the flip side? And not to mention--”
“And what about you?” Jaebum cut you off. The surprise and confusion replaced with anger of his own. “What if something happened to you? Do you think I could just walk away when I saw you like that?!”
You took a step away from him as you shook your head.
“It is not your job to protect me!” You stared at the wall as angry tears escaped you. You couldn’t look at Jaebum. You couldn’t show him how pathetic you truly were. “Stop trying to save me, Jaebum!”
“Why? Why not?” He asked after a moment, his voice calm, but the anger still lingered. “Even if it wasn’t you I would’ve done the same-”
“But it was me!” You turned around to meet his gaze. The tears were now falling; the shame, disgust, the pathetic little girl out on display. “Jaebum you don’t understand; I don’t deserve to be saved.”
“Fuck! Stop it.” Jaebum groaned as he kicked the sink behind him. His hands ran through his hair as frustration roared through him. “Stop fucking acting like you are beyond saving-- like you don’t deserve to be loved and taken care of.
“Stop fucking being like this, y/n. Because whatever you think, it is not true,” Jaebum sighed, as he stepped closer to you. His eyes burned with an emotion you couldn’t comprehend, as he held your shoulders softly. “I am here, y/n. Despite everything that you believe, I am here. And I will stay here; not for you, but for me.”
You looked into Jaebum’s eyes and you felt your stomach drop. You didn’t understand a single thing they tried telling you. You couldn’t decode the glistening of his eyes; you couldn’t hear what he was trying to whisper. But you could understand it, and it was tearing you apart.
Everything that you had believed in. Everything that made you who you were was all getting challenged in this small white bathroom, and it made your gut twist.
But more than that, it was him. He, who stood in front of you. His eyes staring at you like you were a mystery so beautifully complicated. He, who tiredly sighed and rested his forehead against yours. He, who’s hands slipped from your shoulders to your waist, drawing your body closer to his, and into an embrace.
He, who was breaking your walls down with every passing second, brushed a strand of hair from face.
It was him who made you feel safe enough to step out of the room you had hidden in. He made you feel like deserved to stop drowning.
“You make me so happy, y/n,” he whispered, as he closed his eyes, “I will protect you until I am nothing.”
You crumbled in his arms, as your hands fisted the hem of his shirt.
“Please, Jaebum,” you rested your head on his shoulder, as he hid his face in your hair. “Please stop this if you’re only going to break me.”
Jaebum chuckled as he moved away from you.
“Do you listen to anything that I say, kid?” He smiled at you with the warmth of a thousand suns. You tried to reply with one just as bright, but all you could offer was one broken down and wasted in a thousand stormy nights.
However, it was enough for him.
Jaebum placed a kiss on your forehead, before holding you close once more.
You couldn’t understand Jaebum. You couldn’t comprehend his actions. You didn’t understand how he entered the story your grandma had told you a thousand times.
You already had a castle tower that locked you away. You had a fierce dragon that reminded you of it endlessly, guarding you captive.
All you ever missed was a prince, a saviour; but he was the only one you didn’t believe in. You didn’t believe anyone to ever find you in this far away land.
But there he stood, his white shirt flowing in the wind, as the dragon breathed restlessly, and your heart raced in your chest.
There he stood against all odds, and there you were, turning away from the skylight. There you were blinding yourself of the only star in this endless night. There you were addicted to your shackles.
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