I’m rereading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black for the second time in about a month. Well, technically I’m rereading it for the first time; it was only a few weeks ago that I read it for the first time.*
But I digress. The point I am circuitously arriving at is a memory from Holly Black’s talk at Serendipity (March 7th, 2015). In her talk on her writing, influences, and other stuff that totally enthralled all of us, her fans (who knew Holly was so funny?), she mentioned that originally there was a lot more of Valentina in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. There were several scenes of Valentina and Tana hanging out and having fun… you know, being friends… that her editor had Holly cut, because they slowed the pace down too much. Apparently, the constant risk of having your blood sucked out, or worse**, becoming Cold, does not allow for a lot of relaxing and becoming besties.
Holly agreed that the editor was right and the scenes were cut. Which works, I guess, because now there is a lot of Tana-and-Valentina material that she might turn into another novel, or a short story. (Yash, you may get your wish of a glimpse of Tana post-novel!)
I hope she does, because Valentina is pretty fantastic. And I’d also like to see some pre- or post-novel tales about Tana and Pauline, because they also have a solid friendship. And more of Pearl, who is a hilarious little sister. I’m glad we get glimpses of her side of the story.
But it got me wondering. In Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia, Costis has his best friend, Aristogiton. And while Aris is important in a few scenes and we get the sense that there is a lot more of their friendship than is told, the main focus is Costis and, of course, Eugenides. So Aris kind of gets thrown under the wheels*** (not literally! And, one hopes, not literally in the long-awaited fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series).
How much is enough when it comes to showing friendships and the backstory of those friendships? I think this must be a balancing act for authors. Dwelling in the past drags the story down, unless there is a clear and direct tie to the present, and yet too light a hand risks relationships that seem shallow. How much do you choose to reveal? How much do you merely allude to – as MWT does to what Gen did with Ornon’s sheep, and to the history of Gen’s friendship with Aulus and Boagus, the relatives with whom he laughs, remembering that adventure?****
Another, perhaps odder question concerns the definition of friendship. In both the books I have mentioned, there is some sort of equality between the friends. One may have a slight advantage – Valentina has a job, connections, and something of a secure home in Coldtown, whereas Tana doesn’t know the ropes; Gen is Thief and King while Aulus and Boagus are guards; Costis comes from a land-owning family and seemed, at least before his disgrace, likely to become Captain of the Guard someday, while Aristogiton’s family is poor. But the characters seem to recognize, to some degree, some essential quality which makes them, not alike, but perhaps in some small but significant way akin or at the very least possessing liking for the other. Cast the literary net wider and this suggestion of friends being on the same level disappears. Consider Charles Dickins: Pip is told that Miss Havisham has been a good friend to him, and Magwitch later says something similar. Or in Jane Austen’s novels – someone ‘has been a friend to’ someone else. Friendship in these instances looks like what we might call patronage. Someone who acts as a friend to another may be their patron, their financial prop, their mentor in navigating grief or high society or adolescence. Elizabeth Bennet’s dearest friend may be Charlotte Lucas, a friendship build more or less on terms of equality, despite their different circumstances, and yet Elinor can defend Sir John and Mrs. Jennings to Marianne as, though admittedly not the ideal companions, having proven themselves good friends to themselves.
Friendship can fit either or both definitions. Just something to consider. How else might you define friendship?
*Really, what took me so long? Tsk tsk tsk. Fortunately, The Darkest Part of the Forest brought Holly Black back to my attention with a bang. And The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is at least as good. I can’t decide which I like better. Fortunately, there is no need to choose.
** Or not, depending on where you stand on the whole becoming-a-vampire thing.
*** Not literally! Not in The King of Attolia or A Conspiracy of Kings, anyway. And, I hope, not literally in the long-awaited, tantalizingly-unknown fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series. MWT has not revealed nearly enough about this book, although, to be fair, she could probably tell me the whole plot and it wouldn’t be enough. There can never be enough of Gen and the rest. Well, except Nehuseresh. He can die, and his brother and their whole rotten court, too. Preferably soon. And then we can get back to Gen and Attolia and Eddis and Sophos and Costis, and so on.
**** We never do learn what Gen did with Ornon’s sheep, and how, and why. Not so far (A Conspiracy of Kings), that is.