Reading these discussion questions will tell you how most of the story questions are answered. If you don’t want to know the ending, DON’T READ AHEAD!!
1. Knowledge: Knowledge was a big theme in Fiery Edge of Steel: things you know, things you don’t know, things you wish you didn’t know… Are there really some things you’re better off not knowing? If so, what? Have you ever learned something that you wished you hadn’t? Do you believe “ignorance is bliss” or do you believe “knowledge is power”?
2. Secrets, Lies, Imposters, and Disguises: Every character that sailed with Noon (except Burr and Russ) had a secret or was wearing a mask. The villains were hellcnights – or demon doppelgängers – and their legendary leader was “the Grim Mask of Death.” What were some of the other ways that I supported these related themes? Do you think my thematic elements adequately prepared you for the moment when Ari was revealed to be a demon? How surprising was that plot twist?
3. “When traveling into the unknown, sometimes the biggest danger is the one you bring with you.” — Of all the people who sailed to the Shallows with Noon, which character do you think is/was “the biggest danger” to her and why? Do you think Noon herself should be included on the list of characters to be considered? Was her journey from a character “who went out of her way not to step on ants” to one who is capable of performing a cold-blooded, contrary-to-law execution believable?
4. Morality versus legality: In the climactic scene, Beetiennik drinks waerwater and lives. According to demon law, this is supposed to be evidence of Luck’s pardon. But Noon executes him anyway. Do you agree with her decision? How much of your reasoning is due to the fact that Beetiennik was a demon and as such “deserved to die”? What do you think Noon’s reasons were for executing him? Do you think it was more important to her that Beetiennik pay for his sins or that he be prevented from repeating them? When is it acceptable to substitute your own judgment for those who are in authority?
5. Doomed Lovers: There were a lot of doomed lovers in the book: Jezebeth and Ynocencia, Curiositus and Cattus, Grimasca and Ebony… Did you feel that these minor characters’ stories effectively foreshadowed Noon and Ari’s breakup at the end of the book? In Chapter 16, Noon says “if going berserk is like a bomb exploding then love is the match that lights the fuse.” She then wonders if any of our actions are ever rational when it comes to love. What do you think? Have you ever done something irrational or made an illogical choice because you were in love?
6. Creepy lullabies and folktales: In writing parts of the book, I was inspired by two children’s songs and a fairy tale. The songs were “Duérmete, Mi Niño” and “Señor Don Gato” and the fairy tale was Charles Perrault’s “Little Thumb,” all of which were modified for purposes of the story. But even in their original versions, their words are dark. Why are so many of our nursery rhymes and fairy tales chilling? Why do we sing softly of death and monsters? Are we trying to scare our kids into listening? Or are we trying to blunt our own fears? In Fiery Edge of Steel, these inspirational sources were used to create various aspects of Grimasca, the Haljan equivalent of a boogeyman. Are you afraid of the boogeyman? What does “the boogeyman” mean to you?
7. Martin Guerre case: In Chapter 1, I recreated a Haljan version of the 16th century execution of Arnaud du Tilh, the man who impersonated the French peasant Martin Guerre. I used it as a way to set up the book’s interwoven themes of love, betrayal, knowledge, death, and duty. The true story of Martin Guerre is dramatic in its own right and has inspired many interpretations, including several novels, films, and musicals. Why do you think this case continues to fascinate writers, readers, and audiences? Want to read other (less fantastical) versions of the case? Check out Natalie Zemon Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre or Janet Lewis’ The Wife of Martin Guerre.
* Bonus question – Curiositus and Cattus:
Do you believe Curiositus killed Cattus? Or was it the other way around? Does it really matter? Do you like stories where some things are left unanswered or are subject to the reader’s interpretation? Or do you prefer stories with no loose ends and a clear message?