The RWA is at it again. Last time it celebrated Nazis. Now its Wounded Knee. What's up with the racist genocide?

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Remember back in 2015 when the Romance Writers of America nominated a Christian romance about a Nazi for its RITA Award?

Well they're at it again, only this time they actually gave the VIVIAN Award to a Christian romance about a man who massacred innocent Indigenous women and babies at Wounded Knee and who blamed them for their own murders, for his murdering them.


ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA AWARDS BOOK WITH GENOCIDAL “HERO”​

Sarah Nicolas Aug 2, 2021
Content warning: This post discusses racism and genocide against Indigenous peoples

...

On Saturday evening, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) announced that Karen Witemeyer’s At Love’s Command won the VIVIAN award for “Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements.” In the prologue, which you can read in the Amazon preview, the book’s romantic “hero” is a Captain participating in the Wounded Knee Massacre


The Vivian Awards — named after Vivian Stephens, a Black author who founded the Romance Writers of America — replaced its annual RITA Awards this year after controversy over the lack of diversity at the organization led to the resignation of its president and board of directors last year. Judges must apply and complete training to determine the winners of the new contest, which is scored on a rubric meant to create more standardized judging.
 

frimble3

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So, 'diversity' to the RWA is having POC or minorities in your book, but just so that they can be killed? Ooh, now that's an improvement!:Headbang:
Who is next year's winner? It's a tie between a slave-trader and a Mongolian war-lord!:mob
 

Autumn Leaves

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Oh dear.

Using Christianity (or anything else, really) to justify massacres (let alone romanticise them!) is… er. Period-typical racism/misogyny/etc. in a character is one thing, but having one’s hero massacre women and children and expecting him to remain sympathetic…

It’s a horrid example of what my father calls "hooray-Christianity", where basically the antagonists aren't Christian because they are EVVVIL and they are EVVVIL because, you guessed it, they aren't Christian. At the same time they are about as dangerous, unpredictable and smart as plushies, and their arguments in defence of their own faith or lack thereof don’t hold water for a millisecond. (One of the things my father admires about Dostoyevsky is that the latter wasn’t afraid to clash his Christian characters with extremely clever and reasonable opponents).

But, yes, using the "hooray-Christianity" rhetoric to romanticise genocide is a new low.

Christianity vs. another faith conflict is a highly touchy subject that should be handled extremely carefully. I’m a Christian, I absolutely love stories of conversion (both real and fictional), and I don’t know if I’ll ever include such a thing in any story of mine. (The furthest I’ve managed was a conflict regarding a marriage between a Roman Catholic and an Eastern Orthodox in one of my fanfics, and that’s interdenominational relations rather than interfaith, involving relatively similar denominations, too, and even that was pretty hard to write).

I’ve never heard about that Nazi-themed novel before, either, and I’m shocked. There was a film in Russia a couple of years ago that was condemned for having a noble Nazi character (he was defeated, and there was no romance or anything of the sort involving him, as far as I know), which shows that the Nazi matter is another topic that should be handled with kid gloves. Of course, there were different people among the Nazis, and there were actual cases of Nazi soldiers falling in love with Jewish women (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siegfried_Lederer's_escape_from_Auschwitz), but it’s so not something to tread on lightly.

(I hope it all wasn’t too political. I usually steer clear of topics of politics and religion and everything of the sort, but reading about these two novels in one go was a bit too much for me…)
 

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This was all I'd needed to make up my mind to never join the organization again. I quit shortly after the fuckery in 2019 but left the door open to return. After I read more about this, along with no QUILTBAG themed finalists and only one woman of color winning, I'd say I'm not interested in going back. Sounds like I, along with others, were just sitting on the sidelines just daring them to fuck things up again and waiting for something to nitpick and pounce upon. When it's something this blatant, however, there's no nitpicking involved; you don't even need a pickaxe to get beneath the surface of this one. You look at it and it's THERE, staring you in the face. No finding fault where there wasn't any to be found since it happened under its own volition.

The president has made your standard noncommittal "it won because it follows subgenre conventions and enough judges voted for it" statement. The group's also throwing another Task Force™ at it to study how they can improve it for next time but for me (and apparently several others), there ain't going to be a next time. I guess I have to admit the Nice White Ladies have won and they get to keep their club.
 

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So I had to check out this book, or at least an excerpt. Our hero, by the way, is Matt, and he sees a Sioux holy man dancing among the warriors his men have surrounded and are holding at gunpoint.

Matt clenched his jaw. Exactly what they didn't need. The Lakota had been docile enough yesterday when Matt's company had rounded them up near Porcupine Butte. Big Foot had been compliant. But this holy man... he was stirring up defiance.

For some reason, the Sioux don't react with the docility and compliance that Matt would like. Instead, chaos and gunfire break out. Fleeing women and children get caught up in it.

In fact, most of the Lakota were fleeing now, no longer an active threat.
Yet bullets continued to fly. Mortar shells continued to explode. Indians continued to die.
Protect your men. Complete your objective. Ignore the rest.
Matt clenched his jaw and hardened his heart. Focus on what's within your control.

And be sure to clench your jaw. That wins awards!

Matt then goes down into a ravine and confronts an old woman trying to protect five children, one of whom is a boy who takes a pot shot at him. Matt shoots the boy in the shoulder, twists the gun out of his hand, and notices artillery being positioned to fire down into the ravine.

He turned back to the old woman. "Come." He gestured urgently and pointed at the mountain gun. "We must leave. Now."
She ignored him. Well, that wasn't precisely true. She ignored his order, not him.

No woman should ignore an order from a man, amiright?

Him, she impaled with a look of hatred as she herded the other children back toward the camp. Into the line of fire. As if she'd rather die with her people than follow a white man to safety.

1. Does she even understand him when he speaks to her in English?

2. Even if she understood him, how is she supposed to know he's a wonderful, morally upright person who wants to save her? It's not as though white men have a stellar record of treating indigenous women and children well.

3. Also, notice the word used to describe how the Indian woman treats the children? She doesn't guide them back to the camp. She herds them. Herding, what's done to animals.

"Wait!" Matt grabbed for the boy, desperate to save at least one, but the kid scrambled rashly after his kin, only to be hit full in the chest by a bullet.

The boy here is the one Matt shot, so he's understandably not keen on being near a man who just shot him. Like most children, he'd prefer to be with people he knows. But this is described as "rash". So if the child hadn't been reckless and foolhardy, he wouldn't have been killed. Maybe Matt could have, I don't know, sent him to a nice residential school instead.

The chapter ends with Matt being conveniently knocked out as the cannon fires, so when he wakes up, all he sees is the aftermath of the massacre, which he says isn't justice. And that's where the chapter ends, with "maybe hundreds" of Sioux dead, Our Hero morally awakened, and myself determined never to touch another of this author's books.
 
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So I had to check out this book, or at least an excerpt. Our hero, by the way, is Matt, and he sees a Sioux holy man dancing among the warriors his men have surrounded and are holding at gunpoint.



For some reason, the Sioux don't react with the docility and compliance that Matt would like. Instead, chaos and gunfire break out. Fleeing women and children get caught up in it.



And be sure to clench your jaw. That wins awards!

Matt then goes down into a ravine and confronts an old woman trying to protect five children, one of whom is a boy who takes a pot shot at him. Matt shoots the boy in the shoulder, twists the gun out of his hand, and notices artillery being positioned to fire down into the ravine.



No woman should ignore an order from a man, amiright?



1. Does she even understand him when he speaks to her in English?

2. Even if she understood him, how is she supposed to know he's a wonderful, morally upright person who wants to save her? It's not as though white men have a stellar record of treating indigenous women and children well.

3. Also, notice the word used to describe how the Indian woman treats the children? She doesn't guide them back to the camp. She herds them. Herding, what's done to animals.



The boy here is the one Matt shot, so he's understandably not keen on being near a man who just shot him. Like most children, he'd prefer to be with people he knows. But this is described as "rash". So if the child hadn't been reckless and foolhardy, he wouldn't have been killed. Maybe Matt could have, I don't know, sent him to a nice residential school instead.

The chapter ends with Matt being conveniently knocked out as the cannon fires, so when he wakes up, all he sees is the aftermath of the massacre, which he says isn't justice. And that's where the chapter ends, with "maybe hundreds" of Sioux dead, Our Hero morally awakened, and myself determined never to touch another of this author's books.
Thank you for reading that so I don't have to. It was pretty much what I expected. Man's an unfeeling rules-lawyer and certainly no romantic hero.
Apparently, his men feel the same way, because the artillery is being set up to fire into the ravine - where fearless leader is. And, presumably they are checking to see that their targets are still there.
'Killed by friendly fire', much?
 
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Alessandra Kelley

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Author Racheline Maltese points out that the award in question, although it is called "Romance with Religious or Spritual Elements", is really entirely a Christian conception of religion and spirituality that excludes all other faiths.


"This RWA statement is terrible. The category purports to be for all faiths, but this description applies only to Christianity. Redemption is not a feature of all other faiths (in Judaism, we talk about atonement)."
 
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So I had to check out this book, or at least an excerpt. Our hero, by the way, is Matt, and he sees a Sioux holy man dancing among the warriors his men have surrounded and are holding at gunpoint.



For some reason, the Sioux don't react with the docility and compliance that Matt would like. Instead, chaos and gunfire break out. Fleeing women and children get caught up in it.



And be sure to clench your jaw. That wins awards!

Matt then goes down into a ravine and confronts an old woman trying to protect five children, one of whom is a boy who takes a pot shot at him. Matt shoots the boy in the shoulder, twists the gun out of his hand, and notices artillery being positioned to fire down into the ravine.



No woman should ignore an order from a man, amiright?



1. Does she even understand him when he speaks to her in English?

2. Even if she understood him, how is she supposed to know he's a wonderful, morally upright person who wants to save her? It's not as though white men have a stellar record of treating indigenous women and children well.

3. Also, notice the word used to describe how the Indian woman treats the children? She doesn't guide them back to the camp. She herds them. Herding, what's done to animals.



The boy here is the one Matt shot, so he's understandably not keen on being near a man who just shot him. Like most children, he'd prefer to be with people he knows. But this is described as "rash". So if the child hadn't been reckless and foolhardy, he wouldn't have been killed. Maybe Matt could have, I don't know, sent him to a nice residential school instead.

The chapter ends with Matt being conveniently knocked out as the cannon fires, so when he wakes up, all he sees is the aftermath of the massacre, which he says isn't justice. And that's where the chapter ends, with "maybe hundreds" of Sioux dead, Our Hero morally awakened, and myself determined never to touch another of this author's books.

Okay, so it doesn’t outright justify the massacre, but otherwise — seriously?
1) “Docile” is a word I’d use for cattle, not for people. If it’s put into the mouth/mind of a character I want to be sympathetic, I mean. Oh wait, they are “herding” each other in the end of the chapter — oh wait…
2) Trying to save one family in the midst of the shooting instead of, you know, trying to stop the shooting itself? (Matt is an officer of some rank, as far as I can gather? He’s not exactly without authority?) Because, yes, people will totally instantly trust a guy who belongs to an army (is there an army? well, a group, whatever) which is currently shooting at them.
Okay, let’s assume he realised too late that the planned massacre is horrid, but…
3) Pointing at a gun when telling the old woman to go with him is so thoughtful. If she doesn’t speak the language, the gesture implies (together with the commanding tone I suspect he uses) “I’m going to shoot you”.
4) Shooting the boy in the shoulder is totally the idea of a genius. Probably the hero was born in the action movie world where getting shot in the shoulder is as dangerous as getting a mosquito sting. Okay, fine, he doesn’t have the time to explain he’s a friend (let’s assume he is, for a moment), but he totally couldn’t have, you know, raised his hands in the universal “look-I’m-unarmed” gesture?

(And a stylistic matter which gets overshadowed by the above but is still there: “clenched his jaw” twice in the space of a few paragraphs? Is he the fanon version of Stannis Baratheon or what?)
Author Racheline Maltese points out that the award in question, although it is called "Romance with Religious or Spritual Elements", is really entirely a Christian conception of religion and spirituality that excludes all other faiths.


"This RWA statement is terrible. The category purports to be for all faiths, but this description applies only to Christianity. Redemption is not a feature of all other faiths (in Judaism, we talk about atonement)."
If they want exclusively Christian romances, how about, I don’t know, calling the award “Christian romance”?
 
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Oh, and one thing I haven’t noticed at first: so apparently when you are held at gunpoint, being defiant to the last and refusing to surrender to those who invade your homeland is ridiculous. Yes, I know that’s a bit of a gray area, especially when there are women, children and the elderly involved, but still, Matt reacts as if it’s totally nonsensical. Bleh.
 
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Oh, and one thing I haven’t noticed at first: so apparently when you are held at gunpoint, being defiant to the last and refusing to surrender to those who invade your homeland is ridiculous. Yes, I know that’s a bit of a gray area, especially when there are women and children involved, but still, Matt reacts as if it’s totally nonsensical. Bleh.

Exactly. I'm all for books with flawed protagonists who grow and change, but this is too much. It's a genocidal massacre being used as the means to an end, that end being the hero's enlightenment. And he has no positive qualities to balance it out for me. Until he sees the Lakota all cut down in wholesale slaughter, he was apparently fine with what was going on. If they had surrendered their weapons instead of fighting for their land and their freedom, he would have patted himself on the back for a good day's work and thought no more of it.
 
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Autumn Leaves

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Exactly. I'm all for books with flawed protagonists who grow and change, but this is too much. It's a genocidal massacre being used as the means to an end, that end being the hero's enlightenment. And he has no positive qualities to balance it out for me. Until he sees the Lakota all cut down in wholesale slaughter, he was apparently fine with what was going on. If they had surrendered their weapons instead of fighting for their land and their freedom, he would have patted himself on the back for a good day's work and thought no more of it.

There was a Russian town called Ryazan that was razed to the ground by Batu Khan (the modern Ryazan is a different neighbouring town that got renamed). According to the chronicle that describes the destruction of Ryazan, there was a man called Yevpaty Kolovrat who rallied the few survivors and attacked Batu Khan’s forces. Of course, he was killed in the end, but Batu Khan was so impressed that he gave his body to the Russians for burial and said that if Yevpaty had served him, he would have been his most trusted warrior.

Some historians think it’s probably a legend, but my point stands:

If your romantic hero is shown to be more callous than a foreign conqueror as portrayed in his enemies’ medieval chronicle, you’ve got something wrong there…
 

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Am I the only one why thinks the definition of Spiritual/Religious Romance they use is... poor?
No, you’re not :)

“Moral failings and/or crimes against humanity”… It's like saying “this jail is for petty shoplifters and/or serial killers”. I don’t know what the people who wrote the criteria wanted it to mean, but “crimes against humanity” has a definite implication of the deeds of, say, the Nazis… oh wait…

I recall Harlequin has a Christian romance submission category but they don’t require a redemption arc (though it’s explicitly a demand for Christian romance!). Redemption arcs are really hard to write, especially together with a spiritual awakening, especially for people “who can’t be redeemed by human means”, like those who commit genocide… oh wait…

Hey, even Raskolnikov is only at the start of getting redeemed (and of having a romance) by the end of “Crime and Punishment”. And Dostoyevsky actually HAD a spiritual awakening of his own, so he knew what he was writing about.

And yes, if the criteria require something that only applies to Christianity, as I said earlier, the award should be called “Christian romance”.
 

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<-- wonders if he should write a Unitarian Universalist romance
How 'bout trying for the big one: Irish Catholic vs. Irish Protestant? Plenty of tension from all the family and all the neighbours, not to mention visits from both the police and the IRA?
Romeo and Juliet had it easy.

Because, Heavens to Betsy, I don't thing the RWA is able to handle a non-Christian romance.
A couple of Buddhist kids in love? Oh, sure!
 

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Well, put this in the 'day late and a dollar short' category.
If their category was ill-defined, how will they change it. If they believe their category was good and proper, how will they more carefully define it?

And, having read the link, a comment:
"a long history of building bridges between authors and the publishing world."
It's nice that they specify 'the publishing world', because they don't seem to have much of a history of building bridges to reality.
 
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No, you’re not :)

“Moral failings and/or crimes against humanity”… It's like saying “this jail is for petty shoplifters and/or serial killers”. I don’t know what the people who wrote the criteria wanted it to mean, but “crimes against humanity” has a definite implication of the deeds of, say, the Nazis… oh wait…
I hadn't actually thought about that bit yet.

It's the bit about "no redemption possible through human means" that mostly gets my goat. Together with the bits you've mentioned it is such an weirdly narrow set of requirements. Is this some industry standard that I somehow missed through the years?

Because I've read a few spiritual romances that needed none of this things. (For some reasons also very light on genocide, clearly I'm reading the right, wrong books.) Still, how is having a god go 'okay I declare you're redeemed' without even some human remorse or some human emotional process not going to be dull real quick?

Double ouch.

Especially since through Courtney Milan's twitter I've learned at least one judge raised concerns beforehand and she was removed from the judge pool not long after.

Another sad fail for the RWA to present a professional front. They could have easily prevented this mess.

(Courtney Milan's twitter has been very enlightening on a number of things concerning the RWA. Woman knows her stuff. Just so sad the RWA did her such a poor turn and continues to do so.)
 
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Autumn Leaves

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Because I've read a few spiritual romances that needed none of this things. (For some reasons also very light on genocide, clearly I'm reading the right, wrong books.) Still, how is having a god go 'okay I declare you're redeemed' without even some human remorse or some human emotional process not going to be dull real quick?
I think that bit about “human means” means “someone who from the human point of view is considered irredeemable” (no surprise that it gets the authors writing about concentration camps and massacres). But there’s exactly the thing that you mention: one needs to show the person in question actually feel remorse and change. One of the main principles of Christianity (at least, in the Orthodox theology) is the synergy: God and human work on human’s salvation together. God can redeem criminals that humans consider hopeless, but this requires the criminal’s initiative. Can someone who committed genocide repent and end up in Heaven? Yes. But it will require loads of work on their behalf. God will help them along, but even a spiritual awakening followed by a 180°-turn (Apostle Paul, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Moses of Ethiopia…) doesn’t mean that everything will go rosily and smoothly afterwards, because it won’t, not in the slightest.

Writing about redemption and spiritual awakening, therefore, is really hard, and the best stories about it are written by people who can actually relate to the characters. That’s how “Crime and Punishment” became a classic.

I am honestly not sure about how redemption/atonement/getting rid of one’s sins is treated in other religions, but I am pretty sure one’s own work on getting rid of them is always required.
 

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Thanks for these links. Those were an interesting read, and an interesting perspective on the toxicity of the particular subculture of evangelical Christian "romance" this book belongs to.

The site does not allow casual quoting, so I copied/typed out a bit of text by hand because I think it illuminates how this particular subgenre was toxic right from its roots:
Back then evangelicals and fundamentalists alike openly called all romance novels “porn for women.” Most condemned them completely and out of hand.

My ex-tribe’s disapproval seemed to derive from a deep resentment of how these stories centered women’s needs and desires. These Christians didn’t really care about the euphemism-loaded smut scenes these books sometimes contained. Even if the book tiptoed carefully around sex, even if it featured no sex scenes at all, it could be counted upon to contain male characters who cared deeply about the women in their lives and treated them with consideration and adoration. That alone was enough to earn these books my tribe’s utmost hatred.
 
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ElaineA

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This mess. The NWLs were out in force throwing around all the conservative hashtags and codewords. (#wokemob, 'bullies' #wokevirtue) Despicable people defending a despicable book. One woman tweeted, "What I said is I saw great writing and nothing hateful in the words she wrote. I don't think she intended to make any of it racist, but for that time period, what else could she show? My opinion doesn't make me part of any problem. Why must ppl think they're holier than others?" Rich, that.

After a moment of stunned incomprehension at the words "nothing hateful," I replied, "What else could she show? Surely she doesn't have so little imagination as that." I can think of 3 plots off the top of my head--all of them involving slaughtering fellow white men. So, on top of everything else, these writers are excruciatingly lazy.

This book is part of a series, too, so Matt and his 3 murdering buddies are all getting their redemption from this same REAL LIFE genocidal attack. Descendants of those people still living, but I'mma use your ancestors' slaughter as my hero's redemption arc. Disgusting. (Also, book 2's heroine is of "mixed ancestry," so you can only imagine how that's been handled...)

ANYhoo...I quit after the last implosion, but I was hoping RWA might pull a rabbit out of a hat for ONE reason: romance writers need an advocacy arm against Amazon. But no amount of advocacy can overcome the rot here. It's miles deep and soaked in white supremacy. There's no digging out the necrotic tissue. The NWL's can have it.

Several local RWA chapters dissociated with big RWA and formed independent orgs that will welcome writers from anywhere. Toronto and Chicago are two of the big ones I saw mentioned on Twitter. In case anyone is looking for a group.
 

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This mess. The NWLs were out in force throwing around all the conservative hashtags and codewords. (#wokemob, 'bullies' #wokevirtue)
Books like this are what gives conservative a bad name… I’m conservative, and extremely so, and my posts in this thread show what I think of this.
I don't think she intended to make any of it racist, but for that time period, what else could she show?
Like I said here earlier, exhibiting period-typical racism is one thing. Participating in a slaughter is another thing absolutely.
This book is part of a series, too, so Matt and his 3 murdering buddies are all getting their redemption from this same REAL LIFE genocidal attack. Descendants of those people still living, but I'mma use your ancestors' slaughter as my hero's redemption arc. Disgusting.
As I said, I can accept the idea of such a redemption arc in theory. If we’re talking about descendants here: I can accept a good book about, say, the redemption of a high-ranked Nazi who participated in the fight for the Russian Far North (where my great-grandfather was killed), or of a high-ranked Communist official who participated in collectivisation (which drove my great-great-grandfather to poverty).

The key words are “the idea” and “good”. If the book went “He decided on a (highly stupid and condescending) way to save a few of the slaughtered people, then he passed out, lamented the fact that it wasn’t justice, and went his way, occasionally lamenting it a bit more”, then I’ll slam the book shut and realise that the author doesn’t understand the gravity of the character’s deeds.

Will Matt try to stop the war with the Lakota? Will he publicly admit, via every venue possible, that the massacre was a heinous deed, and ask for forgiveness (especially since, as I gather, he was one of the leaders of the group)? Will he give himself up for justice and, if his own superiors wave it off, give a sentence to himself (like, at the very least, quitting his work in the army, giving what he has to the Lakota)? Will he fight for the Lakota to be recognised as equal to his own people or at least (period-typical racism, like I said, so equality might be a difficult term to swallow at once) someone who has the right to their own land? Will he actually fight on the Lakota’s side to protect them from the invaders? (Switching sides is usually a very dark-gray area for me, but here it’s crystal clear that one side is invading and the other side is defending).

If there was a positive answer to all the above questions, I would see the author is at least trying to do a real redemption arc. But since it’s a romance novel, I suspect it’s not like this.
 
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Autumn Leaves

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I’ve written the above post and suddenly remembered a poem I’ve read in a preteen/early teen magazine, about a knight who happily killed off his enemies at war and even had a count for victims, until it suddenly dawned on him they were people like him, so he held a judgment for himself and sentenced himself to being locked up in a cold dungeon.

To paraphrase my older post: when your romantic hero has a worse redemption arc than a children’s poem’s character who participated in a fictional war…
 
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Happy Thanksgiving

Autumn image for Thanksgiving