Note: This post includes spoilers for The Folk of the Air trilogy.
This year I read and loved all three books in The Folk of the Air trilogy, and I’d be a liar if I said I always liked Taryn Duarte.
Taryn is heroine Jude’s twin sister, another human girl who’s been raised in the land of Faerie and desperately wants to keep her head down and belong there. Unfortunately, she betrays her sister more than once in her attempts to fit in, and it’s always hard to read women – especially sisters – turn against one another over a boy. Especially a boy like Locke, who’s possibly the biggest pain in the ass-crack of YA Fantasy.
I tried very hard to understand Taryn; when a heroine falls out with another girl in a YA novel, I feel like so many readers succumb to girl hate far too quickly. For example (and I know I keep going on and on about this), I was surprised by how many people disliked Zoya, my favourite character in the Grisha trilogy, until King of Scars was released and they realised they’d just been seeing her through Alina’s girl-hating lens. But in a way I can understand it, because even reading the novella from Taryn’s point of view, The Lost Sisters, didn’t quite win me over even if it did make me understand her a little more.
It was only when I finished The Queen of Nothing and I got to thinking about Taryn that everything fell into place for me. Jude is our POV character so, much like with Alina and Zoya, we see Taryn through her eyes, and while I still think she has every right to be angry and not entirely trust Taryn after she’s been betrayed by her more than once, I felt like we finally got to see the real Taryn in The Queen of Nothing. The Taryn before Locke swept her off her feet with false promises. The Taryn who’d finally had enough, stood up for herself and ultimately killed her husband.
As far as I’m concerned, Taryn is a survivor of domestic abuse.
We have no evidence that Locke was ever physically violent – which isn’t to say that he never was – but domestic abuse is often so much more than physical violence. Even now we’re only just starting to prise open the lid on coercive control and talk about it openly in the media.
Locke might not be physically violent (as far as we know), but he does isolate Taryn. By turning her against Jude, the sister she’s closest to because they’re twins and literally came into the world together, and turning Jude against her, he’s isolating her from the one person he knows is most likely to protect her. Sure, there’s Madoc, but he uses Taryn in similar ways. He often uses Taryn against Jude and it’s so obvious that Jude is the favourite, despite (and even because of) her constant need to rebel against him, whereas Taryn is expected to be docile and meek. Taryn is a good girl. Taryn has ultimately been taught by the man who calls himself her father, the only other major male relationship she has in her life, that being used is how she should expect to be loved by the men around her.
As a member of the fae, Locke is more powerful than Taryn and he has the power to make her do whatever he wants if he so chooses – Jude herself is the victim of faerie fruit in The Cruel Prince. He makes this poor girl sit back and watch while he attempts to seduce her twin sister just so she can prove, by not saying anything, that she truly loves him. This is what Taryn believes she has to do to ‘fit in’ with the kinds of people Locke associates with, because if she can’t be like them then surely Locke couldn’t possibly love her.
Keep in mind that he does all of this without faerie fruit, which has the terrifying ability to make people do anything they’re told to do, and yet when Jude visits Taryn’s home following her marriage in The Queen of Nothing, she notes how fairy fruit is served on a tray alongside the rest of her sister’s breakfast. Whether Locke has been suggesting she take it or she’s been taking it herself to numb whatever her marriage has become we’re never told, but the fact that it’s there at all is worrying.
In The Queen of Nothing we learn soon enough that Taryn tried everything to be the perfect fae wife. She hosted lavish parties for Locke’s equally lavish friends, and seems to have turned a blind eye to Locke’s many casual flings until she couldn’t take it anymore. In other words, she did everything Locke could possibly want from her and it still wasn’t enough. When she finally lashes out, she kills him, and I cheered.
But Taryn as a domestic abuse survivor was confirmed for me when we discover that Taryn and Locke’s final encounter occurred after Taryn told her husband she was pregnant. It’s realising that she doesn’t want her child to grow up in this toxic environment, in the kind of environment she and Jude grew up in, that finally gives her the courage to stand up for herself and demand that Locke be a proper husband to her. When it becomes clear that isn’t going to happen, all that bottled-up anger leads to a moment’s violence with consequences that will last a lifetime.
While I would obviously never condone murder it’s easy to see how Locke’s death is the only real way out of this marriage for Taryn. If Locke were to stay alive he’d continue to be a thorn in Taryn’s side; he’d probably find a way to take their child away from her, despite not seeming to have any interest in fatherhood, simply out of spite, and alive there would always be a part of Taryn that was under his control because that’s the kind of effect he has on the people he uses.
I don’t think children need to be involved for someone to escape from an abusive relationship; there are plenty of childless people who leave abusive relationships, and others who do have children and are never able to leave. This particularly resonated with me, though, for reasons I won’t go into; it’s Taryn being able to prioritise her unborn child, when prioritising herself has been needled out of her, that gives her the courage to finally take a stand.
It’s when Taryn kills Locke and seeks out her sisters, the only two people left whom she knows she can trust even though Jude might not trust her anymore, that we start to meet the real Taryn. Three books in, it was so nice to finally meet the sister Jude knew before she began to tell us her story.
In many ways, Taryn and Jude’s story are parallel. They both have fairy tale-esque dreams of being accepted in Faerie; for Jude it’s becoming a knight, whereas Taryn dreams of a fae romance. Rather than the honourable position of knight, it’s spying that Jude falls into while Taryn ends up in a marriage that should be everything she wants and yet isn’t, because her fairy tale husband isn’t what he said he would.
And yet both of them are rewarded for their separate struggles. Jude earns the power and respect she’s always craved, not by terrifying Faerie but by proving herself to be the kind of High Queen it needs. Taryn, on the other hand, is declared innocent of murder, because let’s face it we all know Locke was a tosser who got his comeuppance, and is rewarded with her late husband’s estate and riches. She has a safe home to raise her child in, away from men like Locke and Madoc, and she’s regained her close relationship with her sisters. She’s now the only person she needs to rely on to be safe and happy. Even when it’s clear The Ghost has taken a shine to her, Taryn is content to love her sisters, her baby and, most importantly, herself.
Ultimately, Jude and Taryn are both survivors. They were simply fighting different battles.