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Notes on The Killing Saga

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The themes of the Killing Saga are as equally important as they are unimportant. After all, the story started with the single concept of fighting a sheep with your bare hands, you can’t dredge much clever subtext out of that. Though the primary purpose was always to simply entertain, as the story developed, I began to add a few layers for anyone who cared to look, if only to make myself feel slightly more literary and important.



Obviously there is the central theme of confinement (whether the early months of maternity-leave influenced this in my subconscious remains to be seen). Cassie spends most of the first book stuck in a cage, and the next two confined to a house, but before this she was trapped by her life of too many responsibilities and lack of opportunity. Constraints follow when she is free of the Complex, in her impossible promise to free Thomas, his eventual presence limiting how she can freely express her feelings for Stefan, and finally the pressure to return to the Complex to free everyone else. The group couldn’t have achieved this without Cassie and boy does she know it.

By the end, faced with another unappealing responsibility of a warehouse full of damaged people who obviously dislike her, Cassie is finally freed from her obligations by Stefan’s suggestion to leave them all and have fun with him in the snow. I dithered on this end to her story, wondering if it would be unsatisfying. A character is supposed to learn and grow during the course of a story, and Cassie’s final decision is ultimately pretty selfish – not out of character, as she points out to Thomas (and to dear reader) – but does it really signify growth? Perhaps it does. Perhaps Cassie has broken the cycle and is now finally free. It’s uplifting, in a way.

Although, if you think about it, Cassie’s obligations have only continued in her support for Stefan, a broken man in need of saving. So perhaps she hasn’t really escaped anything at all.

(If you haven’t noticed by now, I can’t help but sour everything. Sorry.)

Cassie isn’t the only character struggling with confinement. Thomas was trapped by his own guilt over what happened to his girlfriend, hounded by the suffocating pity of his friends and family. His guilt at failing her follows him into Proxy, where he adds to it with guilt over what he had been responsible for inside the Complex after Cassie left him, and then again in Redemption where he feels guilty for allowing Esme to die, and Cassie to be captured. Thomas will continue to seek his redemption through the saviour of others and that makes him a good man (if you ignore all the terrible shit he did).

Stefan is trapped by his father’s name and spent his whole life trying to break free on his own path, but inadvertently builds himself a new cage, this façade of a life he does not enjoy, which cost him his marriage, his wife’s life, and subsequently the freedom of the woman he loves.

And Natasha is dogged by guilt over pushing her daughter away, and of what she has been responsible for in the Complex. Meanwhile, Dana feels responsible for her sister’s incarceration.


“You don’t even think of me as a person.”

Sometimes I exist in “main character mode”, whereby I see everyone around me as inconsequential extras in the story of my life. For more of this horribly narcissistic view of the world, see one of the narrators in I’m Thinking Pie. I think I hide my disdain of others reasonably well (other than writing an entire novel about it) and I know I’m not alone in this approach. You only have to look at the horrors of humanity. A complete failure to think of someone else as an equally complex person is why we treat others so horribly.

Such is Cassie’s fate inside the Complex, treated like a faceless animal, even by me as the writer (note her name isn’t even used for the first few chapters of Killing Complex, for which she chastises me in a fourth-wall break). How Cassie is seen by the Handlers is in one way a reflection of how women are often seen by men. In this near-future dystopia, I decided that misogyny was a protected belief, a largely irrelevant part of the world-building that is briefly alluded to when Cassie turns up for her interview and has to put up with the man’s discerning glance. (“She used to call this sort of thing out, but times had changed and this was now accepted behaviour, apparently.”) This was just one of the dystopian ideas that began to take shape in reality while I carried on the series, as women’s rights have continued to suffer blow after depressing blow.

Another angle is the dehumanising of immigrants, led by politicians and the media, gobbled up by those for whom empathy holds no ground. In its early conception I thought holding people in cages was just a bit too far-fetched, but then immigrant kids started getting literally caged and it became yet another Horrible Thing. Cassie is guilty in the way she sees the atrocities against her, which she voices in Killing Shield:

‘No, but this is different,’ Cassie reasoned.

‘Different how?’

‘Because… it’s people who’ve been abducted. It’s people who are…’

‘It’s people like you?’

‘Oh… shit…’

Cassie calls people out on not seeing her as a real person, both in the way her Handlers deal with her and in Stefan’s early interactions. But Cassie is a massive hypocrite. It sometimes took her entire novels to realise there was more to the other characters too. We finally get to know more through Cassie’s lens about Thomas, Stefan, Natasha and Dana. But I always wonder what more was lying behind the cookie-cutter Bad Guys; Hank, Tash Guy, Doctor Baxter, Eyepatch. I guess we’ll never really know their stories.  

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