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Literature / Raptor

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A historical novel set in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, Raptor is the tale of Thorn, a Ostrogoth wanderer whose true nature must be kept a secret. Thorn is a hermaphrodite, both male and female, and dual genders are a dangerous thing to possess in the dying Roman Empire. A mannamavi, a man-maiden, would be an enslaved freak at best and a monster to be slaughtered at worst. Thorn seeks to survive by creating two separate identities, the male Thorn and the female Veleda, and living a double life. Thorn serves King Theodoric the Great as he seeks to create an Ostrogoth empire, Veleda fights to overthrow the tyrant Strabo, and both find family, friends, and lovers among those they meet. Together, the two people in one intersex body fight, explore, and romance their way through the monasteries, convents, palaces, and battlefields of Europe. But it becomes hard to separate Thorn and Veleda, and even harder to keep the world from discovering their secret. And when another hermaphrodite enters their lives, everything starts to collapse.


By Gary Jennings, Raptor is a meticulously researched historical epic. Thorn and Veleda's travails happen amidst real-life events such as the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the civil war for the kingship of the Ostrogoths, the clash of Arianism versus Catholicism, and the plunging of Europe into the Dark Ages. The Goths and Romans are the peoples most featured, and their languages and cultures are accurately described, but Celts, Huns, Syrians, and Greeks appear and create a diverse cast of characters. As typical for Jennings' other novels (such as Aztec), graphic violence and bizarre sexual situations abound. More importantly, Raptor follows in the Jennings tradition of detailing a fascinating character's entire life, and in giving that life only one constant: those whom the hero loves, will die.


Raptor provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Multiple examples. Veleda is just as fierce as her alter ego Thorn, and can draw on his strength and martial skills. Swanilda hunts, camps, and secretly delivers vital documents by herself. Finally, the forest-dwelling Amazons can all hunt and fight (skills necessary for their lifestyle).
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Thorn never formally names his tamed juika-bloth (a type of eagle), and he simply addresses it as "juika-bloth" when he gives it commands.
  • Altar Diplomacy: Appears at times, appropriately for the historical setting. Theodoric marries the Frankish Princess Audefleda to form an alliance with her brother King Clovis, and Theodoric's daughters are married off to their father's various allies. More sinisterly, Strabo intends to claim Amalamena for himself and use her to force Theodoric's submission.
  • Amazon Brigade: Thorn/Veleda meet a man-hating group of Scythian tribeswomen, whose neighbors call them Amazons. Thorn/Veleda detail their society and muse about their history, but find them far less glamorous than their mythical namesakes.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Thorn has a serious case of this, and although he lives most of his life as a man, he uses his physical ambiguity to revert to the female identity of Veleda at whim or need. See the Hermaphrodite entry below for a thorough analysis. Thor/Genovefa is similarly ambiguous and practices the same sort of double life, albeit presenting mostly as a female.
    • The juika-bloth is also ambiguously gendered, and its ambiguity has a symbolic purpose. The bird never has an opportunity to mate, and so Thorn never discovers whether it is male or female. This uncertainty naturally reflects upon Thorn's own ambiguous sex, heightening his similarity to the raptor.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Thorn/Veleda hacks off all four of Strabo’s limbs and arranges them into a nauthing-stake to taunt him. Amazingly, Strabo survives.
  • Animal Assassin: The juika-bloth, who Thorn trains to attack upon hearing the word "slait" (Gothic for kill). The bird kills Brother Peter and helps Thorn by attacking or intimidating several later enemies.
  • Animal Motifs: Both Thorn and Wyrd are associated with specific animals.
    • Thorn is constantly compared to a raptor, or bird of prey. He captures and tames a juika-bloth (a species of eagle) in his youth, and the bird becomes his friend and defender. As Thorn discovers his hermaphroditism and suffers its consequences, he consciously takes on the symbolic traits of a raptor - separation from humanity, amorality, and freedom from all constraints.
    • Wyrd is called the "Friend of Wolves," and he refuses to hunt them, even though their pelts are highly valuable. However, the reasons for his sympathy with wolves are never explained. He is ultimately killed by rabies from the bite of a mad wolf.
  • Arranged Marriage: The norm among royalty. Strabo threatens to force Amalamena into one, and Theodoric and his daughters later enter their own politically motivated marriages.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Thorn can sexually function as either male or female, and lives and acts as a man or a woman at will. Such an even and unproblematic physical and mental split between the genders is an unrealistic portrayal of an intersex person. Thor/Genovefa is portrayed the same way and similarly stretches biological credulity. However, Thorn is said to be sterile, and infertility is actually suffered by many real-life intersex people.
  • Artistic License – History: The historical background of the novel is accurate, as are many of the story's events (such as the deposition of Romulus Augustulus and Theodoric's killing of Odoacer). However, there are some alterations or outright fabrications for the sake of plot. Most notably, Thorn/Veleda is an entirely fictional character, and Strabo was not dismembered in real life.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The headwoman of the Walis-kari, or Amazons, rules because she is “the fiercest, most bloodthirsty, most merciless” and is “capable of killing any or all of the rest” of the tribe.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Amalamena pines after Theodoric, but realizes it is a hopeless infatuation. A more blatantly horrifying case happens when Dengla forces her twin sons to have sex with each other as part of their dedication to Bacchus.
  • Bury Your Gays: Anyone who seeks out a same-sex encounter with Thorn will die horribly.
    • Brother Peter molests Thorn while initially believing him to be a boy, and is later killed by the juika-bloth on Thorn's orders.
    • Sister Deidamia seduces Thorn while he/she is living as a girl, and as punishment the abbess beats Deidamia, possibly to death.
    • Robeya aggressively propositions Thorn's female identity Juhiza. Robeya soon becomes a victim of Monkey's poison.
  • Butt-Monkey: Maghib, also called Maggot. He is scrawny, unattractive, and looked down on for being an Armenian. Meirus employs him to collect foul-smelling mud, and when he becomes Thorn and Thor/Genovefa’s guide, they treat him terribly, with Genovefa even forcing him to sleep with her behind Thorn’s back). Thor/Genovefa eventually stabs him, and when Maghib recovers, he promptly becomes the loathsome Queen Giso’s bedmate. Maghib’s fortunes do eventually improve, though - he receives Thorn’s apologies, becomes Meirus’ business partner, and is named the king’s praefectus.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bronze breast guard, which protects Veleda from a sword strike and later serves as a concealed weapon to assassinate Tufa.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Livia, the Roman mine director's daughter.
  • Child by Rape: It is briefly mentioned that the deaf-mute servant Camilla bore Strabo a son after he raped her.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted. Thorn lives in a time of religious upheaval, with the Catholic and Arian sects of Christianity (who held differing beliefs regarding the nature of Christ and the holy Trinity) struggling for dominance. Many Catholic authorities turn against the Arian Theodoric and his people, and the religious clashes threaten the Gothic kingdom's stability.
  • Cool Horse: Velox, a magnificent black stallion of the Kehailan breed (implied to be the same as modern Arabian horses). Velox and his offspring serve Thorn well throughout his adventures.
  • Cool Sword: The Gothic snake blades, which are superior in flexibility and resilience compared to other European weapons. The forging process is a closely guarded secret.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Thorn portrays Thor/Genovefa as this to incite the Amazons against him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wyrd mocks everything and anyone, but religion (particularly Christianity) is his favorite target.
  • Death by Childbirth: Aurora unexpectedly dies giving birth to Thiudagotha.
  • Defiled Forever: Discussed and averted. Fabius is afraid that Placidia has been raped by the Huns, rendering her defiled. Wyrd explains that Placidia’s pregnancy would dissuade the Huns from raping her, but even before this revelation, Fabius promises to rescue and cherish Placidia nonwithstanding.
  • Dirty Old Man: Wyrd is a blunt and vulgar man who comes across as this, but he has been rendered impotent by age.
  • Dirty Old Monk: Many of the monks living in the Balsam Hrinkhen break their vows of celibacy, bedding women and fathering children who are passed off as the monk’s “nieces” and “nephews.” Brother Peter is an even more egregrious, pedophilic example.
  • Doorstopper: The hardcover edition is over 900 pages.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Maghib is commonly known as Maggot.
  • Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Thorn (and his alter ego Veleda) is extremely attractive to both men and women. A monk and a nun both sexually pursue him while he is still a child. In his teenage years, Thorn begins taking lovers of both genders, starting with Gudinand. As an adult, Thorn constantly beds female slaves and prostitutes, free men and women, and another hermaphrodite. Thor/Genovefa is even more promiscuous.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When Placidia realizes that she will not be saved from the Huns, she simply kisses her son goodbye, asks his rescuer to care for him well, and dashes off to distract the Huns from the escapees.
  • Finger in the Mail: The Huns cut off two of Placidia’s fingers and deliver them to her father-in-law as proof she is their hostage.
  • Gag Nose: Maghib possesses one which is the butt of many rude jokes.
  • Genuine Human Hide: Modar Lubo’s crude throne is decorated with a human skin. Thor’s uniquely scarred skin is slated to be the next hide on the throne.
  • Gladiator Games: Strabo arranges for his captured enemies to fight each other to the death in an arena for his amusement. Thorn convinces the gladiators to attack the audience instead.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Queen Giso of the Rugii is a power-hungry, shrewish woman. A second example comes from the spoiled and cruel Amalaswintha, who is slated to become Queen Regent for her son.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Thorn gains a scar on his eyebrow from an angry farmer. The scar heals into a silvery line bisecting the eyebrow, and Thorn notes it makes him look brave and manly (in his male guise) or unique and striking (as a female).
  • Groin Attack:
    • Strabo threatens to cut out the genitals of “Amalamena,” who is actually Thorn in female guise, and send them to Theodoric. Thankfully Strabo cannot carry out his threat before Thorn cripples him.
    • An Amazon cuts Thor's phallus off.
  • Guile Hero: Thorn is a passable warrior, but most of his victories are accomplished through cunning and intelligence rather than brute force.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Both played straight and averted.
    • Aurora and Amalamena are both blondes, and both are sweet young women. Theodoric too has golden hair, and is The Good King for most of his reign.
    • Thor/Genovefa has golden hair, but turns out to be a complete monster. Thorn himself/herself has pale blond hair, but amorality is a central part of his/her character.
  • Happily Married: Fabius and Placidia, to the point Fabius’ father sees his son’s feelings as unusual. Theodoric is also Happily Married to Aurora and Audefleda, although the former was technically a consort rather than a full wife.
  • Heir Club for Men: Theodoric struggles with this trope. His consorts only produce daughters, leaving the royal succession and the continuation of Theodoric’s lineage in question.
  • Hermaphrodite: The central trope of the book. Thorn's intersex condition is well described in terms of specific primary and secondary sexual characteristics.
    • Hair: Thorn wears his pale blond hair shoulder-length, slightly short for a woman and slightly long for a man, but an acceptable length for either gender. He never develops facial hair or chest hair.
    • Voice: Thorn's voice never breaks, resulting in him sounding like either a soft-spoken man or a husky-voiced woman.
    • Height: Thorn is taller than most women and shorter than most men (the book actually describes him as taller than many men and shorter than many women, but this makes less sense and is likely a typo). He is slim, but physically stronger than a female.
    • Breasts and Genitalia: Thorn has definite breasts, but they are quite small, and he hides them by wearing a binding cloth under his shirt or tensing his pectoral muscles when shirtless. Thorn has a functioning vagina, but never menstruates. He lacks a scrotum and testicles, but has a relatively normal-sized and functioning penis. When undressed, he uses careful postures to hide his missing testicles (when passing as male) or binds his penis under a concealing cloth wound around his hips (when passing as female).
    • Fertility: Thorn never becomes pregnant or fathers any children. The monks who examined him as an infant explicitly stated that he was sterile.
      • Thor/Genovefa is also a hermaphrodite, and he/she has the same sexual characteristics as Thorn/Veleda (albeit slightly more feminized, with larger breasts and a smaller penis). Thor/Genovefa and Thorn/Veleda are explicitly stated to be near-twins in their resemblance.
  • Historical Domain Character: Several, including Theodoric the Great, Theodoric Strabo, Audefleda, and Amalaswintha.
  • Honey Trap: Veleda acts as a courtesan to assassinate Tufa. Later, Livia arranges a poisonous Honey Trap for Thorn.
  • Honorary Uncle: Thorn becomes one to Theodoric's children.
  • Hot Consort: Aurora, and later Audefleda, to Theodoric.
  • I Have Many Names: Wyrd the Forest-Stalker, the Carrion-Maker, the Friend of Wolves. These overlap with Names to Run Away from Really Fast. Thorn also adopts several names, such as Juhiza, Veleda, Torn, and Tornareikhs.
  • Ill Girl: Amalamena is suffering from a painful form of cancer.
  • Insult of Endearment: Wyrd refers to Thorn as "urchin," an appropriately gender-neutral nickname that shifts from an expression of disdain to one of affection.
  • Ironic Name: Several cases.
    • Fabius’ kidnapped wife, a woman known for her willfulness, is named Placidia.
    • One of the hideous Amazons is named Ghashang - “Pretty.” The headwoman of the Amazons, who won her position by killing all her competitors, is Modar Lubo - “Mother Love.”
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Thorn does this quite often.
    • Thorn kills Brother Peter by setting the juika-bloth on him, tearing his head apart. Peter had previously raped Thorn.
    • Thorn arranges the poisonings of Jaeirus and Robeya. Jaeirus had attempted to rape “Juhiza” and killed Gudinand, and Robeya was complicit in her son’s misdeeds.
    • Strabo captures and repeatedly rapes Thorn’s female guise. Thorn chops off all four of Strabo’ limbs and leaves him to die.
    • Thorn hands Thor/Genovefa over to the Amazons to be enslaved, tortured, and killed. Thor/Genovefa had murdered Swanilda, stabbed Maghib, been unfaithful to Thorn, and generally acted vilely.
  • King Incognito: Thorn first meets Theodoric while the latter is traveling as an ordinary young man called Thiuda.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Baiuvarja wise-sayer's prophecy that Thorn would slay a friend, and that Wyrd would be slain by a friend. The prediction does come to pass, but in a natural, seemingly non-supernaturally-influenced, manner.
  • Meaningful Name: Many cases.
    • Thorn: It is a gender-neutral name, appropriate for a hermaphrodite. The thorn is also a symbol in the Elder Futhark runic alphabet used by the Goths, and Thorn deduces his Gothic origins partially from the thorn rune drawn on his infant swaddling clothes. Less seriously, Wyrd complains that Thorn is indeed a thorn in his side.
    • Theodoric: The name means "ruler of the people," fitting Theodoric's ambitions and role.
    • Strabo: A mocking title given to Theodoric the Great's cousin and enemy Theodoric Strabo, the name means "wall-eyed" and references Strabo's misaligned eyes.
    • Amalamena: Translates to "Moon of the Amals," and Amalamena once bitterly calls herself a lunatic, noting the association of lunacy and the moon.
    • Thor: Named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor is noted to be a thunderous grumbler and complainer. Thor is also remarkably similar to Thorn, and the similarity between the two hermaphrodites is at the heart of their relationship.
    • Genovefa: Named after a famously adulterous queen, Genovefa lives up to her namesake's example.
  • Mercy Kill: Thorn performs two mercy killings of loved ones.
    • The juika-bloth becomes terminally ill with a parasite from feeding upon boar meat, and after unsuccessfully treating it, Thorn shoots the bird to put it out of its misery. Interestingly, the juika-bloth understands Thorn’s intent to Mercy Kill it, and purposefully flies in front of his arrow.
    • Wyrd is bitten by a mad wolf and soon develops symptoms of the hundswoths, or rabies - seizures, hydrophobia, foaming at the mouth, and becoming savage. He attempts to self-terminate by inducing a fatal seizure, and Thorn puts an arrow through him to ensure his death.
  • My Beloved Smother: Queen Giso coddles and shelters Frido, and no one, least of all her son, appreciates her efforts.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Wyrd the Forest-Stalker, the Carrion-Maker, the Friend of Wolves.
  • Naughty Nuns: Two of the nuns in the Balsam Hrinkhen are mentioned to be having a lesbian affair. Sister Deidamia starts a relationship with Thorn, believing him to be another female, and Genovefa apparently had sex with every member of a convent.
  • Never Learned to Read: Thor/Genovefa is illiterate. This throws a wrench in Thorn’s lie that he/she is a fellow researcher of Gothic history.
  • Noble Wolf: Wyrd seems to believe in this trope.
  • Old Soldier: Wyrd is a former Roman legionairy who is still more than capable of wreaking havoc. Theodoric, Soas, and Thorn also all take on traces of the Old Soldier in their later years.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Two men named Theodoric compete for leadership of the Ostrogoths (an example of Truth in Television, as Theodoric the Great and Theodoric Strabo did both exist and battle for dominance).
  • Out with a Bang: Several cases.
    • Anyone who sleeps with a venefica dies of poisoning. Victims of veneficas include Jaeirus, Robeya, and Theodoric.
    • Veleda masquerades as a courtesan and is eventually summoned to sleep with Tufa. Veleda fatally stabs Tufa through the heart while he is off-guard and er . . . (Distracted by the Sexy busy).
  • Pedophile Priest: Brother Peter, and he isn't overly concerned with the gender of his victim.
  • Perfect Poison: The venefica, which is a human being. To create a venefica, an infant (usually a female slave) is constantly fed small doses of poison. The venefica develops an immunity to the effects of the poison, but as she matures, it accumulates in her body. Eventually the quantities of poison become such that anyone who has sexual intercourse with the venefica is fatally poisoned.
  • Precocious Crush: Livia, at the age of roughly ten, is strongly implied to fall in love with Thorn, then in his late teens.
  • Pregnant Hostage: Fabius’ wife Placidia is pregnant and close to giving birth when she and Calidius are kidnapped and held captive by Huns. Calidius escapes, but Placidia is beheaded, with her corpse extruding a fetus that does not survive.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Robeya is a perfect example. Dengla may also be homosexual, and she is incredibly depraved.
  • Questionable Consent: Almost all of Thorn's sexual encounters.
    • When Thorn consented to Deidamia's approaches, he was a child who had little understanding of sexuality and had previously been groomed by a sexual predator. Deidamia herself believes Thorn is a normal female and is horrified to discover his male aspects.
    • Any sex Thorn/Veleda has with anyone not aware of his/her hermaphroditism, such as Gudinand, Dona, Widamer, and Swanilda, is filled with consent issues. It is likely none of Thorn's partners would have consented if they were aware of his true gender.
    • The sexual encounters Thorn has with Brother Peter, Strabo, and Thor/Genovefa are the only instances of clear-cut consent or lack thereof. Brother Peter and Strabo outright rape Thorn, and Thor/Genovefa is a hermaphrodite who is fully aware of Thorn's gender and willing to embrace it.
  • Rags to Royalty: Aurora rises from a mere peasant woman to a de facto queen.
  • Rape as Drama: Thorn has his first experience of sex when he is repeatedly raped by the monk Brother Peter during his childhood at the monastery. In adulthood, Thorn is again raped by Strabo while the hermaphrodite is pretending to be Amalamena. Thorn brutally avenges both violations.
  • Really Gets Around: Thorn is raped by Brother Peter and seduced by Sister Deidamia as a child. In adulthood, Thorn beds female slaves and the occasional prostitute, and near-constantly takes free lovers, both male and female, from all social classes. Thorn’s sexual exploits reach their peak when he romances fellow hermaphrodite Thor/Genovefa.
    • Thor/Genovefa gets around even more than Thorn. He/she mentions being sexually used by an entire convent of nuns, apparently bedded both a husband and wife while living as the couple’s servant, and has taken many lovers. When he/she forms a relationship with Thorn/Veleda, the hermaphrodites agree to be faithful to one another, but Thor/Genovefa cheats immediately and repeatedly with Maghib and a number of prostitutes.
  • Reality Ensues: Several examples.
    • The epileptic Gudinand fights the dux's son Jaeirus, and for a moment it seems that Gudinand will win. Then a seizure hits, and Jaeirus beats Gudinand to death.
    • Legends describe the Amazons as beautiful, lithe huntresses of the forest. When Veleda meets her first Amazon, she drily comments that storytellers should have realized that living in the elements, hunting and performing heavy labor, actually leaves women looking brutal and bestial.
  • Retired Badass: Wyrd is an elderly former Roman legionary who now spends his days at relaxing activities such as hunting bears and slaying Huns.
  • Royal Brat: Jaeirus, although he is technically the son of a dux rather than royalty. Also, Amalaswintha is a Princess and a thoroughly horrible person.
  • Shown Their Work: Like all of Gary Jennings’ historical fiction, Raptor is heavily researched. Jennings traveled through the Balkans for much of a decade performing research, and the events, locations, and languages in the book are for the most part highly accurate.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Juika-bloth is a short-toed snake eagle, also known as a harrier-eagle.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Amalamena is a beautiful, frail, demure princess. She is also highly educated, unafraid of battle or harsh travel, and helps Thorn personally negotiate with Emperor Zeno.
    • Amalamena’s gorgeous handmaiden and cosmetician Swanilda is also tougher than she appears. She successfully disguises herself as a man and travels alone to deliver important documents, and when traveling with Thorn, she proves an adept hunter and camper.
  • Suck Out the Poison: When Thorn is bitten by an adder, Thiuda cuts the flesh around the bite and allows the wounds to bleed, preventing the venom from circulating throughout Thorn’s body.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: Thorn cuts his and Livia’s names in the glacier at the Place of Echoes.
  • The Lost Lenore: Juhiza to Wyrd.
  • The Mentor: Wyrd eventually becomes this to Thorn. Remarkably, the old man realizes something is unusual about his apprentice's gender, yet accepts Thorn wholly and asks no questions.
  • Trial by Combat: Gudinand and Jaeirus are allowed to settle their dispute through a public quarterstaff battle. It ends lethally and injustly.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Thor/Genovefa is repeatedly unfaithful to Thorn/Veleda. This infidelity is only one of the many things that drives Thorn/Veleda to destroy the other mannamavi.

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