Disclaimer: Obviously there are more than three different types of fanfic. Fans are multitudinous and diverse, especially for a fandom that's been active, on and off, for twenty years. Older fans have been reading along since the very first book, and they obviously have a different perspective than those of us who were introduced to the complete trilogy, let alone the whippersnappers who hopped onboard in recent years. So idolatry purists can calm the hell down.
Right. Now that that's out of the way...
It's no secret that the reaction to the publication of Halcyon Queen was... mixed. Every fandom has moments like these, when a new piece of canon shows up and immediately becomes a magnet for controversy; this is doubly true when the canon in question shows up after a long period of creator radio silence. HQ was no exception. Its status as canon is hotly disputed. Among its detractors, it's still known simply as 'That Book'. On the other extreme of the spectrum, newer fans who might never have picked up a Bowman book were drawn in by the promise of a strong female protagonist.
Evidently CotD fandom can be sharply divided into two periods: BH and AH. Setting aside the argument that HQ itself is a work of professional fanfiction (a whole other can of worms, and not one I'm eager to wriggle into), the style and tone of the book are obviously very different from earlier Obelyn Chronicles1 volumes. Consequently it's not surprising that the works that sprang up in the years following its publication have overwhelmingly dealt with the changes it made in canon, and their legitimacy or lack thereof.
Type the First: Winter Sun Fix-Fic
The last chapter of Collar of the Damned came as a shock to virtually every reader. Like it or hate it, no one saw it coming. Whether this is due to readers' preconceptions or lack of plot build-up is yet another debate I'm not getting into in this essay.2 Readers had become invested in Braugan's journey as an epic hero. The Bloody Duke and his arcane wrath were objects of hate and fear, and (or so fans assumed) eventual vindication. The white knight fells the dark lord and lives happily ever after, right?
To be fair, for most fans the sore point is not a shortage of sweetness and light. CotD is not a fluffy series, and although it may not hold a candle to more modern fantasy offerings in term of sheer volume of gore, there was still death and destruction aplenty for contemporary readers. Anyone who was expecting some kind of fairy tale ending probably dropped off shortly after Jaylen's ignominious demise in LIoA. Never has a heroic sacrifice by a noble-hearted man of principle been so completely ineffective in every possible way. Ahem. Back to the subject at hand.
Bellmeade ratcheted up the drama something fierce, and by the time the third book rolled around, no one was expecting our intrepid heroes to make it out of the war unscathed. For one thing, they would all need several decades of therapy. Hell, when I first picked up these books in my middle school library3 I was half-expecting the series to end with Aya, Braugan and all the rest living out their days in a sanatorium of some sort.
From this point-of-view, it's not difficult to see why so many fans fixated on the idea that Aya's actions in Winter Sun were the result of finally diving off the deep end. Hell, I was one of those fans for a while. Okay, a long while. Not all of the fandom's fix-fic deals with Braugan getting the upper hand; there's a not insignificant amount of fic dealing with the rehabilitation of Aya herself,4 coming from fans who liked her just fine for two and four-fifths books and didn't think she was boring in the least. Not everyone finds a good girl dull.
It's hard to deny, though, that the volume of works out of the Idols loyalist faction enjoys not just elevating Braugan's standing, but correspondingly humiliating Aya. Dethroning her is only the first order of business. The meat of the story deals with subjecting her to as much pain and suffering as possible, sometimes with plain torture or public humiliation, but increasingly often with groveling displays of self-effacing remorse. A subset of penance fics are the so-called degrada5 stories in which Aya herself begs to be beaten or raped or offers herself up as a willing concubine to Braugan or to the whole of the Bright Army.
I hope I don't have to explain why these stories are gross and misogynistic.6 I have no quarrel with people who see Aya's actions as morally unacceptable, or with the writing of stories in which she's deposed and Braugan accepts the throne in her stead. But there's a way to disagree with a character's actions that doesn't involve corrective rape as a plot device. And what the hell is 'willing slave' supposed to mean, anyway? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? Listen, I've written plenty of darkfic and some of it was pretty grisly, but Aya torture stories don't deal with character growth. If anything, they make Aya and Braugan both more flat and less interesting.
As a palette-cleanser, here's a link to maliceitself's reclist for the best fix-it stories that give Braggy his happy ending and still manage to treat Aya (and all the other bright kids) right.
Type the Second: Historical Revisionism
Halcyon Queen did a fine job of sharpening the conflict between Braugan and Aya (and before that, Jaylen and Aya) while still keeping both of them mostly sympathetic. A lot of the arguments raised in the book were based on canon incidents, mainly from Lost Idols but also from the later books. In fact, a lot of those same objections were raised by fans in meta essays going back to the earliest days of the fandom.7 Jaylen and Braugan both did some awful things, and they treated Aya pretty badly on more than one occasion.
Some fans like to take this interpretation to the extreme. If Braugan belongs in prison, then it follows that he did something to deserve it. It can't be that his imprisonment reflects a fundamental ideological difference between the two characters, a conflict that can't be dismissed or easily resolved. If Aya is good, it follows that Bruagan is bad. Very bad.
From this fount stem all the stories in which Aya is an innocent put-upon maiden who Jaylen and Braugan mistreated, took advantage of, or turned into their servant. Remember that scene early in the first book where Aya washes their laundry in the emerald lake? No, neither do I, but apparently it's the most important scene in the Chronicles because it shows exactly how awful everyone always was to Aya and how she bravely endured their torment.
But the boys aren't the only ones who get in on the action. Noriel and Greer also get in on the action,8 and even Omi sometimes participates in the ritual abuse. The only thing Omi ever abused was some sort of pun lexicon. Greer is not a ravaging mythological centaur and Noriel isn't a snobby cheerleader. In fact, she's not a snob at all and canonically she never shows Aya anything but camaraderie, let alone treating her as inferior because of her low social class. As if the Greatfording social ladder would even mean anything to a cloudling who's visiting the ground lands for the first time.
Aya is no saint. She was just as involved in the decision to kill the gatekeeper as Braugan was, and she was just as culpable in the failed assault that followed, up to and including Jaylen's death. The reason they didn't make her team leader after the pike incident is because she didn't ask them to; she didn't even want to be the leader! None of them did! That's the whole point.
Besides, the kind of delicate soft-spoken flower that these stories describe9 wouldn't make a very good general anyway, and she certainly bears no resemblance to the Aya that told the Glass King that his opinion was irrelevant, or that threatened to gouge out a manticore's eyes, or that put a goddamn axe in Duke Vivianti's back and then took his goddamn throne for herself. If Aya was a diffident maiden with no self-confidence she never would have become Halcyon Aurora to begin with, and this whole story would have had a very different ending.
To conclude this section, stories that try to make Aya look good by making everyone else look bad are just as embarrassing as fics that paint her as a shrieking hag or a puppy-kicking sociopath. More embarrassing, even, because they give other HQ fans a bad name. No wonder the old guard think we're all screaming fourteen-year-old fangirls with fluff for brains.
Type the Third: Benevolent Dictator
Now we come to the last, and in my opinion best, of the three types: stories about Aya as Norabelle, the self-crowned duchess who rebuilt Brighthaven, but who also doesn't hesitate to throw her oldest ally and friend in the slammer for being a threat to her regime. I'll freely admit that this is almost the only kind of CotD fic I read anymore. I'll revisit old favorites from time to time, just to wax nostalgic if nothing else, and I'll follow a reliable recommendation pretty much anywhere, but this is the only category that regularly yields quality reading material.
A rather large subsection of these stories deal primarily in the Brag/Nora relationship, and much of that is hatefucking porn. That's cool. It may not be my preference, but it's undoubtedly a part of the new canon that's compelling to many readers. With or without a pre-Winter Sun established relationship, the interactions between Aya as Norabelle and Brag as a prisoner make a fascinating character study on either of them. They're also very revealing when it comes to Nora's inner world, and the specifics of her girlhood as Aya, which were never expanded upon enough in her canonical backstory.
Any stories about the supporting cast of HQ also belong in this category. Querep Echidna has inspired some gorgeously introspective stories, not to mention worldbuilding,10 and Tena's role as shadow assassin is a neat fit for casefic enthusiasts. Even Yolant has a few hardcore fans.11 Rebuilding stories are pretty frequent, especially after they took center stage in a number of different gen-centric communities.
Also in this category are histories and fictional documents extending canon's treatment of the unreliable nature of wartime propaganda. What's great about this genre is that it comes in so many different styles and formats, and can incorporate both new and old canon without tying everything up too neatly. A requirement for these stories is that they treat Nora's public persona with all due gravitas, especially when it comes to her reputation for ruthlessness.12 Pamphlet and newspaper writers have no need to brush aside some of the atrocious crimes for which Nora is responsible, because the tension between prosperity and brutal repression is their bread and butter.
A more personal genre is epistolary fic, which includes things like marching orders and edicts of state, but primarily focuses on diaries or private letters. One of the few Brag/Nora stories I've ever really loved unfolds entirely as a series of letters written by Brag that remain unsent and undiscovered until centuries in the future, when they're discovered in the remains of Winter Sun. Strategic gaps in the narrative where the letters were damaged or destroyed lend the story both mystery and authenticity. It's a work of art that wouldn't shame the most lofty literary reviews.
It's the flexibility of the premise that allows these stories to come in such a wide variety of genre, medium and subject matter. The first two categories revolve around one point of view to the exclusion of all else, and often that makes the stories they produce seem repetitive. Another story about Aya winning back King Braugan's trust? Another what-if in which Jaylen never dies?13 Another thinly-veiled Cinderaya the Tragic Violet Girl? Even the most well-written and well thought out specimens start to meld into each other until you can't tell them apart. Most of all, I think these stories disregard the fantastically broad and deep sandbox that the Obelyn Chronicles, with the addition of Halcyon Queen, provides to an imaginative writer.
1Using the official name for convenience's sake.
2See wintersunday's excellent post in cotd_meta for a thorough breakdown of the arguments for and against.
3I know, I know! What were they thinking? Just because it has a colorful cover doesn't mean it's a kids' book.
4For example, the defunct community therealslim_aya, and the moderated Aya Fix-Fic library on bellmeadeplains.net.
5How many times do I need to remind you that that's not what 'degrada' means?
6If you want to lose all faith in humanity, check out wayback's archive of the old kill_aya yahoo group, or sweetSalamander's essay, 'KTCB: Character Bashing Before and After Halcyon Queen'.
7The Complete Obelyn Encyclopedia has the transcript of a zine essay on the subject that's dated to six months before Collar of the Damned was published.
8The notorious Centaur Lords of Abyswen has been lost to us for years, but will live forever in infamy.
9Ably skewered in Echidnaw's parodic masterpiece, Shadows Cast by Violets.
10cotd_recs has a whole subsection dedicated to Tara Echidna in their worldbuilding list.
11Sadly, the cloudwarriors community has been defunct since 2009, and the tumblr that replaced it leaves something to be desired in terms of dialog.
12The Victory March executions, for example, are too often brushed aside.
13I will never get over the fact that there are consistently more stories about Jaylen than Omi and Noriel put together.