Male authors, awesome/interesting female characters?
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The desire to avoid "Mary Sue" accusations may make some (though by no means all) female authors hyper-conscious when they try to create female characters, especially possible protagonists. "Authorial insertion" is supposedly a central trait of a "Mary Sue," and female authors don't want to be accused of living out their daydreams through their characters. (I actually think this is a load of bunk, since "authorial insertion" has been responsible for some great characters in literary history. We all know Jo March is a version of Louisa May Alcott, Anne Shirley is a variation of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Scout Finch is a rendering of the child Harper Lee; yet Jo, Anne, and Scout are all wonderful, rewarding heroines. It's a good thing Alcott, Montgomery, and Lee were all happily working in the years before the "Mary Sue" label was even an issue.) Yet male authors apparently don't have any problem living vicariously through their male heroes; in fact, they often seem to relish it, and while accusations of "Gary Stu" may come up on occasion, they are comparatively rare. Male writers aren't burdened with the same hang-ups. They may feel freer to give life to the characters in their heads without hyper-consciousness.
From the socio-political to the personal: when I look at my TBR pile, I notice a preponderance of female authors. The stories all have female protagonists or co-protagonists, created, I'm sure, with varying degrees of success. Since I'm a reader who enjoys reading about women (though, as I mentioned before, I want to see them having adventures and saving the day, not merely falling in love), this makes sense. Those female authors who don't enjoy writing about women because they're concerned about making them "too perfect" are not very high in my TBR pile, if they're in there at all.
But am I being unfair to male writers? Wouldn't I benefit from including more male writers in my rotation, for differences in style as well as perspective? Which male writers should I give a chance?
Who are some male writers who do a good job writing interesting women, and who give them important roles to play? What are some of their best works?
I already know Brandon Sanderson does a decent job, although the Highlander Syndrome evident in Mistborn is regrettable. Elantris is, so far, my favorite of his works. I had a problem with Warbreaker, with both the princesses sidelined into passivity at the end, standing back and watching while the men saved the country. But I must give Sanderson credit for being willing to empathize with his female characters, to get inside their heads as if he belongs there. He's willing to understand his female characters in ways that other male fantasy writers -- say, Robert Jordan -- refuse to do.
In the YA area, Scott Westerfield (Leviathan) and Garth Nix (the Abhorsen trilogy) also do a splendid job. Deryn Sharp and Sabriel are certainly worth a thousand Bella Swans. (I understand Westerfield's Uglies series is also good, though that one's much further down the pile because, even though I liked The Hunger Games, I'm not quite as keen on YA dystopia as everyone else seems to be.)
So, which other male writers get their female characters right?
Conversely, which ones should I take pains to avoid?
Are they yawn-inducingly too perfect, or given only token flaws or impairments that are in fact supposed to make them endearing, and don't have any measurable effect on the story ?
Do they overbear the other characters, the plot and events to a point that if you're not interested in this author's darling, there's pretty much nothing to read about ? Because, gosh, nothing significant seems to possibly happen in the whole world without the Sue/Stu initiating it or throwing in their
Does the whole point of the plot seem to be having them get laid, become fast friends with, or otherwise end up subjugating, any other vaguely important character, even the opponent(s)/villain(s) ?
I like the women characters in Glen Cook's The Black Company. Admittedly there's not so many of them (Lady, the White Rose, Sleepy, that I can think of among major characters) but those who are there are their own persons, with no particular fuss, need to tack on the "mandatory" romance, or cheap female mystique involved*.
On the other hand, avoid his Darkwar, its protagonist is probably one of the biggest Mary Sues I've read in traditionally published fantasy.
*Similar "no fuss, but women are there just as men are", in the Malazan books.
Bellis Coldwine in China Miéville's The Scar is convincingly flawed, vastly overpowered by what happens to her, quite an interesting protagonist if you don't mind one who has fairly little obvious grip on the larger events surrounding her yet eventually manages to do what she thinks is right and needed.
I'm not too keen on books or authors which depict women primarily, or almost solely, in a negative light. If strength and autonomy are equated with villainy in female characters, that alienates me. (I have no interest, for example, in Col Buchanan's Farlander, in which the only significant female character is the evil Holy Matriarch.) My impression of the main female characters in both the Black Company and the Malazan series was that they were evil, or at best unsympathetic, cast in a "God Save Us From the Queen" mold. If I'm wrong, I'd be glad to learn so.
I know that some readers find it satisfying and even empowering to read depictions of powerful women as creatures to be feared, forces that it costs much blood to conquer. But I don't find it very satisfying at all, unless there are formidable heroines whose power can counterbalance that of the villainesses.
Charles de Lint writes mythical fantasy with almost exclusively female protagonists - I got the impression that they are mostly modeled on his wife.
Try Moonheart or Someplace to be flying for a good start.
They generally feature likeable female protagonists with female friendships. There is almost always a romantic subplot as well, but it usually doesn't bother me.
His early Newford short story collections are extremely good too.
Guy Gavriel Kay writes historical fiction with a bit of a fantastic element, try The Lions of Al-Rassan for an interesting female protagonist - very few females apart from the protagonist, though.
Mockingbird and Galveston by Sean Stewart are urban fantasies with female protagonists - and a cast with more than a few females.
The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde is very funny, with a great female protagonist, but looses momentum after the first 3-4 books.
Tim Pratt has written both Rangergirl and the Marla Mason series.
The Ordinary by Jim Grimsley features a lesbian relationship spanning worlds and centuries.
Geoff Ryman, Air is not only interesting because it has a middle aged female protagonist, and the female relationships are central to the plot, but also because it is based in a non western context.
I think someone else mentioned the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix in another thread. And of course Philip Pullmans Amber spyglass and Sally Lockheart are other YA novels with female protagonists. Paul Park has written a YA series, Princess of Roumania, with a female protagonist. I haven't read it yet though, so I can't vouch for the quality.
As for Guy Gavriel Kay, he has also written The Fionavar Tapestry series. Two of the five travelers-from-our-world that go to Fionavar are female (Kim and Jennifer). Admittedly, Jennifer is mostly there to fall in love with two men and give birth to a special child. Kim is a very strong character, though, and so is the priestess Jaelle. And don't get me wrong, I actually like Jennifer's character as well. She is not as 'martial' as the other ones, not as active, but in essence she is a very strong character as well. Just in a different way.
Other than that, what about Terry Goodkind? In the Sword of truth series, at the very least, there is Kahlan. There is also some of the ... Shoot, it's been while since I read those. I mean those ladies in red leather suits. Some of them were strong characters. Admittedly, a lot of the female characters are evil, but then again, there's quite a few male evil characters as well.
And what about Polgara? David Eddings has some nice female characters as well.
I'll stand in front of my bookcase in a bit to see if I can think of a few more...
Edit: just coming back from bookcase gazing and I found only two more. One I cannot really recommend, because this is not the best series by a long shot, but still, the main character in the The spellsong cycle by L.E. Modesitt is female and the strongest person around. It's just that the books are quite slow and repetitive. The second I definitely do recommend: the Mrs. Quent series by Galen Beckett. The series is even named after the main character and she is definitely cool beyond words.
Another edit: I just read here that Galen Beckett is the same person as Mark Anthony... Did anyone read any of his books?
What about Terry Pratchet's Witches thread of Discworld? Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Og are great characters IMO. You just have to appreciate British humor to enjoy his writing though.
I read a lot of de Lint ages ago and burned out on him; all of his female characters start seeming a bit... Manic Pixie Dream Girl after a while. They can be good stories, but I would not recommend reading a lot of them at once.
>8 zjakkelien: Sword of Truth? It's been a while for me too, but I remember the powerful Confessor who kills every man she touches... except Our Hero, who she falls in love with, and the red-leather-armor sadists who torture everyone... except Our Hero, who she can't break, and whom she falls in love with. My memories have the women in the series feeling very wish-fulfillment-love-interest- I wouldn't personally recommend it for the criteria of this thread.
I've read the first in Mark Anthony's series under that name, Beyond the Pale, and really enjoyed it- in fact, I came into this thread to mention it. I plan to get back to the rest of the books this year, and I'm looking forward to the Beckett ones as well (even though it drives me up the wall that the first and third book covers in the series have the exact same picture of the same woman's face photoshopped onto two different bodies).
I second the recommendation for Discworld. Tiffany Achings, whose first book is The Wee Free Men, is a favorite heroine of mine.
The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate have Kitty Jones, a strong and courageous heroine as a protagonist. While she does share the stage with two male protagonists, she is by far the most sympathetic of the important characters.
The unicorn of The Last Unicorn would count. She's also a female other, something else you're interested in.
The series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has numerous powerful female characters, but I did end up abandoning the series after the third or fourth book. I felt it was being strung out to be unnecessarily long (and yet those three or four books only cover a week). I've had the same problem with other YA series. I may resume this series once the it is finished.
Avoid Orson Scott Card. He tries, but his characterization always seems to be based on a psychological theory (which will be explained to you, just in case you missed the fact). It's a problem with both his male characters also, but I think it hits the female character's harder.
If you're willing to try non-fantasy, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency are both mysteries written by male authors with wonderful female protagonists.
8, 10: I've read The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, and Ivy is a fine heroine, but I haven't explored the series further because while Ivy won my admiration, in the first book every woman who was NOT Ivy came across as anything from ineffectual to downright stupid, Sashie Garritt being one of the most infuriating whimpering weaklings I've ever had the misfortune to encounter in fiction. (I have a short list of "Fictional Characters Who Make Me Want to Hurl the Book Against the Wall," and Sashie Garritt is on it.) Do any female characters other than Ivy come across as somewhat sensible and competent in the sequels, or is Highlander Syndrome an ongoing problem in this series?
All the same, the book is beautifully written, evoking Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. I should pick up the sequels sometime soon. Hopefully the repellent Sashie will have a very, very small role to play.
11: The Last Unicorn is a wonderful book. Beagle in general, I believe, might merit a mention here.
As usual, I have some interesting possibilities to think about.
Jim Hines is really good at writing women. I enjoyed his Princess series...the "real" stories behind the fairy tale princesses. Almost every single important character, good and evil, is a woman. The men here are more like the odd ones out, ha. And the women are all different and nuanced.
Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London urban fantasy series does mostly follow a male protagonist, but there's a female protagonist who, despite suffering a somewhat horrific injury in the first book, had the strength of will to teach herself basic magic with no instruction whatsoever...something the male protagonist couldn't manage. We haven't seen quite as much of her yet, but I'm hopeful she's going to play more of a role later on in the series.
However, I hasten to emphasize that this is only the first book, and a worthy female friend for Ivy might emerge in the sequels. I suspect that part of the point Beckett may be making is that women are not shallow or frivolous by nature, but they are expected to be so by the society in which they live. Toward the end of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, Ivy does have charge of a rather precocious little girl who has some potential to be a halfway decent character. And I think there are new people whom we'll meet in the sequels. I choose to be optimistic.
Beyond the Pale definitely sounds worth checking out. I am going on a major book-buying spree in the very near future and will be on the lookout for it.
Here are a few I'm curious about. Can anyone tell me a little about them?
The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust; I saw this mentioned in another thread and it sounded intriguing. (I'm interested in Freedom and Necessity as well, but he has a female co-author, Emma Bull, for that one.)
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
The Briar King by Greg Keyes
Dreams of the Ringed Vale et. seq. by Robert Fanney
The first books in the Black Company do have a "Save us from the Evil Empress" kind of plot going on, at least taken at face value, but at no point is said Empress implied to be a particularly worse or unworthy ruler because she's female.
And (mild spoiler, jump to next § if you want to avoid it) she isn't the ultimate threat, in fact most of her power-mongering this time around might be motivated by her need to keep the lid shut on something else.
Surly/Laseen of Malaz could probably be described as an evil empress, but there are repeated hints that she's carrying on with well-established practices of her (male) predecessor and founder of the empire Kellanved, and that both of them seem to be driven by a Machiavellian sense of efficiency rather than cackling world-destroying fiendishness, or some brand of Specially Female Bad Rulership. And overthrowing her isn't the point of the books.
>15 kceccato: The Vlad Taltos and the Khaavren books don't feature female narrators for those I've read, but there are some interesting women around, and it feels like a world where gender isn't a brick wall to overcome, or a factor that predestines for, or bars one from specific roles or skill-sets.
The Briar King is decent enough overall but may not be what you're looking for. There's no explicit "women should(n't) do XYZ" going on, but IIRC the only female major character is a rather typical "royal duty and tantrums" fantasy princess, who at least in book #1 remains mostly constrained by her expected role rather than an adventuress and/or shaper of her own destiny. The other females that I can remember didn't break the mold of "typical" gender roles in a pseudo-realistic medieval setting either. Though there may have been references to a past legendary warrioress ?
I've read The Phoenix Guards and sequels. They take place in the backstory of the author's Vlad Taltos series, but the writing style is quite different. The Vlad books are wise-cracking first-person, but these are a Dumas pastiche, specifically modeled on The Three Musketeers and the other d'Artangan romances; one of the "Musketeers" is a woman, Tazendra, from a House renowned for heroes, reckless courage, and adventure-seeking- she's played as outgoing and competent with sword and magic, but also ditzy and gullible. This being a Three Musketeers ripoff, there's also a Milady-type figure. Five Hundred Years After was my favorite of the series; it covers a particularly interesting event mentioned in the Vlad books. The rest of the series is the story of the d'Artagnan figure's son, spread across three books, and also the story of a young woman, Zerika, attempting to take her rightful place on the throne of the Empire.
Overall, they are interesting, but maybe moreso if one's read some of the Vlad books first (though I find that the quality of the Vlad books goes down as the series progresses and succumbs to that less-happens-per-volume myopia that I find so many long-running series do); as far as female characters go, I would rate it average- there are several named ones who get to do things, but as usual they are outnumbered by male characters.
>16 Jarandel: I can't speak to the Black Company or Malazan books not having read them, but "save us from the Queen" is sometimes more subtle than outright misogyny in dialogue and/or evil queens melting down in Wicked-Witch hysterics when foiled- it's also that moment when you notice that you have six or seven sympathetic (for appropriate value of grit in your setting) men in positions of power and the villain is an ambitious woman, or there are no female rulers at all in a setting that seems perfectly fine with women as warriors and mages; a corollary is when "good" female rulers being pretty and mystical and prophetic while "good" male leaders are down to earth men of action riding to war (see eg Galadriel vs. Aragorn and Theoden in LOTR for this).
Caveat that it's been years since I've read them.
I totally agree on Sashie Garret, she is incredibly annoying, but in a way, I think Eldyn is worse. The way he treats Sashie is disgusting. It's no wonder that she's such a silly twit if no one ever lets her get in contact with life. Sure, part of it must be personality, but I really think she could have become worthwhile if Eldyn hadn't locked her up for her own good all the time, in the mean time going out to drink with his friends and to worry about his money problems alone, instead of involving his sister in the solution. And then he even stopped going home regularly, because he didn't want to listen to her complaints. How is an impressionable young girl supposed to cope with that? I didn't like Sashie, but I wanted to kick Eldyn's butt. I didn't like the parts where he was the main character (he is whiny to boot), and on re-reads, I skip his parts.
That doesn't mean the books are bad, though, I still really enjoyed them, and I love Ivy and her trees.
I will toss Chaz Brenchley/Daniel Fox into the ring for consideration. His worlds are based around cultures where women have limitations on them by gender roles (harems and arranged marriages and the like), so I probably wouldn't place him on some of the other "transcending-gender-roles" type lists, but in terms of the characters themselves, I've always found him pleasantly even-handed in writing male and female characters equally well. His writing style has a light, lyrical feel to it, and his main characters are almost an exact 50/50 ratio of male/female, with all of them given equal agency in the story. Bad things happen to characters of both sexes, but he's not writing from a grimdark perspective, so there's not that sense of reveling in the gruesome details of horrific events.
Part of my problem, especially in the current climate so heavily influenced by A Song of Ice and Fire, is that I like it when my heroes -- and heroines -- are good. Flawed, certainly, and complicated in interesting ways, but basically good, none too hard to root for. The current trend now seems to be to have a cast of characters ranging from the anti-heroic to the downright evil, and "good" characters, if they appear at all, are designed to come across as flaccid fools. Even though I have found the first three books of Martin's series compulsively readable, my taste for what TV Tropes would call "Gray and Black Morality" is limited. I've kept away from Joe Abercrombie, for example, for that reason.
As always, I appreciate the feedback, guys.
If you consider the Empress evil, then Lorn is probably too loyal to her to be "good", yeah. But Lorn is replaced by Tavore Paran, who technically holds the same position, but has much more conflicted loyalties and eventually forges her own road, taking command of an army that's basically been put in an impossible position by the Empress and finding a way to gain their trust and pull out a win(-ish). Her seconds, T'amber and later Lostara Yil, are also both female and worth knowing.
I'd also second Apsalar, and add Seren Pedac (with caveat that she's one of the characters I mentioned who has a bad thing happen as part of her arc, in case that invalidates her) and Samar Dev. Shurq Elalle and Hellian are both also fun... though on a somewhat more "chaotic neutral" front.
I found this series mentioned on Goodreads in a "Best 'Strong Female' Fantasy Novels" list. Intrigued, I clicked on the title of the first volume, and I learned that it also made it onto the "Kick-Ass Heroines" list and was named as "Speculative Fiction That Passes the Bechdel Test." So I was all prepared to add these books to my "Acquire As Soon As Possible" list. But then I read the synopsis and the reviews. In neither of these was there any, but ANY, mention of a female character at all. If the female lead is awesome enough to prompt the inclusion of this book and its sequels on "strong female character" list, then why did none of the reviewers bother to mention her by name?
I know enough about those Goodreads lists to know they can't always be trusted. Further research is always needed. Sometimes the website's users will deliberately vote for books that have no business whatsoever being on a particular list. Heck, "Twilight" and "New Moon" (the Stephenie Meyer dreck, not the second volume of the Oran trilogy) somehow made it onto that "Best 'Strong Female' Fantasy Novels" list. Much further down, I found Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave -- which is an excellent book, to be sure, but which has no significant female characters whatsoever, and thus would not belong on a strong-female-characters list.
So before I add the Seraphinium series to my TBR pile, can anyone tell me if there is an important female character in these books, and what her name might be?
Considering how often the most gifted and celebrated female authors center their works on male protagonists -- e.g. Lois McMaster Bujold (the entire Vorkosigan Saga with the exception of the first two books), Ursula K. LeGuin (all three of her big science fiction classics, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven) -- I'm interested to know just how often, and how successfully, the reverse is done. Rarely, if ever, have I heard complaints about Bujold's and LeGuin's male protagonists. But I've noticed that when a male author creates a female protagonist, critics and readers tend to get their knives out and search for an excuse to take the character apart. Which male authors are best at eluding those knives?
I have heard high recommendations for Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage and the collective works of Geoff Ryman, particularly Air, and on the young adult dystopic side Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy and spin-off Extras. The contents list of the recent anthology The Other Half of the Sky would be another place to look- the theme of the anthology is space opera fronted by women, and the authors both male and female were specifically selected by the editors for their skill in writing female protagonists.
Also, not to derail the thread, but I would definitely like to point out that there are many, many talented women writing science fiction with female protagonists too, from the works of Octavia Butler and C.J. Cherryh (eg Cyteen and the Chanur saga) to lesser known personal favorites of mine like the collective science fiction works of Melissa Scott, Tara K. Harper (Lightwing is one of the few science fiction novels I've read where the scientific research really feels like people doing scientific research instead of "misunderstood genius shows everyone"), and Sarah Zettel (whose Fool's War really impressed me).
>34 Sakerfalcon: Oh, good, I have that in my TBR pile (along with The Warrior Who Carried Life, which looks interesting but not particularly representative of his other work). I've heard good things about Was too and his hypertext novel 253 as well.
>35 zjakkelien: I've posted a review of Lightwing- I found it average the first time I read it years ago but then really enjoyed it the last time around. The protagonist is a human mutant with ESP powers that allow her precise control over electromagnetic fields, and she works as a research assistant to a non-mutant human scientist on a research station with other scientists both human and not who are trying to develop FTL travel- there are a lot of personality clashes both between Kiondili and her friends and other research assistants and at a higher level between the scientists they work for, but there are no singular super-geniuses who save the day, and the villain is not a bad scientist trying to subvert the technology for eeevil and/or profit, but the threat of no further funding without practical results showing progress.
My question was, rather, why no one bats an eye when a female author writes a sci-fi novel with a male protagonist, but a lot of people have some difficulty trusting a male author to know what to do with a female protagonist. Granted, some male authors just shouldn't try to write women, period, just as some female authors can't write a believable male to save their lives. But if women like Bujold and LeGuin can write brilliant books with male protagonists, I don't see why similarly gifted men shouldn't be capable of the same brilliance with female protagonists.
I found Anthony's Beyond the Pale at a used bookstore not long ago. Definitely looking forward to reading this one.
I need to check out Lightwing as well, since I enjoyed Wolfwalker and Shadow Leader. I'm also keen to lay my hands on some works by Melissa Scott.
Taking number of copies owned on LT as a measure, for example, there are 5,956 copies of Sabriel owned, almost two thousand more copies than equally well-regarded (and longer-published, predating Sabriel by nearly ten years!) genre standards by women like Alanna: The First Adventure (4,348 copies), The Hero and the Crown (3,933), and The Blue Sword (3,815). Pratchett's The Wee Free Men has over double the copies of Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons (6,440 to 2,859), Gaiman's Coraline outdoes Howl's Moving Castle by nearly the same margin (11,340 to 5,369) despite both having successful (if vastly different) film adaptations, and The Golden Compass beats A Wrinkle in Time by more than three thousand copies (21,523 to 18,494).
This holds across other subgenres as well- in the military space opera subgenre, for example, On Basilisk Station similarly outclasses Elizabeth Moon's Trading in Danger (2,327 to 1,139) and in recent epic fantasy, Sanderson's Mistborn is owned by more than twice the number of people as N.K. Jemisin's Hugo and Nebula nominee The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (3,260 to 1,329).
Books by men who write women are, in short, seem to be universally more popular than women who do the same in books with similar plot elements, themes, skill, and quality.
I think this is something worth examining, the situation where people from a privileged group writing characters of a marginalized group get more acclaim for doing so than that marginalized group writing about characters like themselves, even if the more privileged group is doing a good job of it. It's about who gets to tell the stories about the less privileged group, which stories get bought and published and promoted and read and reviewed and which don't, and it's not always straightforward- some women also write books whose representations of women are more sexist or problematic than other books written by some men, for example.
I don't think it's limited to female characters either, but is possibly generalizable across marginalized groups- when I look, for example, for books with male protagonists who aren't straight, the big works in the genre are by women (The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, The Nightrunner series, Swordspoint) or occasionally a straight man (Morgan's The Steel Remains for example)- the only books I'm aware of with non-straight men written by authors who identify as such are Jim Grimsley's Kirith Kirin and Josh Lanyon's Strange Fortune, both put out by small press and owned by roughly a tenth of the users as the titles I mentioned before, and both of these authors are also more well-known for their work outside the genre.
I do hope you like Beyond the Pale, I mean to dig out my copy and go through the rest of the series sometime later this year, and do want to second the love for The Snow Queen (definitely in need of a re-read, along with Catspaw I think).
Now - this is not exactly a good example. Sanderson became hugely popular with finishing the WOT series and a lot of people bought the Mistborn books because of it. Compared to that, Jemisin is unknown to the people who do not follow the awards and conventions circus.
Mistborn's popularity also outstrips Sanderson's WoT books and his other standalones and series (including The Way of Kings, more directly comparable to WoT), so I think much of its success probably comes from its own merits as much as the boost from WoT, and I noted similar dropoffs between the first and second books in both trilogies (down to 2265 and 520 copies respectively) that seem to me to be in line with high publicity drawing people to the book rather than more personalized recommendations.
Even discounting that one due to the confounding factor of the WoT effect, though, I think the trend shows in the rest of the examples.
I would imagine it would be a rather liberating thing for a female character to have prominence as an ally and competent comrade in a story with a gay male protagonist. It would eliminate the assumption that the female character exists solely for the hero to fall in love with. I'd be interested in learning about some novels with gay male protagonists that take this path, rather than painting the only important woman as a villain or relegating all women to the background.
Looking at Goodreads lists is often more frustrating than enlightening. Half the books placed on certain lists do not belong there at all. LeGuin's The Dispossessed, for example, is listed as "Best Science Fiction With a Female Protagonist," even though the protagonist is clearly male, and as far as any of the reviews can tell, he is the ONLY important character in the entire story. Sometimes I think some Goodreads users are voting for books to be included on certain lists when they clearly don't belong there just to be funny. It's painfully unhelpful.
Another work that turns up on "Best Science Fiction With a Female Protagonist" is Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. As far as I've been able to tell from the reviews, the protagonist of this novel, Pham Nuwen, is also a male. But this is one book I might be curious about, because I like his wife's work.
Are there any women in this book? If so, are any of them particularly impressive?
I can't speak to the two you were asking about unfortunately, but I've started a list of science fiction novels with a female protagonist on LT's semi-hidden list feature and seeded it with some works I've enjoyed or heard good things about- maybe we can make a more quality list.
But not amongst the teenagers for the most part (from what I had seen). Bookstores are showing it but they also show classics and other things teenagers won't read. Unlike Sanderson's case. I don't argue the rest of your analysis - this one just does not fit really nicely.
And there is one more thing - boys generally think that reading women is beyond them and stupid. And the genres had been considered male for way too many decades - as much as I hate to admit it, even now, a lot of people would rather read epic fantasy written by a man (and paranormal romance written by a woman). Stereotypes die hard - and I've heard way too many people explaining that the awarded women in the genre are awarded because they are women - so that there are no discrimination talk. The fact that the most popular epic series (Malazan, WOT, Martin's Song of Fire and Ice) are written by male while the "mellower" fantasy that became popular is a work of women (Twilight, The 50 Shades of Grey and so on). Even the Harry Potter phenomena plays into it.
Just thinking aloud here :)
Out of genre but more thread appropriate is Brins glory season that I enjoyed
I think I'll be giving Sarah Monette a pass, though.
But I don't want to derail this thread too far. Thanks to recommendations on Goodreads, I'm starting to come up with a "Do Not Recommend" list appropriate to this thread.
1. Orson Scott Card. Apparently he creates a tough girl character only to show how quickly she will disintegrate under pressure.
2. Piers Anthony. In time I might be moved to read Night Mare because of its female Other protagonist (I can't help being a little bit fascinated by the idea of a night mare as a protagonist). But in general, his depiction of female characters is not one I can get on board with.
3. Douglas Hulick (Among Thieves, etc. -- females aren't important except as antagonists)
4. Col Buchanan (Farlander -- "female + power = evil," yet again)
5. Roger Zelazny. If I'm NOT looking for an intriguing, competent and sympathetic female character, then I might feel moved to read some of his work, because I understand it is good in many other respects. But he's not one of those remarkable male writers who has a lot of understanding of and sympathy for the women he creates.
This list will grow in time as I do more research. Feel free to add to it.
Monette's books are really good despite the mains being male, there are plenty of strong female background characters, quite similar to the Nightrunner books in concept with the Lord/thief same sex pairing in a queen's renaissance court, but still entirely different for all that.
On the opposite side, Charles Saunders' Dossouye has been on my radar lately- I enjoyed his stories featuring Dossouye in Bradley's Sword and Sorceress series, and it looks like this is a fix-up of several of those stories and some I haven't read.
>50 Musereader: Seconding the unrecommendation for Bakker and Lawrence, shudder- really any work where reviews mention "gritty" or "grim and dark" as a positive. Abercrombie seems to have some self-awareness of how sexist he has been in his work in the genre, but his First Law trilogy contains some pretty dire stuff in that quarter.
>48 Musereader:,49,50 Re: Monette, I've heard positive things about how well she can write from a prose standpoint, but I've found reading from reviews and summaries of her Doctrine of Labyrinths and that collaboration with Bear that she writes a lot about the abuse and rape of gay men, both as backstory and plot. I am shy of rape-heavy plots in general, but exponentially more so when the author is writing about rape happening to a marginalized group they are not a part of, whatever the author's gender.
>51 kceccato: That sounds about right for the one Leiber short story/novella I read ages ago, in Salmonson's Heroic Visions I believe, which I seem to recall contained grumbling about nagging wives trying to break up their awesome camaraderie which irritated me enough to flip through it. His stories have influenced writers I respect, but unfortunately this story didn't entice me to read more.
I remember watching "Children of Dune" on Sci-Fi (back when it was called that), and being bothered by the treatment of the brother-sister twins. While Leto was the Hero's Heir and got plenty of opportunities to be awesome, Ghanima was basically an afterthought. She had nothing to do! Why the bleep didn't Herbert just call the book "Son of Dune," since that's clearly whom the book was about?
There are better women protagonists or major characters later in the Dune series, namely Taraza or Darwi Odrade, generally benevolent women who come to handle nothing less than the future and survival of humanity, both the part of it as they know it, and those returning from the Scattering hounded by a threat that we unfortunately only get hints of due to the author's death.
I just read some reviews of Heretics of Dune, and it sounds a LOT like an Evil Matriarchy story, what with two Evil Matriarchies battling it out for control and a hapless male hero stuck in the middle of it all. I dislike Evil Matriarchy tropes quite a bit, and sadly, you can't throw a stone in the fantasy/sci-fi landscape without hitting one of them.
Speaking of Evil Matriarchies and female characters who are not to be trusted an inch: another author to avoid is Robert Jordan -- fun to read, I would imagine, if you're not looking for worthwhile heroines; frustrating to read if you are.
1. Orson Scott Card. Apparently he creates a tough girl character only to show how quickly she will disintegrate under pressure.
I've been thinking about this one. Going over the OSC books that I have read, I have to admit he writes about men. In Ender's game, the only woman I can remember is Petra, and he lets her collapse under pressure. In Pathfinder, Param is rather insipid, weak and misguided. But how about Peggy in the Alvin Maker books? I seem to remember she's a strong character, and I don't think she disintegrates. Could it be the exception?
But the thing I find most off-putting about OSC is his tendency to pit his boy-power heroes against evil female entities (the Buggers in Ender's Game, the Queen in Pathfinder) -- so that with him, as with Herbert, we get that tiresome Female + Power = Evil equation. The females on the side of Good prove ineffectual, while the Evil Females must be neutralized by boy power. This man writes like a man who, while he may be married, has no actual female friends. (I think all writers, male and female, benefit enormously from having good friends of both genders.)
Is Alvin Maker's ultimate villain female as well? If it is, there's no mistaking the trend.
64: Lisbeth is the most central, but strong women are all over the place in Larsson's trilogy. Psychological thrillers aren't generally to my taste, but Larsson did write some excellent female characters.
Pathfinder you'd probably better avoid, though, kceccato. If things turn around in the next installment I'll let you know, but so far these books are very male-oriented.
So maybe Abercrombie should go under the heading of Male Writers Who Get It Right -- Sometimes.
68, 69: God Stalk is on my shelf. Almost all the comments I'd read about it have been positive; it's interesting to hear a negative take.
Gene Wolfe -- at least The Book of the New Sun. The impression I've gotten from my research on Goodreads is that Wolfe's work reveals a Robert Jordan-like fascination with but mistrust of women in general.
I think this plot description from Amazon sums it up, really: "There Are Doors is the story of a man who falls in love with a goddess from an alternate universe. She flees him, but he pursues her through doorways-interdimensional gateways-to the other place, determined to sacrifice his life, if necessary, for her love. For in her world, to be her mate . . . is to die."
Yep. Another Nice Guy obsessed with figuring out the mystery of Woman, in this case, according to reviews, an "embodiment of the Female Principle" who drives men mad by having sex with them (because she has nothing better to do, I guess) and comes from a dimension where women are in charge and men are "skittishly subservient" and die after mating. Except he's an unreliable narrator, so it might be all in his head.
It sounds over the top enough that I'd be inclined to read it as a critique of this kind of "oh noes women are going to take over and emasculate all of the men" tripe based on all of the positive things I hear about Wolfe's work and creativity, if only Wolfe's other work didn't seem to play straight the tropes of women being either hand-wringingly passive or evil- but as it stands...
As for Jame. I think she was the first female character I found in Fantasy who had fighting skills and the ability look after herself. No waiting around to be rescued for her, she's traveling alone through many hazards and real enough to know fear, yet push on regardless. She's a survivor.
The later books may change my view, I've only read the first one.
The basic set-up is this: humanity is under threat from an evil alien menace. This menace is a murderous band of huge blue-skinned Amazonian female warriors, representatives of a matriarchal culture. Who will save humankind from these brutal, genocidal alien giantesses? Why, MEN, of course!
This set-up simply reeks of misogyny. The very title, "In Her Name," suggests an Evil Matriarchy (an inherently misogynist trope, IMO). Size is an issue as well. What male writers have ever created an abnormally large female humanoid and NOT depicted her as an object of dread? (Well, Glumdalclitch from Gulliver's Travels is not loathsome, but that's the only counter-example that comes immediately to mind.)
Yet here's the thing: none of the reviews on Goodreads (most of them written by men, but a few written by women) calls the series on the carpet for being misogynist. I've even had one reader tell me that the books are actually the opposite of misogynist, and that indeed, despite the highly off-putting premise, these books do have heroines worth rooting for! I'd dearly love to see how that could be, so I'd like to hear more.
Michael R. Hicks -- to read, or to avoid?
It is fairytale myth making - so your mileage may vary, but I loved it.
It does make me think: where does the difference lie?
Why can some men write about their female characters with sympathy, understanding and even admiration, while other men cannot? Why are some men driven to create stories that center around women, or at least give women major roles, while others are content to imagine landscapes populated primarily or exclusively by men, where women, when they do appear, are either comfort pillows or incarnate headaches for the main male characters?
It's tempting to think that real-life experience has something to do with it. Looking at a Goodreads entry for Joseph Robert Lewis, one of the good guys, I learned that he "enjoys writing heroines his daughters can admire." For him, at least, the girls and women around him are a direct influence on the kinds of characters he writes. Yet Fritz Leiber, who, as far as I've been able to discover, rarely if ever created a female character who was NOT hateful, offers a counter-example. I made the mistake of mentioning to a friend of mine that "Lieber hated women." She got rather annoyed at this and informed me that she had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Leiber personally, and she knew for a fact that Leiber was very much in love with his wife and was devastated when he lost her after many years of marriage. So here we have a man whose good experience with women (or at least one woman) in real life failed to translate into interest, sympathy, and/or admiration for female characters in his stories.
I think what it comes down to may be very simple: some writers, male and female, just have better imaginations. They are better at getting under the skin of characters different from themselves, and understanding their points of view, and painting them as individuals rather than as types who are meant to embody qualities attributed to an entire group. Also, they're interested in a variety of stories, centering on a variety of characters of different kinds. Their mental landscape is vast enough to include important roles for almost everyone.
These are the writers I admire most.
John Christopher, author of the Tripods series.
Not only does he completely exclude ALL female characters from the second and third volume of his series, but nobody misses them. In the end, human society can pick itself up and get along just fine with no women at all. I can't help finding this more than a little bit horrifying. Not only will I never read these books, but I almost wish I could forget I ever read the reviews.
Anybody got any fresh recommendations on the good side of things?
In any case, especially in fantasy, where we have grown up on almost all male heroes and female villains, it is hard not to fall into gender stereotypes. The master, Tolkien, doesn't have a lot of women in his books but the ones he does have are not that developed. I guess Salvatore, in his Drizzt series, has Cattie-Brie and Dahlia who are strong characters but the only women-run society he portrays is the Drow and it makes the women look very bad. I think some of the best women characters I have read (and I know I am missing a lot of books out there) are in the Song of Ice and Fire. Martin gives us a bit of everything with his female characters, conniving queen mothers, loyal concubines, revenge oriented young girls, warriors, witches...all pretty good in their various ways.
Greg Rucka, known for including important and interesting female characters in his graphic novels (e.g. Queen and Country), says the secret to his success is simple: "I like women, and I like to write about them." I personally find that answer more satisfying than Joss Whedon's retort "Because you're still asking me that question" and even George R.R. Martin's better answer, "I've always considered women to be people." Rucka also recommends that male writers who want to write substantive and believable female characters should spend some time talking to women -- not necessarily picking their brains, but just talking to them, learning about who they are as people.
Female writers should do the same thing with men, I think. That way they're less likely to come up with male characters who are little more than wish-fulfillment fantasies (e.g. Edward Cullen).
But the most important thing that any writer should remember, I think, is that men and women are not All Alike. Groupthink of any kind (gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) is the enemy of good writing. Even though our friends of the opposite gender enhance our understanding of men and women as people (thanks, Mr. Martin), they can't give us one single "male perspective" or "female perspective," because there isn't one. Martin and other writers who "get it right" understand this, and so create individual male and female characters with varied traits and perspectives, as you've said. No single male or female character is called upon to represent the gender.
In fantasy, I believe it may be harder because much of fantasy is set in a "Medieval" society with a gender mentality much different then out own.
Good discussion. It has already started making me rethink how I will be describing and using on of the main female characters in my second book. i don't think I did too bad of a job in the first one but could always be better.
Time to take stock.
Writers mentioned here that I already know I like:
Jim C. Hines, Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay, Brandon Sanderson, Garth Nix, Terry Pratchett, Peter S. Beagle, George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Scott Westerfield, Steven Brust
Those whose works I'm anxious to try (in no particular order):
Mark Anthony, Terry Goodkind, Derek Landy, Geoff Ryman, Vernor Vinge, Jonathan Stroud, David Eddings, Peter Brett, Jim Grimsley, Ben Aaronovitch, Derek Landy, Robert Fanney, Dan Crawford, Richard K. Morgan, Iain M. Banks, Alexei Panshin, James Alan Gardner, Charles Saunders, Chuck Wendig, Joseph Robert Lewis, Greg Keyes, Alan Bradley, Tim Pratt, Chaz Bentley, Steven Erikson, Loren J. McGregor, Max Gladstone
Those I'm on the fence about:
David Brin, Joe Abercrombie, China Mieville (though I may read his work for other reasons), Glen Cook, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., David Drake
Those I will avoid:
Piers Anthony, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, Col Buchanan, Myke Cole, Michael R. Hicks, Roger Zelazny, Gene Wolfe, Douglas Hulik, R. Scott Bakker, A. J. Dalton, Mark Lawrence, Fritz Leiber, Robert Jordan, Barry Hughart, John Christopher, Stanislaw Lem
Some I haven't seen mentioned yet here, that I've heard good things about:
Daniel O'Malley, Kim Stanley Robinson.
Charles de Lint - I've mainly read his short stories and haven't ever really sought out one of his novels. I may remidy that later.
Brandon Sanderson - I've read The Rithmatist, but nothing else as of yet. I liked The Rithmatist, and I'll read the sequel when it comes out.
Garth Nix - I love Sabriel and have had mixed results with his other books.
Terry Pratchett - Amazing. Really, there isn't anything else to be said.
Peter S. Beagle - The Last Unicorn was wonderful, but I haven't gotten around to reading any of his other books.
Neil Gaiman - There's been a few books of his that I've been tepid on, but I've liked most of his work. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was simply beautiful.
Scott Westerfield - I like Uglies and some of his others, but the Leviathan series is by far my favorite.
I haven't read George R. R. Martin or any of the others. I've considered reading Martin, but... his books seem pretty brutal and dark. I also like to have happy endings, or endings that are more bittersweet than tragic.
Those whose works I'm anxious to try (in no particular order):
Derek Landy - I haven't read any of his books since middle school, but I remember them being fun.
Alan Bradley - Flavia De Luce is a wonderful character, and I think you'd really enjoy her. She's bright and inquisitive, and while her relationship with her sisters is often full of conflict, you can tell that there's love there too. Really, that's probably a more accurate depiction of growing up with sisters - enemies one moment, friends the next.
Jonathan Stroud's Bartimeaus Trilogy is possibly my favorite book series ever; it would tie with Discworld. However, I wouldn't recommend him as an author. Nothing else he's written has been nearly as good. Also, I've done some thinking on if I would recommend him for this thread my answer is yes, but it comes with this warning:
Most of the characters in the trilogy are not very likable. Most of them die. I'm really not kidding - only three characters from the first book survive until the end of the third. Beware of this. He does not fall into the woman + power = evil trap, but his books do use power = evil. Pretty much all of the magicians, who rule the society, are treated unsympathetically. This includes one of the three main characters, Nathaniel. I saw one review bemoaning that she expected him to at least get better by the end of the book. He doesn't. In fact, he gets worse in the second book.
Also, the main female character, Kitty Jones, doesn't show up until book two. I've thought some about Kitty, and I think you'd like her. She's pretty much an action girl for the second book, but in the third she's pursuing her goals through a more intellectual path. She is also the most altruistic and sympathetic character in the books, and has many admirable qualities.
SPOILER. She's one of the three who survive. END SPOILER.
For these reasons, I recommend starting with the second book in the series, The Golem's eye and then going back and reading the first. The first two books stand well on there own, and I think it would probably be easier to get into the second book, especially if you're looking for female characters. Reading it this way can work - my dad read the series in this order.
Those I'm on the fence about:
I haven't read any of these.
Those I will avoid:
I've likewise learned to avoid Piers Anthony, Frank Herbert, and Robert Jordan.
I will read Orson Scott Card because I think he has some good plot ideas, and I do enjoy some of his books. However, I'm generally dubious of his ability to write good characters (I'm not just talking about the female characters here - even the male characters are unlikely to be well written) and his tendency to insert his religion into the books. Often in the last book of a series. There's something particularly annoying about getting into a series, and just when you're almost finished with it, the entire plot becomes blatantly pro-life. (This was one of the books in his shadow series). I do want to point him out for writing Jane, though. She's the only computer awareness I've read that's good. All the other's I've read are female and bent on destroying humanity. Jane bucks the trend.
How can you say that?
He's got some amazing female characters: for example Kate in the Necromancer books, and Freda in his latest trilogy (who could almost be a mirror image of myself for all her history).
Sure, there are more male than female characters in his books, but that's now what we're talking about here, is it?
The ones I'm most keen to avoid aren't necessarily the ones who write no female characters at all (otherwise, I couldn't have enjoyed The Hobbit), but the ones whose characterization of women is heavily stereotyped, usually in a bad way. Myke Cole's "Shadow Ops" series, for instance, has been characterized as "X-Men Meets Black Hawk Down." The stand-in for Magneto is a woman -- very powerful, very evil. But his work has no room for heroines analagous to Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey or Kitty Pryde. If all the competent, powerful women in a story are villains, I'm not interested. My feeling is that if a male writer has nothing nice to say about women, he should just not write about them at all. A few more I will probably avoid: Scott Lynch, John Ringo, Ian Tregillis.
88: Martin's work is unapologetically brutal. But I give him credit for finding ways to create a variety of interesting women, who display different strengths despite the ingrained misogyny of the culture he creates. My favorite Sanderson is Elantris; Warbreaker I did not care for; I'm looking forward to reading The Way of Kings, though its doorstopper size is a little intimidating. It's good to know I can start Stroud's series with The Golem's Eye, which looked more interesting to me than the first book anyway.
If you want, tell your friends, post the link everywhere, whatever. Happy days! Adam
Chris Evans, author of A Darkness Forged in Fire et. seq.
Just spotted this at the bookstore and read reviews over on Goodreads. This series hits the "Woman + Power = Evil" button and hits it HARD; the Righteous Male must overcome the Evil Sorceress, and in the meantime, Virtuous Femininity is represented by an underdeveloped non-person whose function is to be desired by the Righteous Male.
Having a female villain is not the problem. Plenty of good books have female villains. The problem comes when the only female characters we see with any real agency, any real autonomy, are the villains, while the heroines, the women we're expected to like (if there even are any), exist chiefly as the heroes' appendages. Shouldn't we be moving past this kind of thing by now?
However, i met the author recently in my local bookshop where he was selling his new trilogy as the second one had just come out, i told him the above analysis of his female character. He then managed to talk me into buying empire of the saviours by saying that there were more female characters in this book as his publisher had noticed and talked to him about this problem and so he had taken a bit more care over it this time, even including a scene that would pass the bechedel test, (and i'm a sucker for dragons) have not read it yet so cannot pass judgement on whether he has improved or not.
96: Thanks for the heads-up on Necromancer's Gambit; it's good to know Empire of the Saviours might be worth a look.
I'm glad you decided to give Empire of the Saviours a go, because as I mentioned Freda is super - yes she will be used and controlled, but she will be *herself* throughout all of it and nobody will really realise what exactly she is. Hehe I'm quite passionate about her because I see myself very much in her...
But you don't have to read Lies to get on with Red Seas under Red Skies - or indeed Republic of Thieves. It adds nuances to have backstory, but Lynch is good at giving you the details you need as and when you need them in each book, so you'd not be left at sea (forgive the unintentional pun) if you jumped straight into book 2. Be warned - you'll need to get at least halfway through to meet the female pirates; up till that point, it's the same deal as Lies - all primary characters are male, and the female supporting roles are in the unwilling ally / essentially antagonist group. It's book 3 before you get strong primary female characters from the get-go.
In fact, I find Myfanwy one of the more satisfying female characters I have encountered in my reading this year. She is brave under adverse circumstances; she keeps whining to an absolute minimum even when whining would be justified; while she certainly wouldn't say "no" to romance if it came her way, she doesn't need it in order to feel complete or fulfilled; she's very competent and clever; she's funny, which distinguishes her from a lot of the "tough gals" we see in fantasy and sci-fi today (the creations of authors who have somehow come to believe that strength and toughness equal humorlessness). And unlike so many authors, male and female, who center their work on a female protagonist, O'Malley doesn't surround his heroine with male sidekicks. Instead he gives her female friends and allies, who are also likable creations.
O'Malley, I'm ready to proclaim, is one of the good guys.
In my recent wanderings around Goodreads I've found another author to avoid: John C. Wright. Wright has made an attempt at a female protagonist in the series beginning with Orphans of Chaos, but after reading the reviews and then looking at his blog, I wonder whether he decided to use a female protagonist because someone challenged him to do so. Quite a few reviews of this first book, even otherwise positive ones, talk about the "skeevy" relationships between the genders, centering their complaints on the "strong" heroine who evidently finds the prospect of being dominated a turn-on. The superpowered female protagonist supposedly spends the latter portion of the book in chains.
One of his blogs I read was entitled, "Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters." To be fair, I did find in it a decent point or two: he's not far off base when he says it's a mistake for writers to make their heroines "strong" by making them act as much like men (or, as much like men are perceived to act) as possible. Some of the characters he cites as strong in ways that please him, I find strong as well. (He has good things to say about the titular heroine of Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind," for instance.) Yet the article as a whole is a tract of gender essentialism; when I read parts of it, I found myself thinking of John Ruskin's "Of Queen's Gardens," a well-known bit of gender essentialism from the Victorian Era. So much is said about how "Men" and "Women" think and act in the plural, while only occasional lip service is paid to the fact that men and women vary, and don't always share the same aspirations, interests, and abilities. The article also includes a defense of the "damsel in distress" trope. Women, he argues, enjoy the fantasy of being rescued by the Hero because we admire strength in men, and this is why it never gets old when Superman rescues Lois (or, gag me, when Edward rescues Bella). But if a heroine has to rescue the male lead, Wright goes on to say, we may find ourselves wondering if the man is even worth saving.
I don't think I'll be checking out Orphans of Chaos anytime soon.
I picked up Orphans of Chaos in B&N years ago, intrigued by the cover and blurb, and put it back on the shelf when the female main character had a dream about a giant man under the ocean- specifically his giant, um, certain piece of anatomy, which- ah, I found the specific quote in a preview, it's a little bit into chapter two and falls into the viewable previous at Barnes and Noble's site. Said piece of anatomy was "larger than the member of an elephant, rippling through the water like a periscope."
Skeevy is a good word for the vibe I got from it overall, really.
First, the good: Ben S. Dobson's Scriber, one of the best depictions of friendship between male and female characters I've seen in the genre. Entirely too often, "friendships" between men and women turn out not to be friendships at all, but love affairs waiting to happen, or else the unrequited infatuation of one "friend" for the other. That's not the case here. The central relationship in this book is an honest-to-God friendship, one founded on admiration, respect, and loyalty (though, of course, these qualities have to develop with time; this is not insta-friendship). Plus, Dobson creates not just one, but a whole cast full of tough, competent heroines, all soldiers, but diverse of personality.
The not-so-good was an impulse Kindle buy, which I had expected would come under the heading of "guilty pleasure." David Temrick's Deadly Intentions dangled the promise of a dragon heroine before my eyes, and I snatched at it. I didn't realize that in order to enjoy reading about a dragon heroine, I would have to deal with depictions of human women that seem straight out of an antiquated past. Sure, a human woman can fight and/or wield power -- if she's Evil! Good women sit on the sidelines and wait for the menfolk to take care of the important stuff. Only female dragons get to go into battle on the side of Good, because, well, they're dragons. But the main human heroine is a mealymouthed, insipid creature straight out of the Victorian Age -- the Angel in the House, whose main functions are to take care of a baby and to love the hero with absolute devotion and, of course, to need rescuing. I'm over 40% in (it's a quick read), but drippy little Maggie makes my teeth ache to the point where I doubt I'll finish it. (The multitudinous grammar/mechanics errors aren't helping, either.)
I understand Temrick has written a steampunk novel, Daughter of Vengeance, which features an action heroine. Considering how conspicuously absent action heroines (non-draconic, anyway) are from Deadly Intentions, I'm wondering how he'll pull this off.
Paul S. Kemp earns a spot on my Author to Avoid list, thanks partly to this article:
This alone might not have been able to chase me away from his works, but when, out of curiosity, I looked up his titles on Goodreads, I found that his characterizations bear out the implications in his article: Kemp does not believe that women can be heroes -- at least, not in the heroic mold that interests him. Female villains aren't beyond his conception, but a female protagonist would tie his hands. Still, I don't believe I'm breaking his heart by avoiding him, since I am not the audience he's after in the first place.
Chuck Wendig, however, was already in my circle of good guys, and he ranks even higher, thanks to this response:
Wendig does an awesome thing in pointing out that strict divisions of expected behaviors into "male" and "female" can be as harmful to men as it is to women.
Another author who has caught my attention on Goodreads is Karl Schroeder. His work is more science fiction than fantasy, but I've noticed he has written several works that feature female characters as protagonists or co-protagonists. Anyone familiar with his work? Is it something I should seek out?
Kemp is employing the classic gambit of misogyny: appropriate all virtue for men, assign the opposite to women.
So, courage, intelligence, mental and physical strength, honour, patriotism, loyalty, altruism, magnanimity etc. are by definition "masculine" traits (because we say so), therefore anyone who is not a man, by definition, cannot have them. Any woman exhibiting these traits isn't allowed to just be a woman exhibiting these traits, she's a "masculine" woman (or gets classified as something else entirely, neither a man nor a woman, and probably a "failed" person in any case).
It sounds so simple and transparent, so obviously logically wrong. And yet this is the cornerstone of misogyny, the basis on which the entire structure of discrimination lies.
God knows I could give hundreds if not thousands of examples, but one should suffice, something I came across yesterday (hardly a day passes...), browsing in a bookshop:
The subtitle to H. G. Wells' Little wars (1913):
A Game for Boys
from twelve years of age to one hundred
and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl
who likes boys' games and books
Notice that it's taken for granted that "a game for boys" is intelligent. It doesn't say "a game for those more intelligent boys"--it's a boys' game, therefore it's intelligent. And if a girl likes "boys' games and books", therefore she's intelligent. Therefore, a girl who doesn't like such games and books isn't deemed intelligent.
That's how it happens. A random appropriation of a highly-regarded characteristic (usually highly-regarded simply because it's what the Man prizes)--and whoops, almost all women are stupid.
Of course, we have seen that, should it ever be necessary to do so, as in war, women can magically "become" intelligent, competent, brave, honourable--workers, soldiers, doctors, drivers, pilots--but only as long as their labour is needed. Then it's back to being weak, silly, moody, unreliable, incapable ditzes and damsels.
I question the "masculinity" of anyone who needs to have it constantly shored up with such laughable tactics, of anyone who writes fantasies of lording it over puppets and rubber dolls.
In fact, it makes me think there's a real dearth of real men in the ranks of such authors.
Over on The Green Dragon, I read a friend's review of Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines -- a book that had previously intrigued me, because the magic looked interesting, and I thought of Hines as one of the Good Guys. Yet the review described this novel's romantic subplot, and if that description is accurate, I can sum it up in one word:
Not "ick" because of its non-traditional sexuality; that I would have been okay with. What I'm not okay with, by any stretch, is the female lead, whom many reviewers had described as "kick-ass," being a creation entirely dependent on the will of others, with not one thought, aspiration, or opinion of her own. If this is accurate, I really wouldn't care how much butt she kicks, since any talent or skill she has would only be the product of someone else's wishes, rather than her own interests and energies.
I need some help understanding this, since so many reviewers seem to love the character. How can such a character be admirable?
I looked at some reviews of Codex Born (sequel to Libriomancer) on Amazon.com and found this:
"The Magic Ex Libras books are a lot of fun. The magic system itself is basically Nerd Porn. Grab all the cool stuff you love from books, and use it to fight monster. And a hot magical sex slave is your girlfriend.
And it's not your fault she's your super powered, warrior, Gor slave girl knockoff(seriously Hines calls her a World of Gor knock off). If she wasn't yours, she might fall into the hands if a bad person who would use her powers for evil. So for the good of the planet, she needs to be Your sex slave."
This was from a POSITIVE review.
It isn't likely to encourage me to pick up the book. It makes it pretty clear that although this time around, the girl gets to grace the cover, and we get snippets of her backstory in each chapter supposedly, the book still belongs to the male protagonist. It's HIS choices that matter, and the world will be saved as long as the kick-butt fantasy girl's powers remain under HIS control. The world will be saved by Boy Power, to fulfill the wishes of male readers to which speculative fiction has catered since its inception.
I expected better from Hines.
Lena was a particularly complex character to read. A dryad who wields some mean swords, she is constitutionally bound to take a mate, absolutely must obey and please that mate, changes her personality to fit that mate and, of course, fixes on Isaac as candidate for new mate after her psychologist lover/master goes missing believed vamped. Although there's a great deal of time spent discussing the morality of being the lover of someone with a biomagical imperative to be yours absolutely - and Isaac, special snowflake that he is, manages to infect Lena with the ability to not be completely obedient - we still have a hot kickass female constitutionally wanting/needing to sex up the main character. While she's obviously intended to hold up to the light the "wet fantasy female" so often found in SFF, she remains a woman who constitutionally needs lovers, so the deconstruction just never comes off for me.
She also serves the function of having someone for Isaac to explain to, to be muscle, to trail him about asking him what his plans are because the plans are his plans, also gets to be gun-at-her-head hostage during the climax, because there's nothing like a love interest for holding at gun point. Not an incompetent character, but as a whole it didn't sit well with me.
As a side-note, I like female characters who are happy and confident in their sexuality. I dislike female characters who behave in ways I would dislike if it was a man behaving that way to a woman.
And yes, the main male character is conflicted about the relationship. But he decides not to treat her as he would a human or something, which came off as really creepy to me. If you're struggling to decide whether or not someone's capable of having consent, I'd guess the answer's probably 'no.'
How are his women? Is he one to read, or one to avoid (i.e. one of those highly lauded writers who is apparently good at writing everything EXCEPT female characters)?
That has always been more than enough to put me off his work, but I have also read that his "Gap" science fiction series is also very heavy with the violence and, again, rape- the numerous one-star reviews of the first book talk about the repeated rape, abuse, and degradation of its heroine, and one in particular mentions an afterword in which Donaldson mentions that writing one of the rapist characters was like "tapping into a dark part of his own nature."
An avoid for me, at least.
It's full of every kind of nastiness. One of the core characters hates people in general, and women in particular - but ends up obsessed with the woman he rapes. She is made complicit and later inflicts further degradation on herself to achieve her own ends. Just, ick. The fact that rape (and rapists as heroes) seems to be a central recurring theme for Donaldson is enough to have kept me away from everything else he's written, in spite of hearing good things about Mordant's Need.
In The Book Thief he chooses a young girl as his protagonist, and makes her a flawed but courageous and imaginative figure, an individual rather than a collection of stereotypes. And Liesel isn't the only memorable female character in this story. Rosa Hubermann starts the story as the stock figure of a termagant wife, but soon reveals herself to be much, much more. Ilsa the mayor's wife is also a very moving presence.
Thankfully, at least one male writer of epic fantasy is trying to do something a little different with his female characters. I'd viewed Brandon Sanderson as one of the good guys for a while, but his depiction of women has never impressed me more than in my current read, Words of Radiance. My delight here is not so much in one or two outstanding female characters (although they're there) but in the omnipresence of women. They are everywhere, and Sanderson has found ways to make them part of the adventure even though they are not allowed on the battlefield. Not every writer, male or female, can do that. Not every writer even tries to do that. I love a good warrior heroine, but it's nice to see non-warrior women play a significant role in epic fantasy action as well.
Meanwhile, Max Gladstone is set to confirm his good-guy status viz-a-viz this thread with his new book Full Fathom Five. The cover alone is enough to rock my world. I know the old saw, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but I don't find much validity in it. Of course we can gain an inkling of the contents of books from their covers, since after all, covers are designed to sell product. Obviously, a major selling point for Gladstone's new novel is the presence of two take-charge heroines at its center. I'm up for that.
One I'm curious about: The Girl With All the Gifts. Anybody read it?
The author of The White Tree, Edward W. Robertson.
The only important female character in this book is the villain that the all-male band of heroes must gather together to bring down.
Here we have yet another case of a male author who can easily conceive of a female villain, but can't wrap his mind around the idea of a female hero. Why, if they can imagine a badass woman on the side of Evil, can't they fathom a good woman being similarly badass? This bothers me no end, and the possible excuses only make it worse:
1) The men who write such books have internalized the idea that feminine power must always be a bad thing -- that while a man might use his power to aid and to rescue, a powerful woman can only destroy. Since female power is so dangerous, Boy Power must rise up to bring it down, and good girls must be written as thoroughly incapable (if they're written at all).
2) The men who write such books find the Evil Woman a turn-on, and so enjoy writing about her, while good women leave them cold. In this case, they can only conceive of female characters in sexual terms; since the good woman isn't a turn-on, she's left out.
A discussion in pwaites's reading journal over at The Green Dragon reminds me of the problematic nature of A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin's work has been mentioned on this thread in positive terms, and there are many who say of him, "Look what cool, badass female characters this guy writes!" Yet there are just as many readers who decry his treatment of female characters, citing the prevalence of rape in the "crapsack world" he creates. To be honest, I think they're both right. It depends on which female character I happen to be thinking about at the moment. The one I have the biggest problem with is Melisandre, the Evil Sorceress (not coincidentally, the ONLY sorceress). Her chapters never fail to make me squirm, with their clear juxtaposition of the Evil Feminine (whose evil is very specifically tied to her femininity -- she gives birth to demons) with the Heroic Masculine, the rough-and-tumble hero whose heart is in the right place, the father of seven sons and, quite relevantly, no daughters. Other plotlines might portray capable women sympathetically, but this plotline is not too far removed from what we see in The White Tree; if I could edit it out of the whole darn saga, I would.
You know you're in a grimdark story when the man is tortured by memories not about a woman that he couldn't save from the villains, but about one he "had" to kill (or rape, or torture, etc) himself... and the male character is still supposed to be someone the reader can root for.
Yet when I read Goodreads reviews, I found this bothers almost no one, just like the fate of the human women in The Word for World Is Forest, not tied to anything they've done but due to their menfolk, evidently bothers nobody but me. I guess I must be on the wrong wavelength.
What do all these characters have in common? They have no value and importance in or of themselves. They are important only in terms of their effect on the male lead. Since it's the man's story, we're not supposed to wonder or care about what becomes of them (or, in the case of the women in refrigerators, what has already become of them) aside and apart from the man. They're functional.
Very good article, sandstone78.
Overall the women were described positively and didn't suffer an excess of horrors to get the males/plot moving (male characters being put or putting themselves in awkward situations was just as or more likely), but said leads were pretty much a men's club and the women were mostly depicted in relation to them.
I wish more of them could be like Jonathan Stroud.
The prequel (set couple thousand years before) had a female POV character, and The Heroes of the Valley while having a male main character also had a female lead. I also read Buried Fire by him but can't remember anything besides it being pretty boring. Batimeaus is the high point, everything falls off from there.
From everything I can recall, the major female characters in The Maze Runner series were there as love interests and not much else.
Slightly off-topic, but Megan Whalen Turner does something similar in her Queen's Thief series. If you read only the first book, you'd think Turner really isn't much interested in writing about female characters -- so I've heard, at least. Queen Eddis shows up only briefly; most of the story concerns an all-male team of adventurers. Those who appreciate heroines, and who aren't Spoiler junkies like me, might be put off the whole series by the testosterone-heavy tone of the first book. Fortunately, I've read enough about the series to know that female characters become a major force from the second book on.
>128 kceccato: I really enjoyed Girl with all the gifts. I'm a guy so I don't know when a male writer gets it right when writing a female character. I've never read a male character I could 100% relate to though.
At the moment I'm working through Jason M. Hough's Dire earth cycle, a sci-fi post-apocalyptic future setting. Although the main character happens to be a man, he has some brilliant female characters. Some are kick-ass, but still feel like they could be real, and the other female characters are definitely interesting and have huge roles to play in the books.
Another author I've come across recently is Andy Remic. Having looked at Goodreads reviews for a number of his works, I get the impression that he is very fascinated by villainesses. He loves creating uber-powerful Evil women. But I also get the impression that he doesn't "do" heroines, at least ones with agency whom the reader can like and admire. Those who know more about him can tell me: is this impression accurate?
In better news, Mike Carey has created a number of complex and memorable women in The Steel Seraglio; he's writing as part of a team, but it still counts (and this book is excellent). Lou Anders's entertaining middle-grade fantasy adventure Frostborn also includes a satisfying heroine, a co-protagonist. I heard him at DragonCon state that he wrote this book partly with his daughter in mind.
Clariel makes for an unorthodox heroine, and not strictly an appealing one. Asexual and aromantic (that is, uninterested in any forms of intimacy), she borders on anti-social at times and has no desire whatsoever to get involved with city life. I always welcome a female protagonist that doesn’t feel any compulsion to be likeable — either to the reader or other characters, and she’s sharply written as a young woman driven by her need to live alone in the forest, only for her growing sense of responsibility to spur her into action against Kilp.
But Nix never undermines her love of solitude or her consistency in rejecting overtures of love. She never meets “the one” who makes her reconsider her decisions, and she politely but firmly shuts down any attempts to make her change her mind. It’s rare to find a female character who is so confident in who she is and what she wants.
Quote from a review on fantasyliterature.com
I've heard some good things about City of Stairs lately, seems like it could be similar to Max Gladstone (whose work is still on my TBR...)
After all, how many fantasy books have you seen that actually mention how annoying it is for a female guard to get her period just before the big battle, or have a group of female fighters training the youngsters and telling them that they will need to adjust their positions using certain weapons vs. their male colleagues, just because they have breasts, hehe
His earlier series, The Night Angel Trilogy, not so much. I read some fairly damning reviews on Goodreads, many of them centering on the oversexualized and/or stereotypical nature of the female characters.
I suspect the Lightbringer series is much more to my taste. Clariel is definitely To-Read.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the Night Angel trilogy, but not for the female characters. Lighbringer, on everything, is a million times better :)
Joel Shepherd. I've started Crossover, the first of his Cassandra Kresnov novels, and so far I'm enjoying it very much. In the first ninety-four pages it gives us a number of female characters in a variety of roles, and his female protagonist promises to be a force to be reckoned with. His fantasy series beginning with Sasha is also good on this score.
And one for the Avoid pile:
Stephen W. Bennett. With his Koban series he joins the apparently infinite ranks of writers (most male, but some female) who depict a matriarchal society for the chief purpose of showing just how much women suck at being in charge.
Paul Stewart of the Deepwoods books: to read or to avoid? I have read arguments on both sides, though they have been slanted a bit toward the "avoid" side...
One I will definitely be avoiding is Joseph Delaney. The set-up of his Last Apprentice series seems to be, Magical male heroes must unite to save the world from Eeevil Female Magic! Only Boy Power can save us!
If "kick-ass (female) killer android gradually becoming the champion of democratic humanity" is your thing, this is definitely worth a try.
China Miéville writes all over the map. Embassytown has a female protagonist, and Miéville writes so well that you hardly notice. Embassytown is probably better classified as sci-fi than fantasy, and is "way out there" if your usual cup of tea is, say, Joel Shepherd or Ursula K le Guin, but Embassytown is definitely a story with a well-written female protagonist.
Fortunately he apparently doesn't write second-world fantasy, so I doubt I would be tempted to read his work anyway.
Just because he and others find their way into my Avoid pile does not mean they aren't gifted writers with important things to say. It simply means that because they either 1) exclude women from their work, or 2) present female characters in a one-dimensional and/or negative light, their work is not likely to appeal to ME. Other readers may find it the very thing they relish, or even the very thing they need in their lives at a particular point in time.
Any thoughts on Brian Staveley? Based on the reviews I've read of The Emperor's Blades, that book would land him a spot in the Avoid pile, since it apparently gives female characters very limited roles to play. Yet I understand the sequel improves considerably on that score. And therein lies my frustration -- having to plow through a dudebook in which women have little more than walk-on parts, in order to get to a second volume where they get to be awesome. Would it even be worth it?
I've noticed that a number of recent epic fantasy series by male authors begin with books in which female characters are underdeveloped, given very little page time and next-to-no point of view. Even when female characters are sorta-kinda interesting, their roles tend to be minor, and the focus is very squarely on the men. Those of us who protest are told, "Be patient and wait. It gets better in the next book."
I mentioned Brian Staveley's Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne in my previous post. If reviews are to be believed, it's one of the more striking examples of this phenomenon. But he's not the only one. Brent Weeks does something similar, supposedly, in Book 1 of his Night Angel series. Scott Lynch starts his Gentleman Bastard series with a volume in which women, while potentially intriguing, are background characters or antagonists. Brian McClellan also leaves female characters a little on the underdeveloped side in the first book of the Powder Mage trilogy, at least according to a good number of reviews.
A lot of reviews mention that the stories are "great, except for the female characters." And in all these cases, we're told "it gets better" in future volumes. In the later books, supposedly, women have a lot more to do and are shown to be far more proactive and competent.
Am I the only one who is just a little bit tired of hearing that? Tired of being expected to wade through a usually very thick first book in which only male characters have real significance in order to get to a second (or sometimes third) book in which female characters finally, actually matter?
It would be nice if more recent and new epic fantasy series managed to begin with a volume in which both male and female characters play interesting, important roles. That's why I'm looking so forward to reading Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs trilogy and Django Wexler's The Thousand Names, in which women get to be cool right out of the starting gate.
My frustration with what I'm now calling "'Be Patient and Wait' Syndrome" grows stronger by the day, as SO many recent/current fantasies written by men (and even some by women) seem to be guilty of this. I've even read reviews that lead me to believe Ken Liu's highly praised The Grace of Kings is yet another book where we're teased with the promise of awesome women but we won't actually get to see them in action until Book 2. (I've read conflicting information about this one, though, so I really don't know how accurate this is.) It irks me no end that these writers can't find a way to make their women important and interesting in Book 1, particularly when Book 1 is 500+ pages.
I need to start compiling a list of "'Be Patient and Wait'" books/series just to see how many there actually are...
The Name of the Wind -- I understand the sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, has more women, but for us to get a halfway interesting female lead, we have to wait for a novella(!), The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Speaking as someone who doesn't care much for short stories or novellas, I grind my teeth at this.
Leviathan Wakes -- Lots of Goodreads reviewers criticize the depiction of women in this one; one reviewer even calls it "about boys, for boys." I understand some more impressive women are introduced in the sequel, but when I asked if the sequel could be read without having read the original first, I was told "No." I may not bother.
The Grim Company -- Here I don't even know if it's a matter of "Be patient and wait," because I don't know if matters supposedly improve in the follow-up. But many reviews mention that the female member of the company has relatively little to do.
Swords of Good Men --
Half a King -- Girls/women are villains or sidekicks in this one, but the sequel, Half the World, has a female protagonist. Advantage: since the two books contain different sets of characters, it's more likely that the sequel can be read and understood by those who haven't read the original first.
The Boy With the Porcelain Blade -- Few reviews even mention a female character by name.
The Thorn of Dentonhill -- Based on reviews, this book strikes me as an example of another problem I call "'Supernatural' Syndrome," or, "As long as we include lots of hot guys, girl readers won't even notice if the female characters are underdeveloped or even if they're left out of the story at all." As it happens, a couple of reviewers actually did notice that female characters were given short shrift in this novel, and the author HIMSELF posted a response to one of them, assuring her that "it gets better in the sequel." (Would it really have been THAT hard to get it right the first time?)
These are just a few I noticed, partly because either they come out this year or their sequels/follow-ups do, so I gleaned them from the Goodreads list "Can't Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2015." Even though Kate Elliot, God bless her, has two books coming out this year, the overall picture for female characters in 2015's epic-fantasy offerings seems pretty bleak.
(Just to prove it's not just male authors who tell us, "Be patient and wait," this year Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette are releasing the third volume to their series that began with A Companion to Wolves. In this book, An Apprentice to Elves, a human female character finally(!) plays a central role in the action. These ladies have asked us to be patient and wait over the course of TWO books in which women are no more than background noise, before they finally give us something resembling a heroine -- unless, of course, we're prepared to accept female wolves as heroines. I suspect this is primarily Monette's doing, as she's the one who often leaves female characters out of the picture, or gives them fairly minimal roles, while Bear rarely lets the side down when it comes to heroines.)
The default male for background character is particularly difficult to overcome (especially when 'unspecified' is usually read as male).
(Such statistics are particularly on my mind because I just did a count of one of my books where I'd tried to skew background numbers to more women than men, and ended up at parity.)
I have stumbled onto two authors whose works I may check out sometime this year:
Daniel Abraham. The Long Price Quartet doesn't really look to be to my taste, since
Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Shadows of the Apt has, I understand, lots of female characters, both good and bad, and it too offers some intriguing world-building. Tchaikovsky is releasing a new book in this series this year, but I still need to go back and read the first one, which I believe does NOT advise me to "be patient and wait" to see girls and women in important roles.
Sharon Shinn has a new Elemental Blessings novel out (but ack I haven't read the first two yet!), Jeweled Fire, and N.K. Jemisin has the start of a new series out too, The Fifth Season. Naomi Novik has a fairy-tale-influenced story Uprooted (though the summary makes it seem like one of those books that is more about the love interest than the heroine- I've become jaded and wary of _any_ book where the summary mentions the mysterious/dangerous man the heroine meets.)
Also on my list are Aliette de Bodard's The House of Shattered Wings and Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, but these seem more like ensemble casts- both authors have had interesting women in their shorter work, so I expect there will be some in their novels too.
Same! It always sounds like the recipe for the standard "bad YA novel."
I do admit to being curious about Uprooted, however, since as far as I'm aware, this is actually Novik's first attempt at a female protagonist, her Temeraire series being strongly male-driven (though a few halfway impressive women play secondary roles). Nearly everyone I know praises Novik to the skies. Maybe, just maybe, she'll manage to do it right?
I've just been reading about some of the controversy re: the Hugo Awards and the "Sad Puppies," and have come across another writer to avoid, and I mean to avoid so assiduously that if all the other books in the world disappeared and only his remained, I would have to train myself to live without reading:
Theodore Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day.
This man is absolutely terrifying.
>175 kceccato: I've seen a lot of reviews saying Uprooted fits in well with other YA works that I've read and liked (Sabriel, Howl's Moving Castle, The Darkangel, the works of Robin McKinley), so I'm hoping it's marketing more than anything... But I've also seen some implying that the "hero" starts out as an incredible jerk and has to be "civilized" by the heroine, but evidently there is also a fairly awesome female swordsmith/magician
I think it will probably be a library checkout for me, in any case.
Fully agreed re: Day.
One of my particular dislikes, and one I'm becoming increasingly less tolerant of when encountering. One of the reasons I liked Claudia J. Edwards so much, even though I wasn't that keen on the romantic dynamics in her books, is that most of her women start out highly competent and get to continue to be competent through the books. They're 'Cordelias', I guess. (I am, of course, vastly looking forward to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, although I did not celebrate as much as many over the recent spoilers because I really don't think the reverse relationship would have been allowed to happen.).
I'm a definite minority about Shards of Honor, though- probably because I'd built up such expectations from all the good things I'd heard, I found it quite disappointing. I actually found it a very "love-interest-centric" book in this same trend. It frustrated me so much because I felt it was all about Aral, Aral's tough moral decisions, Aral's honor, Aral Aral Aral, and the events of the plot revolve pretty much completely around Barrayaran politics, so very little of Cordelia's experience even applies- we're told she's competent but her being in command is almost completely off-screen.
(The biggest decision she makes, to play a decoy and willingly get captured, ends up successful in part or whole because the whole thing was a deliberate setup by Barrayar anyways.)
In the end I found myself agreeing with the Betan therapist that their relationship seemed like Stockholm syndrome more than anything, and because their relationship seemed weak what I read of Barrayar didn't really work for me either- I felt like Aral fell in love with Cordelia because she was so in love with him, more than for any characteristic of her own, despite what he says about her honor. (I've heard we do get more Cordelia competence in Barrayar though? I plan to go back to the series eventually, probably starting with The Warrior's Apprentice and going back to the Cordelia books as prequels someday.)
Particularly on Barrayar, she shows women are strong and valuable to culture but in an apparently female way. Marriage arrangements, behind the scenes stuff. I kept waiting through the thirty years Cordelia is in Vor culture for Cordelia to see Barrayar finally drag itself into, say, 1980s feminism, but there seems a real deep-down "this is how women are strong" and "this is how men are strong". The women of Barrayar itself don't seem all that interested in equality - there is no sign of locally-driven feminism (political movements, I mean - there are individuals struggling with the society).
I'm still annoyed that Gregor's first child wasn't a girl, to see what they'd do.
I also always found it disappointing that Bujold spends novels exploring the culture of Athos (male-only women-hating society), Cetaganda (strict division of male and female powers society) and Barrayar (women are lesser society), but makes Beta (the egalitarian society) something that Cordelia is eventually forced to _escape_ from.
In the actual book Barrayar we see this women's sphere/men's sphere stuff, and I don't like the beginning of the book much at all, but the end makes it for me (because Cordelia basically does a Harry from The Blue Sword, tells Aral she doesn't agree with his orders, and goes off and does her own thing.
As for the Gentleman Jole book (interested as I am to see an SFF book about a mature woman), the identity of Jole ties it all back to AralAralAral and I wanted to see her past that. And not only do I think the reverse relationship would not be accepted by Vor culture...I think that the readers who are delightedly celebrating it would condemn or be less enthused about it if it was Cordelia so involved.
(The evolution of my attitude toward print books is another subject altogether! I read on my phone a lot these days and am sometimes appalled, but it's so much easier.)
These kinds of relationships are a thing of mine lately, as in I tend to be disappointed in books where they don't feature -- as in "Smurfette Principle" books where we see one powerful, competent woman surrounded by guys and interacting only with guys, or books in which relationships between female characters fall into two types, hostile/competitive or unimportant. Bujold's Chalion series does a good job showcasing such relationships. Even though The Curse of Chalion has a male protagonist, the friendship between Iselle and Betriz is an important part of the equation. Ista of Paladin of Souls has Liss to rely on. Even The Hallowed Hunt, not quite as good as the other two, features a supportive female friendship, though its role is smaller than in the other two books.
One of the reasons I have lately chosen, and enjoyed, books by female authors over books by male authors is that while plenty of male authors, many of them listed here, can create competent heroines, sometimes even more than one, not as many of them can manage to depict a believable and/or important female friendship. (Bromances, of course, abound.) George R.R. Martin, for instance, gets plenty of praise for the variety of female characters he creates in A Song of Ice and Fire -- but NONE of them are friends. There is, in the first three books at least, not one single supportive relationship between two female characters that I can remember. (Brienne does try to be a friend to Catelyn, but Catelyn, like just about everyone else with whom Brienne interacts, is only using her.) Characters like Arya and Sansa are Smurfettes in their own separate storylines, surrounded by guys. When they do interact with other women -- for instance, Sansa with Cersei or with her aunt Lysah -- that interaction is hostile.
Which male authors manage to get female friendship right?
A few examples I can think of:
Joel Shepherd, in Crossover
Ben S. Dobson, in Scriber
Daniel O'Malley, in The Rook
Max Gladstone, in Three Parts Dead
He likes to write about villainesses, and occasionally throws in a damsel or two. Heroines? Don't bother looking.
Unexceptional stuff iirc so not particularly encouraging picking those books up, but any failing in that area might be simply a consequence of the fact that *someone else* got assigned to play around and get their names associated with whatever characters you might have found more palatable in those settings, rather than full choice of the various writers involved.
One notion we often find in fiction that will never cease to trouble me: that women might be powerful enough to threaten the world, but only men can save it.
Edited to include the following book review, which specifically addresses the "Be Patient and Wait" problem:
Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names -- The first book starts out strong on the female character front, and I understand the sequels get even better.
Patrick Weekes, author of The Palace Job -- I'm not too far into this one yet, but my first impressions are good ones.
I've heard that some of the female characters in Chris Wooding's Ketty Jay series may be a bit problematic but that he's done some good work with them elsewhere. I look forward to seeing for myself.
I had a bit of a rant about it last year to zjakkelien, but if I just focus on my issues with its handling of female characters, it's that
Yet another for my Avoid pile: E.C. Ambrose. Yesterday at Barnes and Noble I picked up the final book in his "Elisha Barber" series and glanced over it. I found
I laid out some of my issues/concerns with villainesses in a blog, which I share here:
I've read comments that explain the importance of villainesses, and I do agree, we don't want to say in our fiction that women, simply because they are women, are naturally good and could never do wrong. Yet it's important to have significant female characters on BOTH sides of a conflict, at least for me. I can't deal with stories in which all women are depicted as varying shades of vicious, shallow, or useless.
Here are three things that bug me about some of the female villains created by male authors:
1. Their villainy is gender-based. Women are villains, and men are victims. Robert Newcomb does this, and apparently E.C. Ambrose follows his lead.
2. Their villainy is linked to their defiance of gender roles/prescriptions. "The oppressive patriarchy wouldn't let me be both strong and good, so I became eeeeevil!!" (Well-known example: Cersei Lannister.)
3. Sex is one of the villainess's main weapons of choice.
Evil women certainly have their place in fiction, and they can be enjoyable indeed, but surely they can be created without falling into one of these traps.
I just read something about Jim Butcher that disturbs me. I know plenty of people dislike his treatment of female characters in The Dresden Files -- my dislike of urban fantasy has kept me away from that series anyway -- but I did like the character of Kitai in Codex Alera, and I read the first four volumes of the series largely to watch her in action. I've also read that his newest book, The Aeronaut's Windlass, features a female character in an important role, in an intriguing steampunk setting. I'm tempted to try it. But I've mentioned before that I've had questions about his depiction of the head of the main feminist organization in Codex Alera as the most evil woman in the series, and now I think I know why: he's stated that John Norman's "Gor" series was a big influence on him, right up there with Tolkien. In that series, Norman repeatedly takes "straw feminists" and puts them through the wringer so that they come to realize that a woman's path to true happiness is sexual subservience to men. Could I really trust an author who admires this series to get his female characters right?
(I'm not sure how wise it is to judge an author's work by the other authors he/she admires, but I have to admit I have done it before. I've avoided Colleen Houck's work partly because she has named Stephenie Meyer as a big influence, and when I read a little about Houck's "Tiger Saga," it's not hard to see that influence at work.)
My current Kindle read, which I bought for a very low sale price at the beginning of the year, is The City Stained Red. This beginning of a new series features the same set of characters as Tome of the Undergates, yet thankfully it can be read and understood without too much knowledge of the previous books. I've been holding back from reading the earlier book, largely because the villains the troop of anti-hero misfits have to face include a horde of Amazonian warrior-women whose unnatural villainy is signaled partly by their large size. I do like the women among the protagonists, Kataria (a female Other!) and Asper, and I appreciate that he avoids the Smurfette Principle, but darn it, I like my big Amazonian warrior-women on the side of Good, like Brienne of Tarth and Bryndine Errynson and Dhulyn Wolfshead. Eventually I'll read it, but I'm not in a big hurry.
All the same, I have to give Sam Sykes a little credit, since he's gone on record as saying that he finds epic fantasies that leave female characters out, or relegate them to the background, "boring." Female characters make a story interesting, he says. Good for him.
Still, I could really use some good news. Django Wexler has just released his third Shadow Campaign novel, and that would qualify. I also have a soft spot for him because of a statement he made on Reddit, that when he started work on The Thousand Names he knew he didn't want to write an all-male book.
Has anybody around here read The Red Knight by Miles Cameron? I've heard that one has some pretty cool women in it...
I'm finding myself increasingly picky about how much women do get to do (or don't get to do) in recently-written fantasy. One of my current reads is a m/m historical fantasy murder mystery released in the past few years, and while there are plenty of women about, and some of them even have the potential to be quite interesting, they're all just bit parts. The only people any serious time or emotion is spent on are men. While obviously the main emotional impact in the story is between the two main leads, I still can't help but note the amount of time taken on male secondary characters and female secondary characters.
I'm also doing a Heyer re-read/listen (I've gone in for audiobooks in a big way) and noticing in many of even her stories how little the woman has to do with the plot. It's a man having an adventure, with a romantic bookend. (Fortunately I'm now on one where the main female is both full of personality and has plenty to do.)
Oh, and to get back to the thread topic, and to make a positive contribution, I've been enjoying the Lockwood & Co YA books by Jonathan Stroud, starting with The Screaming Staircase. I could do with _more_ female characters and more female interaction, but I like the female viewpoint character. (Mildly worried about jacket description of third book, though, which takes a boring and well-trodden path.)
You'd expect the picture to be a little better in m/f romances such as Georgette Heyer is famous for writing. A shame to hear that even there, they're often painted as useless.
Not all Heyers are like that. The heroine of The Devil's Cub infamously shoots the rake she reforms.
If I was going to recommend a Heyer to you, though, I'd suggest The Masqueraders, where a tall sister and a delicate brother cross-dress and ramp about pulling off subterfuges.
he's stated that John Norman's "Gor" series was a big influence on him, right up there with Tolkien.
Ugh. I read a page and a half of one of those books and that was enough to make me feel that anyone greatly influenced by them would enter my house only as birdcage lining.
>199 AndreaKHost:, >200 kceccato:
I just bought half a dozen Heyers for a friend who uses them in teaching English, and flipped through a few (I read several, but not since my teens) and felt the same hostility towards the past I find harder and harder to shake off--because there was so little women COULD do, outside the home. I don't mean physical obstacles, but that overwhelming, suffocating straitjacket of custom and totalitarian control over women. It simply depresses me to read what inanities these women had to observe, how insanely cautious they had to be of slightest contact or gesture that might endanger their reputations, how vapid and dull the things they were expected to busy themselves with, how limited the scope of expressions of personality they were allowed to demonstrate... But I suppose it's my age beginning to show. No romance can compensate to me today for the appalling lack of freedom and rights these women suffered.
There's not enough female characters for my liking, but because the POV is female (and she isn't the only competent woman in the world, though we don't get to spend much time with any others), and they hit my "fun adventure" spot.
Bradley P. Beaulieu -- His Twelve Kings in Sharakhai has a female protagonist, and I understand his earlier series also features women in important roles.
Marc Turner -- His When the Heavens Fall is also on my radar screen.
Has anybody read Peter Clines? I've heard very mixed things about him. He includes women in his stories, but quite a few Goodreads reviewers talk of his unfortunate tendency to oversexualize them.
My issue with Clines was more that (in both books) the viewpoint character is the catalyst ideas person who comes into a situation that has been settled for some time and is the only person allowed to have ideas/make discoveries/progress. They're also very similar books (mystery/unravelling/big event) though I think The Fold works slightly better.
John Connolly, author of The Book of Lost Things and the Charlie Parker series.
He's a pretty gifted writer, as I understand it, and his work does have plenty to recommend it. But heroines are apparently not in his wheelhouse -- unless he's working with a co-author, which IMO does not let him off the hook.
As a reader, my plea to all authors would be, "Whenever possible, try to include more than one important character of each gender, and fill the supporting ranks with characters of both genders. Give them a variety of skills, tastes, and temperaments. Show, through your writing, that you know and understand there is no single 'male psyche' or 'female psyche,' because human beings don't operate from a hivemind." Writers who follow this prescription, be they male or female, are the most likely to end up as favorites of mine.
Child of Fire hasn't made it onto my To-Read list yet, however, because reviews and synopsis gave me the impression that
She is, however, also taken off-stage during a large portion of the book, and is placed in a rather vulnerable condition. But I liked her a lot (I would happily drop Harry and just read about her, but the narrative dynamic definitely swings around Harry).
In The Way into Chaos, the female lead is a full-fledged co-protagonist, and we see through her eyes as much, if not more, than we see through the male lead's eyes. She's also surrounded by other girls -- big Bechdel Test pass. This one is epic fantasy, which is more to my taste anyway. Still, I may check out Child of Fire at some point.
Updated to say I may need to take Andy Remic out of the Avoid pile and put him in Read. He may feature an oversexed villainess in his Iron Wolves series (and I am soooo tired of that trope), but in his upcoming novel The Dragon Engine, three out of the six lead characters are women. I can't help being a little bit curious.
Paul Kearney, author of "The Macht" and other epic fantasy series in which female characters are Not To Be Trusted. Only one of his books, A Different Kingdom, promises to paint girls/women in anything like a sympathetic light.
Alex P. Berg, author of the "Daggers and Steele" series and a couple of other works in which female characters appear as villains. The issue may lie with his preferred genre, "noir," in which women are, by definition, dangerous dames. Even when their hearts happen to be in the right place, women in "noir" are still suspect, because their very presence suffices to make men think and behave like idiots. (And of course it's not the men's fault, because we see the situation from their point of view; no, the women are to blame just for being there.)
I'm really hoping to stumble onto a good author to add to the Read list. I'm still taking much delight in Django Wexler's work, though.
Marelle lost her sight and is blind, but she's self-sufficient, working as an artisan and selling her beautiful embroidery. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, and stands up for it even at sometimes great cost to herself, and she's also intelligent, practical, and courageous as well as artistically talented- I really liked her. There are also other women in the setting, including a female scholar-priest, enough that even though this is a military fantasy in a world where women don't seem to be allowed in the military, it never felt empty of women to me.
I haven't read The Dresden Files since urban fantasy isn't my thing, but I have read the first four books of Codex Alera. The books do include some intriguing and active heroines, like the troubled, powerful Isana and the fierce, not-quite-civilized Kitai (whom I love, and for whom I might just finish the series). Yet I've noticed that even though the women may strike a few blows for Good, the male characters -- the series' protagonist Tavi, and the brawny Bernard -- always manage to save the day. (Whiny Amara is particularly useless.) Also troubling is that the leader of the organization that fights for women's rights is also the book's most evil character. Butcher really likes his villainesses. Of course, the menfolk always get to defeat them.
That being said, what I've read about The Aeronaut's Windlass inclines me to give it a shot. That one is already on my shelf, a Christmas gift.
The Dresden Files is technically under urban fantasy because this is where all detective stories in fantasyland seem to land (or paranormal romance if they are more on the romance side). However - the whole series is building a pretty convincing non-secondary fantasy world where the whole detective thing is kinda not the point :) Plus Murphy (who is annoying in the first books though...) and in the later books Molly are always the ones to save Harry's ass (not to mention the 6 queens of the courts and the assorted other women that seem to always try to get him in trouble - even when he is trying to stay out of it) - not that there aren't absolutely stupid male stuff in the series that can get your teeth on edge but it could have been so much worse :) My point being - give it a chance (even though the first few books are not as fun and nice as the later ones - but are needed for the world building...)
Though honestly, it's a more recent title that's warning me away from the series as a whole. Don't remember the name, but I do remember very specific and detailed Goodreads reviews that speak of
I'm always suspicious of male writers who seem much more taken with and interested in villainesses than heroines. That's been my problem with Steven Moffatt (Doctor Who, Sherlock).
Part of why I do not read reviews until after I read the book. The whole scene taken out of the context it belongs to may be read weirdly - especially if you skip parts of it. Up to you though - there are enough books in the world. :)
(My touchstones are not working. Not sure why.)
Search is getting repaired at the moment so all related actions (touchstones being one) are down temporarily. Or were anyway - you should be able to get the touchstones to work now :)
Has anyone here read Marc Turner yet? His When the Heavens Fall is on my radar.
>228 kceccato: Glad you're enjoying Girl with all the gifts. I though it was very good too.
I'm about to start reading Windswept, which seems as though it will fit into this thread - it's SF but written by a man with a female lead who could be pretty awesome. It was a recommendation from imyril who I've come to trust on these matters!
As I expected (quite a while ago), Max Gladstone confirmed his good-guy status with Full Fathom Five, in which all the major roles are played by interesting women. He rings the bell with racial diversity as well.
I've had mixed feelings about A. Lee Martinez. The reviews I've read for his first novel, Gil's All-Fright Diner, would have landed him on my Avoid list in a split second, as not only do we have two dudes (a vampire and a werewolf, but very much "dudes" with all the word implies) teaming up to save the world from a hyper-sexualized teenage villainess, but the most significant character who might be called a heroine is subjected to unabashed adolescent fat-shaming throughout. Wouldn't touch that with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole. But this was how Martinez started out. Later on he gave us A Nameless Witch and Too Many Curses, two novels with female protagonists, and apparently he does something with these characters that I wish more writers, both male and female, would do for their female leads -- he lets them be WEIRD. His most recent novel, The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, definitely looks intriguing. (I admit I can be very shallow when it comes to names. If a book or series features a female lead with a name I highly dislike -- e.g. "Kitty Katt" or "America Singer" -- I won't touch it. But if a female lead is named "Constance Verity," that persuades me in the opposite direction. She just seems like someone I have to get to know.)
So who has read Martinez's work? Are his points salient? How well does he practice what he preaches here?
I have more positive impressions of Todd Lockwood, whose The Summer Dragon I am also reading. The heroine in this book also keeps getting into trouble, but she's depicted with an intensity and sympathy that puts me on her side. Plus
I am always impressed when a writer takes a stand and sticks to it. In the case of “The War of the First Day,” the whole book is about women. The only males are unnamed enemy soldiers of the cannon fodder variety. Interesting that the author is a male. It’s worth a read just to find out how he approaches it...
The main character, Lilta, is an apprentice witch who develops nicely over the course of the story...
The story is told through the first person point of view of an aspirant witch caught up in a civil war among her sisters...
Regarding the characters, I found them all, mostly women, to be utterly credible in terms of their personalities even though their actual existence is, of course, entirely fanciful. They are drawn with consistency and made real by their desires, hopes, dreams and mistakes. ...I forgot this book had been written by a male author as I was so immersed in the world described by the female protagonist that she became very ‘real’ to me...
Linden Avery is a key figure in the second trilogy. A medical doctor, much of the story is told from her perspective and her skills are crucial as the plot unfolds.
Terisa Morgan is the central figure of the Mordant's Need duology, a lighter fantasy read that doesn't descend into the dark moments of Donaldson's other work. She interacts with other key female characters.
Rape crops up again in The Gap Cycle, but Morn Hyland is a powerful character who takes possession of her own fate against incredible odds and is again the story's hero.
In Donaldson's latest work, The King's Justice: Two Novellas, the second story "The Auger's Gambit" features a matriarchy where the queen and her heir apparent are the most powerful figures.
I don't really find evil or villainous female characters very empowering. This may be a flaw in my own reading of them, but if female power/authority is presented as something to dread and to be overcome, how is that empowering? This is part of my issue with The Aeronaut's Windlass, though I admit the book is growing on me by virtue of its being darn entertaining and hard to put down.
That first Covenant trilogy aside, I don't think Donaldson presents female power/authority as something evil.
Now, which male writers depict female power (magery) and/or leadership in a sympathetic light? One that comes to mind immediately is Django Wexler, as the female military officer rises through the ranks without losing her integrity (at least in the novels I've read so far -- haven't read the fourth one yet) and the politically active princess becomes a decent and idealistic Queen in his Shadow Campaigns series. Max Gladstone also does a good job of putting women in powerful positions without writing them as evil or innately corrupt.
But I've found another author to avoid: Kel Kade. His epic fantasy series has gotten a lot of love from some quarters, but everything I've encountered about it makes it clear that while he does include more than one female character in the story, all the women -- and I do mean ALL of them -- have only two defining features: 1) they are female, and 2) they are all head over heels in love with the studly, uber-competent hero. Looks like another master class on How NOT to Write Female Characters.
I had consigned Mark Lawrence to the Avoid pile largely thanks to his first two trilogies, Broken Empire and Red Queen's War. The former is quite simply WAY too grimdark for my liking, the protagonist being a character who's supposed to fascinate us but whom we are not supposed to admire in any way. Very early on we see him as
Yet I confess that early buzz has me quite curious about Lawrence's new book, Red Sister, the start of a new series. Reviews suggest that while it still includes plenty of the violence and brutality Lawrence is famous for, it's not wholly grimdark. Also, I read an AMA Lawrence did over on Reddit Fantasy, in which he names the female lead of the new series, Nona, as his most sympathetic protagonist yet -- an answer that disappointed some of the participants, who would rather he stick to asshole protags. I'm considering taking him out of the Avoid Pile to read this book, though I will continue to shun the earlier series. Is this book on anybody's radar? Any thoughts about it?
Brian Staveley I mentioned earlier in the thread as being one of those "Be Patient and Wait" guys with his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series. Yet he has a new book coming out, Skullsworn, which centers on a female lead. This one has me curious as well. This may be the year for certain authors to try new things.
Here's a section of my review:
It's extremely different from all his previous books: you got a handful of male characters, but everyone key is female, from all ages. And boy, does Mark know how to write women! Although I think he's a follower of the rule "just write real people", rather than making men/women that different.
We normally admire Robin Hobb for the way she writes characters, and I think in this book Mark went up there too, with everyone.
Also, those who didn't like the previous books for all the violence, please give this one a try.
Yes, there are fights, but it's above all, a book about feelings, about acceptance, about finding your path in life.
It's a book that should be mandatory reading for all young girls.
I've also decided to move Modesitt into the Avoid pile. Just read some reviews of the first two of his Recluse series, where he apparently has some pretty horrible things to say about women and feminism. (Women will abuse power if they get it. Where have I heard THAT before?) I have my doubts he would write a female hero I would end up liking.
Bonus points for inclusion of a female friendship element that gets just as big a spotlight as the main male character (who I'm assuming will be future love interest).
What are some thoughts on Eoin Colfer? I've been hesitant to go near his most famous work because I have an instinctive aversion to "Male Hero (or Anti-Hero, as the case may be) vs. Female Villain" stories,
I'm going to tell anyone who will listen to read Curtis Craddock's debut novel An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors. Its female lead, Isabelle des Zephyrs, absolutely captivated me.