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Sister, Healer, Soldier, Spy

October 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Written by Beth Bernobich

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the presence and roles of women in epic fantasy stories. Tansy Roberts wrote a sharp-edged take-down of the notion that women never did anything important in history in her article Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy: Let’s Unpack That. Kameron Hurley followed up a couple months later with ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative.

Read both articles and follow the links for the whole discussion, but the short form is: women have played all kinds of roles and followed all kinds of careers throughout history, and to leave them out of epic fantasy is not historically accurate. You can choose to leave out women, but don’t use history as your excuse.

Much of this debate took place while I was writing Allegiance, the third book in my River of Souls trilogy. The books are epic fantasy, set in a world where souls are reborn from life to life. They’re about a young woman, Ilse Zhalina, and her journey toward independence and agency. And because these novels are epic fantasy, they have lots of characters, and a lot of them are women.

Ilse has changed a great deal since her story began in Passion Play. She’s older, stronger, and more capable. But she’s not the only woman in the book, and certainly not the only strong woman. I wanted to portray a world where the women lived lives as varied as the men did, and where those women are in the foreground of the story. Where they are villains or heroes, queens or merchants, poets or cooks. Sisters, soldiers, healers, or spies.

SISTER

Ilse’s beloved, Raul Kosenmark, has three sisters: “Three barbed and dangerous creatures,” as Raul describes them. Ilse meets all three of them for the first time in Allegiance:

“At last, our foolish brother chose someone with sense. And,” she added, “a very nice sword. My name is Heloïse.”

The rest gave their names rapidly. Marte, tall and slim and with eyebrows arcing over a strong face drawn in uncompromising angles. Olivia, a smaller, rounder version of the same. Terrible creatures, all of them, Ilse thought, with their laughter and smiles edged with sharp wit. She no longer wondered why Raul had absented himself from his home in Valentain. He and they were much alike, shielding their hearts beneath masks. It would be too painful, living with reflections of himself.

And yet, they are more than reflections of their brother. They act together, taking charge when they need to (and sometimes when they don’t). They have their own histories, their own strengths and flaws, their own loves, and their own futures.

HEALER

Not everyone in the story is a noble. Maryshka Rudny lives in the remote village of Ryz, in the far southwest of Károví. She and her mother, Ana, are healers for the village, which gives them a significant measure of authority. When Ilse arrives with a badly wounded companion, Maryshka takes control of the situation:

The young woman thrust back her hair and laid a hand on Bela’s forehead. Her mouth thinned. She touched two fingers to Bela’s throat and her lips moved rapidly. Not an invocation to the gods and magic, Ilse thought, not here in Duszranjo.

Maryshka glanced over her shoulder at the still-arguing men. “Jannik, she’s dying. Louka, if you insist, I can make the pledge myself to Lir, Toc, and your blessed honor, that she won’t hurt anyone or anything.”

“What about the other one?” Louka said.

The young woman’s gaze swung around to meet Ilse’s. “What do you say? Shall I pledge myself for you as well? Speak quickly.”

Maryshka appears only for a short segment of Allegiance, but it’s her skills that save Bela’s life and enable Ilse to continue her journey.

SOLDIER

The injured companion mentioned above is Bela Sovic, a captain in Duke Miro Karasek’s personal guard, skilled in magic as well as warfare. Shortly after they meet, she tells Ilse how she came to serve the Duke:

“It was his father who bought me from the prison. I had tried to fight the pirates on my own after they killed my sister and brother. I—I was less able to distinguish between the enemy and someone merely ignorant, or greedy, and I killed the wrong person. Several wrong persons. The king wished to punish me. I cannot say I disagree, but the old duke believed in mercy. He paid the blood price and took me from the prison. For what he—and his son—have done for me, I would do anything in return.”

And she does—facing exile, injury, and death with courage.

SPY

When Ilse first meets Nadine in Passion Play, Nadine is one of the courtesans in Lord Kosenmark’s pleasure house. Nadine has a complicated past, which she only hints at to Ilse. She also has a deeply ingrained sense of self-preservation because of that past:

Nadine had not shared any of the secrets she had uncovered for herself over the past six years. A little judicious spying. The practice of carelessly glancing over the envelopes the senior runner carried to Kosenmark or his secretary of the moment. All habits learned in previous houses, previous lives. And most effective, when she had discovered certain key listening devices scattered around the pleasure house. Nadine knew about Kosenmark’s political games. He might claim a higher cause for his actions, but in truth, they both wished to survive in a chance-riddled world.

In Allegiance, Nadine turns from courtesan to spy, using her skills in the much wider—and much more dangerous—world of the royal palace. In the end, it’s because of Nadine and her spying that events turn out as they do.

Six women, from different kingdoms and different classes, each of them strong in different ways.

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From the Tor/Forge October 21st newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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Goodreads Sweepstakes: Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter

October 3, 2013 Leave a comment

About Prospero Lost: More than four hundred years after the events of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the sorcerer Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and his other children have attained everlasting life. Miranda is the head of her family’s business, Prospero Inc., which secretly has used its magic for good around the world. One day, Miranda receives a warning from her father: “Beware of the Three Shadowed Ones.” When Miranda goes to her father for an explanation, he is nowhere to be found.

Miranda sets out to find her father and reunite with her estranged siblings, each of which holds a staff of power and secrets about Miranda’s sometimes-foggy past. Her journey through the past, present and future will take her to Venice, Chicago, the Caribbean, Washington, D.C., and the North Pole. To aid her, Miranda brings along Mab, an aerie being who acts like a hard-boiled detective, and Mephistopheles, her mentally-unbalanced brother. Together, they must ward off the Shadowed Ones and other ancient demons who want Prospero’s power for their own…

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends November 1)

Also, don’t forget to check out our other sweepstakes!

Goodreads Sweepstakes: Farthing by Jo Walton

October 2, 2013 3 comments

About Farthing: First published in 2006, Jo Walton’s Farthing was hailed as a masterpiece, a darkly romantic thriller set in an alternate postwar England sliding into fascism.

Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the upper-crust families of the “Farthing set” are gathered for a weekend retreat. Among them is estranged Farthing scion Lucy Kahn, who can’t understand why her and her husband David’s presence was so forcefully requested. Then the country-house idyll is interrupted when the eminent Sir James Thirkie is found murdered—with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest.

Lucy begins to realize that her Jewish husband is about to be framed for the crime—an outcome that would be convenient for altogether too many of the various political machinations underway in Parliament in the coming week. But whoever’s behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn’t reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts and underdogs—and prone to look beyond the obvious as a result.

As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out — a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends November 1)

Also, don’t forget to check out our other sweepstakes!

The Week in Review

September 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Welcome to the week in review! Every Friday, we comb through the links and images we found and shared this week, and pull the very best for this post. Consider it concentrated genre goodness from all around the web.

  • MIT and Harvard have made a real life lightsaber. I want one. Immediately. I promise not to point it at my eyes first thing.
  • Want to see a bit more of the Formics from Ender’s Game? Check out the new TV spot! Not long until November 1st now…
  • Over at Tor.com, The Cure author Douglas E. Richards has taken a two part look at science fiction’s greatest movie villains, asking whether or not they’re psychopaths. It’s a great, fun read. Check out Part One and Part Two.
  • And finally, the full video of Flight From Shadow, a fan-made short film set in the world of The Wheel of Time, has arrived!

 
The Tor/Forge newsletter went out this week! Check out these fascinating articles from our authors:

 
And, just to make Friday that much sweeter, here’s a list of sweepstakes and sales we have going on!

Goodreads Sweepstakes: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

September 25, 2013 Leave a comment

About Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl: Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day…but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?
David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends October 25)

Also, don’t forget to check out our other sweepstakes!

Every Fairy Tale Needs a Good Old-Fashioned Villain

September 23, 2013 8 comments

Written by V. E. Schwab

“Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain.”

—Jim Moriarty, Sherlock (BBC)

Ah, villains.

The word brings to mind maniacal laughter, megalomania, mad scientists, and men in suits (some three-piece and others spandex). Whether after world domination or revenge, or simply looking to cause chaos, we’ve always loved to hate our villains.

But recently, it seems, we’ve changed. Now, we love to love them. We root for them. We relish their on-screen time, their monologues; we savor their darkness, their arrogance, their give-no-&%*#@ attitude. Villains have become our heroes. Or at least our rock stars.

For a while, our appetites were satisfied with the antihero, but our tastes have darkened.

Sure, Hollywood has been recasting classic villains as more nuanced and more sympathetic versions of themselves (see: Magneto in X-Men: Origins) but sometimes, they’re just as bad as they’ve always been. Often, they’re worse. Sicker, more twisted. And more fun.

While Thor’s Loki was cut of a more sympathetic cloth, the Loki we see in The Avengers is all villain and relishing the role. And while his explanations possess his usual poetry, his motives are as classic as they come. World Domination. Power. Revenge.

The meteoric rise of Marvel’s Asgardian outcast — I’ve personally renamed the upcoming Thor sequel, “Loki 2” — is the latest in a new trend: the villain as more than counterpoint. The villain as star.

In the BBC’s Sherlock, Moriarty embraces his villainy, swinging wildly between manic and calculating, supplying us with evil laughs and whispered threats and coy, knowing, one-step-ahead-of-you smiles.

And the fans go wild.

Dr. Horrible may exist in a cheerier vein — or at least a more musical one — but Joss Whedon’s villain origin story perfectly represents the shift from love to hate, from love to love. Neil Patrick Harris’s underdog villain-to-be is undoubtedly the hero, while the “hero” is painted as a hollow, arrogant, ultimately worthless man. Someone to be mocked, not idolized.

Whether the new breed of villain remains firmly ensconced in the antagonist role or steals the protagonist’s spot, they are certainly evolving. Heroes must change, too, stepping farther into the light of good, or, more popularly, into the shadows with the bad.

We have to wonder, looking forward, whether “hero” and “villain” will cease to be synonymous with “good” and “evil”, and simply come to denote which side of a fight you’re on.

That was the seed for Vicious. This revenge tale follows two pre-med students turned super-powered criminals — one erroneously labeled a “hero,” the other a “villain,” since their aims are at odds — and begs the question: when the terms become meaningless, who do you root for?

Vicious may be set in a world without heroes, but there are plenty of villains to go around. They don’t wear capes, or indulge in maniacal laughs — okay, maybe a chuckle or two — but between the ones you’ll love to hate and the ones you might just love, there’s a breed of bad for everyone.

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From the Tor/Forge September 23rd newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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Starred Review: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

September 11, 2013 Leave a comment

“Blake presents a gory, thrilling vision of the twilight of the gods, in all their pettiness and power, while letting readers draw their own messages and conclusions.”

Kendare Blake’s Antigoddess got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the August 5th issue:

 Blake has a real affinity for the way history shapes the present. In Anna Dressed in Blood, a ghost from the 1950s touched an alienated teen in the present; here, the gods of ancient Greece are living out their final days in agony and war, and taking modern mortals down with them. Cassandra Weaver is an ordinary teenager, aside from her psychic abilities, and she struggles to understand the bloody visions that plague her. She senses a connection with the dying characters in them, but why? And why does her boyfriend, Aidan, so readily accept what’s going on? The action is riveting as tattooed and pierced incarnations of Athena and Hermes close in on Cassandra and Aidan; the more context one brings to the images, the eerier they become. Demeter as a leathery skin stretched across the American desert is creepy; in the context of climate change, she is tragic. Blake presents a gory, thrilling vision of the twilight of the gods, in all their pettiness and power, while letting readers draw their own messages and conclusions. Ages 12–up. Agent: Adriann Ranta, Wolf Literary Services. (Sept.)

Antigoddess published on September 10th.