Female Characters in Fantasy: Sword Length Isn't Everything
“Strong female characters” is a term I see tossed around a lot in the world of genre fiction, and it’s a label I’ll happily slap on to BLOOD’S PRIDE - in fluorescent 80’s orange, preferably. But when I was actually writing the book, I just wanted to create a world that felt absolutely authentic, and for me that meant including women who were visible, relatable and – most of all - active participants in their own stories.
The gender split for the main characters in BLOOD’S PRIDE is nearly even, but female characters aren’t compelling when they’re stuck in tired, passive roles. It’s the “strong” part that’s the delicious gravy on my open-faced world-building sandwich.
I love warrior women, and BLOOD’S PRIDE certainly has its fair share of the sword-wielding variety. But “warrior” is not a character trait: it’s an occupation. Just because these women are fighters doesn’t mean they’re all cut from the same cloth, any more than the men they fight against or alongside. At the same time, a woman doesn’t need a sword to be a fighter. Sometimes the most effective weapons are a keen mind, a courageous heart and a good bit of stubborn determination.
You can put a sword in a character’s hand, give her skill and physical strength, make her passionate or intriguingly laconic… but a collection of traits doesn’t make a strong character. I like it best when characters are revealed through their relationships – and with such a varied cast at my disposal, I had the fun of delving into all kinds of relationships. Some are romantic, absolutely, but more than a few have nothing to do with men at all: sisters in constant conflict, damaged by the same tragedy but in very different ways; two married women, each critical of the other’s choices; a woman so twisted by the loss of her own mother that she can’t accept the love of someone eager to fill that role.
That brings me to two issues that females in fantasy seem to face all of the time, but which you won’t find in BLOOD’S PRIDE: constrictive gender roles, and sexual violence.
Every woman I know deals with gender bias in some form, but none of them frame their lives or goals in those terms. As a source of conflict, I find it dull and beside the point: I’m interested in exploring a person’s life, not whether or not she’s allowed to have it. This is the point where someone usually brings up the idea of “historical accuracy” and asserts that a pre-industrial society with gender equality is not realistic. Happily for me, I’m not writing historical fiction, but speculative fiction – and I'd like to speculate about a world where a woman can get up in the morning, get dressed, and get on with her day without having to “defy convention” every five seconds.
As for sexual violence, few things turn me off more than seeing victimization treated as a short-cut to character development. Sexual violence has its place in fiction alongside everything else, but it’s far too complex an issue to use as a device for moving a plot forward or motivating a character (particularly when the character being motivated is not the person victimized, but someone angry on her behalf.)
As a writer, I’m hoping to bring to my female characters the same degree of authenticity I would to any character. My attitudes are not shaped only by a mythologized version of medieval European societies, but by my experiences now, as a woman in the 21st century with a watchful eye on the trend of history. It’s a happy coincidence that on the day I sat down to write this post, the Pentagon lifted the ban on women in combat. As President Obama said, “valor knows no gender.” Well, amen to that.
About Blood's Pride
Shattered Kingdoms 1
Tor Books, February 19, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 528 pages
Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.
Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising—but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?
This thrilling new epic fantasy is set in a quasi-Medieval Mediterranean region, drawing together the warrior culture of Vikings, the wanderlust of desert nomads, and the oracles of ancient Greece. Evie Manieri's Blood's Pride is an intricate, lush fantasy novel full of taut action, gut-wrenching betrayal, and soaring romance.
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