Friday 6 July 2012

Frostfire Blog Tour: Women in Fantasy

Firstly, if you haven't heard of Zoe Marriott, do yourself a favour and look her up.  She is a UK based YA writer of Daughter of the Flames, The Swan Kingdom, Shadows on the Moon (which I reviewed here) and her newest novel Frostfire.  I'm very pleased to welcome her to the blog today as part of the Frostfire tour to talk about women in fantasy.  Take it away Zoe...

One of the questions that I get asked quite frequently when I'm out and about at my regular shenanigans - sometimes by people with puzzled, slightly pitying expressions - is why I write books for young adults. Why *fantasy* for young adults?

Unfortunately the law prevents me from offering the truly appropriate response to such questions (a karate chop to the face) so I've gotten quite good at gently explaining to people that I LOVE YA novels! I love fantasy! And I want to write what I love. I aspire to be the best YA writer that I can be, because I believe - truly believe - that writing the books I do, books in which young woman and their emotional and physical journeys, and heroism both dramatic and personal, are treated as important and worthwhile, is the vocation I was born for.

Of course, the reason I can say all this, and what's more prove it via the kind of characters I chose to write about? Is that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants. Of a generation, two generations, of groundbreaking fantasy writing by some seriously badass ladies about some seriously badass girls. As a youngster growing up I had access to the kind of literary role models that my mother could never have dreamed of. I didn't have to make do with reading about the lone female character in Tolkien over and over or trying to imitate Jane Eyre (great as Eowen and Jane are). I had...well, these guys!

1) Alan/Alanna of Trebond from Tamora Pierce's The Lioness Quartet.

Go find a dictionary. Go on, I'll wait. Now look up 'Badass' in the dictionary. See that picture of a grumpy-looking redhead? Yep, that's my girl Alanna, the classic fantasy badass heroine. Alanna's father intended to send her off to a seminary to be whipped into a proper lady by a bunch of nuns. Fate worse than death. So she swapped places with her twin brother, forged a bunch of paperwork, and went off to become a knight instead, disguised as a boy. AND SHE PULLED IT OFF. It was not easy. She not only had to overcome the fact that she was generally smaller and not as strong as her fellow 'pages' in training at the castle, but cope with her first period, falling in love with boys that were no good for her, and finally 'coming out' to everyone as a woman. She did it through incredible determination and hard work, through never giving up, and through generally being the smartest person in any given room. Along the way she becomes what someone in the books calls 'a fulcrum of destiny' - a person on whom the entire of history can turn. By the end of the quartet no one, even the people who hate her for defying their expectations, can deny her worth. If anyone needs a role model for how to go about changing their life? Alanna of Trebond is the one.

2) Sophie Hatter from Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, and House of Many Ways.

Sophie is another girl who was born into a certain role in her fantasy world. As the oldest of three daughters, she knows it's her fate to fail earliest and worst if she ever sets out to find her fortune. So instead she stays home, being practical and sensible, and looking after everyone but herself, to the point where she starts to fade into the wallpaper and become invisible even to herself. And then one day a witch walks into Sophie's family hat-shop and curses her...and suddenly she is set free of all expectations and let loose on the world. Sophie is the kind of woman that when she wakes up in the morning and her feet hit the floor, the Devil winces and says: 'Crap. She's up'. She stomps around poking her nose into everyone's business, dragging out secrets in clouds of dust, muttering rude things, making a huge mess and then tidying things back into a better order, and eventually wins everything she ever wanted in the first place - adventure, magic, and love. I confess that I've many a time wished I was as forthright and fearless as Sophie Hatter. The world would be a better, and certainly better dusted, place...

3) Harry/Harimad-Sol from Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword

Harry Crewe (original name 'Angharad', but don't call her that or else) is another classic badass heroine. She's shipped off to a foreign land after her father dies, and is almost immediately kidnapped by the apparently insane King of a embattled, occupied nation whom her own people have oppressed for a century. He tells her, rather crossly, that his magic sixth sense says she's supposed to be useful somehow, and to do what she's told. Instead of curling into a small ball and weeping, she decides to make lemonades from these lemons. She ends up with a magical sword, an awesome warhorse, and a band of fiercely loyal friends who would follow her to Hell and back (and pretty much do). But the best thing about Harry is that she makes mistakes. ALL THE TIME. She fumbles and doubts herself and messes up and half the time feels like she doesn't know what she's doing at all - but on the strength of her intense bravery and sense of what is right, she pulls everything into place in the end.

4) Periwinkle from Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea

Peri isn't anyone special on the surface. Her life is about as far from glamorous as can possibly be imagined. Her father was a fisherman who drowned. Her mother is so shattered by her husband's loss that she doesn't know if Peri's there or not. Peri avoids starvation by scrubbing floors in the local little inn, and her raggedy clothes and ratty hair make her the target of mean jokes at worse and indifference at best. But one thing Peri does have is strong feelings - feelings about the sea that stole both her mother and father in different ways, that relentlessly eats away at her tiny island home, and gives her no peace from her grief. So one day Peri curses the sea. And somehow in the chaotic fury of her feelings, the curse works. All the magical bindings of the ocean begin to come undone, bringing sea dragons and magicians and selkies, and the King and his tormented son. And all this gives Peri the chance to finally escape her rage and sorrow and decide who she will be - and it turns out that is someone pretty exceptional after all. Peri's single-minded, stubborn survival is turned from tragedy to triumph, and she transforms everyone around her in the process. Inspiring.

5) Chloe Saunders from Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers Trilogy

Oh Chloe! You, with your titchy stature and blondeness and shyness, are really not anyone's idea of a badass heroine. Not even your own. But you are! You really are! Your kindness, bravery, and refusal to let even outright terror and utmost peril force you to act in ways that go against your conscience (even when certain other people are acting in ways so infuriating that I personally would want to bash them in the head) are already enough to be going on with. But you also refuse to be part of a love triangle and kick that whole thing neatly and sensibly to the curb - and then make it very clear to your boy of choice that while you may be quiet and shy, shouting and bullying from him will NOT be tolerated, thank you very much! Finally, you are a necromancer so powerful that when someone asked you to raise a single person from their grave, you raised the whole graveyard. Chloe, I love you. I wish there were many more like you out there.

6) Irene, Queen of Attolia, from Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief Trilogy

Queen Irene - known mostly in the books as simply Attolia, after the country she rules - is a little different to other heroines on this list. She's never the main character in the trilogy. In the first book, she's seen as a pure antagonist, and a fairly terrifying one at that. In the second book she does something so appalling to Gen, the lead POV character of the first two books, that you honestly want her to die for a little bit. But somehow I love her anyway, and it's because, bit by bit, the author reveals to us the steely will of this character, her history as an abused political puppet who cleverly fought back, and the deep, vulnerable heart within that she tries desperately - and successfully - to conceal from everyone because she knows the merest hint of it will probably get her killed and plunge her nation into cataclysmic civil war. Irene is one of the most interesting characters that I've ever come across. From one point of view she's definitely the villain. From another point of view (one which pays less attention to her gender) she's a fierce warrior who is willing to do anything to keep her country together and the throne out of incompetent hands. Definitely a heroine you want to stay on the right side of...

7) Laura Chant from Margaret Mahy's The Changeover

Laura is another heroine who may not seem all that heroic at first. She's an ordinary schoolgirl, torn between persuading her mum to let her dye a blonde streak in her her hair and getting a boyfriend like her friend says she should, and clinging to the comfortable safety of her world as it is: Laura, her mum, and her little brother, struggling and scraping to get by after Laura's father left, but happy and normal above all, static. But Laura has one uncomfortable talent - a talent for seeing things other people don't. Like Sorenson Carlisle, the boy at school who seems to be a boring goody-two-shoes prefect on the surface, but whom Laura is convinced is some kind of witch. Like Carmody Braque, the strange man in the junk shop who managed to lure her little brother into getting his hand stamped with a disturbing image of Carmody's face... When Laura's brother falls suddenly and horribly ill, Laura realises that no one else will be able to understand the uncanny nature of that stamp on his hand, and that it's up to her to do something if she doesn't want to watch him die. So she reaches out to the strange boy from school, and finds herself dealing with a complex, tricksy young man who has many more secrets than she could have realised, and may need her help too, in a completely different way. Laura has to make a perilous, irreversible transition that will change her forever in order to save her family, but along the way she changes in many other ways as well, and realises that no life, no matter how happy and simple it seems, can stay the same forever.

With heroines like these, it's really no wonder that I grew up to love YA fantasy so much! And no wonder that being a badass in whatever way I can is a personal mission of mine, either. My greatest hope is that reading more great YA fantasies will ensure the next generation - of boys and girls - takes up that mission too. 

Thank you Zoe for adding a TON of books to my list that I need to check out!  Frostfire was published on 5th July, 2012.


  1. fab post from a super fab lady

  2. Love Ms Marriott! Love Ms Newton (even if she can't be in my trailer)

  3. Ah- great post! I seriously love Zoe Marriott's books and I cannot wait for FrostFire.

  4. Zoe Marriott! Love. Love LOVE LOVE.

    Anyway, I definitely added some more books to my radar, because Marriott knows tough heroines. How have I only read two of those?