A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘Farseer Trilogy’

A Quick Post about Fitz

I was at the bookstore recently and discovered that Robin Hobb has started another trilogy about Fitz! If you don’t know about my unending love for this character (and his story!) check out this post from 2013. And then go check out the books.

Anyway, I admit I’ve fallen down on reading lately (the major exception being Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents) and haven’t read anything by Robin Hobb for what feels like (and probably is) years. Quick reason why: her Liveship Traders trilogy did not capture me the way her Farseer trilogy did, and after the Tawny man trilogy I thought her days of writing about Fitz were over. Now that I know otherwise, I am ready to reinvest in the southern portion of her world (I have a strong belief that one ought to read books in the order they are written – and I’m glad I do that because Hobb is a master of weaving tales together). So I am embarking on the quest to read her Rain Wilds books.

-Emily

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Reclaiming Fantasy Part 7, Hero or Heroine

Browse your bookshelf for a moment. How many of the fantasy books there have male leads? Almost all of them? That’s what I thought. Where are the female protagonists?

I didn’t get into fantasy until I started reading books by Tamora Pierce. She was the first fantasy author I found in my young years that was not afraid to give us a strong, female lead (and one that was still incredibly realistic). I don’t think I’ve ever read a single fantasy book written by a male author that had a strong female lead and, in unhappy truth, most female fantasy authors write male leads too. I have nothing against male leads. My favorite book trilogy is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (a woman) and the main character is a boy/man. I’m just saying that we need more well-written female protagonists.

Examples of well-written female protagonists:

-Alissa in Dawn Cook’s Truth series. In these four books, Alissa sets off to become a keeper (basically a sorcerer) and discovers that she has the key to defeating the bad guy. She isn’t afraid to be cunning – namely by making the villain think that her male companion is the sorcerer – and she fights back when her friends are threatened.

-Magiere and Wynn from the Noble Dead Saga by Barb and JC Hendee. These two female characters are as different as can be, and yet they are both characters that I love. Magiere is the (stereotypical) “warrior-chick” (a sexist term and character type) that won’t let anyone in, but as the series progresses she develops and becomes a much more well-rounded, interesting character. Even more interesting is Wynn, who isn’t introduced right away. She is a scholar, and she is by far my favorite character of the series because she shows that the “strong female lead” doesn’t have to be the sorceress or the warrior.

-Mel in Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel. Sure, she’s a teenager that is presumptuous and takes stupid risks, but what teenager isn’t? Mel is determined to defend a Covenant that the king wants to break, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to do it. She’s loud and her assumptions get her into trouble, but she’s also normal. She gets scared, she makes mistakes, and she learns that she isn’t always right.

Those are a few of my favorite female protagonists. In addition, the heroines of Tamora Pierce’s novels are some of my favorite, especially for younger audiences.

I avoid calling these female protagonists “strong” not because they aren’t (for sure, they are the strongest) but because of the connotation that goes along with “strong.” Too frequently, a “strong female character” is really just a (pardon my language) bitchy character. She doesn’t have any strength, she just yells at everyone around her. A temper doesn’t make your female protagonist strong, neither does lack of feeling. And seriously, I hate it when a female protagonist starts out as unfeeling and grows to care or let someone in – to me that screams that the only thing women are good for is to find romance. Seriously, that kind of subplot only drowns out the primary plot. (As I have said before, I am sure that there are examples that prove me wrong, I am painting in broad brushstrokes.)

On that note, I’d like to share something. A friend of mine recently asked “Does having a female protagonist automatically mean the story will have romance in it?” My gut reaction was NO, because obviously that is the answer. I’ve thought about it. While I stand by my answer that having a female protagonist doesn’t mean the story has to have romance, it is important to look at the reasons my friend thought this.

Female protagonists tend to deal with romance, it is true. But that may be because women authors focus more on life issues rather than warfare and “manly” things. (I could be wrong, of course.) In addition, men who write a female character in might only have her there as a love interest or a plot initiator. (Again, I am sure there are books that counter this assumption, and by no means am I saying that male writers do this on purpose – it is culturally reinforced in the United States and many other places around the world.) In addition, many female readers are young adults and they crave the romantic aspect. Perhaps many authors just go with it, since they know it sells.

But here is the issue. Female characters are dehumanized by authors – and not just male authors. I’ve done it, I’m sure all of you have. My latest rewrite of Quest for Salvation involves giving my main character back her agency. I took it away without even realizing it, and the story has suffered for it. She became reactive rather than proactive. That won’t work.

To me, it’s all the worse when a male author dehumanizes the female characters. When they are only tools or props or scenery, I want to vomit. It’s sexism, plain and simple.

So here’s the thing. Next time you’re itching to pick up a pen and write that next novel, think about your protagonist. Think long and hard. What message are we sending readers?

Take care, fellow travelers.

P.S. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t include Katniss from The Hunger Games. Simple reason: that’s sci-fi and not fantasy. If we were talking sci-fi, I’d have a few more names to add to the list. Also, the second “related article” is excellent. Please read it.

Robin Hobb – her amazing books

I don’t normally write reviews or go into very much detail about why I am recommending a particular book. Usually, I just say it is fantastic and if people decide to read it they decide to read it. But this morning I finished the third book of Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man series, and I have been moved to encourage all of you, my followers, to read her work.

I will not be posting any spoilers, so don’t worry about that. Also, this won’t be so much a review as it is a story of how I fell in love with the work of Robin Hobb.

I bought Assassin’s Apprentice when I was a junior in high school. The blurb on the back was intriguing, and I liked the cover. Unfortunately, each time I started reading it I had a hard time getting past the style of writing (which now I love). The sentences are often crafted in a slightly unusual order, and the author uses rather flowery language (which is great since it is in first person) and at the time I first picked the book up, I was unprepared for that kind of writing. It really is something you have to be ready for, but it is worth it. I discovered this when I finally got around to reading the whole book, the summer after my senior year.

All it took was that one book and I was enchanted. I already had the other two in the series (I like to buy as many books in a series as possible at the same time) and so I kept reading. Robin Hobb is a master at getting readers invested in the plot. My heart broke a hundred times for the main character (Fitz), and I swear I have never cried so much (out of happiness and sadness) for any other character than Fitz.  The Farseer Trilogy is an emotional roller-coaster that is well worth the ride.

I didn’t get around to reading anymore of Robin Hobb’s books until junior year of college. I picked up her Liveship Traders trilogy and was once again immersed in the beautiful world that she has created. Admittedly, this trilogy does not compare (in my opinion) to the brilliance of either the Farseer trilogy or the Tawny Man trilogy, but if you are going to read the Tawny Man books you must read this trilogy as well, otherwise the next books will not have quite the same impact.

Over the past six months, I have read the Tawny Man trilogy. I took it slow, as I often do when I love a book or series so much that I don’t want it to end.

These books by Robin Hobb are truly the best books I have ever read. The characters have incredible depth, all of the secondary characters are well-developed and given their own lives independent of Fitz, and there are hard nuggets of truth about real life throughout the books.

Truly, it is a world worth getting lost in.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Fiction and Real Life

Last Wednesday, I mentioned that I have started work on a pet project, and that it is YA. In my attempts to procrastinate working on various tasks, I came across some articles and posts about how certain books and TV shows exemplify and work through real life issues. Now, I’ve said this a few times before but I will reiterate: fiction, regardless of genre or medium, needs to reflect real life. This is especially true for YA, because teenagers are often struggling with issues that they keep hidden, or have no resources to help them work through it. Sometimes the only way they know that they aren’t alone is by reading a book, and seeing characters going through the same things – even if there are fantastical elements to the story.

I believe that the primary focus of writers should be to tell a good story, but I don’t think a story without a message can ever live up to the enduring prestige of those stories that say something important. There is no doubt that this belief has been influenced by my study and love of Russian literature. Many classic books (whether they are Russian or not) have important messages that echo throughout the ages. Crime and Punishment questions whether a person can do whatever they want just because they are “better” (or if some people really are better than others)While I don’t think YA books need this level of  musing, it is important to have a purpose behind writing.

Now, by no means am I saying that books need to be preachy or overtly biased in the message: it is up to readers to interpret what we writers are trying to say. I merely mean to make the assertion that there ought to be room for people to connect and interpret. The best way to explain is through examples, and so I have some for you. They are from both books and TV, and mostly from what I would consider to be YA fiction.

Many articles have been written on the real-life relevance of Harry Potter. Integral to the plot are messages about prejudice, abuse, death and immortality, betrayal, loyalty, oppression, and sacrifice. When the books first came out, I never saw these themes (I was a kid, after all), but as I grew and kept reading the books, it became obvious that they had relevance to real life. This wasn’t just the story of a boy who found out he was a wizard. This was the story of a boy determined to make a change in the world around him. He grew out of terrible circumstances and did something amazing, as did the people around him (heck – look where Neville ended up!).

The Hunger Games is another YA book series that has an incredible message. It is about children being exposed to (and forced to participate in) violence. It is about standing up for what you believe in and thinking of those you love. It is also, in my interpretation, about peer pressure (particularly in Mockingjay, book 3 of the trilogy).

The Farseer Trilogy, though not YA, deals with difficult real-life issues such as addictions, depression, and if people should always be obedient to authority.

Books aren’t the only medium in which reality informs fiction. The best TV shows and movies do the same thing. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and her friends deal with a myriad of issues from relationship trouble to the death of loved ones to doing the right thing even though they know it will hurt to doing the wrong thing because they are in so much pain. M.E. Kinkade recently had an excellent post called High School as Hell: Buffy the Vampire Slayer about – you guessed it – how the show (at least the first few seasons) is about how rough high school can be. Stargate, a show about traveling through a wormhole to other planets and encountering other civilizations, deals with cultural issues, prejudice, and imposing one person/group’s values and morals on another person or group.

Stories – be they books, TV shows, or movies – need real life relevance. A story without something to say to me, no matter how good it is, leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

Do you think that books should have messages? Do you have a favorite book (or show or movie) with a message?

Take care, fellow travelers.

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