Monday, June 25, 2012

I See Your Cover. I Judge the Sh*t Out of You


I read a lot of fantasy as a teenager. High fantasy, with swords and dragons and magic and stuff. And then I got annoyed with it, because there were hardly any decent female characters to be found. 

Caroline Chisolm, an early advocate for women’s rights in colonial Australia, said that women were categorised as either “damned whores or God’s police”. And both were equally maligned. It seemed to me that there also existed two extremes of women in the fantasy novels I read: the Love Interest or the Evil Magic Bitch. A woman with power was usually evil (and don't get me started on the link between childless and evil), and any other women were young, beautiful, docile, and had nothing to do except sit around brushing their hair until the hero took care of whatever was plaguing the kingdom.

This is sort of understandable. After all, a lot of high fantasy is modelled along very medieval lines, and it’s not like there were too many career opportunities for women in those days. But what annoyed me even more than the stereotypes were the obvious ham-fisted attempts to redress the gender balance: women in steel bustiers and short leather skirts who wielded swords. Because they weren’t put in that book for me. They were put in that book to give fourteen-year-old boys something to fantasise about. As though fourteen-year-old boys are short of material.

For all I know, this is a good book: 

You can buy this at Amazon
But I will never know, because I can't get past the cover. 

"Huntin' dragons today. No, I don't think I will wear my armour. I'm sure my bikini will offer adequate protection. And bust support." 

*** 
So, please, feel free to recommend a high fantasy book to me with well-rounded characters, both men and women, who aren’t bound by stereotypes.

16 comments:

  1. Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy is YA high fantasy and freaking awesome! No bikini clad women to be found! :D

    Covers like that make me Judgey McJudgerton too.

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    1. I will check it out!

      Lol at Judgey McJudgerton!

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  2. Dragonflight by Anne McCafferey

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    1. I have read dome of the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey -- years ago. I might need to check them out again because they were good!

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  3. After recommending this comic and this video, I can recommend the first three books of Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series.

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    1. OMG! The Boots of Swiftness and the Tassels of Intimidation! That video is hilarious! You always find the best stuff, MC :)

      Thanks for the recommendation!

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  4. It's just so ridiculous, isn't it? I couldn't find the kind of female hero I wanted to read about, so I invented one. And she wears real clothes too!

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    1. And that's how moulds get broken! I can't wait to read about your female hero in print, LG.

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  5. OK, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I admit I do too. The cover, the title, and the first page are all gatekeepers for me.

    Recommendations:

    The Darkglass Mountain trilogy, by Sara Douglass. The female lead is rather messed up, but definitely carves her own path through the story. The bit I had to get over was plowing through 600+ pages of the first book only to find it wasn't a standalone story as I'd expected, but cut off mid-flow to be picked up in the next equally-weighty tome.

    Mordant's Need - a two-part fantasy by Stephen Donaldson. Again, the female lead hardly fits either of the stereotypes you mention.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Botanist.

      A messed up lead is fine. ACtually, for me, the more messed up the better!

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  6. I love the Wheel of Time series, which has lots of strong female characters. Also, the Shannara series has cool, and strong, and not always evil, female characters.

    Also love the Australian author Isobelle Carmody and her Aussie characters in the Legendsong trilogy (third book still not published!!).

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  7. Thanks for the recommendations, Trisha!

    I've read Isobelle Carmody before, and loved her, so I will need to keep an eye out for Legendsong.

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  8. I have some thoughts on fantasy. I think "fantasy" is the romance genre for men. I've noticed almost universally that men young-to middle-aged for the most part read tons of fantasy fiction. They read far more than women do in the strictly fantasy genre. So this is the demographic that gets catered too.

    Now women have romance, paranormal romance, young adult fantasy romance, etc. Which is why female characters are so prevalent both on covers and as protags.

    So when you think of women having a cliched and out of touch role with modern sensibilities in medieval fantasy books, well that's because you're reading "porn for straight alpha and beta male guys". Beta males are the nerds that want to have a girlfriend that are into comic books, are not strong or dripping testosterone, and are frequently into computers. So yeah...their porn is to read these fantasy books in which women have two kinds of roles. The evil ones are the ones in power and are viewed in this light most likely as revenge for all the girls that spurned their advances in high school. And the demure nice ones combing their hair and who are still virgins are their dreams come true.

    Anyway, it's just a thought that I had. You can agree or disagree.

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    1. I think you're probably right, Michael! Certainly when it comes to so much B-Grade high fantasy out there. Obviously it's not marketed at me. :)

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  9. It's the cover that draws the reader in and the blurb that makes them open the pages. So covers are EVERYTHING!

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    1. I totally agree, Nancy! And that cover is just not for me.

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