"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Women Warriors

Before getting into today's topic, a couple announcements:

First, the Dead Horse Society will be hosting its annual public reading this Saturday, September 11, starting at 6:30pm at the Writer's Place in Kansas City, MO. Entitled IGNITION, the reading will feature ten awesome authors from the Kansas City area who will read works of fantasy, horror and science fiction. I'll be there to share an excerpt from EOLYN. If you're in the area, please come join us. It's going to be a great evening.

I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention, October 28-31, in Columbus, OH, where Terri-Lynne DeFino and I will share a reading panel. Terri will read an excerpt from her novel FINDER, which will soon be available from Hadley Rille Books. I will be reading an excerpt from EOLYN. The exact time of our half hour slot has not yet been confirmed, but I'll be sure to post it here as soon as it is. Hope to see you there!
Also, I've made several changes on the blog this weekend. There is now a separate page entitled Events and Announcements, where I am posting important dates. Check here regularly if you are looking for information about upcoming readings, book signings (which won't start happening until next spring & summer, but hey -- it's never too early to start thinking about it) and other events concerning the novel EOLYN or related topics. Also, I've now posted the first three chapters of EOLYN, each on its own page, so new and returning visitors can have a fairly comprehensive preview of the novel.

That's it for announcements. On to this week's topic...

Meet Ki'leah (pictured above), the heroine of Kim Vandervort's young adult fantasy series that starts with the wonderful novel THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS. The image posted here is the cover design for the second book in the series, THE NORTHERN QUEEN, to be released this fall.

It was Ki'leah's story that convinced me to pitch my own novel to Hadley Rille Books, just about one year ago. Vandervort does a wonderful job of painting a complex, likeable female heroine whose story is embedded in a rich and believable fantasy culture. As part of her journey to destroy the evil sorceress Lyarra and come to terms with her own destiny, Ki'leah -- among other challenging tasks -- learns to fight with a sword. She is not the only woman in her world who has this skill. In fact, her tutor is a woman, the ever-engaging and sharp-tempered Britta, whose legendary skill is unmatched by most men.

Eolyn's world also has its share of women warriors. Her mother Kaie was among the last of a special class of Maga Warriors, witches who knew how to integrated the arts of war and magic and who rose up against the Mage King Kedehen in the time before Eolyn was born. (You can read more about this in A Brief History of Moisehen.) As part of her journey, Eolyn meets the mountain warrior Khelia, who is very gifted in the use of weaponry and has fought many battles side by side with men. (The similarity to the name of Vandervort's protagonist is a coincidence, by the way. Long before reading THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, I had derived the name Khelia from Clelia, a genus of beautiful, non-venomous tropical snakes.)

Eolyn, however, never learns the sword, though she is very skilled with the knife. This is not due to a lack of effort on the part of those who would like to teach her. Early in the story, Akmael tries to instruct her in the basics of swordplay, but fails. Many years later, Khelia will offer Eolyn the same opportunity, but the young maga refuses.

Eolyn's distaste for swords runs deep. On a subconscious level, the trauma of her family's death has left her with a strong revulsion for anything with the power to bring destruction, death and misery. For her the sword is the archetypal symbol of that power. Added to this is the instruction of her tutor Ghemena, who has a powerful and lasting influence on Eolyn's view of the world and the purpose of magic in it. Ghemena abhors war, and anything associated with it, and works very hard to instill Eolyn with the same values.

It was a challenge, on many levels, to build a fantasy novel around a strong female protagonist who does not wield a sword and is averse to war. The current fashion in fantasy seems to run toward so-called 'chicks with swords', who are more than eager to jump into the fray with their male companions. So I experienced no small amount of insecurity in following a different path with Eolyn. But like all responsible authors, in the end I had to be true to my character, and let her be the person she wanted to be.

While it was a bit of a risk to take this approach, I do believe that by capturing Eolyn's story -- her ability to take on formidable challenges without a sword in hand, coupled with the real limitations placed upon her because she knows so little of weaponry in a world subject to constant warfare -- I have touched upon a larger 'truth' about women and women in history, particularly medieval history. As much as we all love to see and read about warrior women, the vast majority of women in centuries past had to get by without a sword in hand. Nonetheless, some extraordinary figures emerged among these females; Eleanor of Acquitaine comes to mind as an example, or the Empress Theophanu. Women who made their mark in history and achieved what they wanted -- and needed -- because they were skilled at using every other tool imaginable to which they had access.

Of course, Eolyn is not entirely defenseless. She commands a very powerful form of magic, which can ward off violent attacks and inflict injury, if she so chooses. She also has that handy little knife, which she does not hesitate to use if necessary. Would she have been better off, in the long run, if I had given her a sword as well? You'll have to read the novel and decide for yourself...