"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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Women in Eolyn's History

In crafting Eolyn's world, I put a lot of thought into the History of Moisehén, because the circumstances and importance of Eolyn's struggle were, in many ways, predetermined by other people and events, in both the recent and distant past. As Eolyn's story develops, her understanding of Moisehén and her place among her people is strongly influenced by what she learns of their history. And -- as I've mentioned before -- history is a mutable entity in in my novel, with historical events very much subject to individual interpretation. Of course, that does not make any one character's version "wrong", it simply underlines the fact that our view of history is very much influenced by what we live and how we see in our personal and collective past.

In the history of Moisehén, there are two women who become important figures for Eolyn: Aithne, whom Eolyn adopts as an example of who she would like to emulate, and Briana, who becomes an example of the kind of fate Eolyn hopes to avoid. Aithne is a legendary woman of the distant past, the first person to discover magic and bring it to her people, as related in the Origin of Magic. Briana is a more recent historical figure, a formidable maga and the incipient leader of the Clan of East Selen, who saw her people massacred by the Mage King Kedehen and then, for reasons never fully understood, agreed to become his queen and bear him an heir in the person of Akmael. Briana was eventually confined to the East Tower of Kedehen's fortress, where she spent the last years of her life before being assassinated by the Maga Warrior Kaie. It is the tragedy of Briana's story that most haunts Eolyn's psyche, as she is drawn into war against the new Mage King Akmael and struggles with confliction emotions of fear and attraction.

I gave Eolyn heroines of the past, because I too have heroines of the past, women whose lives have inspired my own in one way or another. Some of them are family heroines, like my mother and my grandmothers. Others are more famous folk that people have written books and made movies about, like Queen Elizabeth I or Kleopatra. I'd love to list them all here, but of course, we'd be stuck on this blog post for the next 20 years if I did. So I'll offer just a few examples of my favorites:

Kleopatra -- Who I think has been consistently misrepresented in popular movies and TV series, but wow! Talk about millenial mystique. My favorite historical novel about her is by Karen Essex, under the same name Kleopatra. This is part one of a two-part novel series, and covers the circumstances of her rise to power. No Marc Antony in the whole book, but believe me, you won't miss him. I haven't yet gotten around to Kleopatra Volume II, but if any of you all have, I'd love to hear how it is. There is also a very nice short biography of Kleopatra in Antonia Fraser's The Warrior Queens.

Pope Joan -- May not have even existed, but wouldn't it be cool if she did? I've read a couple versions of Pope Joan's story; one of my favorites is journalist Peter Stanford's The Legend of Pope Joan, which reads kinds of like a whodunit of history.

Eleanor of Acquitaine -- What can I say? No list is complete without her. The biography I read was Alison Weir's Eleanor of Acquitaine: A Life, which left me wanting to write a historical fiction novel about this woman, who centuries later persists in our imagination despite the paucity of contemporary written records about her. Unfortunately, it looks like Weir beat me to the finish line, having recently published Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Acquitaine. Guess I'll have to check that one out.
Isabella de Medici -- A new addition to my list, thanks to my sister's recommendation of the book Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy. Daughter to Duke Cosimo I, she is an icon of Renaissance Italy: beautiful, brilliant, passionate. A great patroness of artists, musicians and poets. More Medici than her Medici brothers, Isabella was murdered shortly after her father's death, for the crime of living as if she could expect the same privileges and freedom as the men of her time and station.

Queen Elizabeth I -- Again, no list is complete without her. I've read a lot of books about this remarkable woman, but one of my favorites is Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey, which covers the very uncertain period of her life between when her father died and when she assumed the crown.

Okay. I think I'll stop there for now, or we'll be at it all week. But before I wrap up my own spiel, please tell me: Who are your favorite heroes and heroines of history?

Today's image is a portrait of Isabella de Medici by Alessandro Alori.