I have spent a great deal of time blogging about the Twilight Saga and critiquing the way that the characters, especially Bella Swan, are written. I want everyone to know that I read other books too, and want to take a few moments of everyone’s time to highlight some that I think are great.
When I choose a book I really do just stand in the store and stare at the shelves until something jumps out at me. I give a brief glance over and can usually tell fairy quickly that I will or will not enjoy a book. Contrary to popular sayings, sometimes you can actually judge a book by its cover. If the cover depicts a woman as overly sexualized I tend to turn away (the exception being the Kushiel’s series, but those covers are rather tasteful compared to some of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy books I see). I have bought my fair share of books that I hated, but more often than not I pick a book that I thoroughly enjoy. I tend toward the Fantasy section w/ my preference in alternate histories or older medieval settings, but I will pretty much read any genre. The exception is that I don’t really care for “Urban Fantasy”, anything set in modern times or the future keeps my attention less. I find that the books I enjoy more are written by women authors who more often than not (and believe me, I have seen some doozies) are better at writing women in a realistic and respectful way. Women’s stories written by women have more often than not satisfied my fantasy literature needs. Women protagonists who kick ass by women authors. Here are the best of my recent reads:
Starting out as two halves of the same soul, divided along magical lines in infancy. Mirage is a Hunter, highly skilled and trained in the arts of pursuit and assassination. Mirage never fails to get her mark. She isn’t just awesome for a girl, she is arguably the best Hunter anyone has ever seen ever. Miryo is a Witch about to take her final test to open the blocked channels to her magic, her birthright. She has a brilliant mind and is clever and resourceful. Miryo is the Maiden, Bride, Mother, Crone, and Mirage is the Warrior. Together they find a way prevent the death of either of them, something no one ever thought coujld be done before. When they rejoin and become Mirei she is still a skilled Hunter and a Witch w/ powers no one believed could exist until now. Mirei’s existence shakes the foundations (in one scene, literally) of how life and magic are have always been, and she displays both the strength of character and the brains (as well as brawn) to avert revolution, saving her own life and the lives of so many others who started out as she did.
Convicted of murdering her benefactor’s son Yelena is faced w/ a choice: A quick death by hanging or a job as the Commander’s food taster, which could mean a slow and agonizing death. According to Ixia’s military ruling law the job must go to someone whose life is already forfeit, and the food taster is poisoned w/ Butterfly’s Dust, a poison that will kill a person in two days time if an antidote isn’t taken daily. Desperate for life and emaciated from over a year in a prison cell, Yelena takes the gamble and accepts the job. She quickly becomes the most talented food taster that Commander Ambrose has ever employed, w/ a keen sense of smell and taste and a brilliant memory. Yelena decides that she must learn self defense, and befriends people who train her in fighting and self defense. Using this and her newly discovered magic powers (outlawed in Ixia) she keeps herself one step ahead of those who would harm her, saving Commander Ambrose’s life in the process. The discovery of her powers means exile in southern Sitia where learning to control her magic leads her to more adventures where she discovers she is a most rare magician, a Soul Finder.
I like also that Yelena is specifically described as a woman of color, having brown skin. My biggest critique of the book is that two of three covers that I own depict a white woman, one w/ blonde hair.
Mary Boleyn- The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory.
The cover description doesn’t do Mary justice. This book is advertised as a fierce competition b/t two sisters over the love of King Henry VIII. The book really isn’t about that at all. There is a mild rivalry in the beginning when Mary is Henry’s mistress, birthing his illegitimate children, when Anne sets her mind to becoming Queen, something Mary never desired. This truly is Mary’s story, where she learns the difference between what she was always told she should want and what she discovers she really wants in her life. Given the time and setting of this Historical Fiction (very well researched, I might add) Mary’s defiance against her family was unheard of. While Mary indeed falls in love w/ King Henry she decides early on that if it should not last that she is more than OK w/ that. Having not ever seen the movie, I really enjoyed this book b/c of Mary’s point of view.
I would say the same about Anne of Cleves in The Boleyn Inheritance, also by Gregory. Anne finds freedom after her marriage to Henry is set aside and she decides to live for herself, and not for the whims of the men in her life any longer. Of the three points of view in this book Anne was the most endearing to me as she overcomes being in a country where she doesn’t even speak the language. She manages her way through an arranged marriage to a man who not only dislikes her immediately, but whose previous three wives are all dead.
This book is also told from the PoV of Katherine Howard, the young fifth wife of Henry VIII, and Jane Parker, sister-in-law to the infamous Anne Boleyn. Gregory’s books are a great look at the lives of women when they truly were the property of the men around them, and how they lived for themselves despite it.
Phédre is touched by the gods, and of a people descended of angels in an alternate Europe. What some criticize as a smutty sex story is actually an incredible adventure series about a woman, an anguisette, cursed by the gods to fell pain and pleasure as one who uses her own abilities to literally save the world several times over. Not just a highly sought after courtesan due to her unique gifts, Phédre is also well educated w/ a brain like a sponge. She speaks dozens of languages and picks new ones up easily, and is somewhat of a religious scholar, studying ancient religious texts in hopes of freeing her childhood friend from his eternal prison. One of her adventures takes her to a land where armies dare not venture to save the son of her greatest enemy (and one of her greatest loves), and then on to a land so far away that time has forgotten it to seek a word that can not be spoken. Throughout the series Phédre is captured, tortured, and even jailed on an island that makes men go insane, and more often than not she puts herself in danger to do the right thing and save a life. An added benefit to this series is the take on sexuality, the rule of the land literally being “Love as thou wilt”, w/ no rules on who you are allowed to love, bed, or both. Not just smut by any means.
Feel free to share your favorite Women by Women in comments.
Also, has anyone out there read the Sookie Stackhouse books? The Guy and I just watched the first season of True Blood, and I am intrigued. I can’t help but feel that this is what would have happened (more or less) if Twilight had gone right, and had, ya know, character depth and a better balance power differential b/t the human woman and her vampire boyfriend. Are the books worth reading since I have enjoyed the show so much thus far?