I’m happy to welcome Riella to my notebook today. Riella is a character in Tom Stacey’s Exile and she’s got a lot to say about women in historical fantasy. I should have my review of the book up soon.
Historical fantasy used to be something only men did. Only men wrote it or only men read it or only men enjoyed it. It used to be that women were relegated to helpless perfumed maidens in castle towers or filthy old hags that had only wisdom and stink to offer. Sure, sometimes we were allowed to fight: we got given elegant looking blades and revealing armour that was more likely to kill you through cold than stop a blade. If we were allowed to stand up for ourselves at all it was only on their terms, as objects for them to gawk at.
Perhaps more men do read historical fantasy than women. After all, they’ve always been obsessed with maiming and killing, as long as they don’t have to get bloody. What little boy isn’t given a wooden sword to beat his friends with? Meanwhile we’re asked to knit daisy chains, or help mother with the supper. Remember girls, if you can’t be pretty, you better be good at manual labour. It offends a man’s vanity to sweep the floor or mend clothes.
However things are changing. Books like A Game of Thrones have taught the world that women can be fully fleshed human characters outside of a sickly romance novel. They are not ruled by their loins, but by their minds. They are not defined by their sex but by their character. I heard that when George R. R. Martin was asked how he wrote women so well, he said that he always imagined them as people. Apparently this was a revelation. For what they don’t understand is that our struggles are as real or more real than any muscled brute in armour. We may not have the physical strength to stand toe to toe, but our fight is no less desperate. A woman’s strength is inside her, and people like GRRM understand this.
Any female character is going to be put into horrible situations as often as the male characters. That’s what drama is all about. But what makes the difference is that a lot of the time we have less options. We are less likely to be able to flex our biceps and break the chains that bind us. We can’t cut our way through hundreds of enemies that are bigger and stronger than us. We have to think our way out of danger. We have to be sharper and firmer, and sometimes more ruthless than any lord in his castle or warrior in the field.
We’re here to stay, and not as mothers, or sisters or daughters, but as women. Our stories are growing in number, as are the women who want to tell them, and I think that a lot of the time they are the most interesting ones to read.
On the fringes of the Verian Empire, two small boys stumble upon a strange altar, buried in the heart of a mountain. There they awaken a horror unseen for generations, that will descend upon the realm of men while it is at its weakest. For Veria is a nation at war with itself, only recently recovered from a bloody rebellion, and the time of heroes has passed. The empire is in a state of chaos, and while its ruler, the Empron Illis, rids the land of his remaining enemies, unseen forces are gathering at the borders. However all eyes are turned inwards. The Empron is not a well man, and there are whispers among the common folk that his advisors are spies; demons that only wear the flesh of men.
Yet there is hope...
In the distant mountains, a forester who has buried his past learns that he has not been forgotten, and that his crimes have sought him out at last. But he is no simple woodsman. He is Beccorban the Helhammer, Scourge, Burner and the Death of Nations, and his fury is a terrible thing.
For when all the heroes are gone, Veria will turn to those it has forgotten, before all is lost.