Welcome to our weekly guest post on what makes a kick ass heroine in science fiction and fantasy. This week’s author Lynn Flewelling shares about the kick ass heroines featured in her book, Luck in the Shadows, and in her Tamír trilogy, which begins with The Bone Doll’s Twin. Thanks for portraying strong women on the page, Lynn, for us all to aspire to!
Since I got into the business back in the nineties there’s been a real blossoming of kick ass female heroines, and I like to think I’ve contributed a few.
Some of my own favorites, in no particular order, include Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson, Kristen Britain’s Karigan, Laura Anne Gilman’s Wren, and, if you will, Bram Stoker’s Mina Harker and “that woman,” Conan Doyle’s Irene Adler (the book versions all.)
They span genres and time, but they all share one thing: guts. Which isn’t to say that they don’t get scared or sad or knocked down. But they get up and keep swinging for the fences every time.
I have a number of kick ass female characters in my books, but I’d like to talk about two: Beka Cavish, a secondary character in the Nightrunner Series, which begins with Luck in the Shadows, and Tobin/Tamír, heroine of the Tamír trilogy, which begins with The Bone Doll’s Twin. Beka is the easy one, so I’ll start with her.
Beka’s father is the best friend and long time partner in adventure of Seregil, the hero of the Nightrunner books, who has been a sort of uncle to her. From these two Beka learned sword play and a thirst for adventures of her own. There’s a war on, so she joins the prestigious Queen’s Horse Guard cavalry regiment where she excels and plays a pivotal role in several of the Nightrunner books, particularly the second, Stalking Darkness, in which she and her group of raiders, the “ghost wolves,” turn the tide of battle at a pivotal moment and help save the world.
She’s not only good with a sword, but smart, honorable, crafty, and a good strategist. She also falls in love with a handsome foreigner. Does she leave the cavalry and settle down to have babies? Not on your life, sister. He goes home with her, serves as a scout in her regiment, and she goes on with her career.
Tobin/Tamír is more complicated. She is heir to the matriarchal throne of Skala, but her uncle has usurped the throne and is killing off potential female claimants, except for Tobin/Tamír’s mother who, though he displaced her, he loves enough to spare. Not so her unborn child—or rather, children. She gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. To protect the girl, the boy is sacrificed to a spell that gives his sister male form for the first thirteen years of her life.
As Tobin, she is sent, with her squire and best friend, Ki, to serve at court with her cousin, who is next in line to the throne. And all this while she has no idea who or what she really is, but has a niggling sense that something isn’t right. When she was very little she was punished for showing an interest in girl’s toys (a well-meaning attempt to protect her) and trained as a boy and a warrior. She finds an outlet in art, a skill inherited from her mad, distant mother.
It all gets very complicated when “he” begins to menstruate in Hidden Warrior and assumes he has plague. The truth comes out, and Tobin is at first not pleased to learn that he has to change gender. By then he’s acclimated to being a boy, although he’s desperately in love with Ki.
As Tamír, she must lead a civil war against her uncle and beloved but flawed cousin to claim the throne and save the land. And all before she’s sixteen. Ultimately she embraces her identity, fights a tragic battle, and assumes her rightful place in the world.
The greatest challenge of writing these characters, and others like them, I think, is to give them what are often considered “male” skills, without allowing them to become the infamous “men with breasts.”
They have to be tough, but feminine—not a girly stereotype feminine, but preserving our strengths: wisdom, persistence, intelligence, compassion, sexuality, resilience, the boundless will to protect who and what we love, just to name a few.
No fictional character is going to embody all of those traits, and each one will have flaws and dark sides, or should, but there is a female essence and you have to capture and bottle it in your kick ass heroine to make her recognizable to the reader as female.
Because that’s the point, isn’t it?
To say to the world “Women can damn well be tough/courageous/wily/strong/wise/what-have-you, and you know what, Dear Reader? So can you.”
About the Author
Lynn Flewelling is best known for her Nightrunner and Tamír series, but has also published short fiction and articles on writing in publications including Speculations and Writer’s Digest. Her article “The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters” has appeared in several books on writing. She teaches occassional workshops, including one on a cruise ship, and enjoys interacting with students and readers. She currently lives with her husband Douglas in Redlands, California. When she’s not writing she can usually be found knitting, hiking, and drinking tea.