In an attempt to stave off the degradation memory has on my ability to write these reviews, I’m going to try doing a better job at making notes for myself while I read them. I haven’t been doing a very good job of that lately.
Last year, I discovered the novels of Brent Weeks. Soon thereafter, I abandoned what I had thought was going to be an interesting series because I couldn’t stomach the depiction of the women in the books. They were all beautiful and they were all tormented victims.
The beauty issue is nothing shocking; in fact it’s typical. We are used to our heroes – make or female – being gorgeous, thanks to movies and television. Though the trend annoys me endlessly (news flash, non – beautiful people are worth something, too), it’s not a cause that seems to get much traction.
But the degradation of women? People far more intelligent and insightful than I have spent lifetimes writing eloquently about how we fail, and why we need to be better.
But I’ve long wondered how much of a role male writers should play in this. I don’t know what people, generally, have to say on the matter, but I think it’s more complex than it would initially seem to be.
If The Handmaid’s Tale were written by a man, would it be as impactful? Undoubtedly not, I’m sure. But why? Can men not be empathetic? Can men not know what it’s like to be oppressed, or be seen as inferior?
Because I’m sure there are several million black men who could argue with that.
But I think it should be obvious that ethnic and sexual bigotry are different animals, and the tendrils of social programming reach deeply into our psyches through pathways that don’t necessarily overlap .
So maybe the more important question is could a man write something like The Handmaid’s Tale. I think so. There would be differences, but how much those differences would result from some experiencial limitations by men is what interests me.
(And, by the way I’m intentionally leaving aside the question of whether The Handmaid’s Tale should have been written by a man because I feel like that question answers itself.)
So why am I writing about this in a review of a book written by a woman? Valid question. The Brent Weeks books resonated with me for all the wrong reasons.
Fantasy books written by men can deal with the issue of inequality towards women in a better way than what I assume Brent Weeks was going for. I think – I hope – that he was doing something similar to what George RR Martin has been doing in his series: trying to show how hard women in history have had it by making them suffer in his books, but I never reached a denouement where women were elevated, or men were shown to understand what they were doing. There was never a counter to the status quo to prove the lie of their reality. The point seemed to be: women are hot and I like doing bad things to them.
But I can’t fathom that a best selling author intended that to be his message, so I’m chalking it up as my just having missed something.
I love fantasy. I’ve grown up reading it. But so much of it isn’t worth reading because it’s written by men who have no use for female characters (or have no idea how to create them).
The obvious solution to my conundrum is to read more female writers. And that’s honestly a big reason why I picked this book up in the first place. While it’s true that I don’t read enough women, and we don’t, as a society, pay enough attention to female voices, I would be lying if I said that was enough. It isn’t.
Look, I’m man. The male perspective is familiar, and comfortable. I’m not ashamed of that fact. That doesn’t mean I only need to read about men, or that I even want to only read about men – but I’m drawn to those stories. But – Jesus Christ – men need to be better about writing women.
Princess Kelsea was raised in exile. On her eighteenth birthday, her Queen’s Guard arrives to take her to rightful place on the throne. She’s spent her whole life preparing for this day, but now that it’s arrived, she’s found that nothing is quite what she expected. And she is surrounded by enemies.
As the first book in a fantasy series, I found this to be quite good. Kelsea is a strong character – but she’s flawed. She’s not a perfect little jewel. She’s plain, and quick to anger, and doesn’t always have the correct answer.
I liked the book, and generally found the characters engaging. The world was pretty well-developed, and I want to know what happens next. My only qualm, really, is that this book feels like a young adult novel – only with occasional bad language. The protagonist is a teenager, and her youth and inexperience is often at odds with what she’s dealing with.
But it’s a pretty small complaint. This was a good book, and I recommend it.