Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Megan Whalen Turner & Ellen Kushner Have In Common (and why I love them for it)

One of the most amazing series of books I have ever read is the Queen's Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner. For a review that is awesome but non-spoilery (which is VERY important), go here:

Another awesome series consists of Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword (POTS) and The Fall of the Kings (as yet only partly read by me), by Ellen Kushner.

While obsessing over the awesomeness of these books, I realized both series have a couple of very important things in common.

Firstly, how the author treats the romance. In both books, a lot of the romance happens off screen - or at least, on screen but only half-described. Just enough to taunt you and draw you in. It's the aching passion of half-seen love and want that kills me as a reader, and draws me in looking for more.

In POTS and King of Attolia, this is accomplished by using a third character as the narrator. But in Swordspoint and Queen of Attolia, the same effect is achieved without that technique, and beautifully so. So much so that sometimes I want to scream at the authors. I'm stealing something I saw on the nanowrimo forums when I say to both writers: I hate you, which in book language really means that I love you for making my heart ache. 

Another great similarity between the books is the prominence of female characters who have power and their own honour. The idea that a woman has no honour of her own, and can only dirty her (male) relatives' or her family's honour, disgusts me. Lest you think it's an archaic idea, or one not prevalent in "western & modern" culture, let me quote recent president George W. Bush:

“The administration I'll bring is a group of men and women who are focused on what's best for America, honest men and women, decent men and women, women who will see service to our country as a great privilege and who will not stain the house.” (emphasis mine)

Women should be grateful to be let out of the house, he's saying, women need to be careful they don't make the men look bad. But women and men are all simply people, and if people have honour, it belongs to both sexes (and of course also to everyone who doesn't fit the two basic ideas).

Ellen Kushner's books take place in a city where swordsmen duel for the honour of the nearly-always-male nobles who hire them. But in POTS, when Lady Katherine learns to fight, she can defend another young woman's honour. Later, when her mother promises to save her from this insane manliness, Katherine doesn't want to go back to being the "noble society girl". As a swordwoman, she has power, and strength, and freedom. Who in their right mind would give that up for being normal? Normalcy is overrated, and as Lucius Perry from POTS proves, the only normal people are the ones you don't know very well.

There's a lesson in those books, about what power does to people, about honour as power and women as possessions, but it's too much for me to simply lay out here. Read Swordspoint, and then read POTS.

As for the Queen's Thief books, while the main character is a boy (later man) who is absolutely kick-ass, the women in the series are just as amazing - although thankfully in different ways. (I don't think the world could stand more than one Eugenides!)

Attolia, for instance, was traded by her father for peace in his last years as king. While arranged marriages can make sense for the rich and powerful, there is a difference between arranging a marriage and selling your daughter. But then again, she has no honour to be soiled, does she? Don't worry, Attolia gets what's hers back, with interest!

If nothing else, after reading this go find a copy of The Thief, and read it before you find out anything more about the series. Take your time reading the book. Savour it. Trust me. If I ever get amnesia, the one thing I hope I somehow do is read The Thief again, with no foreknowledge. It's that good.

Now go!


P.S. If you're still here, then you probably enjoyed this post, so perhaps you'll also enjoy my recent webzine published story "Roses". It's in a contest issue, and votes for it shower me with sparkles of happiness!

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