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Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Element of Fire cover

Another Old Night Bazaar Post

This is another old Night Bazaar post from 2011: My Favorite Women

This week on Night Bazaar we're talking about our favorite female characters. One of my favorites is the main character of Zelde M'tana by F.M. Busby. I was 16 when the book first came out in 1980, and I still remember the impact the cover had on me. Zelde, facing the viewer, with a gun in her hand and that expression. There were a lot of books with female protagonists, and sometimes the covers didn't show them as just sexy victims, but they aren't as memorable to me as this one. The book more than fulfills the promise of the cover, as Zelde fights her way up from street kid enslaved by a dystopian government to become a space pirate captain and a rebel. It's a rough raw R-rated story, and I was probably a little young for it, but I feel like it was what I needed to read at that time.

Zelde M'tana cover

I've had a lot of female protagonists in my books but I think my favorite is still Tremaine Valiarde, from the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. The daughter of Nicholas Valiarde and Madeline Denare from The Death of the Necromancer, she was a failed playwright who had been raised by a master criminal father and an adopted uncle who was the most powerful and mentally unstable sorcerer in Ile-Rien. Having learned everything she needed to know about housebreaking, paranoia, how to hide the bodies, and making sure your enemies never bother you again from Nicholas, Tremaine instigates or controls much of the action in the books. And despite the fact that Tremaine was an expert shot, I still got told by someone that Tremaine was a doormat because she couldn't fight like Xena.

Now, I like female characters who are fabulous sword fighters or martial artists or both, especially both. (Like the characters from Jessica Amanda Salmonson's Amazons anthologies, the first of which came out in 1979 and was also a big influence on me.) But there are people who judge female characters only by that standard: it doesn't matter if they're a leader, a doctor, a scientist, a high priestess, a scholar, an explorer, a survivor, a sorceress, an officer on a starship, someone who walks across continents to save the world, or whatever. Either you fight like Xena or you're a doormat, and there is nothing in between.

What that says about real-life women, I have no idea.

Tremaine has also been described as a "plucky girl." Which was funny to me, because at the end of the last book Ander still thinks of Tremaine as a plucky girl, while Tremaine thinks of herself as that woman who shot an innocent man in the head to steal a truck, because she needed one to save her friends. Because some people will always see us the way they want to see us, no matter what we've done, and what we really are.


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I always thought the relationship between Tremaine and Ander was interesting, with Ander's inability to see Tremaine as she was was as opposed to who he wanted her to be/thought she was/ought to be. He seemed sadly believable, and I appreciated her annoyance.

I based him on some real people, sadly.

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Thank you! That's exactly what I was going for with that character.

i love tremaine--she's a wonderful wonderful character. and one of the great things about her is that she's not at all a doormat but it still troubles her that she had to shoot an innocent man who, after all, stopped to help her, in the head, to get that truck--but she does it. ander provides her a wonderful opportunity to figure out exactly who she is for herself because growing up the daughter of nicholas and the niece of (are we not saying his name for spoiler reasons?) has given her many tools for coping with life and very few for establishing relationships with other humans.

Thank you! And yes, Ander was good for one thing. :)

That book cover is also notable for showing a woman of colour. With all the instances lately of publishers "whitewashing" non-white protagonists in cover art lately, it's interesting to see that they weren't doing it back then (or at least, didn't in that particular case...).

Also: another big Tremaine fan here!

I don't think it was done nearly as much back then.

And thanks!

i adore Tremaine, not only because she is a strong character, but because she is complex, and the stuff she goes through changes her. she's a fully-realized person. that is way more interesting to me than bad-assery without personal growth. :)

Either you fight like Xena or you're a doormat, and there is nothing in between.

I don't know what that says about real women either, because you know which character of yours made an impression on me that was completely disproportionate to her role in the book? The lady in waiting of Ravenna's that Thomas Boniface found dead with a fireplace poker in her hand after the initial attack on the castle in The Element of Fire. I don't even think she had a name in the book. Here's a woman who had never held anything more deadly than an embroidery needle in her life and had never been trained to fight, yet when the castle was attacked, she grabbed a poker and went down swinging. I only wish I could be that brave if I had to be.

This is why I love your writing. Some writers see their their characters as they see themselves. You see your characters not only as they see themselves, but as other see them. I love that.

At the recommendation of a (rather good) webcomics artist, I purchased an ebook. This was a mistake. Your writing has spoiled me for writing with characters who don't exist in three full dimensions, with a fourth peeking in from the others who see them.

Thank you! That's a really cool way to describe it. :)

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