Friday Hoyden: Fictional Female Protagonists

In the wake of Orlando’s whimsy post earlier this week, and a thread dedicated to the Game of Thrones series on Feministe where many commentors expressed how the complexity of the women of Westeros was what kept them reading/watching despite the horrors that are inflicted upon Martin’s female characters, and reading this post by SF/YA/RW author Ann Aguirre on how the recent SFWA sexism clusterfuck is just more of the same-old same-old, I’ve been thinking about women’s characterisation in fiction a lot. The latest ADF sexism scandal seems to me to tie into the preponderance of fiction in which women are two-dimensional characters whose only narrative purpose is to affirm the male protagonists’ choices/actions by their approval/availability, or often by the bestowal of the woman’s availability by a male authority figure (or the triumph over a male rival by stealing “his” woman) -  men who have never seen women presented as fully rounded people in the fiction they consume don’t know how to treat actual women as if they are fully rounded people either.  Every other post on BitchFlicks and FlickPhilosopher reinforces the problem of under-representation of female characters in general, let alone as actual protagonists, as does the response to Anita Sarkeesian pointing out how the latest X-Box launch featured exactly zero female protagonists in the demonstrator games.

So, here’s a book with a female protagonist that I’m planning to purchase ASAP (can’t get it as an e-book – boo – it’s only in the US iTunes store – boo) because it’s been very popular for a few years but hadn’t crossed my radar – Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, which is the story of Sirantha Jax (told in the first person and present tense, which is rather outside my reading comfort zone, but isn’t extending one’s reading comfort zone exactly the point I’m pushing?).


By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago…
As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace—a talent which cuts into her life expectancy, but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.

Now imprisoned and the subject of a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom—for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel—and establish a new breed of jumper.

Jax is only good at one thing—grimspace—and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime…

Once I get a copy and read it, I’ll tell you how I cope with first-person present-tense, OK?

Next: here’s an Open Call for any readers to pitch me guest posts for the Friday Hoyden slots on fiction that features female protagonists – classics, cult treasures, internet sensations – the whole ball of wax including webcomics, games and especially fanfiction that rewrites canonical female characters to be more interesting. I’m going to be giving fiction with female protagonists to everybody this year, and I need some recommendations for all age groups and favoured genres. If you’ve already posted it on your own blog and we can crosspost it, that makes things particularly easy. Send your pitches here.

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

Tags: , ,

17 replies

  1. Female protagonists are the best! I might have to write something *puts on thinking hat*

    The premise of Grimspace seems interesting, let us know how you like it.

  2. Grimspace sounds right up my alley *ducks off to book depository*
    Mr11 has been reading Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, this makes me very happy, especially when his list of the best bits so far has been pretty much exactly the same as mine. I’m always a bit sad when I get to Warrior’s Apprentice and we switch to Miles’ perspective.

  3. No! No! Don’t buy Grimspace! It is truly, truly awful writing. Terrible! Stick to Cordelia Naismith. She’s the BEST.
    Or get some CJ Cherryh action – Bet Yeager in Heavy Time, or Ariane Emory in Cyteen!
    Or you could do worse than Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Valor’s Choice!

  4. Damn. Too slow. CJ Cherryh is on high rotation around here too, but I haven’t encountered Torin Kerr, will have to do something about that.

  5. Another recommendation for Lois McMaster Bujold from me too. Another from her with a female protagonist is Paladin of Souls, although you might have to read The Curse of Chalion first, which has a male protagonist.
    Also Elizabeth Moon writes a lot of books with military female protagonists. She was in the marines, so they are pretty sensible and realistic about war and the military. Most of them are sci-fi but she has a fantasy series called The Deed of Paksenarrion which I highly recommend.
    And finally Firethorn and Wildfire by Sarah Micklem are fantasies with a female protagonist that paint a very realistic picture of the lives of mediaeval women.

  6. The Demon series by Diana Rowland (Mark of the Demon, followed by Blood, Secrets, Sins, and Touch, so far). Urban fantasy, police procedural with summoned demons, at least at first. Really, really good.

  7. I’ve been hassling my husband for weeks to write me a guest Friday Hoyden on Captain Nancy from Swallows and Amazons, which is part of his childhood cultural history, but not mine. Will lean on him a bit more.
    Are there some links from previous fictional Friday Hoydens we could attach to the bottom, here?

  8. I’d like to write something about Catherine Linton/Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights. Having recently read Alison Croggon’s Black Spring, which is a riff on Wuthering Heights, I thought I’d revisit WH and have fun tracing the parallels. Holy-moly. I had last read WH when I was about 14 and I was a fast and careless reader, and I don’t think I picked up the half of it, and there’s much more of it I’d simply forgotten.
    I was shocked (shocked, I tells ya!) that WH and Heathcliff are seen as romantic symbols in our society. Kate Bush’s lyrics, for instance, have a throwaway line calling Heathcliff “cruel” but they gloss over the very ugly reality of the book. And it’s very, very ugly. The protagonists are dysfunctional, neurotic people who undergo complete mental and physical breakdown in a setting of child abuse, domestic violence and the animal abuse that so often goes with it. There is zero romantic content in this book.
    I went on a bit of a wiki-walk and found some interesting comments about Catherine so that seems like a good topic.

  9. I was shocked (shocked, I tells ya!) that WH and Heathcliff are seen as romantic symbols in our society.
    They’ve only been seen that way since it got out that a woman wrote it. Because apparently evil and abuse are something that a ladybrain can’t fathom or explore.

    • I’d never thought of it that way, but I’m sure you’re right. If Thomas Hardy had written Wuthering Heights it would be described as a “tragic novel” and if Bronte had written “The Mayor Of Casterbridge” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” they’d be described as “romance novels”.

  10. I’m afraid you’re both probably right!

  11. NK Jemisin’s first trilogy that starts with the One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms follows female protagonists.
    The Green Rider series by Kirsten Britten follows a merchant class woman and well I don’t want to give anything away.
    Elizabeth Moon’s books are awesome (as mentioned).
    Pretty much everything by Kelley Armstrong in her Women of the Otherworld series (it’s not exactly fantasy, more paranormal fiction)
    That’s some fantasy for you.
    Other fiction:
    WWW:Wake (first novel in a series) by Robert Sawyer has a female protagonist who is also disabled (blind) and a teenager. The author has done a fair amount of research on disability.
    And most things by Isobelle Carmody, particularly the Legendsong Saga which starts with Darkfall (which is part fantasy and part standard fiction).
    Also a lot of books by John Marsden, So Much to Tell You, Winter, the Tomorrow series, Checkers, etc.
    So much good fiction, so little time to catalogue it

  12. I have been reading the Kate Elliot Cold Magic series. Waiting for the final one of the trilogy to be published on 25 June. Recommended.

  13. Does Laura Ingalls count?
    Much of the Little House books is fictionalised/just plain made up. And as for the television series with Mary Ingalls’s made up son Adam Kindling…

  14. John Birmingham’s airport novel series (Axis of Time, The Disappearance) are both populated with ensemble POV casts of both sexes (like A Song of Ice and Fire) which are winnowed down by death and disappearance; anyhow, the final book in the Disappearance trilogy (Angels of Vengeance) has three lead female protagonists.

  15. I’ve been catching up on all the episodes of Wentworth (reboot of Prisoner) that I recorded weeks ago. Plenty of female protagonists there, and masses of intrigue to go with it. The variety of body shapes and ages of the characters is refreshing too.

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