I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy, as usual. I just discovered N. K. Jemisin with her “Dreamblood” series, and oh man it was amazing. As you might recall from earlier, I’ve been trying to read more by authors that were not cis white men (because I feel like I need a wider range of perspectives in my reading), and oh man this really reinforces that decision! Jemisin’s writing was so engaging and powerful, and especially the complex relationship between master/apprentice in her first book really moved me. I felt so deeply for all her characters, in a way that I hadn’t in a while. I also loved the incredibly detailed Ancient Egypt inspired fantasy world that she created, and I can’t get enough of the cultures, customs, religion, or people.
I also read some OK books. I guess had grown complacent with Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch always writing such amazing women and diverse, compelling characters that I started thinking that maybe my prohibition on cis white men was unnecessary. Well, it quickly became clear to me WHY I had set that prohibition in the first place, as soon as I read some books by cis white men that had the misfortune of NOT being Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch. Hey, I ran out of Robin Hobb books to read, and I didn’t really know what to get into next, so… yeah.
Whilst waiting for the next Scott Lynch book to come out, I read “Among Thieves” by Douglas Hulick. It sounded gritty and grimy and crimey and fantasy enough to tide me over. While it was an interesting concept with an engaging world that I want to see more of, his handling of women was abysmal and it is a tragedy because it is an otherwise exciting and compelling story.
The most annoying thing Hulick would do, is any time a female character was described in any way, the main character would weigh in on how sexually desirable she was/wasn’t. Even if he was in deadly combat with said woman who was about to kill him in cold blood, his narration would be commenting on her breasts or thighs jiggling or some such nonsense.
Even if the main character was *supposed* to be a weird perv, in the heat of what should be an epic battle, it just detracts for the reader! It takes the tension out of the battle, and makes it seem like a joke! How can I even take this fight scene seriously if he’s just mooning over his combatant’s boobs? Even if it is realistic for men to think this way whilst losing a fight for their lives – WHICH I DOUBT – for the sake of dramatic tension it should be left out. Contrast that with some absolutely epic fight scenes that Scott Lynch wrote with female combatants that were downright scary and savage, and you can see why I was disappointed by this. It is a shame, because Hulick’s women characters were otherwise interesting and well fleshed-out.
Then I moved on to “Kings of the Wyld” by Nicholas Eames. This book was a sort of satire on a lot of common fantasy tropes (especially D&D style campaigns), and it was done very well. It was very comedic and fun, but again suffered from how it handled women, albeit in a very different way from Hulick. For the first 3/4 of the book, the only women who got fleshed out in any way were screeching harpies who only wanted to dominate their adventurer-husbands, thus providing the motivation for the old washed up heroes to go out adventuring once more. It is a tired old trope, and not particularly interesting, and of course not particularly fair to women.
Eames would mention women adventurers who had done noble deeds, but none of them were characters that we could actually meet and get to know. Even the wife of the adventurer who was supposed to be in a good healthy relationship was depicted as a horrible screeching harpy, so I was beginning to suspect that Eames simply could not write women. The best thing the book had going in terms of women characters was a bandit who mostly served as comic relief, but still I liked her. Towards the very end, we got some women characters fleshed out that seemed interesting and fun, but I had to slog through so many one-dimensional shrill women (in a sea of deep, interesting men) just to get there.
I will say, though, I did like Eames’ portrayal of the old wizard who had lost his husband to an incurable disease which takes years to progress. While it was maybe a little on-the-nose, it was still touching and interesting to see a subject like the cultural fallout of HIV alluded to in a high fantasy book.
Anyhow, long story short, I guess my personal prohibition on reading books by cis white men is back on, but Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch both get a pass. In the meantime, I’m going to read everything I can find by Jemisin.