In doing a bit of research looking for a dark-fantasy-related topic for this article, I sought something that I knew at least a bit about, something I felt strongly about, and something where I could add meaningfully to the conversation. Many things were considered, from angles on escapism vs. exploration, to writing some kind of how-to. Then the search engine offered me a Pinterest collection, women in dark fantasy.
All the boxes on my requirement list could be check off with that topic. Excited, I clicked it, expecting Ellen Ripley (Alien), Sarah Connor (Terminator), Aeowyn (LotR), Sarah Williams (Labyrinth), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series) Buttercup (The Princess Bride).
The images that came up were all art of scantily clad, large-breasted and small-waisted women.
I called myself naïve and a mental conversation began.
On one hand, I totally understand why the sexualized images persist and who they are for.
On the other, I cried, “Will we ever get past this?” But honestly, even my naïve side doesn’t think we will. Those characters have a place and there will always be readers who want stories that contain them.
In the midst of this frustration, my next thought was, “I’m straddling that line myself.”
It’s true. The cover of Jovienne (my seventh novel, the first of the Immanence Series, was released last year; it is currently unavailable unless you buy it either used or directly from me – but that’s another story) featured a young winged woman standing atop a building and wearing lingerie. It’s a striking cover and I’ve heard many admiring remarks about it. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it equally now. As book covers go, it’s a great one. But maybe I’m biased because I know that inside those pages, when Jovienne is given ‘sexy’ armor, she rejects it. It’s a plot point.
Fantasy and Science Fiction are well known as genres where perceptions and social constructs are often reexamined, where the best- and worst-case scenarios are explored, respectively, as aspirations and warnings. They are also the genres filled with damsels in distress who are rescued by virile, womanizing heroes.
As a teen, I devoured as much Sci-Fi and Fantasy as possible. I was ravenous for it. Some of my favorites were Laurana and Goldmoon and even Kitiara of Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance. They were strong and capable and given respect. And there’s Del, from the Sword Dancer series by Jennifer Roberson. But when those stories ran out, and over and over the books I picked up featured a hero and not a heroine, I began to write my own.
Always, my stories have seemed to step away from what was typical.
In my first series, Persephone Alcmedi is definitely not the average UF heroine. She’s demure and unassuming, and she wears a tee shirt, hoodie, jeans, and hikers. She’s a heroine who doesn’t have sex in every book, and one whose power – and the overarching plot – is linked to her pagan spiritual journey. An additional difference is that most UF novels were set in a closed world or an open world, but I split the difference and gave them a recently opened world – meaning people had mixed reactions to vampires and werewolves being real, and the government was struggling to figure out things like legislation and special law enforcement.
As for my upcoming work, my short story that will appear in the second Blackguards anthology, Knaves features an older knight who happens to be a woman, and she is facing something that, while not unique to modern life, is something which I have not seen addressed in fantasy.
I know where the genre has been, and it has come far, but there is yet a long way to go. I am excited to be a part of the genre, to have produced work that reflects those changes, and I am eager to see where we go next.
About Linda Robertson
Linda will be appearing at International Horror Hotel and Film Festival June 2 and 3 in Richfield, Ohio, at DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend and World Fantasy Convention Nov. 1-4 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Working as Linda Reinhardt she composed, created, and produced an original musical score for Jovienne, which is available on Spotify and iTunes.
Fan page: lindarobertsonbooks