Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Women in Books

I made my last blog post about Robin Williams unfortunate death over at Broads of a Feather's blog.  I do not have it in me to continue writing about him, not any time soon.  And I would not want to add to his family's suffering in any way (as if any of them will ever stumble upon my posts!)  So back to my planned posts.

I've been giving this a lot of thought the past week, and to continue my small series on how women are portrayed in entertainment, I'm going to break it into two different posts.  Women in Books, and Film.

In general, I tend to stick with what I like to read.  Occasionally I'll venture out and try a new author or genre.  I ventured out of my norm and read Phoenix Island by John Dixon recently.  It was enjoyable enough; I had no problem finishing it, even though in my opinion it is "Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games".  And unfortunately, it fails the Bechtel Test.  One conversation between the female First Sergeant and the female love interest about an incident "happening a certain way" isn't exactly stellar.  But onto two of my favorite chicks to read.
Nynaeve al'Meara

Although I've read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books to death, I still reread them.  I like to visit the universe.  Largely because it is one of the epic fantasy universes in which women are on equal standing with men.  There is the usual gender griping: the men thinking the women don't know anything and vice versa, but hey - that's pretty normal even in our universe.

In some cases in Jordan's imagined world, the women are in positions of leadership even above men.  More respected even.  Perhaps because it was the men who Broke the World.  (It can be argued that the world was Broken because the women refused to help the men, but hindsight is always 20/20)

Most of the nations in the world are monarchies.  With as many queens as there are kings.  Villages are ruled by both a Village Council (male) and a Women's Circle.  The two councils battle it out in such a way that each think they hold more sway. Typically the Village Council is led by the Mayor and the Women's Circle by the Wisdom.  The Wisdom is the village healer/weather forecaster/wise woman.  You can go to her to have your illnesses healed, or have her settle an argument you're having with a friend.  The most notable Wisdom in the Wheel of Time series is Nynaeve al'Meara.

At least, that's how her character starts out.  By the time the books end, Nynaeve has progressed from Village Wisdom to being an Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah and Queen of Malkier.  For those of you unfamiliar with these stories, think of an Aes Sedai as Jedi. They are the series' magician servants of the known world.  Nynaeve is not only one of the most powerful Aes Sedai since the Breaking of the World, but she's gone head to head with one the Forsaken from the Age of Legends and matched that woman in the Power.

Nynaeve is head-strong, and confident (even over confident).  Her inclination to heal people of wounds and illnesses drives her to discovering not only new ways to heal, but also discovering ways to heal what was once thought incurable.  From the severing of a person from the One Power to the madness caused by the taint on the male side of the Power.  She has a soft spot for children.  She is brave enough to hunt the Black Ajah (evil), brave enough to walk in the World of Dreams, brave even though she thinks of herself as a coward.  She is also short-tempered, arrogant, prideful and in the beginning she was something of a bully.

Women are a bright shining beacon in the world around them
She routinely pisses me off and amuses me.  The complexity of her character is believable and seemingly well thought out.    In many ways, she is a typical woman.  More powerful than she realizes because she's so afraid of wielding her power that she's managed to block herself from using it.  I think we are all guilty of that at some point in our lives.  Nyaneve, this small town woman from the middle of nowhere ends up participating in some of the most important turning points of this society, from the cleansing of the male half of the One Power to aiding the Dragon Reborn in the Last Battle.

While the series is about the three young men from the same village being focal points and shifting the lives of everyone around them, they could not accomplish half of what they did without the women who accompanied them.  As the series progresses, we see more and more from the women's viewpoints.  And in the end, their greatest feats were won when they worked together.

Not my mental image of Eve, but she'll do
My other favorite woman to read about in fiction doesn't have an image I can share.  Although in the beginning Nora Roberts (AKA JD Robb) posed as the main character in her In Death Series, I'm not sure she counts.  There does seem to be a lot of fan art of Eve Dallas, as well as the other characters in her world.

The In Death Series is the opposite end of the spectrum from Wheel of Time.  WoT is epic fantasy, complete with swords and horseback travel.  In Death is a futuristic world where cops have traded in guns for what amounts to Tazers and vehicles can go vertical at a moments notice.

I'll be honest, I haven't read every single book in the series - yet.  But it is one of my life's goals.  I like the books, because it's easy enough to figure out what's going on that you don't necessarily have to read them in order.  The Romance/Mystery/Crime Drama novels are light and fun, though they can go deep.

Eve Dallas is a far more tragic character than Nynaeve in that her past holds far more trauma.  Determined not to be a victim for the rest of her life, Eve rises above her childhood abuse and creates a life for herself where she needs no one and depends on no one.  A lieutenant in the the New York City police force, where the rules are definitely different from what we have here in the real world, Eve investigates homicides.  However her sense of duty usually lands her in an non-murder incident at least once in a book.  Usually it's a petty pocket thief she's caught while she and her partner are taking a lunch break on the street, or a taxi/minivan accident in the traffic she loves to hate.

Due out in September
While her romance with Roarke, one of the world's richest people, is typical of the Romance genre (quick attraction/quick to bed etc.) it doesn't end there.  Because it is an ongoing series, we get to watch Eve and Roarke (who is another emotionally starved person) learn how to love each other fully.  When you have two strong personalities, both of whom are used to living independent lifestyles, there are bound to be clashes and learning curves for both sides.

Eve has a tough exterior, and an even tougher interior, that covers up a vulnerable woman.  And I like reading about her because of that.  She is proud to be labeled 'top bitch cop' and tends to be embarrassed by the press coverage of her more sensational cases (the Icove Clones) that bring her more popularity of her own.

She has her weaknesses.  Chocolate.  Coffee.  Children terrify her, even as she is driven to protect them.  The woman has more layers than an onion as something new is revealed about her complexity in each book.

Whether she'd ever admit it or not, Eve is what the series calls a sensitive.  Bordering on ESP, one of the ways Eve can solve the tough cases is she knows how to think like the criminal.  She can walk through a crime scene and almost visualize the crime.  It disturbs and awes her partner Peabody on a regular basis.  We all have our talents and this is one of Eve's.

I don't know about you, but I like reading about women who are more than a cookie cutter cutout. I know that there are stereotypical people in real life, but I deal enough with them on a daily basis.  I want to read about someone who's different from those around her.  Having never felt safe to reveal the 'secret me' to anyone, I like reading about women who have more than one facet to their personalities.  I feel that both the women I've mentioned here today exhibit those qualities.  Not everyone will agree, and that's okay.  Different characters will speak to different people.  What draws me, might not be the same that draws you.  Thankfully there are many female characters that fill this bill, these are just two I've read recently that I enjoy.

The really tough part will be picking two women in film to write about!  But I'll be tackling that next post, which given I posted at Broads this week as well, won't be until next week.

Off topic question - any comments about my background tweaks?

2014 ~ Too much sadness

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