Category Archives: Books

Books by others; whatever I’m reading.

Faith Mudge gets her Heroine from the Lowood School

Posted on December 28, 2016 by

Faith Mudge

Faith Mudge is a writer from Queensland, Australia, with a passion for fantasy, folk tales and mythology from all over the world – in fact, for almost anything with a glimmer of the fantastical. Her stories have appeared in various anthologies, including Kaleidoscope, Cranky Ladies of History, Hear Me Roar and Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists. She posts reviews and articles at beyondthedreamline.wordpress.com, and can also be found at beyondthedreamline.tumblr.com.

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess?

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read Jane Eyre, but I’m pretty sure it was in my early teens, around the point when I was devouring so many other classic novels that my written vocabulary started to sound like a teenage Victorian, the kind of prose that’s less purple and more a really annoying shade of magenta. I do not now like a lot of those books, but I’m always going to have a certain residual fondness. They were what I needed at the time.

Jane Eyre was different. It’s a favourite of my mother’s, so the copy I read was hers. These days I have two of my own, just to be safe. I’m lucky – mine was a childhood filled with stories and I had a small army of heroines to look up to, all of whom have contributed to who I am in different ways. It’s hard to pick just one! But Jane Eyre is one of those books that leaves a strong impression every time I re-read it, reminding me of just how good it is. The writing is decisive and elegant, the plot is strong. And most of all, I love Jane. She remains one of my favourite characters in anything ever.

Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

Oh, that’s easy. Jane is indomitable. She starts out as this fierce, desperate little girl who craves love more than anything and grows into a woman with a quiet, cool exterior who is an absolute force of nature underneath, a woman who is strong enough to walk away from love when it isn’t good for her. She is an extraordinary balance of calm head and passionate heart,  with a rich inner life that she doesn’t share with people who don’t deserve it. In the depths of her despair, she decides that she will care for herself – which is a tremendously powerful statement that has always stuck with me. How many heroines, even now, are allowed to say that? The prickly edges of Jane and Rochester’s personalities mostly work together very well, but she’s only ever in his life on her terms and he’s very much aware of that. I detest St John, not just for being the unrelentingly unpleasant person that he is, but for getting at Jane’s weak point, which is a strong sense of duty that can be turned against her. She’s also a very loving person, amazingly non-judgemental given the times when she lived, and she doesn’t need to be pretty or socially important to have a story worth telling – or to be worth loving in return.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

All my characters are very different people, of course, but that indomitability, that strength of will, is definitely a trait carried throughout my work. I like writing about women who say no. The complexity of duty and how to define your own moral compass, what we owe the people in our lives and what we owe ourselves, are big themes in Jane Eyre and often weave themselves into my stories as well. Jane is a complicated woman making difficult decisions and she’s never dismissed or punished by the narrative for being the person that she is. I love that. I try to treat my protagonists with the same respect.

How do you feel about the word heroine? Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served equally well by hero?

There does seem to be a trend towards the disuse of feminised words and that really bothers me. As a society, we need gender-neutral terminology. That’s very important. But it’s a big language! There is enough space for gendered terms as well, if they are useful, and I think the word ‘heroine’ is very useful. What’s wrong with a word that says, unequivocally, ‘I am a woman and I am amazing’? There are plenty of specifically feminine insults. Why not build up a lexicon of strength?


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Linda Nagata, Kay Kenyon, and S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Review Repost: Stephen King’s It (from @tordotcom)

Posted on December 8, 2016 by

A number of years ago I decided it would be fun to have a look at some of the classic horror novels from the 1980s: to revisit Dean Koontz, Clive Barker Peter Straub, V.C. Andrews and, inevitably, Stephen King. I loved King as a teen, and I chose this particular book because It has the hallmarks of a master work while, simultaneously, being deeply problematic. My difficulties with It are the same ones every other feminist critic, pretty much, has voiced. Here’s a bit of my take on this novel.

With a huge ensemble cast and overlapping 1958/1985 storyline, It is very nearly seven full novels in one. King’s 1986 bestseller is just about 1400 pages long… and more than once I was almost sorry I hadn’t done the expedient thing and read Christine instead. The themes of the two books are similar: they’re both about adulthood and growing into an acceptance of mortality. In Christine it’s put thusly: “If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being an adult is about learning how to die.”

Review Repost: Peter Straub’s Shadowland (from @tordotcom)

Posted on December 1, 2016 by

A number of years ago I decided it would be fun to have a look at some of the classic horror novels from the 1980s: something by Stephen King, a Dean Koontz novel, a taste of Clive Barker and, of course, a novel by Peter Straub. Ghost Story was published in 1979, and I was adhering strictly to the idea of an Eighties horror rewatch, so I went with Shadowland, which was less overtly horrific, in many ways. It was, though, the first Straub book I read.

Here’s a snippet of the essay:

Shadowland isn’t metafiction, either, but it skirts its furthest border, containing stories within stories: fairy tales that turn into guest appearances by the Brothers Grimm, creepy parables offered by the Carson School teachers to the traumatized student body, numerous references to the story of Jesus, and a long narrative Coleman Collins calls his “unburdening,” about how he discovered the magic within him—and made it monstrous—during his days as a doctor in the First World War. The novel’s frame story, where Tom reveals his past to his writer classmate, thus becomes a parallel unburdening, a necessary part, perhaps, of the true magician’s life cycle.

Review Repost: Hild, by Nicola Griffith @tordotcom @nicolaz

Posted on November 24, 2016 by

Stubby-RocketIt has been a few years since I reviewed Hild, by Nicola Griffith, for the simple reason that it’s been a few years since it came out. But as gift-giving season breathes down (some of) our collective necks, I offer this: if you do December giftage and are trying to figure out what to get a beloved fan of historical novels, someone who’s going absolutely mad waiting for Hilary Mantel’s third Cromwell novel, this is exactly the ticket. If you are that person… you’ll have a completely wonderful distraction, at least until you’re left dividing your time between pining for two sequels–the next Hild book is on my OMG, OMG, when, when? list, for sure!–instead of one.

Here’s a snip of my review:

One of the intriguing elements of Hild’s character is her refusal to accept what seem to be obvious limits. From earliest childhood, she seeks to gather strength to herself, offsetting her tactical deficits. The greatest deficit, of course, is her sex. Despite her obvious utility as an advisor, she is still female and still, therefore, a marriageable property. Her sister is married for political reasons when Hild is young, driving the point home. Losing her plunges Hild into another, very difficult, battle, against loneliness. Who is fit company for a seer? Who might she ever take as a lover or a husband?

And here’s the cover:

Review Repost: Kingfisher, by Patricia McKillip @tordotcom

Posted on November 14, 2016 by

Stubby-RocketEarly this year I reviewed a Patricia McKillip novel, Kingfisher, a contemporary other-world fantasy with kings, knights, princesses, jousting, water-priestesses… and also social media, foodie culture, and cell phones.

It had been a long while since I read a McKillip book and I thought it was time I looked in on what she’d been writing lately. Here’s a snip of what I found in this book:

Patricia McKillip’s Kingfisher is a beautifully inventive novel, one that is genuinely effective in combining a world with medieval pageantry and honor-driven knights on the quest with the age of haute-cuisine trends, celebrity chefs, and the selfie. The idea of folding modern foodie culture into this story is inspired, as is everything about Stillwater’s restaurant. So cursed! So cool! So many fantasy novels feature the lowly kitchen waif as part of their stories at one point or another. A book that is all about cooking and cooks meshes with that in witty and surprising ways.

Here’s the cover: