More Than Problematic

The other day I got a review of Fairhaven Rising by a reviewer for an online publication. The review panned the book. I don’t have a problem with that. Writers should expect that. We can’t please every reader or reviewer.

I do have a serious problem with why and how he panned it.

These days science fiction is seeing, as with The Expanse series, a movement toward competent and compelling CHARACTERS who happen to be male or female. Why does fantasy lag? Why must female characters in fantasy hew to stereotypes of women who must – whether competent or not – all too often be victims of some kind? And who must express their victimhood in specifically proscribed ways? If something horrible happens to a man, he can rise above it and be the competent hero, but a woman must somehow continue to exhibit or constantly come to terms with her brokenness?

In the case of this reviewer, he is perfectly happy with the “same cookie-cutter” characters with great abilities who were male in previous Recluce books (and he actually wrote that), but when I changed to a female protagonist, a woman who turns up to have great abilities, he doesn’t like it at all. In short, men are allowed to be handsome, great tacticians and mages, but women aren’t.

And because Taelya has lived “through trauma and death since she was 7 years old,” and doesn’t have PTSD (because, after all, she should because she’s a woman) she’s “boring.” She keeps her emotions in check – like all the guys – but that means to this reviewer that Taelya’s “emotionless.” Because she doesn’t fit the image he has of his daughters, she can’t possibly be real, because, after all, women must be filled with overt or overly exaggerated emotion at all times and must respond to trauma in specific ways, so that men can rescue them, rather than the other way around.

The patrols and chores are “boring.” The strange thing about this claim is that I’ve been writing about the mundane aspects of life in the world of Recluce for thirty years, and he didn’t find them boring before, but when they’re experienced by a woman, they’re “boring.” That suggests that this reviewer finds women doing daily tasks boring, because men are more inherently interesting when doing them (as with my other books).

I’m not bitching about a bad review. I’m bitching about a review steeped in hypocrisy and misogyny so deep that the reviewer will never even recognize how hypocritical and misogynistic he is… and I’m also writing about it because it shouldn’t be a problem in fantasy – and it too often still is.

8 thoughts on “More Than Problematic”

  1. Frank says:

    I’m not a critic, I am a consumer. I’ve read everything you’ve written, usually as it comes out. I have my favorites, of which anything in the Recluse series is included. And that definitely includes Fairhaven Rising, which I finished last week.

    As in most of your books, I have learned to let the characters and the plot(s) coalesce in my mind for a while. I will then go back and reread the book, which I then find renders a deeper group of textures, especially as relates to the characters and the plot (plots) which are woven so well that I often don’t notice the nuances of when I’m crashing through the first time.

    I don’t know if I do your works well, but I am totally convinced that your works are superior, both in craft and in style, causing the reader to think and question their own preconceived notions. Please don’t dwell on some critic’s pan…if he could write, especially as well as you do, he would.

    Thanks for your writing, and please, continue for as long as we readers can convince you to.

  2. Grey says:

    The amount of ‘special pleading’ that comes into play when women do ‘man things’ is embarrassing. I always think, ‘you will happily go along with everything in a fantasy world but that?’

    1. Daze says:

      Yes – Doctor Who being the most famous. So, you can accept a ten-thousand-year-old regenerating alien with two hearts, but it’s not possible that it might look female?

  3. Thomas Belford says:

    I’m wondering if you plan on writing a Book 23 in the Saga of Recluce series. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of how Fairhaven specifically became Chaos led and what happened to turn it away from Order led as initiated by Beltur. And how the establishment of Recluce under Creslin made Recluce more of an “Order” refuge than Fairhaven was? I’ve reread all your fantasy books several times and enjoy them all. Do your female editors insist on your constant feminist harping though.

    1. I have no idea what the next Recluce book may be, since I’m currently working on the third book of “The Grand Illusion.” During the forty years I’ve spent as a published author, I’ve only had two editors. The first was David Hartwell and the second is Jen Gunnels. Neither of them pushed feminism on me. My support for feminism comes from a variety of sources, including several years as a single custodial parent while working more than full-time; decades in government and business where I saw mediocre males praised and promoted and women far better harassed and neglected; and, of course, the experiences of my professional wife and my six professional daughters.

  4. Matt says:

    I’m in the same camp as Thomas. In reading prior Recluce novels it seemed that a Fairhaven was founded by white wizards…the Colors of White preface in Cerryls books claims white demons fleeing Cyador founded the city. We know Colors of White as a document is written to favor Chaos and was actually written after Creslin founded Recluce which is well after Beltur founded Fairhaven. So the ‘fall’ or change from Order to Chaos and the white city to me is a pretty compelling story. Get on it. Lol.

  5. Jimmy B. says:

    I like strong characters, regardless of race, gender or creed. Glad your take is not to satisfy the current push of the “woke” society of the far left. Keep putting out strong characters. I do feel she does fit the cookie cutter of the other characters. I just take it as the world of Recluce is much different and in a lot of ways, the same as ours. But I was expecting more from her. But did witness a lot and probably keeps her motions in check due to her also having to grow up fast.

  6. Clare H says:

    What I find compelling about the Recluce series is the very fact that all the stories do have such strong similarities, so you get a feel not only how history repeats itself, but how it’s characters that are similar that are driving the change in these situations.
    However, what we see less of from Taelya in Fairhaven Rising is the ‘coming of age’ and/or ‘growth’ than we do from many protagonists in the series; we see her when she’s a child and then at 23 where she’s established in her position as an Undercaptain, fairly effective as a mage (Ok we see some training, but don’t hear as much internal monologue/struggle as we do in many of the books). She’s still an Undercaptain at the end. I re-read Colors of White/Chaos straight after finishing Fairhaven Rising, and the story of growth we see in Cerryl, who does the exact same magely task as Taelya as one major plot point, means to me he was a more-compelling character. A character can indeed feel more rounded when we see more of their weaknesses too, and I do get what the reviewer meant in that sense.

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