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.

3 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?

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