I have been reading an avalanche of books and many of them have featured strong feminine characters. Two series that I have been obsessed with are so different, yet they have women at their core.
I have continued to read Gail Carriger after reading ‘Etiquette and Epionage’. The Parasol Protectorate series is placed in the future from the time of E and E, and the main character Alexia Tarabotti is a diamond of the first water. She doesn’t see herself that way, in fact, she views herself as an oddball, beautifully dressed, but an oddball just the same. She is born without a soul and is able, through physical touch, to force supernaturals like werewolves and vampires back into their mortal state as long as the contact is maintained. She is very curious and is absolutely headstrong and determined. Armed with her beloved silver-tipped parasol, she cannot be swayed once she is embroiled in a mystery. One of her best friends is a vampire named Lord Akeldama with his own gang of dandified young men (drones) and he has many of the best lines in the series. I love the witty banter between Alexia and any number of characters, especially the alpha werewolf Lord Conall Maccon who immediately recognizes her as his alpha female, even though she is not a werewolf herself!
This series is chock full of steam punk references and hive/pack/family dynamics. Alexia is able to handle any type of problem from the most mundane to national security! Queen Victoria even shows up to appoint her to the Shadow Council. Alexia also believes that any type of ruckus (huge crazy mechanized octopus anyone?) can be endured with a cup of tea and her weaponized parasol at her side. A satirical romp of delight!
The other series I am obsessed with is His Fair Assassin series by Robin Lafevers, who is known as a children’s writer (Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos et al.). This series is miles away from her books for younger readers. I was hookedwith two words I read in a review for the first novel, ‘Grave Mercy.’
That’s all it took for me to immerse myself in the world of a small medieval country within France named Brittany. I was immediately taken in by the detailed yet stark language of the first person narration of Ismae and the Lady Sybella (protagonist of the 2nd book ‘Dark Triumph’). The foreboding mood and tension felt was palatable. The characters didn’t know who to trust, so it was much safer to trust no one. Ismae and Sybella, along with Annith (the heroine of the upcoming ‘Mortal Heart’) find their individual ways to the Convent worshipping St. Mortain. He is the God/Saint of Death. The girls go through a stringent training regime to make them assassins for the church. Whether it is knives, crossbows, or poisons, they are more than capable. I looked forward to the scenes where these handmaidens had to mete out death in the name of St. Mortain, their Abbess, Justice, or even Mercy. These women come to realize that they are more than just weapons or instruments for others to wield; they are themselves and they must find their way towards self-identity, acceptance and even love. Ismae and Sybella thankfully have each other and Annith and it is their sisterhood that holds them up when it is hopeless. The author also gifts each of them with a complex man, Gavriel for Ismae, no matter that she is sent to see if he is a traitor and must eliminate him if he is and Benebic De Waroch, known as the beserker Beast for Sybella. Each man lives in and understands the darkness within their lady and it is the light of their acceptance that helps free them.
The main conflict of the series deals with yet another strong female character. Anne, the Duchess, all 12 years of her, is also a prisoner to the world around her. She is the unconfirmed ruler of this country and a political pawn. Her deceased father promised her to any number of nobles and countries. Now her most powerful suitor, D’Albret, evil through and through and fifty years old to boot, schemes to get them married making her his 7th wife. Sybella, is unfortunately his daughter and is made to return to his hellish holding per the Abbess’ orders to spy and thwart his plans. Ismae must protect Anne as her secret body guard not to mention she is Gavriel’s half-sister. Both women’s fates are inextricably woven with their young ruler.
Lafevers paints a very murky picture with political machinations, betrayals, and twists at every turn and I can’t get enough of it. This near seamless exercise in verisimilitude is breathtaking. I hope I make it to Spring when ‘Mortal Heart’ comes out and it is Annith’s time to fight back.