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There are only five kinds of books in the world –

March 27th, 2015

I don’t mean that there are only five distinct plots! I know people occasionally make that sort of assertion and that is not what I have in mind.

But it has occurred to me that there are definitely just five kinds of books that matter in my life, and in fact I bet you all have precisely these same categories.

1) Books I will definitely, without question, read this year.

2) Books I would really like to read this year.

3) Books I definitely intend to read sometime this decade, if possible.

4) Books I would kind of like to read before I die.

5) Books I definitely do not intend to read.

The first category is easy! Category (1) books are simple to identify. It exclusively includes books which come out this year that are part of a series I am really enjoy and that I very familiar with so that I don’t have to re-read the earlier books. This includes Patricia Briggs’ DEAD HEAT. Also Marie Brennan’s VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK. Also CJ Cherryh’s TRACKER. Also most likely ANCILLARY MERCY by Leckie and AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, both due out this fall. These are titles I will read, not necessarily the minute they hit the shelves, but probably within a month or two of publication. Laura Florand is a special case of this category, because it is easier for me to read a contemporary book when I’m actually working on a fantasy novel of my own whether it’s part of a series or not. They are easy to get into and out of, and her books are quick to read, so her books are also in Category (1).

Category (2) is bigger. It includes new standalone titles by authors I love, OR titles that are part of a series I love but where I want to re-read the earlier books before reading the new one, OR books by new-to-me authors that come with a strong recommendation from someone I trust, such as many of you.

This year, books in this category solely because of a recommendation include THE STORY OF OWEN by EK Johnson, THE STEERSWOMAN by Kirstein because both Kate Elliot and my brother strongly recommend it, and THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB by Genevieve Valentine.

Books that are part of a series, but where I want to re-read the whole series plus the new one, can be hard to get to because I have multiple writing deadlines of my own and reading a trilogy is more of a commitment than reading a single book. But I will try hard to read JINX’S FIRE by Sage Blackwood this year.

New standalones by authors I love includes things like Sarah Addison Allen’s FIRST FROST, which is out now, I believe. Ah, yes, I see it came out in January. Well, I was busy in January and I’m busy now and I’m not sure when I will get to it.

Catagory (3) is much, much bigger. It includes everything from Category (2) that I don’t actually get to this year, plus things that one or more of you recommended but that I have some doubts about — here I’m thinking of 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, which I just picked up because Sherwood Smith pushed me toward it. Plus everything on my current physical TBR pile, because it’s just embarrassing to have the same books sitting there year after year. I’ve got Cinda Williams Chima’s THE DEMON KING on there. Do you realize that came out in 2010? It’s terrible. Also I haven’t ever read the third book of Rachel Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS (I need to re-read the whole trilogy).

Also included in Category 3 are any series where I’m specifically waiting for the author to write the last book before I read the series. That’s like THE RAVEN BOYS quadrilogy, for example. The 4th book, THE RAVEN KING, is due out this fall. That’s all very well and I may actually read the whole set when it comes out, but who knows? A four-book set is going to involve a heavy commitment of time. Maybe next year. Or the year after that.

Category (4) includes WAR AND PEACE. And stuff like that. You can probably fill in the titles. Probably some of them are on your list, too. A TALE OF TWO CITIES. Things that are basically hovering on the edge of my radar. I know they’re there, I have heard good things about them, I would like to have read them, but they keep being bumped out of the way by new releases I’m dying to read.

And, of course, you can all fill in books from Category (5) after those recent discussions about Grim Classics. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE: yeah, no, thanks. I’m glad I wasn’t forced to read it when I was in high school, and I sure don’t plan to read it now.

So. The current Top Ten Books I Most Want to Read Right Away . . . titles come and go from that set. But at the moment, books I’m most likely to pick up in April include, not necessarily in this order:

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Steerswomanm by Rosemary Kirstein

I Rode A Horse of Milk-White Jade by Diane Wilson, which I feel a tug toward every time I see it on my coffee table

Kill All the Lawyers, the sequel to Infinity Hold by Barry B Longyear, which I only just found out about.

Keep the Law, which is the third book in that series

A Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Tracker by CJC

The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray


Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 27th, 2015
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Number one Do Not Want

March 26th, 2015

Look at this teaser for a short story that just went up at

“Dog” by Bruce McAllister is a chilling horror story about a young American couple who encounter dogs in Mexico very unlike any domesticated variety north of the border and what happens.

Uh, no. Count me out. Not touching it. But thank you so much for warning me! No, seriously, I appreciate knowing I should not read this story.

For example, Kij Johnson’s short story, “The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change.” I would have appreciated a warning on this one: DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE RACHEL NEUMEIER. Not that it’s not well written. And tying it into a kind of anthropological report format is so interesting and just my kind of thing! But sad, abandoned dogs are not for me.

That is worse than the dog dying. Usually.

“A Boy and His Dog” didn’t bother me. I could appreciate what Ellison was doing and awful stuff that doesn’t involve awfulness happening to the dog is fairly tolerable. But normally, these days, if the word “dog” is in the title, I’m pretty cautious about touching the story. I notice that Michael Swanwick’s story “The Dog Said Bow-Wow” is listed as one of Locus’s picks as Best Short Story of the 21st Century. But I sure wouldn’t read it unless someone who knows me gave me a thumbs-up.

Incidentally, Duranna Durgin has a wonderful real-life story about her beagles up at Book View Café today. Complete with adorable beagle pictures. She is making me feel guilty and neglectful as a trainer, I must say. My dogs all want me to do a ton more training with them even if it cuts into my writing schedule. I will be totally embarrassed if I don’t get around to putting at least one or two Rally titles on Ish this year. He loves training so much, and Rally is so easy, but I’ve done so little work with him. Well, soon the weather will warm up and we will have some fun times until the summer’s heat (and encroaching deadlines) drive me back to my air-conditioned living room and my laptop.

Gratuitous spaniel pic: Please can you stop typing and do something fun?


Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 26th, 2015
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Who would think of doing that? Or, I bet Tolkien would have been pleased.

March 25th, 2015

So, I just saw this interview of Marie Brennan at

This is Liz Bourke interviewing Brennan because of Brennan’s THE VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK coming out this month.


Now, I am a great admirer of Marie Brennan, which doesn’t mean I necessarily like all her work. I didn’t care for MIDNIGHT NEVER COME (though let me just add that that is one of the best titles ever). Somehow it just did not grab me. I gave it to my brother because he’s into history, though I don’t know if that period is one of his favorites, but he often likes books I don’t much care for, so I thought he might appreciate it more than I did.

Of course you all know that I love her current series.

Given her past work, I can sorta see Marie Brennan doing a short story like this, but I would never, never have thought of it:

I have a short story coming out in the fourth Clockwork Phoenix anthology this summer; it’s called “What Still Abides,” and it’s written entirely in words derived from Germanic roots (no Latinate terminology). On a per-word basis, it is probably the most labor-intensive thing I’ve ever produced: I had to look up everything in the Oxford English Dictionary, and struggle to find synonyms or other ways to phrase things when I ran afoul of Anglo-Norman vocabulary.

Seriously? I will NEED to look at that. I may not be very interested in short stories generally, but that will be an amazing story to take apart. What kind of story do you suppose it will be, that this use of language makes sense? I know that Tolkien was thoroughly involved with the old Germanic languages; I wonder if we’ll see Brennan draw on some of the same heroic traditions that influenced Tolkien and if so, how recognizable that influence will be.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 25th, 2015
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Quiet moments in epic fantasy

March 24th, 2015

Here is a post by Beth Bernobich at Fantasy Book Café.

Beth says:

I love epic fantasy. I love the drum roll of its vast armies, the crescendo when kingdom battles kingdom for the fate of the world. I love its thousand­-voice chorus of political intrigue, secret agendas, of heroes and heroines. I love its quests and sweeping drama of events writ large. It’s the 1812 Overture with extra cannons.

But you know what else? I love the quiet moments in epic fantasy too.

In between the explosions, I want to catch my breath, to absorb what all that action means for the characters. Most important, I need to connect with individual people, and not nations.

I agree. I would go further than that, because I don’t think I’m all that big a fan of epic fantasy, actually, so I’m not too keen on the vast armies. I want to connect to one or a few main characters and follow them; once we get past, say, four pov protagonists, I generally become less involved in the story. (I say four because I’m currently working on a book with four pov protagonists, so that limits my ability to stomp my feet and declare I dislike multiple pov.)

While I do appreciate quiet glimpses of daily life in an epic, I also appreciate books that are quieter overall — more intimate, less epic. Here The Sharing Knife series comes to mind, for example. So does Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn. In books like that, stuff may happen, but there is a gentler pace for much of the story and a definite focus on the day-to-day life of one or a few pov characters. I like that a lot.

Anyway, Beth offers a good handful of examples of the kinds of moments she’s talking about.

I have her Passion Play on my Kindle, incidentally, but I haven’t read it.  The whole trilogy is complete, though.  I’m certain I picked up Passion Play because of a recommendation from Liz Bourke, not that I can find that right now.  It was probably on Twitter. Here’s a snippet from Liz’s review of the second book of the trilogy:

The prose is strong, expressive, rising occasionally to understated elegance. Bernobich has a good hand with a descriptive turn of phrase, and a robust grasp of characterisation: for the most part, everyone in this book has reasonable, internally consistent motivations for the secrets they keep and the actions they take. With intrigue and machinations and danger around every corner, secrets are understandable. The rare moments of trust are startling by comparison.

Also, just FYI, Beth Bernovich is running a Kickstarter for a novella that’s connected to and takes place after the trilogy. I kicked in, just on the weight of Liz Bourke’s opinion and a general desire to be helpful. I guess that will probably make me read her trilogy a bit sooner. Maybe this year.

The list of Books I Really Want to Read This Very Year is getting uncomfortably long, and it’s not even April. Well, I will soon finish my current project — I’m thinking I will be able to tie a bow around it over Easter weekend — and then I will be able to take off a few weeks. But I better not take too long a break: Saga is expecting a full ms from me by mid-May, so I will need to revise that, too.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 24th, 2015
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Revising the high school lit curriculum: a modest proposal

March 23rd, 2015

Since I have mostly avoided reading classics all my adult life, naturally I am just the right person to pick out an appropriate high school curriculum. One that would have a chance of turning kids onto reading rather than off; or, at least, that is the plan. Yet still a curriculum that involves classics.

What could we choose?

1) The Lord of the Flies, fine, because it’s horrible but part of American culture and I guess it is not a bad idea to be familiar with it, but mostly because it would be interesting to contrast with Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. Or so I hear. I have not read the latter, but I’m looking forward to it. BUT! Though I haven’t read Bray’s book, I would not want to risk suggesting any such message as Boys Turn Savage, Girls Pull Together, because ugh. Therefore, also Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky. That one strands both boys and girls in a survival situation, plus there is a lot to discuss at the end.

Ah, and in the same unit, how about Infinity Hold by Barry Longyear? That one is about adults, not kids; and they are surrounded by enemies, not just trying to stay alive until they can be rescued. But it would fit quite perfectly into a discussion about a) a small group of people, (b) who are stranded and alone with very few resources, (c) who form a new society. You could hardly prevent the class from having a splendid debate about how societies form and what law is. Also, assigning a book with adult protagonists gets away from the modern idea that young-people-should-be-limited-to-young-protagonists.

Are any of these stories as good as Lord of the Flies considered as literary works? Ah, good question, class! Let’s discuss literary quality and see if we can figure out why Lord of the Flies is part of the canon in the first place. (Me, I think it’s largely because people really do have the (deeply mistaken) notion that Depressing = Depth.)

As a quite startling perk, I find that Infinity Hold is actually part of a trilogy. I had no idea. Now I am absolutely dying to read the sequels. The two sequels are Kill All the Lawyers and Keep the Law, and I see both are available on Kindle. Yay!

2) I would be perfectly okay with assigning both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But maybe just one and then students who like it can read the other? While we’re at it, let me just mention that a decent school library is an awesome thing.

Anyway, what to assign to read as companion pieces? How about Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze? Tom Sawyer is set in about, what, the 1840s or thereabouts? AndThe Freedom Maze is set in about 1860, with the frame story taking place in 1960. What else would make a good companion piece? How about Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede? That would give students a look at fantasy settings and how they can riff on real historical settings. I trust the school library would be able to find room for a good handful of Patricia Wrede’s other books, too.

3) What do you think of 1984? I think if you must assign a horrible dystopia where a boot stamps on the human face forever, then for heaven’s sake, let’s also assign a book where the horrible repressive government gets torn down and a more hopeful future is at least glimpsed. You could hardly do better than The Hunger Games. The whole trilogy, because you must reach the end or you don’t get that contrast. I had quibbles with the ending, but it’s a great series overall, plus can you imagine the debates that would ensue at the end? Also, you can contrast Mockingjay with, say, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Both are about both the brutality and the necessity of war.

4) I’m more or less keen on including A Tale of Two Cities, because I’ve heard good things about it but have never actually read it. If we’re going to assign that, then maybe Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan? That’s supposed to be a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities. I really loved The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy. While we’re on subject of classics and retellings, I didn’t like Moby Dick one bit, but I’m inclined to at least look at it before reading China Mieville’s Railsea, which is supposed to be something of a retelling. Also in the same category — and here I’ve read both — we have Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn, which is a retelling of Jane Eyre. What do you all think? A classic plus a retelling equals fun for all? Or twice the turnoff for students who aren’t keen on the original?

5) Gulliver’s Travels. I don’t remember if that was assigned in high school, but I know I read it at some point, and liked it. If we’re going to assign satire, though, clearly we should also assign modern satire — eg, Terry Pratchett. I would vote for Making Money, which is one of his most satirish satires. Other votes?

6) What about Jane Austen? Would that be an example of tl;dr? Or would a reasonable proportion of high school students get into something like Pride and Prejudice? I think Austen’s language is beautiful and I enjoy her writing. But the movie version of Sense and Sensibility is so good, and shorter than the movie version of Pride. My suggestion is, watch the movie of Sense and Sensibility, then read the book, the reach for a different kind of comedy of manners — for example, Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. Or Sorcery and Cecilia by Wrede and Stevermer. Or Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. I can see all three appealing to a broader base of high school readers than Austen.

7) I know a lot of people are probably now growing up with the movie version of “The Lord of the Rings” as the definitive version. I would be inclined to assign the books. Especially since I just read Tom Shippey’s books on Tolkien. There’s a lot in those books. I wouldn’t want to destroy them for readers by diagramming every sentence, but I can see students having a fruitful discussion about the differences between the Shire and Rohan and Gondor, about free will and “fighting the long defeat” and just how happy was that ending, anyway?

8) Shakespeare’s plays are fine. But include as many comedies as tragedies, and for heaven’s sake, be sure and watch them instead of just reading them. I vividly remember reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and thinking it was the stupidest play ever written. When I actually *saw* it, I thought it was great. This experience has stuck with me. Plays are meant to be seen. I know, kinda obvious. But then why make students read “Hamlet” rather than watching it?

Okay, that’s eight, that’s plenty. Weigh in in the comments if you’re so inclined! If you got to design a high school curriculum, which commonly assigned books would you keep, if any, and what would you add to balance them?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 23rd, 2015
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Books you read too young

March 22nd, 2015

Allison Peters at Book Riot has a post up about getting turned off by books because you read them before you were able to appreciate them.

I’ve never read Tess of the D’Ubervilles, which is one of the titles specifically mentioned. Or The Color Purple, which is another.

In the same post, Becky mentions The Great Gatsby and how she didn’t “get it” when it was assigned, but loved it when she read it much later on her own. Well, this kind of post always makes me think about WHY I have spent my life mostly avoiding classics.

Books that I was forced to read in high school: Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men. And plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear.

Books that I was never assigned: Anything by Jane Austen, A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, any Shakespearian comedies.

If I ever, ever saw an optimistic ending in an assigned book, I don’t remember it. The implicit belief of my lit teachers that tragedy automatically confers depth and that happy endings are automatically suspect turned me off classics SO HARD. It’s a miracle I ever got into Austen — or actually, it’s solely because of the movie version of “Sense and Sensibility,” which a friend dragged me off to see over my strenuous objections.

I finally read Jane Eyre in order to appreciate Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn. I didn’t particularly like it, but at least its overall message isn’t grim and despairing.

I’ll never know whether I would now be able to appreciate Lord of the Flies, because I do not plan to re-read it. Or anything else I loathed in high school. Maybe I would love those books now; we’ll never know.

So, yeah. Tip for teachers: if you want to encourage a love of the classics, maybe lighten up the curriculum a bit?

I realize it would be impossible to choose great stories that would appeal to all young readers. Hah hah hah. Naturally plenty of students would be bored to tears by Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know what I would actually choose to assign if I were teaching high school lit classes. But if I wanted to assign 1984, I would warn students that the book’s overall message is dark, dark, dark. And then I would also assign a dystopia with a more hopeful ending. That would even allow a discussion of hopeless endings vs hopeful endings. Wouldn’t that be better than assigning nothing but All Is Despair books from front to back of the curriculum?

My most loathed book ever: Madame Bovary, which was not assigned in high school, but which was assigned twice in college. I can’t imagine why I didn’t just glance at the Cliff Notes for the second time through, but no, I actually suffered through the book twice. OH THE TRAUMA.

The single book I most wish had been assigned: Pride and Prejudice. I would have discovered Austen much sooner and perhaps not be so thoroughly put off classics in the first place.

The one classic I would most like to read but probably won’t: War and Peace. My TBR pile is so huge, and there are so many books I really want to read, and I still have to overcome a good deal of fear-of-classics to reach for one. But that’s too bad, because I’d sort of like to have read War and Peace.

How about you? Did you enjoy the books you were assigned to read in high school (or college) lit classes?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 22nd, 2015
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Unexpected good news: a new Vorkosigan novel

March 21st, 2015

I was resigned to Lois McMaster Bujold lowering the curtain on the Vorkosigan universe, but it seems otherwise.

This is a Cordelia book rather than a Miles book, I see. The title is Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. I dislike that title myself, but the title is a trivial detail in this case. The release date is early next year.

So, happy dance here.

ALSO, if you were in charge of assigning LMB a writing project, what would you most want?

a) Another Miles story, filling in a gap somewhere in the extant chronology. For example, I always wanted to see the rescue story where Miles went off to rescue those Barrayaran subjects who were taken hostage by bad guys at the end of Brothers in Arms.

b) An Elli Quinn story. She was pretty cool as a secondary character in Ethan of Athos.

c) A prequel story, dealing with General Piotr and the Cetagandan invasion.

d) A story set in the future, focusing on the children of Miles and Ekaterin.

e) Something else, but in the Vorkosigan universe.

f) Something else in the Sharing Knife universe.

g) Something else in the Chalion universe.

While I would welcome any of the above, I have always wanted a prequel novel.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 21st, 2015
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March 20th, 2015


Or close enough to spring, anyway.

I hope we are all done with snow by this time, because it’s time for us all to make strawberry shortcakes. I personally feel that you shouldn’t get too fancy with strawberry shortcake. Freshly baked biscuits, which can be sweeter than usual; scones if you prefer. Not cake. Slice the biscuits in half, layer the bottom half with sliced, sweetened strawberries, put the top back on, spoon more strawberries over. Top with sweetened whipped cream, not cool whip. I personally beat 1 C of cream with 1/4 C of sugar and a half tsp or so of vanilla. Anyway, bake the biscuits, assemble the shortcakes, and serve at once, possibly with a little crocus floating in a bowl of water for a centerpiece. Because, spring!

If you want to celebrate spring with something fancier, perhaps this strawberry coconut pie, offered here by Julie at WillowBird Baking, in one of the most charming blog posts I’ve ever seen.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 20th, 2015
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Ah, here’s the World Fantasy Award ballot

March 20th, 2015

I get to nominate works for the World Fantasy Award this year because I attended last year. This is a somewhat different award process, because the two items receiving the most votes go on the final ballot, where the remaining nominees are selected by the judges. The judges then read everything and make their own picks. Nobody else gets a vote. The judges this year are Gemma Files, Nina K. Hoffman, Bénédicte Lombardo, Bruce McAllister, and Robert Shearman. Of these people, I have read works by . . . Nina Kiriki Hoffman. And that’s all. So I have no idea what kinds of work the rest of them do.

This raises a different, speculative, question: who would be on my ideal panel of judges? Wouldn’t that be interesting to think about? I know I would pick Marie Brennan. She writes such detailed, thoughtful analysis pieces; I think she would be a good judge. Who else? People who have written a good bit, whose work I admire, who seem to think critically about what they read and about the craft of writing. Kate Elliot? Sherwood Smith?

Anyway, I feel weird about nominating SF for the World FANTASY Award, even though some people do. So I’m nominating:


THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by “Katherine Addison”
CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge

Those are the only two fantasy novels that I had on my Hugo ballet, so they’re easy choices here.

“Hold Back the Waters” by Virginia Mohlere
“The Earth and Everything Under” by KM Ferebee
“Mad Maudlin” by Marie Brennan

Those are the three short stories I liked best, of the ones I nominated for the Hugo.

Now, there is also a place right here to nominate someone for a Lifetime Achievement Award. A particular author can only win this once, which makes sense, and a list of past winners is provided so you don’t double up on someone.

I see that CJ Cherryh has never won this. I checked, twice. Unbelievable. UNBELIEVABLE. I hope her name springs to mind for lots of people and not just for me, because I would LOVE to see her win this category.

Okay, I’m off to finalize my ballot and send it in.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 20th, 2015
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Competent Female Characters, Second List

March 19th, 2015

Okay, lots of great Twitter action on this topic, as well as comments here. So a more complete list of competent female protagonists forthwith, plus my personal take on ‘em when I’m familiar with them, which is by no means all the time.

From my original post:

Tremaine Valiarde, Fall of Ile-Rien, Martha Wells

Maskelle, Wheel of the Infinite, Martha Wells

Honor Harrington, series of the same name, David Weber

Heris Serrano, Hunting Party and following series, Elizabeth Moon

Torin Kerr, Valor series, Tanya Huff.

Morgaine, from CJC’s Morgaine series.

Now, what all of the above protagonists have in common is: they are competent AND confident to start with. They may be in a position that is not ideal — hence, conflict and the ensuing story — but they know they can handle most problem that arise, and the DO handle problems that arise, because they are good at stuff. Yes, I agree with Maureen that Tremaine is a little less self-assured, but . . . uh . . . perfect consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, or however that goes.

Actually, though Tremaine is pushed into a general sense of inadequacy from time to time, especially by that ass Ander, I don’t think she ever doubts her own basic competence to act effectively. She is an extremely decisive person, far more assured than, say, Menolly from the Harper Hall series — which Brenn C suggested in the comments. I loved the Harper Hall series, btw, but I would say the character arc for Menolly is a much more standard insecure –> confident arc. Brenn, Hanneke and @quartzen all suggested McCaffery’s Moreta. It’s been such a long time since I read that! I do remember that she was a mature woman character, but almost nothing else about her.

Louise Bates (on Twitter) and Hanneke (in the comments) and Estara (at Goodreads) all suggested Cordelia Naismith. For “mature female protagonist,” she’s a great choice. So is Ista from the Chalion series. But though Cordelia *is* competent to start with, she lacks confidence. That is why I left her off my initial list. AmyCat at @BookUniverse managed to capture this distinction in fewer than 140 characters on Twitter, which I hesitated to attempt: “Big difference between professional competence & emotional confidence. Cordelia starts strong w/1st, gains 2nd.” Exactly. I was specifically thinking of female characters who are already both confident AND competent at the opening of the story.

Pete Mack suggested Miri from Sharon Lee & Steve Miller’s Liaden series. Good catch; I agree. Miri has been through a rough patch, but she’s clearly both competent and self-assured when we meet her.

Michelle Sagara (comments) and Veronica Schanoes (Twitter) pointed out that Granny Weatherwax definitely counts. So she does.

Kate Elliot (on Twitter) suggested Signy Mallory from CJC’s Downbelow Station. Adam Whitehead (on Twitter) suggested Brienne from Game of Thrones and Moiraine from Wheel of Time. In all these cases, the woman suggested is not a true protagonist, but one member of a huge ensemble cast. I think that’s different, though granted maybe that distinction is just me.

Ben (@DefGrappler) suggested Breq from Ancillary Sword. I said no, Breq is not really a sexual creature, not human enough to count as “female.” Where does that leave Pyanfar Chanur from the Pride of Chanur series? Hanneke (comments) suggested her, and so did Sandstone (@quartzen). Here I say yes. She’s nonhuman, but she reads as a lot closer to human than Breq, imo. I mean, at least she thinks of herself as female. Breq is really a neuter person, no matter what pronoun she uses. @quartzen also suggested Diane Duane’s Ael in her Star Trek Rihannsu novels. Definitely a yes for Ael. She’s a great character and those are fantastic Star Trek tie-ins.

@DefGrappler also suggested Kate Daniels from Ilona Andrews’ series. Well, yeah, that’s certainly true. Don’t know why I didn’t think of her. Hanneke suggests Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs’ series. Mercy isn’t at the same level of competence as Kate Daniels, but okay, I grant you, she knows her way around a car — and she is confident by nature. That’s one big reason I love her.

Then we get to a bunch of protagonists I don’t know at all:

Kate Elliot and others (@jennygadget) strongly recommend Rowan from Kirstein’s Steerswoman series. That’s something I’ve had on my TBR pile for well over a year. I really, really want to get to it this year.


Kate Elliot Whoops, sorry, it was Jayne (@aunicorninspace) who suggested Alexis Solovy from G S Jennsen’s Aurora Rising. (Those extra @ tags confused my eye.) Anyway, that one is 0.99 on Kindle right now, so it’s very easy to add to my TBR pile. There, done.

And one more suggestion from Kate Elliot: Jirel of Joiry. That’s one classic I never read.

Pete Mack (From the comments) and Martin Wisse (on Twitter) suggested Jenny Casey from Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered, Scardown & Worldwired. Jenny Casey is evidently a middle-aged ex-veteran cyborg. Sounds great! Hammered is now on my TBR pile.

@DefGrappler also suggests Tavore Paran from Erikson’s Malazan series and Ilya Volyova from Reynold’s Revelation Space. I’m not familiar with either.

MAW suggests Priscilla Hutchins from Jack McDevitt’s Academy series, because she is a competent starship pilot from the outset.

Titinaus and Hélène both suggest Jill from Katherine Kerr’s Deverry novels. Kate Elliot suggested Lovyan, also from Deverry. Jon Chaisson, on Twitter, suggested Nola O’Grady from Kerr’s UF series that starts with License to Ensorcell; I liked License to Ensorcell and the first several sequels quite a bit, but I’m not sure that Nola O’Grady struck me as really confident and comfortable in herself at the beginning of the series. Though, I don’t know. Maybe I need to re-read those.

Katherine Kerr herself suggested Bobbie Lacey and Doctor Carol in her newer title Polar City Blues and also Ammadin in her older title, Snare.

Hanneke suggests Kerowyn in By the Sword, which she describes as the least YA of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. I never got into Valdemar, so I don’t know Kerowyn. Also Raine Benares, from Lisa Shearin’s Magic Lost, Trouble Found series. I haven’t read that, either, though it’s on my radar, I believe. I might even have it on my TBR pile. It’s pretty bad when you can’t remember whether you actually own a book or not.

Hanneke also suggests some of Huff’s fantasy in addition to than the Valor series. I am actually not as keen on Huff’s fantasy and don’t remember much about Wizard of the Grove or Keeper.

@quartzen, in addition to mentioning some protagonists I know, also suggested Balsa in Nahoko Ueshashi’s Moribito, Quinn Lioe in Melissa Scott’s Burning Bright, and Melisa Michaels’ Skyrider. I don’t know any of those.

I mentioned AKH’s extremely competent heroes. Naturally I see that commenters are now mentioning her heroines in the AKH titles I haven’t actually read: Stained Glass Monsters, Hunting, and now Pyramids of London. FINE. I will hopefully read all of those this year, but in fact . . . so many books . . . I can see myself simply waiting to read Pyramids until the entire five-book series is out.

Andrea K Höst herself suggests Claudia J Edwards Taming the Forest King. All right; it is now on my TBR pile. This one seems to be available only in the form of physical used copies, but on the other hand, it is available, so there’s that.

@harmony_fb suggested Loch from The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. I actually have that in audio right now.

@glenatron suggests Juliet E McKenna’s female protagonists, starting with Livak, the protagonist of her first series. That starts with The Thief’s Gamble. Okay, I’ll try it.

@RobotArchie suggests Grand Captain Lady Laurr of noble Laurr from Mission To The Stars by AE Van Vogt. I really enjoyed some of AE Van Vogt’s work, but never read this one.

@pixelherd suggests Muire in Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars and Delarua in Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds. Those were already on my radar, but I haven’t read either of them yet.

Okay, and from Sarah Beth in the comments at Goodreads, we also get a suggestion for Beka Rosselin-Metadi from the MageWorld series by Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald, and Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde, neither of which I’ve tried.

As far as YA female characters who start off competent, we get these suggestions: Katniss of The Hunger Games, Sabriel from the Garth Nix’s book of the same name, and Tiffany from the Tiffany series by Terry Pratchett — who starts off as a nine-year-old, but a confident and competent nine-year-old. Sabriel I simply don’t remember that well, but I agree with the other two. They may have areas where they’re less confident, but overall they believe in themselves, and with reason. Also Mosca is suggested from Fly By Night by Hardinge. That seems like another possible choice for a confident MG girl protagonist.

All right, I THINK that’s it for suggestions, though I wouldn’t be astonished if I missed a couple given the plethora of comments here, on Twitter, and at Goodreads. Thank you all for contributing! I hope we will all find some new-to-us titles we really love from this list.

Update: pml comments on Goodreads:

UN Peacekeeper Major Catherine Li in Chris Moriarty’s Spin trilogy. That’s a harder SF trilogy, I see.

Perhaps FBI profiler Jace Valchek in D.D. Barant’s The Bloodhound Files — that appears to be a UF series.

Gale in A.M. Dellamonica’s Hidden Sea Tales, although she’s the protagonist only in the short stories Among the Silvering Herd and The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.

I’ll just add other suggestions in addenda as they come up.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 19th, 2015
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