Book Frivolity.....

Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!

Currently reading

Stone of Farewell
Tad Williams
The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns)
Django Wexler
Jeremy Kool, Steve Gerlach & Amanda Kool
Rhapsody: Child of Blood - Elizabeth Haydon Prophecy: Child of Earth - Elizabeth Haydon Destiny: Child of the Sky - Elizabeth Haydon
Rhapsody by Kristy M (Book Frivolity)
Rhapsody by Kristy M (Book Frivolity)

The Meaningless Moniker 'Mary Sue'


Firstly, I want to say how much I loved the first trilogy in The Symphony of Ages. Five big ole stars. As much as I am enjoying the new wave of fantasy, The Symphony of Ages’ grand sweeping world building, mystery/romance story line, and amazing travelogue, is exactly where my heart feels at home. The installments are long, meticulously detailed, with an amazing push/pull plot that makes you frown in frustration, then cheer out loud, then weep in sorrow, and then cry for the beauty of it. I will absolutely be acquiring the rest of the series as soon as I can afford to!


Now, I want to rant. Not about the books; the books have given me more pleasure than I rightly deserve probably. I’ve been bottling these frustrations up for a while, this annoyance has got my bloody goat way too often recently. This series has given me a prime opportunity to let it out, as it's a prime example of where this annoyance crops up. So here’s the deal, I don’t want to rant to people who are just going to moan that I am ranting about feminist issues. So I’m going to stick it in spoilers, and if you don’t want to deal, don’t open it. I have things I really want to say, but I really don’t want the damned backlash. If it’s not for you, please, don’t read it. If it is.. Read on… :)




I believe I have worked out the the first rule to finding feminist fantasy: look for the books in which reviewers call the lead female character a Mary Sue. It won't always work, but it’s a good chance. Fact check: A lead female character cannot be a Mary Sue. It is her narrative; she can’t flounce in and take over her own story with her Mary Sue-ness unless there’s some type of freaky time travel stuff going on.. It makes absolutely no bloody sense whatsoever.


You see, a lead female character can do whatever the hell she likes in her own story. If she’s kicking arse and taking names - it’s her prerogative. If she falls in love, and dresses like a princess - it’s her prerogative. If she is perfect at everything she does, good bloody on her, I wish I was as awesome. She is the story. The story revolves around her. She is whatever the author believes she needs to be, to tell the story they need to tell. She cannot be a damn Mary Sue.


So, in the case of Rhapsody, you’ll find all the negative reviews up front, cause of all them likes! And a pretty good proportion of them contain the phrase Mary Sue.. It seems to attract people’s attention.


And, I just don't understand where people have pulled this Mary Sue comparison from. Is it because she’s nice, honest, trusting? Wow, how perfectly dreadful. Is it because she's pretty?


Hold on, stop. Back the frak up.


I want to address this, because it made me blow my stack when I read the books, and thought back on how people interpreted Rhapsody’s beauty. Her Mary Sue-ness. A slight spoiler: At a poignant moment in the book Rhapsody and her companions are cleansed by fire. All physical scars erased, and Rhapsody emerges ethereally beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that she is mercilessly mobbed in the streets, and has to walk around with a hood on, so as not to incite the public to commit violence against her. She is stalked, harassed, and sexually assaulted. She is horridly used by her closest friend, because her beauty will acquire the things he wants. Throughout this, she is totally blind as to why people are so fixated on her. She thinks she must look like an abhorrent freak. Gee whiz, how wonderful this extreme beauty must be…! People just fall all over her to do her bidding! How very Mary Sue… *sigh*


This physical cleansing also highlights that changing one's outsides, does not change one's history, memories, or how they view themselves. Rhapsody was a prostitute, she was homeless, raped, mentally and physically abused. She was full of regret, full of shame, full of guilt. Her physical cleansing changes none of that. She may be extraordinarily gorgeous on the outside, but she still feels unworthy of love, of praise, and still feels unsure of her skills no matter how well she masters them. She still feels ugly.


It is a magnification of almost every woman's experience throughout history..  Ask the (other) women in your life. Ask about the cat-calls. About how their worth is judged by their beauty. How their abilities are considered secondary to how they look. Ask how many of them feel beautiful when they look in the mirror. How they compare themselves to the ‘beauty standards’ set by those around them. When someone says ‘she was asking for it dressed like that’...


So you can see how this very strange interpretation of Rhapsody’s character, feels rather hinky to me. Where exactly is her extreme perfection? How is she just gliding through life all smiles and rainbows? Why is it her male counterparts are funny and have a great sarcastic sense of humour when they make jokes about Rhapsody’s forced prostitution, but she is a dull and uninspiring when she doesn’t join in the merriment... About her forced prostitution? Oh gods, the hilarity that conjures in me! *add sarcasm*. You know what, I actually do understand. Apparently fantasy with a feminist undertone, just isn’t ok. A female character in adult fantasy, just isn’t allowed to shine brighter than her male counterparts, without some weird backlash. As an Australian, where most of our spec-fic writers are female, and write female characters - this strange new world is just freakin’ insane. It makes me tired.


Look, I don't mind if somebody honestly interprets a book differently than I do, that is part of the fun of discussing books with other readers: you see new things, view it from a new perspectives! However, when a reviewer is being blatantly ignorant because they find female fantasy leads somehow offensive, or so they can use a snarky catch phrase they don't actually understand just to look cool, and therefore get a ton of likes - it not only makes me feel sorry for the author that has stacked in years of work, poured all of that out on to the page (and some of this book would’ve been incredibly hard to write), but it also lessens my trust in the book reviewing community.


You found my goat, and you dragged it out. Don’t get mad when I start stewing it,


(show spoiler)