Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Black River Chronicles and the War For Female Superhero Supremacy

Not a superhero book.
I wouldn't normally comment on a review, let alone on an Amazon review, let alone on a one star Amazon review, but recently one came along that was just too good (or too bad?) to let go.  It was from our perennial friend "Kindle Customer" and it read as follows:
 Misleads readers, supports "girl super hero storyline"
This is a "girl super hero book". It's written in the harry potter style but lacks the quality of character development common with them. It uses subtle narratives to bring the reader to the realization that females are, quicker, smarter, brighter, more heroic than males. If you like a "girl super hero book" you will like it. If you dislike veiled references to female supremacy in the guise of a fantasy novel, then you wont like the book.
Well, you saw right through me, Kindle Customer - if that really is your name! - but now that my plotting is out in the open, let's fight the man.  Even though I am one!  In fact, I'm literally punching myself as I left-handedly type this.  In your face, the patriarchy! what I'd have liked to reply.  But instead, I'm writing this blog post.  And sarcasm aside, I don't want to dig into why I try hard to write capable, convincing female characters, because frankly I find the whole question idiotic beyond words.  Suffice to say that when we talk about female representation, we're discussing half the human beings who've ever walked the Earth, and who, despite generally wretched treatment by their male counterparts, have proved endlessly and beyond reasonable doubt that they can be in every way as able, as strong, as intelligent, and as every other damn thing you care to come up with.  If you're genuinely horrified by the notion that a female character might be quicker or smarter or more heroic than a male character then I'm willing to concede that you might not get on with my work, Kindle Customer - and that's okay.  I reckon I can get by without you.

No, actually, only one thing about that review bothered me as a critique of Level One, and that's that it simply isn't true.  To claim that the female characters, or any of the characters, are superhumanly able misinterprets something that was at the core of what I've tried to accomplish with the Black River Chronicles.  Though different characters have their moments in the spotlight, these aren't Tia or Arein's books, any more than they're Durren's or Hule's.  And not one of these characters could accomplish alone what they manage together.  Tia may be essentially a ninja and always nine steps ahead of everyone else in the room, but put her in a situation that requires proper cooperation or good social skills and she's a lot less effective.  Arein is great at the academic side of things, but when you're a wizard who's actively afraid of casting spells, that's never going to be enough.  They're not perfect, because no-one is.  But they are a good deal better at a lot of things that Durren or Hule, because of course they are, they've been studying those subjects and honing those skills for years.

Actually a female superhero.
The long and the short of it is, while I wasn't offended by that review as a writer - heck, I suspect I even sold a few copies off the back of it! - it did make me sad that anyone could get the wrong end of the stick quite so badly.  And that's not because the Black River Chronicles aren't actually a codified manifesto for female supremacy, it's that their very heart is the notion that nobody's supreme.  These kids need each other. They rely on each other.  Without any one of them, they'd none of them have survived to midway through the first book.  And really, that's as close to a moral as there is: it's okay for people to be better at things than you, whoever and however they are, and it's okay to rely on others when you're already pulling your weight in other ways.

So there we go.  I've no issue with the notion that I might write a "girl super hero storyline" one of these days; heck, I'd be honoured to give it a go, and if Marvel are looking for someone to pick up Ironheart, my favourite new comics character of recent years, then I'd take that job in a millisecond.  But that ain't the Black River Chronicles.  Though Tia and Arein are absolutely, unquestionably heroes, they don't have a single superpower between them - and like no end of women throughout the history of the world, they don't let that hold them back for a second.

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