Morning mortals! I am beyond thrilled that you have joined me for today’s blog post – my first ever blog tour! (I actually did a small victory dance when I got invited, I’m that kind of human!
Firestorm is the final book in the Worldmaker trilogy written by Lucy Hounsom, some may remember my review of Starborn earlier this year. I’ve since had time to read the next two books and I’m delighted to say they just get better and better.
Since this is one of many YA series which is advertised on the basis of it’s ‘strong female protagonist’ I thought it would be great to talk about cliché and how difficult it can be to write such a character in a somewhat flooded market. Lucy kindly wrote the piece below. But before we get to that – what’s Firestorm all about?
Kyndra has finally mastered her cold Starborn powers, but at what cost? She’s drifting from those dearest to her – though they can only reunite Acre together. And assassins who dance through time pose an extraordinary new threat. They seek to change the past – to unmake the Sartyan Empire and rewrite the whole history of Acre. And in the Khronostians’ new narrative, Kyndra is never even born.
Ex-slaver Char is determined to enlist the help of dragons for the fight to come. They were banished from the world by Khronostians. But, with the rogue Khronostian Ma’s skills, he and Kyndra aim to reach the dragons’ mountainous city. And perhaps here, they can gather enough power to send Kyndra far back in time – to prevent the death of an era. Yet despite her best efforts, events propel Kyndra towards a confrontation that has shaped and will shape the future of the world.
I personally loved reading Firestorm, and gave it 4/5 stars. Of course I was a big fan of the dragons, I am a predictable human, but the choices Lucy forces her characters into are often profoundly heartbreaking, it’s those character moments that really shape this story into what it is.
Kyndra clearly develops from the first book to the third, she gains a lot of wisdom but she’s still painfully aware of her own limitations. You can see how Lucy truly cares about the characters she creates, as a reader they become gradually more fleshed out as your learn more about them, sort of like getting to know new friends.
I also have to give Lucy some credit for taking on a topic that many shy away from. Time travel can be a fickle mistress and can create more pitfalls and plotholes for any one book to manage. I think Lucy managed to handle this well, without ever feeling like you lose any of the complexity of the plot just to avoid paradox.
If you read any of the other books in this series, or if you are a fan of YA fantasy, I would recommend giving this series a try all the way to the end. You’ll probably find yourself falling for this wonderful cast of characters in some way or another – I know I did!
(Disclaimer – I was sent a digital advanced review copy of Firestorm from the Publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.)
A note on clichés and writing female characters
They say clichés exist because they’re true. I don’t wholly refute that, but clichés are
born of stereotypes which in turn are hung on archetypal frames of behaviour; there’s
plenty of room for misrepresentation. I’ve found this to be especially so of gender
clichés. Perhaps part of it is laziness: why venture into unknown territory when the
local area’s already been mapped by others? But if we never break out of our comfort
zones, we’re never going to explore new lands, or find new ways of telling stories.
Saying this, fantasy as a genre is often derivative and can draw strength from
recognisable tropes, so I’ve tried to reinvent rather than abandon them. Kyndra is
obviously a chosen one and she struggles with the fact that it will set her apart. But I
asked: who chooses the chosen one except the chosen one herself? Kyndra comes full
circle to realise how the whole tapestry of heroism and tyranny is woven together and
that her choices have always been her own.
In relation to this, there’s a certain cliché I wanted to avoid that particularly dogs female
protagonists. I call it the have your cake and eat it too scenario, wherein the character
finds a way to stay true to her destiny, keeping her power and – more often than not –
her love interest. I hate a convenient exception to an established rule and it’s important
to establish rules in a fantasy world. Great power comes at a cost. In Kyndra’s case, as it
is with all the Starborn, the cost is essentially her empathy.
However, the cliché that caused the most debate between my editor and I was the love
triangle. I’ve never been a fan of love triangles…until I realised I’d written one. The idea
of two women fighting over a man makes me wince and so, in the first draft, I
downplayed any rivalry between them. But during the editorial process, I realised that
there was a rivalry, something tied intrinsically into their differing personalities, and to
ignore it would be neglecting a serious part of their characterisation.
Brégenne is my favourite character. It was a challenge to actively portray her as jealous,
while keeping true to the proud independent woman she’s always been. I had to ask
myself, is this one of those times when there’s truth in a romantic cliché? When you’ve
invested a great deal of time and emotion in another person, surely you would fight if
someone threatened to take them away. Still, the Brégenne-Nediah- Kait relationshipwas definitely the hardest to depict – especially with the rest of the world falling down
Perhaps that’s part of it too: epic fantasy is heavily plot-driven, which doesn’t leave as
much room for characterisation as other genres. So either we’re tempted to use clichés
as shortcuts, or they creep in undetected as small parts of a greater picture. This
happened to me in Starborn, where I had a young woman being manipulated by an older
man: a cliché that pops up with unsurprising frequency in fiction. Changing her gender
allowed me to put a young man in her position instead – something less common –
without losing that plot strand altogether.
Despite having learned a lot while writing this trilogy, it’s still an active struggle to avoid those clichés which have become ingrained in perceptions of our social behaviour.
They’re often harder to spot than small-scale similes – e.g. cuts like a knife, swims like a
fish – but if you genuinely take the time to understand your characters, you’ll avoid the
worst clichés naturally.
What say you? Do you have any feelings about clichés in YA fiction? Let me know in the comments below!