Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I HEART YA #6: Female Protagonists, Tough or Over Easy?

Suze Reese
When I'm looking for a great female character, I'm not looking for the Platonic Ideal of "The Female Heroine."  I don't want to take someone's character and see how close she gets to being like the ideal, because there is no ideal.  I don't want spunky, tough-as-nails, strong-and-sexy, cute-and-perky.  I don't want a stereotype.  I want a CHARACTER.

One of my all time favorite female characters is Cimorene, from the Dealing with Dragons books.  Cimorene isn't one of those Supergirls who can do anything: fight like a pro, spell like a sorcerer, read Latin like a scholar.  She's a princess who's not all that interested in princessy things.  She wants to learn.  So she does.  And maybe she's not a great swordswoman, nor a powerful magician, or a gourmet chef, but she is intrepid, and she can make a vat of cherries jubilee.

I think Cimorene's great because she's smart and funny and interested in interesting things.  And she's not super human either, she just makes the most of what she has, and is always willing to learn something new.  Admirable as well as awesome.  How can you beat that?

There are a hundred female characters I adore: Susan Sto Helit, Cordelia Naismith, Harriet Vane, Flora Poste, Claudine, Pippi Longstocking, Sophie Hatter, and many who never got their star turn.  But to bring it back to YA:

Mosca Mye.

If you haven't read Fly-By-Night, here's a short rundown of the premise (cribbed from a Goodreads Review):

"Mosca Mye, orphaned, black-eyed and stubborn and addicted to the written word, burns down her uncle’s mill (accidentally,) releases a con man from the stocks (on purpose,) and flees town with only her homicidal and loyal goose Saracen as a companion. And thus begins Mosca’s adventure in a city that is a political hotbed of unrest, where people are rarely what they seem and loyalties may change at the drop of a hat. Mosca only wants to find her place and follow her love of the written word, but she will soon find herself a pawn in a political intrigue that has many sides. Only her fierce ingenuity (and Saracen’s loyalty) will be able to help her make it out alive."

Mosca is tiny, and like the creature she was named after, always watching out for a swat.  Her greatest strengths are her wit and her ability to read, a highly uncommon ability in the Fractured Realm, and she is endlessly good at wriggling out of a pinch.

Oddly, if I were to say what I all my favorite female characters have in common, (to create a Platonic Ideal, *gag*)  it would be that they all feel real.  They aren't magically good, or smart, or competent.  They are good and smart and competent because they work hard at it.  They also all know exactly who they are.  Although the bildungsroman is lovely and popular, I'm not all that interested in the story of 'finding out who you are,' because it's kind of a futile search.  I like girls who are confident in who they are, and would rather shake the whole world than change to better fit another's opinion.


  1. Definitely like the shaking the world concept. And I agree that I cannot relate to the protags that make mistakes on their way to finding themselves. I prefer they already have a core belief they stick to.

  2. Great point - a character is much better than a stereotype! I think that's what makes me fall in love with characters more than anything else, when they break the mold. The characters you've listed sound wonderful!

  3. Awesome list! Who is Sophie Hatter? Any relation to the Hatter in Wonderland?

  4. That's awesome that we both include Mosca in our list! And it does seem that we read the same books! I dig Pippi. I even dressed up as her when I was younger. That was probably one of my first cosplays. *laughs*

    I loved Sophie too, but I didn't get familiar with her until Miyazaki's film. (I really need to read the books!) Also, Dorrie the little witch, if you've heard of her. I grew up with her books. Not to mention Heidi, Alice, and Mary Lennox.

    For my list I thought of the characters I'd read about most recently and who I could think of quickly off the top of my head. I do love Tiffany, but I really love getting such great book recommendations from you and everyone else on this blog hop!