Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013 and Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.
by Helen Lowe
In “Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World” I am shining a spotlight on favorite Fantasy heroines, not only revealing who they are but why I feel they kick butt and take names as characters. This week I’m spending time with a longstanding favorite: Raederle of An from Heir Of Sea and Fire, the second novel in Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy, which I believe is now regarded as a Fantasy classic. The first novel, The Riddlemaster Of Hed, focuses on Morgon (the eponymous riddlemaster) and I expected the second-in-series to do the same – only to be blown away when the focus switched to Raederle.
In Riddlemaster, the reader knows Raederle only by reputation. She is “the Second Most Beautiful Woman” in An, the daughter of its King, and promised since birth to whoever wins an otherwise deadly riddle game. This, of course, turns out to be Morgon: so far, so traditional fairytale fare, very much placing Raederle in the same company as Arwen in The Lord Of The Rings.
Heir Of Sea And Fire, however, turns all of that on its head.
Like Arwen, Raederle is waiting to marry her betrothed, Morgon. At the beginning of Heir, however, Morgon has been unaccountably missing for a year – and unlike Arwen, Raederle stops waiting and sets out to find him. To do so, she teams up with Lyra, a friend of Morgon’s and also a warrior and guard captain:
“She saw Lyra standing beneath a tree at the cliff’s edge, her back to the College. Something in the taut set of her shoulders, her bowed head, drew Raederle towards her. As she crossed the grounds Lyra’s spear lifted, spun a circle of light in the air, and plunged point down into the earth.
She turned at a rustle of leaf she heard under the rustle of wind-tossed trees. Raederle stopped. They looked at each other silently. Then Lyra, giving shape to the grief and anger in her eyes, said almost challengingly, “I would have gone with him. I would have protected him with my life.”
Raederle’s…hands closed. “…I want to go to Erlenstar Mountain. Will you help me?”
Lyra’s lips parted. Raederle saw a brief flash of fear and uncertainty in her face. The she gripped her spear, pulled it out of the earth and gave a little emphatic nod. “I’ll come.”
Shortly afterwards, they are joined by Tristan, Morgon’s sister – at which stage I realized that I had encountered my first “band of sisters” in Fantasy fiction. Although I have met a great many female characters with agency in Fantasy, it is still rare, outside of YA literature, for a woman to be the leading character. It is rarer still for a heroine to be part of a band of sisters. Very often, main female characters exist in relative isolation among a leading cast that is predominantly male. Yet in Heir Of Sea And Fire I think it is the genuine friendship and camaraderie between Raederle, Lyra, Tristan, and the accompanying guards (also women) that “makes” the book.
“Lyra, Tristan and the guards rode out of the trees…Lyra…looked disheveled herself, worn and tired. She went to Raederle, knelt beside her…She opened her hand, dropped between them three tangled, dirty pieces of thread…Tristan, still on her horse, was staring at Raederle, wide-eyed and frightened. She slid to the ground abruptly, came to Raederle’s side. “Are you all right?” Her voice was sharp with worry. “Are you all right?” She brushed pieces of pine needle and bark out of Raederle’s hair gently…
Raederle’s heroine’s journey is (unsurprisingly) also central to the book. What starts as a mission to find, and if need be rescue, Morgon becomes a progression into her own power – which turns out to be considerable. But the source of the magic comes hung about with doubt and fear, so that Raederle’s journey risks becoming a flight from herself. I liked that her hunger for her heritage of magic – “a longing to possess the knowledge of the fire, the fire itself” – is tempered by what she fears will come with it: “Compassionless … destructiveness…”
In the end, however, events oblige Raederle to overcome both fear and doubt so that she “…stood…in the vast oak forest bordering Hel, straining as she had never done before, to unlock all the power and awareness in her mind…” I will leave you to find out for yourself what happens next, but Raederle’s story – where her journey is the center of the book, not confined to the periphery, and one in which she (and her band of sisters) not only have power, but also integrity, honor and courage – has cemented her place as a heroine that rocks my world.