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
Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World: Yeine Darr
In “Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World” I am shining a spotlight on my favorite Fantasy heroines, not only revealing who they are but why I believe they kick butt and take names as characters.
Yeine Darr, of NK Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is definitely one of the more intriguing Fantasy heroines I’ve encountered in recent years. I would not describe her as an “anti-heroine,” but she is definitely a twilit character, skirting the realms of light and dark. Although this, it could be argued, is the point of her role in the story, where the gods of Light (Order) and Dark (Chaos) have been divided by a war that the Dark lost, two thousand years before. Arguably, too, Yeine, like Shakespeare’s Lear, is more “sinned against that sinning” once—through her disgraced mother’s legacy and the internal politics of the ruling Arameri kin—she becomes one of three potential heirs to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
The story opens when Yeine is summoned from her remote northern homeland of Darr following her mother’s assassination. In quick succession, she is made one of the three competing heirs and inducted into the place of Sky—where a fellow contestant sets one of the enslaved gods to murder her:
“I could not go straight. All that had saved me thus far was my head start, and the fact that the monster behind me seemed incapable of moving faster than a mortal’s pace…”
Although Yeine survives this attack, she finds herself negotiating layers of intrigue: plots laid by the enslaved gods to free themselves and a revenge quest within her immediate family, as well as the political scheming for the heirdom and balance of power within the world. As Yeine discovers, both her existence and her death in the forthcoming heir-selection ceremony, is central to them all—and shortly after she arrives, Darr itself is threatened with annihilation as a consequence of her decisions.
Small wonder, then, that Yeine’s path is a grey one, and as she realizes within a day of her arrival:
“The walls of Sky were hollow, its corridors a maze.”
What I like about Yeine is that while faced with impossible choices in seeking to negotiate that maze, she struggles to hold onto her essential honesty and moral decency. She, too, seeks revenge for her mother’s death, and also knows that power, and the willingness to wield it, is the prerequisite for survival in the Arameri’s Sky. Yet despite this, she yields to compunction on several critical occasions, even though she knows it is to her own disadvantage—and Darr’s.
In the end, Yeine trades the certainty of her own death to give Darr a fighting chance, which given the circumstances reflects both considerable moral fortitude and resolution of spirit. Her path is about remaining human in an inhumane world, hich also makes her the key to resolving the aftermath of the disastrous “war in heaven.”
Small wonder then, that Yeine’s ability to hold onto her personal integrity while negotiating Sky’s maze of cruelty and conspiracy, makes her a Fantasy heroine who rocks my world.