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 my favorite Fantasy heroines, not only revealing who they are but why I believe they kick butt and take names as characters.
Last month, I featured Part 1 of “Sisterhood Is Powerful”, focusing on Sheera Galernas and her “band of sisters” in Barbara Hambly’s 1984 novel, The Ladies of Mandrigyn. I concluded, however, with the observation that “there is so much to this book in terms of sisterhood and Fantasy heroines that rock my world, that it has to be a two-part post.”
True to my word, I now give you Part 2, which also focuses on “sisterhood”—only not a “band of sisters” this time, but the comradeship between two women, Starhawk and Fawn, who are thrown by circumstances into that great Fantasy tradition, the hero’s (or in this case, heroines’) road trip.
You’ll recall from last time that the tale’s actual hero, Sun Wolf, a mercenary commander, was kidnapped by Sheera Galernas in order to train her strike force of Mandrigyn women to take down Altiokis, the evil wizard king. This kidnapping is achieved by magic, so when Sun Hawk mysteriously vanishes from his own mercenary army, immediate suspicion falls on Altiokis. Starhawk, a woman warrior and Sun Wolf’s second-in-command, decides to investigate:
“If Altiokis has him—which I believe he does—he’ll need help. I’m willing to risk the trip.” She hooked her hands through her sword belt and watched Ari, waiting.
Shortly after departing the camp, she is joined by Fawn, Sun Wolf’s concubine, who (understandably) doesn’t want to be left to fend for herself in a mercenary army.
“Fawn’s voice was desperate, low against the whining of the wind. “Don’t leave me.”
… when Starhawk did not answer … Fawn went on, “I swear to you, if you won’t take me with you to Grimscarp, I’ll follow you on my own.”
The relationship between Starhawk, the hardened trooper, and Fawn, is one of my favorite examples of women’s friendship in Fantasy. They already like one another anyway, but once their journey takes them through abandoned countryside, where they have to contend with both thieves and monsters, that relationship deepens. Starhawk remains the tougher comrade, but comes to admit that Fawn was:
“…less trouble than she had at first feared … and she’d shown an unexpected flair for bargaining for food, lodging, and fodder for the donkey…”
Their friendship even survives the supposed ultimate test of comradeship between women, when Starhawk realizes they are both in love with the same man.
“Fawn was unconscious. For a sickening instant, Starhawk thought she was dead. … My rival … Was I deliberately slow?”
The answer is no, and when Starhawk and Fawn’s journey together comes to an end, it is not because of a falling out, over men or any other matter, but because traveling the same road leads them to make different choices about their respective futures.
As you’ve probably gathered, The Ladies of Mandrigyn is a novel with two parallel storylines. Yet although Sheera and her band of sisters may claim the crown of the book’s title, I found Starhawk and Fawn’s quieter—though no less difficult—journey every bit as enjoyable. In fact, it rocked my world on first reading, and still does.