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Am I the only one who distrusts female fantasy authors?


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Also, regarding the prettiness, I have read too many fanfics were everyone is pretty, I guess. :P

I just find it so much more believable when people are more realistic and not so extremely good looking. It smacks of self insertion and Mary Sue-ness when people are too pretty.

They're also very white. I initially read "ebony" for "ivory" when Phedre was describing how pretty she was. When I realized my mistake, the book took a downturn for me. Not that a country full of angelic free sex black people would have been much better, once I realized where it was going.

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Yes, it is not described as directly pleasant, but not as something that is utterly awful either.

I just realized that some of the issues may be with the fact that the three books are written in a sort of retrospective sense -- the first chapter certainly clearly places this as her narrating the events of her life from a remove.

I would compare this to The Persian Boy (a direct inspiration for the narrative style of the Kushiel series), where the protagonist is castrated in the first chapter, and Renault certainly did not have the character focus on it for the rest of his days.

I have read too many fanfics were everyone is pretty, I guess.

That could be it. But at least this series has a reason for why they're all beautiful. ;) It's really no different from, say, Tolkien's elves, who are similarly sort of angelic as far as their looks go.

It smacks of self insertion and Mary Sue-ness when people are too pretty.

See, I don't think Tolkien was being a Mary Sue or self-insertive when he made his elves all beautiful and "perfect".


They're also very white.

Not, in fact, true. The Second of Jasmine House is described as having "dusky" skin, and one supposes all members of Jasmine house have variations of a more Mediterranean coloring (I believe Phedre's mother is "honey-skinned", suggesting something a bit more of a golden tan type, I suppose), since each house seems to have a canon for what's considered to be acceptable looks.

Terre d'Ange is basically medieval/Renaissance France, so it's no surprise if most of the people in Terre d'Ange are of a Caucasian persuasion, but you still clearly have the sort of variations you would see in medieval France, from very fair to more of the Mediterranean, olive tones.

Elsewhere in the setting, you have all sorts of colors -- the Pict-types are "nut-brown", the Arab-types tend to olive skin, Africans to black, and so on.

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I knew about the people outside of "Europe" being darker skinned, but that just fit in with the cliche'd medieval Europe vs. medieval Middle East setting. I didn't remember the duskier people in Terre d'Ange. Perhaps I was more sensitive to Phedre's own whiteness as part of her amazing good looks because fair skin in many cultures (and in pre-modern western cultures) was considered a mark of beauty unto itself. I read the first three, and in my opinion, other than the S&M and the extreme purpleness of prose, I didn't see it pushing any boundaries on standard epic fantasy romance. It was entertaining enough though - I wouldn't necessarily hold it as an example of bad fantasy either.

Now I feel compelled to comment on the OP:

I don't know how this drifted into "women in SF" versus "women who write SF".

Good female fantasy authors I've discovered lately:

KJ Parker

Sarah Monette

Lane Robins

ETA: I haven't read Bishops, I meant Parker.

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Re Tolkien and Elves:

The Elves are beautiful yes, but they are also sad, and some are proud, and not really perfect (case in point: alot of the Noldor). Plus they are in 99% of the cases also extremely asexual. It is a beauty detached from humanity, if you will. Ageless, perfect and filled with tragedy. It's beauty apart, not as a tool or something to be enjoyed.

The fanfic and pulp fiction pretties use their beauty as a vehicle, often for self insertion. I think this is what grates on me, as this is more commonly used by female authors than male, as well.

Also, Tolkien is almost What Came Before in terms of Fantasy: Almost everything else written within the genre has to at least consider how it stands in relation to it.

Re female authors: I enjoyed Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" quite a lot. It may be aimed at a younger audience, but it is still a very enjoyable book. It's also not filled with romance or extremely pretty characters.

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I didn't see it pushing any boundaries on standard epic fantasy romance. It was entertaining enough though - I wouldn't necessarily hold it as an example of bad fantasy either.

I agree that it's not bad fantasy, and I also agree that it wasn't really pushing any boundaries beyond the sexual aspects of the story. The idea in part was to try and explore the idea that being sexually submissive does not necessarily mean being weak, and I think she did a fine job with that -- Phedre's bedroom preferences really have nothing to do with her capabilities as a person. That is, I think, pretty unusual in fantasy.

As to paleness, the funny thing is that Phedre is a bit too dark for the canons of Cerus House. It's true the greatest beauty in Terre d'Ange appears to be Melisande, who has skin "like alabaster", but ... well, I don't know. You're in a medieval mindset, why wouldn't you be lauding paleness? It's what was done. Perhaps in a few hundred years, the healthy tan of Jasmine House adepts will be seen as the ideal? Heh.


The Elves are beautiful yes, but they are also sad, and some are proud, and not really perfect

No one in Terre d'Ange is "perfect", and there's certainly a lot of proud ones. To quote her:

The D’Angelines are terrible snobs, no doubt about it. They have a marked superiority complex, and over the course of the trilogy I tried to make it evident, in subtle ways, that this worldview is neither necessarily deserved nor shared by other peoples. It derives from the fact that they’re the youngest nation in their world, with founding deities who spread their divine genetic materials and knowledge around with unprecedented generosity. That’s loosely based on a Biblical account referenced briefly in Genesis, related in detail in the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch—fallen angels getting mortal children, teaching them profane arts… like using cosmetics, believe it or not! So yes, I gave my D’Angelines a touch of supernal physical grace, but that’s as far as it goes.

In a sense, despite their sophisticated aesthetic, they have a lot of growing to do. And in their defense, the worst the majority of D’Angelines are guilty of is vanity and insufferable condescension. Those deeply concerned with maintaining ethnic purity in the lines of succession are definitely among a villainous minority.

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  • 3 years later...

Thread resurrection-- one of the things I liked about the second Kushiel trilogy was that Phedre's ward Imriel, having spent a much greater percentage of his formative years outside Terre d'Ange, was far more savvy than she was on how stuck up his countrymen could be, and commented on it often.

I would have liked it more if people of other nations had had more varying responses to d'Angeline looks, rather than sort of confirming their superiority -- somebody had to have thought they looked weird or at least not optimal, with their beardlessness (some folk like and respect beards), and the men never going bald even when very old, or their white skin when venturing farther into lands where that was not normal (or healthy, given the heat and sun).

I did like the fact that it was made clear that it was not BDSM being glorified so much as "Do as thou wilt" -- a d'Angeline's sacred duty to their gods was to give in to their kinks *or* lack thereof, even if their innermost nature was, say, asexual. Going against your sexual nature was an offense to their gods, whatever it might be. Forcing or manipulating anyone else to go against their desires in service of your own was an offense. Forcing a d'Angeline to do something sexual that he did not want to do would cause their god to actually come after you, if I remember Imriel's excursion to pseudo-Britain correctly.

(And yes, I did think of them as elves, and it helped.)

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the gender in genre threads have collapsed into a quantum singularity. this thread is currently circling the event horizon like a jormungandr turd on the eve of ragnarok.

I curiously always imagined mythical beings were like those mythical girls: they never poop.

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