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Pierce’s Feminist Questions In the Hand of the Goddess

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Image Courtesy of Athenum Books for Young Readers

It’s always difficult to realize when you’ve made a mistake, and what a mistake I have made. When I first began this series, reviewing Tamora Pierce’s Tortall novels, the premise was easy. I thought that I would track the change in Pierce’s feminism from second wave to third wave. I thought in re-reading each book I would find that progression and document it. Yet things are always more complicated than they initially seem, and In the Hand of the Goddess Pierce proved that maxim right.

Introduction

In the Hand of the Goddess, Pierce’s second novel, continues the story of Alanna. We see her maintain her disguise through her years as squire to Prince Jonathan. Alanna’s distrust of Jonathan’s older cousin, Duke Roger, grows, and for completely justified reasons. We see her face the various challenges of romance, war, and having a man completely trusted by the court try to covertly kill her several times. We also see Alanna finally succeed in her dream of becoming a knight. The book ends with seeing her on her first of many adventures as a knight.

Furthermore, we see Pierce examine both shades of pre-existing feminism. We also see a somewhat prophetic failure of the wave that she’ll later focus her books in. This is where I was wrong, in In the Hand of the Goddess we see events that are evocative of first wave feminism in Alanna’s struggles for her shield and her feud with Duke Roger. We see some subversion of second wave feminism in Alanna’s careful exploration of her gender. Yet elements of second wave feminism also appear that are not subverted. We also see a failure of what will become third wave feminism in Alanna’s romantic relationships.

First Wave Feminism

First wave feminism has a history that goes back to the 1800s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which ironically was published in 1792. It focused largely on the legal equality of women, and women’s suffrage. While it can be rightly critiqued now for a lack of intersectionality, it was highly progressive for the time. First wave feminism led to women being able to vote, to own property, and to become educated. All of which was systematically denied them beforehand.

Alanna and Knighthood

In many ways this parallels Alanna’s feud with Duke Roger and her desire to become a knight. Alanna disguises herself as a man initially because she knows her father won’t allow her to win her shield. However, she also knows that no one in Tortall will allow her to become a knight as a woman, even if there is historical precedent.

When people discover Alanna’s gender during her duel with Duke Roger, this perception is reinforced. Alanna discovered that Roger was bewitching several members of the court and causing the queen’s recurring illness. She took the proof to the King, and Roger demanded trial by combat. During the combat, Roger managed to slice through her shirt, and the binding that kept her breasts flat.

Needless to say, the reveal that Tortall’s newest knight was female lead to a temporary halt to the duel. The King asks who knew and then says, “What have you to say for yourself?’ … Would you have let me win my shield if I had told the truth?’ The king’s silence was answer enough.” (p. 258). Alanna could not become a knight, because that honor was restricted to men, in the same way that voting and education were in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Alanna and Duke Roger

Immediately after this conversation with the King, Roger resumes their duel with, “You demon!’ he screamed. ‘You lying, cheating—‘ … He was her enemy; he had tried to kill the people she loved. And he was acting like the wronged one!” (258-9). Roger is infuriated once he finds out that the person thwarting him in his plans all these years was a girl. We see several points in the novel where Roger offers ‘Alan’ the chance to be his friend. We see Alanna promptly reject those offers. While Roger does not like ‘Alan’, it’s clear that the Duke respects in some way the squire standing in his way.

Then comes the reveal that ‘Alan’ is Alanna, and when Roger discovers the one thwarting him is female, he flies off the handle. The duel resumes and Alanna kills Roger to protect Jonathan, the King, and the Queen. Roger seemed perfectly content to deal with ‘Alan’ and had a good deal of respect for his audacity and ability, if the various attempts on Alanna’s life are any indication. However, Alanna’s femaleness, once revealed to him, makes him incoherent and leads to his downfall. Roger’s status as the antagonist and Alanna’s defeat of him through the trial by combat and her education as a knight—thus exercising her newly-gained rights as a woman—lead to a triumph of first wave feminism.

Second Wave Feminism

Second wave feminism took place in the 1960s to the 1980s. It was focused much more on reproductive rights and de facto inequalities, which lead to the denial of traditional gender roles. To put it (very) simply, the strict enforcement of gender roles in the 1950s led to rebellion against them and to the iconic imagery of ‘bra-burning’ women in the 1970s.

Alanna, Sexuality, and Femininity

This applies to Pierce’s work in two ways. Second wave ideology is played straight with regard to reproductive rights. When her menstrual cycle starts, Eleni Cooper, George’s mother, gives Alanna a charm that prevents pregnancy as a matter of course. It is mentioned several times before and after she becomes sexually active.

Second wave feminism also applies to In the Hand of the Goddess in how Alanna negotiates her relationship with femininity. Alanna presents as masculine for the majority of this book. However, we also see her behave in a different manner. After the Tusaine War, we see Alanna go to Eleni and asks her, “Would you teach me to dress like a girl?’ … ‘I’ve been thinking lately I like pretty things. I’m going to have to be a girl someday. Why shouldn’t I start practicing now?” (156). We further see her practicing dressing and acting like a girl on several occasions after this, and even see her grow to enjoy it.

Second wave feminism allows women to reject traditional gender roles and not be penalized for it. In some ways, Alanna personifies this in her dressing as male, which is decidedly not a feminine thing to do. But Pierce complicates this in this book when Alanna learns to behave in a feminine manner, to appreciate pretty things, skirts, and earrings. As opposed to a strict reading of second wave feminism, her enjoyment of this is in no way decried as a bad thing. Pierce allows Alanna to grow out of just being one thing or another. Alanna can be a warrior. But she’s also allowed to be a woman and appreciate the more traditional aspects of femininity. Pierce lets Alanna be both, not just a warrior, not just a woman.

Third Wave Feminism

Third wave feminism is an ongoing movement and discussion that began in the 1990s. It focuses on issues of rape culture and consent, as well as looking at inter-sectional experiences. Third wave feminism looks at sexual orientation, gender, race, class, and more, as well as examining how these differing identities interact with each other.

Pierce published In the Hand of the Goddess in 1984, and third wave feminism is typically dated to ‘officially’ starting in the 1990s. Despite this, there are elements in Alanna’s romantic relationships that harken to ideas covered in third wave feminism. Pierce’s second novel begins with Alanna in the forest. She meets the Great Mother Goddess, who tells Alanna three things she fears. Duke Roger is one, the Chamber of the Ordeal, the magical room that tests knights, is another. The last fear that Alanna has is love.

As is fitting for a young adult novel, she spends the course of the book learning to overcome these fears. She enters into her first serious romantic relationship with Jonathan. Pierce plants the seeds of a potential romantic relationship with George as well.

There are elements in both these romantic relationships that are not as feminist when read through a third wave feminist lens, as well as the reverse. Just as a mild disclaimer, I have read the series before, and my feelings about Alanna’s relationships with these two will doubtlessly be colored by the events of the next few books. I appreciate what each relationship does for Alanna, but I undoubtedly have my biases. Those biases allow me to overlook some ‘problematic’ early elements, and not others. Problems I have may or may not be shared by others, same as things we enjoy. This is a long way of saying, I ship what I ship, and you are free to do otherwise.

Alanna and George

The main hints at a future romantic relationship between Alanna and George come in the first third of the book. Alanna has gone down to the city to collect a package that Thom, her twin brother, sent through George. George talks about romance amongst the lower classes for a few seconds. Alanna explicitly says that she is not interested in romance. She’s still scared at this point. George then offers to walk back with her because the package is bulky and valuable. Before they reach the palace, George says, “Alanna, … I’m takin’ advantage of you now, because I may never catch you with your hands full again.’ He kissed her softly and carefully.” (57). This is her first kiss. Afterwards Alanna stalks off rattled because she had, in some way, enjoyed it.

Third wave feminism spends a lot of time talking about rape culture, and thus about consent. Alanna does not say yes to being kissed. She had actually explicitly said no a few minutes previously on a very similar topic, admittedly due to internalized issues on romance between different social classes. Still, these moments casts a pall on the early seeds of their potential relationship.

To be completely fair though, after this moment, George never crosses Alanna’s boundaries again. Not in the rest of the book, not in the rest of the series, not in the rest of the continuity. He shows that he is still interested in Alanna romantically, but he allows it to take a backseat to their mutual friendship and never pushes again.

Alanna and Jonathan

Alanna’s relationship with Jonathan begins when Alanna turns seventeen. Jonathan approaches her and makes a speech about how he loves her, how they belong together. Alanna flees the conversation. She later regrets doing so and goes to speak with him. She says, “I’m scared. Help me, please.” Jonathan replies, “I’m scared, too. At least we can be scared together.” (178). Thus begins their sexual and romantic relationship.

It seems innocuous. But then you remember that Jonathan is her knight master, the one that finishes teaching her how to be a knight. Then you remember that Alanna is disguised as a boy, that the only one in the palace that knows is Jonathan.

Then you remember a conversation Alanna had with Eleni a few months beforehand. Alanna says about Jonathan, “Sometimes I’m his best friend in the world. And sometimes he acts as if I’m poison.” (155). She relates how he accuses her of flirting with court ladies and leading them on. Then he also accuses her of flirting with Gary and Raoul. Neither of these things actually happens. Admittedly part of that behavior is likely the fact that Jonathan is dealing with jealousy and budding feelings for Alanna, but still.

Jonathan is incredibly possessive, jealous, and currently in a position of power over Alanna. It doesn’t make for the healthiest start to their relationship. You can see how this same relationship could become something toxic and coercive. Obviously this doesn’t happen in the books; their relationship is mutually fulfilling and teaches Alanna that love isn’t a bad thing. I personally cannot get past the fact that Jonathan is technically Alanna’s teacher when it starts. If it had begun after Alanna had become a knight it would be easier to accept. It wouldn’t negate Jonathan’s possessive traits, but there would be less of a pattern.

In Conclusion

In the Hand of the Goddess is very much a story with three feminist readings. You can see the trace elements of first wave feminism in Alanna’s feud with Roger. You see second wave feminism in Alanna’s reproductive control over herself, and her relationship with her femininity. Third wave feminism also has issues that begin to be addressed in her relationships with Jonathan and George. It’s also a fantastic young adult fantasy novel by an excellent author. Pierce creates intrinsically human characters in a well-developed fantasy world that teach us things about human nature and about ourselves. In my opinion, it’s well worth the read.


Image Courtesy of Atheneum Books

Angela is a full-time fantasy nerd. She is either reading a novel or talking about one. Or is watching Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time. Character archetypes and cultural context always fascinate her.

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Fireside Fandomentals: Sci Fi Horror on YAS Pitches with Gretchen

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The Steward and the King (and Éowyn)

Katie

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Éowyn

People (nerds) have already spilled bottles of ink over the fate of Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings. Some find her romance with Faramir and her change of heart a fitting and satisfying end to her character’s series-long arc. Some find it a betrayal, a last-minute shunting of the story’s primary female heroine, who had regularly eschewed traditional gender roles, into the “safe” role of wife and healer. And… both of these are true! So, come on, friends. Let’s talk about some feminism.

“I Looked for Death in Battle. But I Have Not Died.”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: pretty much any question about the appropriateness of Éowyn’s character arc would have evaporated on arrival if Tolkien simply had more women in his story. As we’ve noted here before, Tolkien is… sparing with the women who appear in his story (though when they show up, there’s often better than their modern fantasy counterparts). Éowyn is one of the only women in The Lord of the Rings. She’s certainly the only women to so clearly question the gender assumptions of her society.

So when Éowyn declares that she “will be a shieldmaiden no longer nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren,” it can feel like that narrative is going back on its promise. It’s easy to assume that Tolkien intended to say all of her earlier critiques and actions had been misguided, or “wrong.” Éowyn wanted to go out and fight with the guys, but she would have been happier nursing and cultivating all along.

This becomes especially difficult to swallow when this transformation occurs as she falls for a handsome prince/steward whom she had just met. Her courtship with Faramir, on several occasions, seems predicated on Éowyn “weakening” herself. When she demands that Faramir let her leave the Houses of Healing before the doctor-prescribed time, “her heart faltered, and for the first time she doubted herself,” fearing that Faramir will find her childlike and petulant. On another occasion, talking to him, Faramir notes that her voice became “like that of a maiden young and sad.” Out of the context of her entire story, this feels very much like Éowyn attaining happiness by softening her edges, by giving up her earlier demands to become a maid, uncertain and waiting to be saved from her sadness.

And… none of that is exactly incorrect. Where I question that strand of criticism, though, is in its tendency to reduce Éowyn to Valiant Fantasy Warrior Maid, whose narrative role is to defy the men keeping her down. If that were simply who she was, her ending would absolutely be a betrayal. But Éowyn’s story has always been more complicated. Her desire to cast herself headlong into battle has always been both deeply understandable and deeply misguided: a fusion of justified anger at her restricted role and a misplaced glorification of battle that borders on a lust for self-harm. Éowyn is not a badass fantasy warrior who just wants to fight. We’re never told that she loves sword-fighting, or tactics, or cavalry formations. Éowyn loves the idea of fighting, the lifestyle of it, those riders who get to go out and make choices and affect their own futures. She is a person whose life has become some terrible and so circumscribed that she feels her best option is to blaze out in battle. Perhaps people will sing songs about her. Better that than to have leave to be burned in the house, when the men will need it no more.

By the time she reaches The Houses of Healing—and honestly, well before that—this desire has verged on the suicidal. “I looked for death in battle,” she tells Faramir in their first meeting. “But I have not died.” So, so much of Éowyn’s story has been centered on choice, and how it is almost always denied to her at every turn. You get the sense, reading The Lord of the Rings, that her attempts at choice were whittled down so far that death would be welcome to her, so long that it was something that she chose. But then she was not even allowed to do that.

Éowyn

Éowyn and Faramir

Faramir, of course, allows Éowyn to choose.

It’s the heart of their relationship, and it means that it works better thematically than as a palpable romance (Faramir seems to think Éowyn pretty and sad; she seems to think him pretty and nice). Things move pretty fast—which, eh, the world’s ending and they are both pretty, have fun, kids—and their chemistry is nothing to write home about. But I think it works nicely as a thematic end to Éowyn’s story. Things start off by seeming like more of the same: Faramir won’t let Éowyn ride off to chase after Aragorn and the armies marching on the Black Gate (rightly pointing out she wouldn’t be able to catch up in time anyway). But after that, Faramir leaves the agency largely to Éowyn. After their first meeting, he simply tells her that they can meet more if she’d like, at her discretion.

“You shall walk in this garden in the sun, as you will; and you shall look east, wither all our hopes have gone. And here you will find me, walking and waiting, and also looking east. It would ease my care, if you would speak to me, or walk at whiles with me.”

It’s such a kind offer of support to someone in Éowyn’s position. He lets her know that he would like to spend time with her but also leaving the choice entirely up to her. They spend most of their time together simply sitting or walking and talking, coming to understand each other and the commonalities of their past. And, eventually, he asks her to choose what she wants. And she does.

Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.

I, uh, have this engraved in wood and hanging on my wall. It’s very simple, but it also means a lot to me. So much of Éowyn’s story is so very sad, and so much of her action through the story is driven by desperation, by a drive to assert herself that’s so strong that she’s willing to destroy herself in the process. In this context, Éowyn’s turn at the story’s end is not a betrayal of her integrity as a character or a patriarchal demotion. It’s a moment of brightness. That with such a slight shift, and with just a bit of help, she was able to turn and warm and choose and grow. For me, at least, Éowyn was never a “feminist” character primarily because of her pushback against Middle-earth gender norms. Rather, Éowyn was a “feminist” character because of her constant assertion of her right to be able to make choices about her own life, even in the face of widespread pushback from those who cared about her most. In the end, she was finally able to choose. And her life was better for it.

 

The Return of the King

So much of this chapter focuses on the stories of Faramir and Éowyn that I’d nearly forgotten that it’s also the chapter where Aragorn is crowned king, enters Minas Tirith, finds a Nimloth sapling, and gets married (!). Life gets busy when you’re a king, I guess.

Aragorn is quite remote by this point in the story. So while there are some nice moments here, everything also feels very elevated, very lofty. Kate Nepveu has noted that in a book that starts and ends very heavy on the hobbits, “The Steward and the King” is the clear low-point of hobbit saturation. And it shows! It’s a more formal, cooler, more aloof chapter than those that surround it, so much of Aragorn’s actions here are things that I appreciate but care about largely in abstraction. There are still some good ideas floating about, though.

The first, and largest, is simply the sense of loss embedded all of this. It’s funny: Aragorn’s reign is Minas Tirith’s canonical golden age. Tolkien notes specifically that under his rule the city became “more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory.” But there’s still a sense of sadness, stretching forward and stretching back. Gandalf articulates the obvious one, the one that’s been highlighted throughout the series: that things that were will be lost.

“The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much must now pass away.”

I like that the nostalgia here—“much must now pass away”— is twinned with potential growth. The language focuses on saving and on preservation, but the fact that this sits cheek-by-jowl with the command to Aragorn to order the Fourth Age’s beginning is a nice reminder that in Middle-earth loss is often accompanied by possibility.

Of course, the inverse is true as well. Even at the high point of Minas Tirith’s history, there is a sense of impermanence. Tolkien notes that after Aragorn’s coronation, the city was

filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone.

It’s a beautiful picture, bright and happy. But the sudden perspective shift into the ambiguously-distant future almost creates its own sense of sadness. Jumping forward to give the encapsulation of Aragorn’s glorious reign functions to make it feel to the reader as though that were in the past as well (which, canonically, it is). It’s an interesting combination. Tolkien is using very old forms and archaic systems in most of his handling of Aragorn in this chapter. But he’s using them to convey a sense of transience, of continual change and momentum.

And while it’s a bit on the nose, I do enjoy Aragorn’s rediscovery of the White Tree, and Gandalf’s insistence that “if ever a fruit ripens, it should be planted, lest the line die out of the world.” It fits in quite nicely with the themes of growth, renewal, and cultivation that are littered throughout the end of the story. We see some of it here in Éowyn’s reorientation towards healing and growth and we’ll see it more later in Sam’s upcoming replanting of the Shire.

Éowyn

Final Comments

  • Aragorn apparently makes peace with the Easterlings and Harad after the fall of Mordor. They are still hard for me to reckon with, as part of Tolkien’s world. They are such ciphers and such others in the story, and problems quickly arise no matter what reason you ultimately settle on for why they served Sauron.
  • “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, I said, and that was how it was all discovered. And Mithrandir, he said to me, “Ioreth, men will long remember your words, and – ” I was a little annoyed by Ioreth back when we first met her in “The Houses of Healing” but I was kind of charmed by her here? Honestly, who am I to say, that if I got to talk with a wizard and hang out with the new king on his first night in town and help him do is healing, I wouldn’t tell absolutely every person that I knew.
  • I laughed out loud at the phrase “the harpers that harped most skillfully.” Which is fine linguistically, I guess, but is also a ridiculous phrase, J.R.R. Also, in related news: harp comes from Proto-Germanic harpon, also the source of Old-Saxon harpa, or “instrument of torture.” Please make fun of all your harpist friends accordingly, even those that harp most skillfully.
  • I enjoyed it very much that Éowyn moped around Minas Tirith, passive-aggressively ignoring her brother’s invitation to the Field of Cormallen. And then when Faramir shows up to ask her about it, she almost immediately yells at him to speak plainer and just express his feelings.
  • One more word on Éowyn: I think her story fits nicely on Tolkien’s attitude towards war and battle itself. She is arguably the biggest battle hero of the entire book, and she’s praised for that. But war is at best a grim necessity in Tolkien’s moral universe. The Rohirrim’s battle lust is often viewed as someone childlike and immature. Even the best warriors don’t put too much stock in the glory of battle. The level to which Éowyn elevates it was never going to be good for her or for anyone in this story. But Tolkien is also aware that Aragorn’s attitude towards war comes from a place of privilege that Éowyn does not possess.
  • High Point of Faramir Seduction: When he respects her boundaries but lets her know that she is welcome to chat and go for walks with him if she wants to. Yeaaaahhhh.
  • Low Point of Faramir Seduction: When a few days after meeting her, he decks Éowyn out in his dead mom’s star cloak. He is pleased by how pretty and sad it makes her look. Yikes.
  • Prose Prize: And they went up by steep ways, until they came to a high field below the snows that clad the lofty peaks, and it looked down over a precipice that stood behind the City. And standing there they surveyed the lands, for the morning was come; and they saw the towers to the City far below them like white pencils touched by sunlight, and all the vale of Anduin was like a garden, and the Mountains of Shadow were veiled in a golden mist. Upon the one side of their sight reached to the grey Emyn Muil, and the glint of Rauros was like a star twinkling far off; and upon the other side they saw the River like a ribbon laid down to Pelagir, and beyond that was a light on the hem of the sky that spoke of the Sea. The whole thing is rather nice, but the last bit cinched it. “A light on the hem of the sky that spoke of the Sea.” That’s so lovely.
  • Next time, on November 28th, we’ll dive into “Many Partings.” As far as I can remember it is a chapter where everyone hangs out and is friends and give each other presents. But in a slow, melancholic way because, well, that’s the tone into which we’re heading. See you then.

Art Credits: Art, in order of appearance, is courtesy of Snow-Monster, s-u-w-i, Jian Guo, and aegeri.

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Creator Corner: Interview with Author Mirah Bolender

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A few weeks back, my city hosted a week-long book fair, complete with panels, book readings, sales, and a whole bunch of other goodies a book nerd like me can’t get enough of. Of course, I couldn’t stay away from the panel entitled, “Fearless Women in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.” That’s my peak aesthetic. While there, I got the pleasure of listening to debut author Mirah Bolender talk about her debut novel, City of Broken Magic. I also managed to snag an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her book, and she graciously consented to do an interview with me. If you like fearless female protagonists and magical bomb squads, you’re going to want to check out City of Broken Magic.

Gretchen: What got you into writing? Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be a writer or come to it more recently?

Mirah Bolender: I’ve been writing since childhood. My uncle recently unearthed an old photo album of me at 10 years old, with the note that “Mirah wants to be a children’s book writer and illustrator when she grows up.” The exact direction hasn’t always been clear, but the writing always has been.

G: What drew you to writing fantasy in particular?

MB: Almost every single piece of media I enjoy is fantasy or science fiction. It always feels fresh, inventive, or engaging, and I’m a sucker for inventive world building and fun characters. Fantasy provides a much wider playground. Also, I can’t write nonfiction to save my life.

G: I’d love to know more about the moment it clicked for you that you wanted to write this specific book. When did you realize, “I have a novel?

MB: I cannibalized a lot of old story concepts to fill in gaps. Since the original piece began as a prompt, it wasn’t very balanced and catered more toward checking off boxes, but the more I eliminated the newer, stranger bits, the more I realized that the makeshift mortar worked. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a five-year-old idea finally work in a plot, and I had about eight of these old threads coming together. I really wanted to see where it led, so I kept writing, and kept writing… 75,000 words later I realized this was becoming a monster itself and I loved it!

G: The setting for City of Broken Magic is early industrial/late 19th-early 20th century, was that purely an aesthetic choice or is there some other significance to it?

MB: The characters came first, so the world was shaped in response to my first image of them and the equipment they used. I wanted the setting to be modern enough to accommodate what I had, but also not too modern as to limit the fantasy aspect. A lot of times when a fantasy happens in contemporary times, it becomes limited by the real world—by locations, by politics, or otherwise. I wanted there to be no illusions that this was operating in a completely different world, and I wanted the freedom to explore from a blank slate.

G: City of Broken Magic features what amounts to a magical bomb squad, how did you come up with that idea?

MB: It actually came through multiple steps. My original concept had the monsters less substantial, nightmares to be driven off by sunlight. I changed it up for a story prompt in class—“A day on the job,” where it became a more physical monster. Then where did it come from, if not a nightmare? The more I wrote, the more the context came together to become what it is now.

G: This is a two-parter, but they go together: 1) What is your favorite thing about your primary characters? 2) Summarize each of them in a sentence of 20 words or less, if you can.

MB: I think my favorite things about my primary characters are how easy it is to write Laura, and how fantastic Clae is for grumpy exposition. Sometimes I’ll start writing another story and have to stop and say, Wait a second, I’m writing Laura all over again. She’s become my default character voice and it’s hard separating from it. If I were to summarize them, they’d be:

Laura: “Come back here and say that to my face!”

Clae: “Bite off more than you can chew and then CHEW IT!”

G: What stories/authors inspire you when you’re feeling out of steam or like the creative juices aren’t flowing?

MB: Revisiting anything I enjoy helps. Last year I was watching Return of the Jedi on TV, and I had the strongest urge to create something even half as cool… after that I wouldn’t put down my notebook to pay full attention to the movie. It doesn’t always give you a direction, but sometimes that excitement is all you need to kickstart motivation again.

G: As a debut author, what was the most useful piece of advice you were given during the writing, querying, or publication process?

MB: Ironically, the best piece of advice was that I can ask for advice. Everyone I’ve worked with so far has been phenomenal in teaching and supporting me through the publishing process, but, like in every piece of work, there’s inevitably one or two details that slip through the cracks— what seems obvious to the experienced isn’t always such to me. So long as you’ve done some research and are genuine in your questions, there’s no reason not to ask for more details. If you know more about how things work you can better do your job, which will help them do their job, and together you can succeed! Sometimes I get bogged down by the mentality of ‘I can’t bother anyone,’ so they reach out to check in on me and make sure everything’s okay.

G: What’s coming up next for you? Any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us or hint to us about?

MB: City of Broken Magic is actually the first planned in a series, so I’m working on book two at the moment.

G: Oooh, that’s exciting! Anything else you want to share with us before we go?

MB: If you’re writing, try to keep track of your old ideas. It could easily be that you just haven’t found the right setting for them yet.

G: Thank you so much for the interview!

MB: You’re welcome! Thanks for having me.

About Mira Bolender

Mirah Bolender graduated from college with majors in creative writing and art in May 2014. A lifelong traveler, she has traveled and studied overseas, most notably in Japan, and these experiences are reflected in her work. City of Broken Magic is her debut fantasy novel.

City of Broken Magic will be available for purchase later this month, on November 20th, though you can read an excerpt over on Tor.com to get you hyped up. Stay tuned for a review, which will be released on publication day.

In the meantime, check out Mirah Bolender on Twitter and visit her website to keep up to date on all her work.


Images Courtesy of Mirah Bolender and Tor

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