The Unapologetic Bigness of Lady Sybil Ramkin

I just re-read Snuff, by Terry Pratchett, and I was struck again and again by the fact that Vimes’s wife, Sybil, is one of the best examples I can think of of a fat woman just casually existing – in a romantic capacity – in a story. She’s not fetishized, but she’s not desexualized, either. No one is especially sexualized in Pratchett’s books, but she’s in a healthy romantic relationship, and it’s implied that there’s plenty of mutual physical attraction there. There are a few humorous references to the impressive effect of her expansive bosom on impressionable men. She’s attractive, and she takes up a lot of physical space, and it really feels like there was no conflict there for the author. That shouldn’t be so rare, but it is.

There’s a sweet scene where she and Sam are in bed together that paints a great little picture of realistic intimacy. She rolls over to talk to him, and this shift in her weight causes the already very fluffy bed to bury Vimes. Her bigness is never depicted as something wrong – It’s just part of her presence. It’s a part of her charm, but not all of it.

She also takes up a lot of social space. She was already the richest person in Ankh-Morpork when she married Sam, and she has a massive social network. She’s extremely generous, opinionated, and confident. She breeds incredibly dangerous dragons as a hobby. She’s fierce as hell when she needs to be, and doesn’t apologize for knowing more than others, whether that’s about dragons, etiquette, or history. She calls Lord Vetinari, the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, by his first name. She proposed to Sam, not the other way around. Sam may not always be the most attentive or responsible of husbands, but he loves Sybil and never seems to resent her for being so powerful. He maybe resents her a bit for taking away his bacon sandwiches, but he still worships the ground she walks on.

She’s just an awesome character, constantly popping into the narrative to say something insightful or hilarious, and she once again makes me wish that I had read these books when I was a teen, because I desperately needed more examples of women who take up space and don’t say they’re sorry for it. Too often, we teach young women to shrink themselves into as small a space as possible, and then are shocked that they don’t thrive. Women are almost exclusively rewarded for smallness and delicacy, and our largeness is rarely celebrated, even though it can be an absolutely glorious and powerful thing.

IMG_20170905_164036_255.jpg
My dragons aren’t quite as explosive as hers, but I think they’re pretty cute.

Writing days this past week: 2

“The Girl Who Dared to Think”

I finished The Girl Who Dared to Think by Bella Forrest in one night. I didn’t plan to, but after a bit of a slow start it reeled me in. I was a little disappointed when I finished it and, unsurprisingly, it ended with a cliffhanger that leads into the second book in the series. That’s fine, and I’ll pick up the next one. I just really wanted a resolution when I hit that point sometime around dawn. 

Our protagonist, Squire Liana Castell, lives in a massive, glass-enclosed bunker called the Tower. Everyone in the Tower has a number on their wristband and a monitoring device in their head that checks for dissident thought-patterns and feelings. The number is a rating of their supposed loyalty to the Tower, with the highest score being a perfect ten. Her initial problems stem from the fact that she can’t keep her number high enough and she can’t seem to stop asking the wrong kinds of questions.

I was a little lukewarm about Liana at first, and very lukewarm about the apparent budding insta-romance between her and mysterious hot guy, but the setting and warped social structure were interesting enough to keep me going. I got to like Liana more as the story went on. She’s engagingly competent and not prone to convenient stumbles in the middle of the action so dudes can rescue her. Most of her decisions and reactions seemed internally consistent and logical from her point of view, which avoids a major pet peeve of mine.

The romance wasn’t as abrupt as it first appeared; the author seemed to rein it in after the first thrilling glances. I like that Liana has fairly balanced relationships with her friends, and that they don’t suddenly drop off her radar when a guy catches her eye. The story is refreshingly free of love triangles, as well.

The cast is pretty well gender balanced, although it would seem that LGBT people either don’t exist in the Tower or they’ve been forced into hiding/conformity, which I grant would fit with the general dystopian vibe. The cast also seemed pretty white to me. Again, that and other omissions could probably be attributed to the fact that they basically live in an unescapable totalitarian fishbowl, but it isn’t mentioned. I kinda hope that’s addressed in the next book, as Liana learns more about her world. The main diversity comes from the different social classes and communities, all of which are focused on a particular type of service to the maintenance of the Tower. The different vocations have their own micro-cultures, languages, and beliefs.

It was a pretty fast-paced read. I had some trouble picturing the architecture inside the Tower and the technology Liana uses to get around, but that could just be me. She seemed to put a reasonable amount of time into painting the picture, but it didn’t come together in my head, so I sometimes had to slow down to figure out exactly what was going on. (Also, this is just an editing nitpick, but there’s a chapter where she uses the word “statuesque” like four times in a row to describe the same woman and then once for her daughter. That is too many times unless they were literally made of marble and wearing drapey gowns.)

One interesting thing I learned after finishing this book is that it’s supposed to be set in the same world as The Gender Game, also by Bella Forrest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that one from the description and title, but now I may give it a try when I’m done with these. Maybe.

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 7.39.11 PM.png
Moody tower window photo.

“Deerskin”

I just finished reading Deerskin by Robin McKinley. It was intense and beautiful. I didn’t want to put it down, mostly because I didn’t want to leave Lissar where she was. I felt like I needed to see her through to the end. She’s an excellent character, and I found that I cared very much about her very quickly.

The writing feels kind of fairytale in style. It tends toward some truly impressive run-on sentences, but the language also had an interesting flow to it that I really liked once I got into it. Even though it’s a bit wordy, the descriptions of her surroundings, sensations, and internal experience are extremely vivid and gripping.

Princess Lissar is accompanied throughout her journey by her loyal fleethound, Ash. I loved how relatable her relationship with Ash felt. The canines in this fantasy world might be almost supernaturally beautiful and graceful and clever, but they’re also just dogs, with all the weird little behaviors and quirks that people love them for. The story centers a great deal on her bond with Ash and the way they care for and rescue each other.

The rest of this post warrants a trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault, so please be warned.

Deerskin deals with sexual trauma and Lissar’s struggle to survive and recover. I didn’t find that it in any way sensualized the abuse, which can be a big problem in some fiction. It does, however, go very deep into her senses, her emotions, and the resulting flashbacks and disassociation. I haven’t experienced PTSD, but it was in line with what I’ve been told it can be like. I was impressed by that, since I haven’t seen many realistic depictions of trauma in fantasy, but it might also be very painful for some people to read.

The story is based on Donkeyskin by Charles Perrault. I actually think that as a kid I had an illustrated book of the fairytale version, which is slightly terrifying to me in retrospect. Most fairytales were originally much darker than their modern kid-friendly versions, but this one is probably not as familiar to a general audience. Not so shocking that a story about a father trying to marry his own daughter didn’t catch on quite as easily as some of the others, where at least the creepiest parts were easier to pare off while leaving the stories intact. The original telling, of course, doesn’t focus on the terrible reality of incest so much as on the virtuousness of the princess in being willing to suffer ugliness and hard labor to escape her father’s immorality.

This story, on the other hand, is about Princess Lissar and no one else. It’s about her experiences, her rediscovery of herself, and her anchoring connection with the faithful dog who sticks by her through it all.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 1.52.39 AM.png
Dead roses feel quite appropriate for such a disturbing fairytale.