If you ask me, Fearless Women are having a moment in popular culture. As the creator of Phèdre nó Delaunay from the Kushiel’s Legacy series, named by io9 as the greatest courtesan-spy in epic fantasy, I’m thoroughly delighted by the fact that one of the fearless women making waves these days is adult film star and director Stormy Daniels. Not only does she refuse to be intimidated by the legal team of the man holding the highest office in the land, she celebrates her career with unabashed pride and skewers haters on social media with unexpected humor and wit.
I do believe Phèdre would approve; as would all of the fearless women I’ve brought to life over the years. My various heroines have saved realms, inspired armies, struggled with demanding destinies, rebelled against authority, and brought the world to the brink of Armageddon…and done it all while unapologetically falling in love and lust, refusing to be slut-shamed for having healthy human (well, mostly; Daisy from the Agent of Hel series is a demon’s daughter) sexual appetites.
I grew up reading and loving fantasy. But as I entered my teens, I began to realize that female characters in the genre I loved almost always played a supporting role…if they were lucky enough to have a role in the first place.
One of the exceptions that stands out for me as a formative influence is Patricia McKillip, an author whose writing taught me that fantasy could be literary and lyrical. I was in a boarding school in a small town in northern Michigan when her Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy was first released. Every other weekend, there was a bus trip to the “big city;” Traverse City, the Cherry Capital of the World. I always made a beeline for the bookstore.
I remember the frisson of joy at discovering a new book in the trilogy on the shelves, and I remember the delight at discovering that the protagonist—the protagonist—of the middle book in that series was a heroine. Not only that, all the major characters were female! And they were proud and stubborn and determined in different ways, and they went on a quest to rescue the nominal hero of the series, because he’d gone missing at the end of the first book and no one else was doing a damn thing about it.
Fearless Women. Women with agency, women as protagonists, as heroines of their own stories. There are more of them in science fiction and fantasy than there used to be, especially in YA, and that makes me happy. But in epic fantasy, to which I’m returning with Starless, there’s still an overall dearth. I’m excited to introduce some new fearless women (and other folk) to the world. And I hope they continue to surprise and inspire, and help foster an understanding that courtesans and warriors and pampered princesses—not to mention adult film stars—are equally deserving of our respect and admiration.
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