There are lots of things that make me angry;
- That my niece is growing up in a world where some still consider it acceptable to cat call at school girls;
- That it doesn’t matter what time or day I drive on the M25 there is always a fricking traffic jam.
- There is still sometimes a presumption in fiction that the ‘good girl’, if she remains good, will get the happy ending she deserve.
Ardee West is also angry about things. Most of which she can’t change.
For those of you who have not met Ardee West before she is a relatively minor character in a sprawling three book epic of war, treachery, torture, gambling and other traditionally male activities, as the covers will demonstrate.
What Abercrombie does wonderfully though is take well known tropes (fantasy and otherwise) and stretch them to their cynical and fascinating conclusions.
And he is not gender biased, despite the aforementioned war etc. Ardee West is as screwed up as the best of his male characters. That is why I love her. She is trying to save nobody. The girl can’t even save herself. She fucks up. She makes bad decisions. She’s human.
- Young girl beaten by her father and abandoned by brother who goes to the big city to seek his fortune.
- She eventually goes to stay with her brother in the big city. She has no money and no connections (sound familiar?)
- Instead of bravely being witty while preserving her virtue, she gets lonely, gets drunk and is generally beaten down by circumstances.
- She seeks amusement by seducing a self-centred handsome prince who then ditches her for round the world quest, returns, becomes king and then offers to make her his mistress.
- She refuses, and with her life in danger (she is carrying the new king’s child) marries the crippled torturer who now (due to his own twisty and nail biting plot) is the most powerful man in the kingdom.
A belief in the Cinderella principle is still alive and well. I know, because while reading the First Law I really wanted Ardee to make it work with her handsome prince because not only would he save her, but she could save him from being such a dopey git. Even now I am not sure whether that is what I actually wanted, or whether that was what I had been conditioned to want.
When it comes to fiction I am generally, messed up in the head like that.
There is a rocking girl power moment when Ardee does tell dopey prince git where to go.
Then there is a slightly less rocking girl power moment when she accepts marriage from the crippled torturer. The truth is she does still need to be saved (or assassinated, her choice).
It’s gone from Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast. Except that Ardee is not really Beauty. She’s as beastly as he groom, on the inside anyway. (Has being a bad girl brought her exactly the happy ending she deserves? Is a shared cynicism with matching his and hers chips on shoulders a basis for a happy marriage?)
She is now the most powerful woman in the country. How about that for flipping the finger to not just your ex but every single member of society who has made your life a the living Hell?
My inner feminist revolts at the idea that Ardee has no other choices. My inner bitch is air pumping and crying out for revenge.
That makes me angry. And confused. Mostly angry.
I wouldn’t necessarily throw Ardee West onto the list of ‘strong female characters’ I am going to subject my niece too when she is older, but I want her to know that it is ok for women to be angry.
What’s important is using that anger to change the things that you can change, and not getting impotently worked up over the things you can’t.