The following post has spoilers for RAMPANT. If you haven’t read RAMPANT, consider yourself warned.
Yesterday, I discovered a review of Rampant online. Which pretty much makes it a day ending in -y, but this one had me on the verge of hysterics. I love reviews that make me look at my own work in a new way, and this one made me look at it in a way that was simultaneously off the wall and yet, made a lot of sense.
Here’s the whole review. (Bonus: the reader loved the book.)
Here’s the part that had me and Sailor Boy laughing our butts off:
And oh yes, the tall mysterious stranger who regularly saves Astrid’s life, spouts meaningful broody comments about her destiny and is possibly flirting with her? The if-this-was-Buffy-he-would-be-Angel character? It’s a unicorn.
Now, my pal Sarah Rees Brennan has long advocated for an Astrid-hearts-Bucephalus love story, and I have long advocated that she should seek professional counseling on this matter, but I never put together the reason that she feels this is so right and true — and now I do. It’s because, in the story, Bucephalus’s role is the one usually filled by the wiser/more cynical/world-weary/advisor dude who totally has the hots (or vice versa, or mutual) for our naive heroine. Think Han Solo and the virginal, white-clad Leia. Think the Goblin King Jared and all the advantage he tries to take of the nubile Jennifer Connolly (man, that movie is disturbing. The more I think about it, the more disturbing it gets.) Aragorn and Eowyn. Buffy and Angel. Angel’s a few hundred years old and he spends the entirety of the first season ridiculing, reluctantly saving/assisting, advising, and blowing off Buffy (my favorite line of the series might be when Xander, by far a more noble character, is basically like, WTF, really?), and, also, he wants to get in her pants.
You see, boy heroes in fantasy get elderly wizard-types who are conveniently killed by the enemy. Girl heroes get sardonic older-but-sexy types who want to sleep with them.
So that’s interesting.
Ways that Bucephalus is like Angel:
- Knows more about heroine’s powers than she does
- Knows more about heroine’s enemies than she does
- Has been secretly watching over heroine
- Is older and more experienced than the heroine (bonus points for WAY older)
- Possesses more than a little cynicism and world-weariness
- Is not entirely trustworthy to heroine, not least because
- Is someone that the heroine should, by rights, be killing.
Ways in which Bucephalus is nothing like Angel:
- Does not want to have sex with the heroine.
- Is not seeking redemption in any way.
And the redemption, to be honest, is pretty Angel-specific (or, hell, let’s say vampire specific, as another dozen examples pop into my head). Lord knows David Bowie’s not looking for any of that nonsense, and Han Solo is pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into the whole rebellion thing. So, aside from the sex, we’ve got ourselves a character type. A type that does not actually map to “large venomous bovid species” so much as “hot dude in tight pants.”
Sarah, everything makes so much more SENSE now!
And yet… no. There will be no hot hot hot Astrid/Bucephalus action in Ascendant.
Dmitri and Rose. Bill and Sookie. Eric and Sookie. Poor Sookie!
But I wonder how much our reactions as an audience are mapped out for us by these stock character roles. I remember watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (really hate that I have to specify lately) and waiting and waiting and waiting for the episode where Iroh dies. You know, because he’s the elderly wizard-like advisor who is coaxing Zuko back toward the side of good. And then, when he doesn’t (ironically, the actor voicing him did), being really shocked. Not really knowing what to make of it. You see, I’d had him written off as Merlin/Gandalf/Obi-Wan/Dumbledore. And he wasn’t.
So maybe Sarah’s theories about Bucephalus as tortured romantic hero weren’t — as I always accused her — a product of her unique and uncanny ability to latch on the most unlikely romantic pairing in any work of literature to great comic effect, but rather a reflection of our indoctrination into this trope of fantasy fiction — the sardonic older protector who takes the pretty young thing under his wing (or hoof, as the case may be) and is hella sexy to boot.
Poe and Amy. Yowza. And that’s not even fantasy.
And there’s a lot to be said here on the topic of why a (primarily female readership) is interested in this paradigm. Even if the women are strong, the men must be stronger? Does the girl have a special power? The men’s power has got to be bigger and better? He has to know more about it than she does? Is that true? I remember the guidelines for the old Silhouette Bombshell line of action-adventure romances. They were looking for strong heroines and heroes who were their match.
I wrote a book aimed at that market, about a very strong woman who owns a security company and hires an agent who doesn’t like to play by the rules. They fall in love. In the revision letter, I was told to cut her backstory (she started the company to avenge the kidnapping and death of her younger sister), make HIM the owner of the company, and have him hire her, who was to be reassigned a generic military background. Oh, and could I set it in South America instead of Europe? And dump the plot?
Suffice to say, I did not do those revisions. I’m not sure what kind of book they were looking for, but it clearly wasn’t the one I wrote. I offered to write them a different book. And what stuck with me most out of all the things they asked me to change was the way they wanted the power dynamic of the characters to switch. They didn’t want HER owning the company and hiring HIM (even though he was incredibly knowledgeable about both the business and the case they were on. (And therefore mapped pretty well to the paradigm.) He was as smart as she was, as good an agent as she was, as well trained in martial arts and use of weaponry as she was… (actually, he was an explosives expert).
It was many years later that I began writing Rampant, and from the beginning, I knew I had a very different romantic plan for Astrid. She’s strong, physically, and she’s very brave, and she has special powers, but the man for her is not the one who teaches her how to use a sword, or knows more about her magic than she does. Because I believe that strength can be complementary as well as corresponding. Giovanni strength is his normalcy. He’s a rock in her very unstable world. Which I suppose makes him the mirror of Bucephalus.
Seriously, this is all making sense to me now. I just thought that Irish dame was spouting nonsense.