I am excited to welcome author Anne Leonard, who is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Moth and Spark.
A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freed—at any cost.
Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.
I’ve just read three spec fic novels in a row where the narrator, a young woman who has had some death and suffering in her life, hooks up with a powerful older male (in two of the books, he’s not even human). She hates him or fears him, but as she spends time with him, her sexual attraction to him becomes a lot stronger. One of these books is YA fantasy, one is YA sci-fi, and one is adult fantasy. All three books are written by women and came highly recommended by intelligent people. The relationships of the protagonist with the males diverge as the plots diverge, but what I’m interested in talking about here is the beginning trope: sexual attraction of a young woman to a dangerous and powerful male.
This is not an uncommon plot, nor is it a new one.
But I’m getting a little tired of it.
Can’t we move on to more complicated relationships? To young women who really do love the plain ordinary guy, know this, and are exceedingly careful around the powerful man? Does every dangerous man have to become an object of attraction? If men wrote fiction like this, it might well be called sexist male fantasizing. If the roles were reversed and the young boy was attracted to the powerful older woman, the book might be criticised as containing sterotypical femme fatales and objectifying women.
Now, admittedly characters who play it safe and stay home don’t tend to have the adventures people want to read about. And sexual tension drives an awful lot of narratives. But sexual tension doesn’t have to involve danger or huge power imbalances. Conflicts between male and female don’t have to be sexual in nature. And not all young people are reckless and hormone-driven.
There are plenty of solid narrative reasons that a powerful man would try to manipulate a younger woman sexually; sexuality is an area where people are very vulnerable. And power is sexy — no one wants to date the wimp. But why doesn’t the girl ever think “Yuck!” Why doesn’t she call him out, at least internally, for being a creep? Can’t the tension be that she knows she loves her absent best-friend-who-is-in-love-with-her and she’s trying to hide that from this man who has control over her? Or she’s smart enough to see what’s going on and tries to play it to her advantage? I would like to see more fiction avoid taking the well-trodden path of the girl having the dangerous boyfriend and experiment with other ways she can respond to being dominated.
Related to the dangerous boyfriend is the lack of the healthy relationship. One of the things that I’m seeing a lot in the positive comments about Moth and Spark is the word “partnership.” Lovers who care for each other and help each other appear to be quite rare in fiction, and a lot of readers seem ready to read about relationships which are equal and collaborative. Loving relationships can have quite a lot of tension: people disagree about hard decisions, feel underappreciated, worry that their partner is making a mistake, feel guilty for letting their partner down, and so on. And it can even be epic: what do you choose if saving the world requires letting your lover die? A writer doesn’t have to have a love triangle or even a lovesick boy hoping his best friend will notice him to have tension.
Let’s have powerful and dangerous men in our books by all means. They’re fun. But let’s also have young women who are clear-sighted enough to know that falling for someone dangerous is dangerous and who don’t waffle about, confused. Let’s have more heroines with spines and brains in addition to hearts and hormones. And let’s see some more examples of love as a relationship among equals, not a perpetual battlefield.
Meet Anne Leonard!
Elisabeth Anne Leonard was born in Chicago and has lived numerous places since. After receiving her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, she obtained her Ph.D. in English literature and published several scholarly works with an emphasis on race in science fiction and fantasy. Eventually she ended up in law school, where in the short intervals when she was not studying she started writing the book that became Moth and Spark. She practiced as a lawyer before selling the novel and turning to full-time writing. Her other creative outlet is photography. She lives in Northern California with her husband, son, and two black cats.
Want to purchase Anne’s novels?
Moth and Spark
Thank you Anne for taking the time to stop by Literary Escapism!