Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Female Assassins Are So Fetch

Female assassins. It just sounds good, right? It sounds like bad ass, feminist candy. It sounds like my new favorite trope.

In actuality I have only read three YA books with female assassins but I love them all and therefore raise them up into magnificence.

 Graceling by Kristin Cashore 

1. Fantasy

As soon as I realized my love for female assassins I also realized that they were all fantasy. Which makes sense...in a way. In order for women assassins to be sensationalized in a culture that culture has to be pretty restrictive to women. And since fantasy usually takes place in a medieval setting this is set up nicely. Also, assassins mostly go after people in the royal court or royal family. Bam! Fantasy.

However...all of these girls are "special" because of the effects of their fantasy world. Katsa is born with the extraordinary skill to kill and survive. Ismae is marked by Death and trained to be his handmaiden. Caleana may seem like your regular deadly assassin but with her mysterious past there is undoubtedly something fantastical lurking under the surface.

So is it really that feminist? Hard to say.

2. Levels of Girliness

As I said before I love all three girls, dearly. They just rubbed me the wrong way sometimes.

Katsa. Girliness Level: -2
It isn't how she dresses, or keeps her hair short or her intolerance of most men. It really isn't. It is the fact that she rejects everything female, to the point of denouncing marriage and children. A lot of people have problems with this and Cashore has received some grief on the subject so I'm not going to go on and on.

It's just hard to fully connect with  a "strong female" who doesn't even like being a girl. In my opinion Katsa is a bit too extreme but, hey, that's her choice and her personality so I respect it.

Ismae. Girliness Level: 5

LaFevers has a wonderfully balanced female character in Ismae. She loves being so capable and even loves making all those arrogant men pee their pants a little. She enjoys the freedom of being less feminine. YET. Yet she doesn't lose her femininity. She still appreciates dressing up and looking nice and bonding with other women.

As a girl I admired Ismae's strength and skill without losing camaraderie with her. I could see myself in Ismae, in her vulnerability and struggles to do the right thing.

Calaena. Girliness Level: 9
My, my, isn't Calaena snarky and whip smart! I loved her confidence and even, at times, her arrogance.

Mix this superior attitude with atypical longing for material things and beauty though and I have middle school flashbacks. Did Calaena need to be so materialistic? Did she need to use her beauty as her weapon? Maybe not but that is her character and while it didn't sit right with me at times I still liked her.

In summary: Katsa is too manly, Calaena is too girly and Ismae is just right. God, I sound like a horrible feminist right now but I'm just being honest. Some psychological introspection is probably needed but there is my opinion. (this post has some great points)

3. Court Intrigue

Dear God, I love court intrigue! Perhaps it stems back to Shakespeare and Chaucer but it is so satisfying to follow the dramas of the high and mighty. Us peasants just don't have those big, society altering dilemmas very often. Add assassins to the mix and everything gets so deliciously complex that my fragile heart can barely take it.

It is so cathartic somehow. And it's the classic "wow, my problems look so puny and easy compared to these peoples". Also it's the "even though this is no way resembles my problems I definitely feel this way, this character totally understands".

(this post is getting so articulate as it progresses)

4. ...IN SPACE

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every plot gets better when your add "in space" to it. My favorite is pregnant teenage boarding school in space.

So you can probably guess what is on my Christmas Wish List this year. Yep, FEMALE ASSASSINS IN SPACE.

Can anybody do me a solid and write this?

Now that would be fetch.

Please comment with your thoughts on female assassins, especially if you disagree with me or have something new to add :)


  1. I've only read 'Graceling' -- I haven't had a chance to check out the other two, yet -- but I found Katsa to be reaaaaaaally irritating. Like the article you linked mentioned, there's so much trope territory for the 'strong female characters'. Strength doesn't mean having big muscles (which somehow never interferes with how many guys find the character irresistible), or being able to wield a sword/arrow/gun like no-one's business. It's making the hard choice, making the sacrifices, and deciding what's really worth fighting for.

    Also, totally agree about your observation... IN SPACE! I just added 'Mothership' to my TBR, it sounds too ridiculous and entertaining to pass up...IN SPACE. Ahem.

    1. Oh Katsa...I love her but I also want to ring her neck. Have you read Fire or Bitterblue? Cashore seems to like writing atypical female characters. Still not sure if I approve.

      *tries to hold it in* *fails* IN SPACE

    2. I have 'Bitterblue' on request from the library. I hope I'll like it more than 'Graceling' (Bitterblue, imo, is the more interesting character. Like you said, I spent a lot of time wanting to slap Katsa in the face. IN SPACE).

  2. Female assassins, hmm... I have extreme ambivalence to them. I know they are super-popular right now, and for good reason: girls kicking the a*sses of people who have long-deserved it. That said, I think it would be hard for me to write one, as I want my female characters to strategize their way out of things, rather than injure and kill. Come to think of it, that is what Katniss does unless she's cornered.
    Catherine Stine’s Idea City

    1. I totally see where you're coming from, killing shouldn't be a way out all the time. All of the assassins I mentioned learn to rely on other skills or other people or other methods of solving their problems. In that way they are wonderfull, dynamic characters. So even if it isn't something you wish to read up front I would still recommend them :)

  3. I've read and LOVED Graceling and now have to read these too! What a great post and insightful comparison.

  4. I was not a fan of Katsa (I felt like she never really grew emotionally in the book and it pissed me off) but I just found out Fire (and Bitterblue of course) are about other characters so I might try them.

    You should definitely look at Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder and that's all for now. Except, In space! (lol!)

  5. Hi!

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    I'm currently hosting a giveaway, and hope you can stop by my blog and eventually enter.
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  6. Oh my goodness, it was YOU!!! I've been trying to remember how I heard about Mothership (long story short I convinced a bunch of friends to do a read/snark-a-long with me. It was both entertaining and terrible) and I had completely forgotten until I saw this. I'm Caitlin Vanasse (commented above.)