This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking about our favorite heroines that we didn’t write.
I think you all know me by now, and thus know I don’t much like picking favorite anythings. There’s a lot of room in my universe for all the stuff I love and I don’t really think in terms of ranking. All that said, I just completed a reread of Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, one of my most cherished books of all time. It’s a brilliant fantasy novel and one I wished I’d written. The heroine and protagonist is a wizard woman named Sybel.
Don’t pay attention to the stupid listings that call this book young adult (YA). First of all, in 1974 when this book was first published, there wasn’t a YA category. Secondly, the only reason this is listed as YA, I assume, is because it’s written by a woman with a female protagonist. If this deeply layered, fucking brilliant fantasy novel is YA, then so is The Lord of the Rings.
Sybel is simply a brilliantly drawn heroine. She is a product of her upbringing, isolated physically and in her immense power. Living among the magical, nigh-mythical creatures she cares for, Sybel has to learn to deal with human beings. She is unflinchingly strong throughout the story, cleaving to her own sense of self, even when others try to rip that away from her. In her learning to first love, then to hate, then to move past both, she achieves her own mythic status. Even as the reader follows her self-destructive path, dreading the inevitable outcome, we also believe totally in her reasons, never failing to cheer her on. Sybel is the awkward, bookish, shy girl in all of us, who wrestles with the tumult of the wider world.
In rereading, I found so many ways this story has infused my own work, though I despair of ever reaching this level. And Sybel is in all of my heroines. Maybe even a bit in myself.