Science-fiction roundup: new worlds for adventuring women
Three new novels feature female adventurers in fantasy worlds that prove a match for their courage and wit. Featured: “Child of a Hidden Sea” by A.M. Dellamonica; “Artemis Awakening” by Jane Lindskold and “The Queen of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen.
Special to The Seattle Times
Where can women find adventure if not in books? Worlds made of words have provided testing grounds for our imaginations for centuries — words spoken, written, printed and now digitized.
It’s certainly possible for women to identify with male heroes, but three new novels bring us actual female protagonists living exciting, risk-filled lives, the kind men will admire as well.
The opening pages of A. M. Dellamonica’s “Child of a Hidden Sea” (Tor, 336 pp., $25.99) carry 24-year-old amateur biologist Sophie Hansa to Stormwrack, an alternate Earth. Though the same moon orbits overhead, Earth’s continents have been replaced by strange archipelagoes populated with magic-wielding, sword-brandishing duelists, pirates, and militant monks.
Entranced by the presence of several unfamiliar species — edible luminescent moths; ferrets whose tails are snakeheads; wasps embedded with the gemlike seeds of their flowering symbiotes — Sophie lands in trouble before she knows where she is.
Sophie’s status as the daughter of feuding nobles, combined with escalating assassination attempts on her aunt, a diplomatic courier, soon force Sophie to adapt to her new home. She dives into dangerous waters to retrieve a magical artifact defended by murderous mermen — the ransom demanded by baddies who’ve kidnapped her brother. She brazens her way through a formal state funeral and a heroic sea battle, and at last receives her reward: the right to travel between Earth and Stormwrack at will.
In her third novel, first of a new series, Dellamonica has created a fascinating and original fantasyscape. Via Sophie’s bright, questing mind, Dellamonica shows us a lovely place, perfect for having adventures in — the sort of world J.M. Barrie’s Wendy would have visited often.
In “Artemis Awakening”(Tor, 304 pp., $24.99), veteran author Jane Lindskold evokes another grand escapist tradition: the planetary romance. As in the vintage science fiction of Leigh Brackett and Edgar Rice Burroughs, a footloose young man (in this case anthropologist Griffin Dane) is marooned on a distant world.
Artificially idyllic from pole to pole, Artemis was originally a vacation resort for the ultrarich of a long-dead interstellar empire. Huntress Adara guides Dane through Artemis’s devolved society, as the two face renegade machines and colonies of mutants together.
Though not the novel’s primary protagonists, Adara and her telepathic cougar companion steal the show. They fight, track, climb, and explore like the professionals they are, unfazed by a villainous immortal conducting genetic experiments reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Their valiant actions are crucial to the book’s happy, if inconclusive, ending, and will no doubt be equally important to its sequels.
“The Queen of the Tearling” (Harper, 437 pp., $26.99),Erika Johansen’s debut novel, has many of the trappings of pseudo-Medieval fantasies about unlikely heirs to thrones. But heroine Kelsea Raleigh Glynn opposes and overcomes her evil uncle, the Tearling’s Regent, in a dystopian setting three centuries in our future, at a time of crude, cobbled-together attempts to recover modern technologies.
Surprisingly sympathetic, the angst-ridden but nonsulky 19-year-old Kelsea struggles to win the hearts of her soldiers, even as she commits them to a war against a nearby slaveholding realm with superior military might. Both sides call upon supernatural powers: Kelsea’s marks her as her land’s destined ruler, while that of her enemy demands a tribute of blood. Johansen’s strong, efficient prose convincingly conveys the pressures and inevitabilities facing a determined young woman confronting the dangers of a violent era.
Seattle writer Nisi Shawl reviews science fiction and fantasy for The Seattle Times.