Why Marasi from The Alloy of Law is an Important Female Character

Hey everyone! I just reread The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (the first book in a Mistborn spinoff series), and since I already reviewed it, I thought I’d do something different this time around and focus on one of my favorite characters in the story.

cover the alloy of law

Marasi isn’t the main character, and she definitely doesn’t fit the mold of your usual Strong Female Character, but I love her a lot, and I want to talk about the reasons characters like her need to exist more often.

A quick side note: TAOL is an adult book, but Marasi’s character is young enough that she makes sense in the context of a YA story as well. For this reason—and because I mostly read YA—this discussion focuses on the tropes I’ve seen in YA stories and how Marasi breaks them.

I’ve tried to avoid any major plot spoilers, so everyone can read this post!

She gets flustered

I love that Marasi gets flustered. It is refreshing to read about a character that tries to take everything in stride but is just a little two awkward to pull it off.

She trips over her words and makes a fool of herself—and it was soooo relatable. As a redhead who turns red at just about everything, I loved reading about a character who blushes.

Importantly, there is more to Marasi than being flustered. If she just got thrown off any time that the guys made a crass joke or that someone shot a gun, I’d be really frustrated with her character.

However, when Marasi gets flustered, she’s aware of it, and she’s wishing that she wasn’t flustered, and she’s finding a way to move past it. In other words, she’s a complex human whose body doesn’t always cooperate but who still has the capacity for logical and creative thought.

She’s geeky, but not in a cliche way

Marasi has the ability to rattle off data about crimes and criminals, and she is studying to become a lawyer, making her somewhat of a nerd in the context of the story.

I loved the geeky side of Marasi. She’s obviously brilliant—not just memorizing facts, but analyzing them in relation to other data—and her deductions about crime helped flesh out the story.

I also appreciated that though she has a powerful memory and a quick mind, she is given a lot of other character traits, so that she is never just the cliche geek character.

She grows, but doesn’t become a stereotypical badass

Like any character, Marasi develops throughout the first book in a lot of meaningful ways. She grows more self-confident and learns how to handle the new world she’s been thrown into.

Most female characters like Marasi would finish book one as a badass. They would probably have learned some fight skills, they would become more confrontational, and they definitely wouldn’t get flustered as easily anymore.

Very little of that happens to Marasi. She grows in other ways, following a different path than most female characters I read.

Yes, she can shoot a gun, and she puts herself into dangerous situations, but she’s still the flustered geek as well. It was nice to have an intensely relatable character develop in ways that still felt realistic for someone like myself.

All in all, Marasi was a different type of female character from what I usually see in action-packed books like The Alloy of Law. She was put in a life-or-death world and she rose to the occasion, but without losing her defining characteristics. She isn’t the stony, take-no-shit protagonist that is so common these days, but she is strong in her own ways. Most of all, she feels human.

I feel like authors shy away from writing characters like Marasi because if they are done poorly, it can feel extremely sexist. However, I love that Brandon Sanderson took the risk and created a well-rounded character.

Just because she gets flustered and has her girly moments doesn’t mean that Marasi is an un-feminist character. In fact, I found that the relatability of Marasi made her an incredibly important character for me; for once, I got to read about someone like myself.

Book Review: Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

This book redefines heart-wrenching. Rarely do I get to read a book that packs so much emotional turmoil into a standalone story.

5/5 stars

cover black dove white raven

Goodreads Description

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes-in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

My Review

Everything about this book is breathtaking. It’s hard to know where to start.

The characters are the most amazing part. I am head-over-heals in love with Emmy and Teo–they are the cutest and bravest sibling ever. Emmy is bold and daring socially, unafraid of standing out from the crowd or of standing up for those she loves. More reserved, Teo is constantly aware of the effects his race has on his life, but he still has a fierce determined streak. I completely understood each of their characters and my heart broke trying to keep them safe. I loved how they didn’t agree with each other 100%, but that they always stood by each other anyway. None of the motifs surrounding their relationship felt forced; they simply built upon a magnificent story to make it stronger.

Though I would categorize this book as YA, the characters start out very young. I loved watching them grow up; it was honest and believable. As teenagers, I could still recognize the kids that they used to be in their actions. I’m glad that there was never any romance between them–or anywhere in the story, for that matter-because it let their friendship take center stage.

Momma–Emmy’s mom and Teo’s adoptive mom–was a powerful characters as well. I usually don’t love parental characters in books because they get in the way, but Momma did the exact opposite: she enhanced the story. She’s trapped between conflicting loyalties and desires, but at the center of everything is her maternal need to protect her children. An American in a small Ethiopian village, with ties to both the Italian and Ethiopian governments, she was put in a position that had no right answer, but she somehow keeps her head above water. She is far from a perfect person, but she is the epitome of “making it work.” Rarely does an entire family get to be the protagonist of a book, but Wein did it perfectly.

The setting of this book is obviously the source of the most conflicts: Ethiopia on the verge of WWII. The conflicts surrounding the family’s ties to both Italy and Africa were emotional, and the scenes that involved mustard gas broke my heart. As historical fiction, BDWR does an incredible job of showcasing the struggles and horrors of Mussolini’s invasion, as well as all of the motivations involved.

As always with Wein, vintage planes play a major role in this story, and I loved every single scene that involved flying. The imagery was so vivid that I honestly felt like I was flying over Ethiopia with them.

However, the most emotional part of the book for me was its discussion of racism and sexism. Obviously, there was a prevalent discussion of racism, both in America and Africa. What killed me about this book was the catch 22 the siblings faced: they left America to save Teo from racism, but in Ethiopia, Emmy was constantly held back by the society’s sexism. I loved that Wein took the opportunity to make the book about more than the predictable racial conflicts and to highlight the heart-wrenching impossibility of living in a prejudice-less society in the late 1930s.

BDVR is a book that I honestly believe everyone should read. The writing is poetry, the story is powerful, and the characters are alive. This is the kind of book that sticks with you, the kind of book that your heart will always be scarred by. However, even with all the emotional turmoil, this book as a positive message of empowerment, and it left me with a smile on my face (and tears pouring down my cheeks).

Weekend Words #3

weekend words picWeekend Words showcases inspiring quotes from books, about writing, and about life. This feature will happen every weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday, depending on my schedule. While this is a reading/writing centric blog, this feature doesn’t have to be focused on those areas–it is intentionally open-ended to give bloggers a chance to say what’s on their mind. Quotes can just be typed, or they can involve graphic design or drawing.

Everyone should feel free to take part–it would honestly make my day! Complete instructions can be found on the feature’s page. 

1. A Powerful Quote From a Recent Read

This one is fairly self-explainitory. Share a quote from a book that you are either reading or just finished. Avoid spoilers (of course) but other than that, anything goes.

quote ground of happiness

“She assured them, too, of her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it…a new truth would be revealed in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness.” — Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Yep, another The Scarlet Letter quote. What can I say, I’m not in love with the plot, but it’s super quotable.

I love this quote, not because of its place in the book, but because of its implications for modern feminism. At the time of this book’s writing, feminism was a far off concept, barely glimpsed in this quote, but I believe that now, today, the “world is ripe” for more equal and positive gender relations.

2. A Quote that Inspired or Influenced Me This Week

This quote can deal with life, writing, reading–honestly anything.

quote crowded with angels

“They ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran in to the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes.” — “20 Hours in America: Part 1,” Aaron Sorkin

This quote is from one of the most moving The West Wing episodes ever. With the 9/11 anniversary, I couldn’t help but think that this quote–while it wasn’t written about the tragedy–is especially relevant this weekend.

3. Something I’ve Been Wanting to Say

This is a chance for you to share the little thoughts that you had that weren’t big enough for a blog post (or that don’t exactly fit the theme of your blog), but that you want to put out into the world.

It’s the little joys that make long weeks bearable. Feeling self-conscious about those little joys (such as okay-ly written paranormal books that I first read as a freshman), is just plain stupid…so I’m trying to avoid that.

Since this feature is still very new, I’d love some feedback on how to format it to make it as user friendly as possible. Do you guys like the quote written out under the image (or is annoyingly repetitive)? What about the images I’ve been making for each quote–do you like them?

I hope you’re all having a great weekend! What quotes have inspired you recently?

Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

This book surprised me with its grown-up Harry Potter fantasy feeling and the social commentary it subtly worked into the gorgeous story.

4/5 stars

Release date: September 1, 2015

cover sorcerer to the crown

Amazon Description

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

My Review

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House at SDCC. This in no way affected my review.

 I was drawn to this book by the alternate historical setting. Just the name–The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers–made me want to read this story.

I was not disappointed. The historical setting was well-crafted and felt realistic, even with the addition of a hierarchy of magical men. Set in Britain during the Napoleonic times, the political landscape that Zacharias faced was the epitome of “rock and a hard place.” The situation Zacharias found himself in was believable and appropriately complex; it easily connected to the modern political dilemmas faced in the Middle East and around the world. There was no perfect solution, which added depth to the plot and separated it from the YA world (where I would have expected some magical “fix all” to appear).

I loved the fantasy portion of this book. The different levels and types of magicians are briefly described, but they aren’t important to the story. The parts of the world building that you need to understand are clearly laid out, and the rest of the details are left vague, masterfully giving the reader a sense of a complete universe without overloading their memory.

The magic itself is based on compiling and combining magical formulas. I liked the original concept of constructing spells in an almost arithmetic way, and I enjoyed the fact that different magicians would create the same effect with different formulas. I only wish that the mechanics behind the formulas had been explained a bit more; I wanted to understand the magic more, so that I could feel more connected to what the main characters were doing throughout the story. Familiars, sorcerers’ “pets” that provide them with magic, were a great addition to the story, adding both a sinister plot angle and a level of cuteness.

Sorcerer to the Crown is strong in the character department. Zacharias was a good protagonist: duty-driven, reserved, persevering, and clearly intelligent. I appreciated that he didn’t love his job as the Sorcerer Royal; he wasn’t motivated by a love for power or prestige. His down-to-earth scholarly nature made me love him, and provided a foil for Prunella, the female lead.

Prunella was great in her own way–definitely the most surprising part of this book. She is freaking ruthless. She isn’t evil, but she has a strong Machiavellian side. Her moral code–while existent–was focused on different things than normal protagonists. As I said, Prunella was never vicious or psychopathic, but she was willing to go to extreme lengths to have the life she wanted for herself and her loved ones. While she was focused on being a proper English lady and desperately wanted a husband, she also maintained a strong and rebellious side. Prunella shocked me at first (and never really stopped), but she was such a fresh and original personality for a love interest that I ended up loving her. I wouldn’t invite her to Girl’s Night, however.

Prunella’s magical ability was, of course, amazing, and I liked the dynamic it created with Zacharias. Both of them were powerful, though Zacharias had more classical training, while Prunella’s magic was more instinctual. I liked the subtle romance that grew between them. The only problem was that Prunella overshadowed Zacharias, and by the end of the book, she had eclipsed him to essentially take on the role of protagonist.

By far the most interesting part of the story was the discussion of racism and sexism. Zacharias was a slave boy raised by the former Sorcerer Royal as a son. He was freed when he was a young teenager and got the best training and upbringing money could buy, but white English society still viewed him as an outsider and a usurper. Continuing to break barriers, Zacharias takes in Prunella as his apprentice. In this society, women born with magical ability are trained to suppress it, so Zacharias bringing a woman into the most prestigious group of magicians in Britain is unheard of. (It’s kind of an Obama/Clinton situation, to be honest.) While the sexism and racism presented in this book are set hundreds of years ago, the discussion of these social issues remains applicable to society today. These subplots added well-needed depth and originality to the plot. I wish I had read this book sooner, because it would have easily made the top of my TTT list about diversity.

The plot of Sorcerer to the Crown is based mostly on a three-sided political disaster, tied into England’s mysterious decreasing amount of magic. There was nothing addictive or particularly gripping about the plot, but I never considered DNF-ing it. The story was always moving along, just not at any breakneck speed. There were numerous mysteries presented at the beginning of the book that built suspense throughout; the reveals they resulted in were surprising and worked together to create a satisfying climax. Fans of fast-paced fantasy books would probably be disappointed by this book, but people who prefer a complex and nuanced plot to action scenes should pick this book up. 

Sorcerer to the Crown felt underdeveloped for a standalone book–not quite enough happened plot-wise–but I don’t think there should be a second book. Everything was wrapped up very nicely, and if a second book were published, it would have to have an amazing plot description for me to ruin the happy ending that this book left me with.

Though this book is clearly not YA, fans of the YA genre could still enjoy it. (I certainly did.) I would recommend this book to fans of historical fantasies who value plots that explore societal issues over action-packed stories.

Combating Chauvinism With Writing

I saw this on Pinterest:

how to write a male
I tried to follow the link embedded in the pin but it gave me an error page. The site it’s from is bookjacketblog.com.

And it struck me as really, really sexist.

I thought #1 was interesting, a little stereotypical but also something you might keep in mind if you wanted to strikingly juxtapose a male and female POV.

After that point, it basically spirals out of control.

Don’t get me wrong: I like writing advice, and I know that not all of the advice out there will be stuff I agree with. But this list goes beyond advice to paint a picture of the male character that is stereotypical, insulting, small-minded, and out of place in the modern environment.

The first time I saw the Pin, I read through it, had a small “wow, way to be sexist” moment, and moved on. But then I came back to my Pinterest feed and it was still there. And I had to think about it again. And being a speech-and-debater who hasn’t been to a competition in a while and girl who has spent way too much time talking about feminism with her journalism class–I couldn’t let it go.

So here’s what is wrong with this check list, and why I can’t just let it disappear into the recesses of my Pinterest feed.

Writing has the power to change society–to change it’s stigmas and challenge it’s chauvinism. The stories we read can humanize people we’ve only ever judged, can make us care about people we want to hate. Novels can be and should be a mechanism for social change, especially in this day and age, where we stand on the precipice of a massive societal movement towards tolerance and understanding.

The mentality behind this checklist is a roadblock to such progress. It tells writers that they do not have to strive to look around them and take the human elements of the real world, boil them down, and recast them into stories that make their readers look around and see the human world (thus beginning a cycle that could honestly change one’s perception). Instead, this checklist proposes that men can be boiled down into seven–seven, not even a round ten–sentence-long descriptions. It removes the drive to search for the right word or scene to convey a character and replaces it with a simple To Do List.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some male characters to whom this checklist applies. The reason this checklist exists in the first place is that it is rooted in reality. However, the issue is that it isn’t titled “How to Write a Stereotypically Alpha-Male Character.” It doesn’t present itself as a resource for writers who want help with writing a certain personality type. It just presents the checklist as if every male character one could ever want to write should have the same characteristics.

First of all, imagine how boring the world would be if that were true. And second of all, imagine how divorced from reality writing would become–it would lose all power to change society, except for the power it had to perpetuate it’s cookie-cutter ideal of masculinity.

I hope that no one saw this check list and took it to heart. I hope that no one saw this checklist and from that point forward, never challenged themselves to write a male character that broke the mold set forth. But I’ve seen the hate-filled posts on social media and the protests on the streets, and I find it hard to believe that there is no one out there who didn’t see this graphic and add it to their writing mindset.

And maybe you’re thinking, “This is just one graphic. I’ve never seen it before. Why all the hullaballu?”

You can dismiss the graphic, sure. It is a far cry from going viral. It’s just something I stumbled upon.

But you cannot dismiss this conversation. You cannot turn your back on the importance of combating chauvinism with writing. And you cannot deny that there are people out there in the world who do not see this checklist as sexist in the extreme–who see it as a list of goals to accomplish, a list of parameters to meet in order to “be a man.”

Writers–you have the chance to change the way people think. Don’t make the mistake of only reinforcing social stigmas and prejudices. 

Break the mold.

I know it’s easier said than done. In my WIP, I constantly struggle with writing innovative characters that don’t rely on stereotypes. Do I always succeed? Probably not.

But maybe it’s a good thing that I saw this graphic on Pinterest. Because from now on, I’ll have a constant reminder of the importance of pushing past stereotypes to find the true essence of the characters I’m trying to create.