AfterEllen.com Book Club: “Will of the Empress” and “Ammonite”

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Sorry I’m so late with posting discussion questions for this double-header of sci-fi and fantasy we had in August, with both Tamora Pierce’s The Will of the Empress and Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite. The reason I’m so behind is that it actually took me quite a long time to struggle through both of these novels. But some of the great discussions you guys had over on Goodreads really helped me think about things. Which, of course, is why this book club is rad. So let’s get started, first with the world of Namorn:

Will of the Empress

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1. Is this actually a standalone novel?

Will of the Empress was actually the first Pierce novel I’ve read, and I selected it for the club  because LESBIANS but also because I had read that it worked as a standalone novel, even though it involves characters from previous series. But immediately when I started reading this, I felt completely lost. Which is fine—it normally takes me a little while to settle into a new fantasy world. But after 100 pages, and then 200 pages, and so on, I still felt disconnected from this world and these characters, and like I would have been a zillion times more interested in everything if I had read the previous series.

But then, everyone else who commented about this book HAD read Pierce before, and you all seemed to LOVE it. And by the very end of the novel, I did care about everyone, but it just took so long to get there.

2. How do you feel about Daja and Rizu’s relationship—and their ending?

I think this is one of the rare times where a lesbian relationship ends somewhat sadly, but for the right reasons. I actually think it’s an important point to make that you should always choose your (chosen) family over a partner who’s not good enough for you, or who’s not brave enough to stand with you when they should.

The only other part that made me slightly sad was that other than knowing that Daja and Rizu were locked up in Rizu’s chambers for days at a time, we didn’t actually get to SEE any of the lovely hanky panky going on. But then again, I know that it would have been out of character for Pierce and for the book to actually show all of that hanky panky, so it’s fine. I GUESS.

3. Pierce fans: Did you realize there were so many other queer characters in her books?

When Daja reveals her newly discovered sexuality to Briar, he essentially rolls his eyes and says, “Come on, did you really think it’d be a big deal? Practically everyone else we’ve ever known is a lesbian!” OK, maybe not everyone. But the characters of Rosethorn and Lark are blatantly exposed as lesbians here, and Starsplit on Goodreads also mentioned the implied queerness of other characters in her previous books: Lalasa and Tian, Thom and Roger. Apparently she has cited publishers forcing her to tone down gay storylines from being forthright and open in the past—that she couldn’t have characters just BE GAY without making some sort of bigger explanation or “issue” about it.

But in an interview with Malinda Lo back in 2009, Pierce also cited her own fears about writing gay characters, not because she didn’t want to or thought they’d be rejected, but because she was afraid that she “wouldn’t do it right — I’d screw up somewhere.” But after seeing the reactions fans had after reading even just one or two lines in her books that implied gay acceptance and equality—youth coming up to her at book signings and bursting into tears—she says, “I realized if they take that much comfort from that teeny tiny line, then I owe it to them to try, whether I think that I’ll fall on my butt or not. I owe them better than one line. And that’s when I began to try and stretch a little — not try and write the gay experience, but have people there who [are gay].”

I love this so much, and I think it explains so well why all authors have the duty to write diverse characters into their books, even when they’re characters with life experiences that the author may not necessarily have lived themselves.

And now to switch from the world of a sneaky emperor to a red headed madwoman invoking death spirits, on the next page.

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