Emilie and the Hollow World

The YA steampunk novel from Martha Wells (Books of the Raksura), published by Strange Chemistry, does something that nowadays is absolutely extraordinary: its main character, a teenage girl, does not have a love interest.

I repeat: This is a YA fantasy without a romance.

Where’s the confetti? This deserves confetti!

And I for one welcome this brave new foray into YA for young adults.

What happened? When did it become the norm for YA to have a love story, or more specifically a love triangle with the girl at the apex? Now, some are actually good — the Hunger Games and the Iron Fey series come to mind (you-know-what will not be mentioned by name in this post) — so it’s not that. It’s just that it has become so formulaic. It was as if a girl couldn’t have an adventure unless she had a boyfriend.

See, I think girls in real life are smarter and more adventurous than that. I know girls who are athletes and scholars and rock climbers¬† and volunteer in their community and play in bands and make art. So why are girls in fantasy literature unable to go off on an adventure without having a crush on a boy to guide their choices? And that’s the crux — the romance is the chief conflict, rather than the story, and it drives the girl’s action. Why can’t she make decisions based on other factors?

As it happens, romantic relationships are just one kind of relationship. Fantasy of all genres should be willing to explore all sorts of connections that people have. One of the biggest failures of the book that shall not be named is the way friendship between girls is portrayed. It’s false, competitive, and ugly and so completely unlike any real friendships real teens actually have.

Now, this is not to say that fantasy YA should absolutely portray normal girls in normal conflicts having normal lives — for one thing, even mainstream YA shouldn’t do that, and fantasy YA by definition is going to have more excitement and boldness, in which personal relationships are not going to be portrayed in muted color, in which magic and adventure and passion are all going to be present and accounted for.

And maybe there is romance. Maybe the fun and excitement of first love and new love should be part of a new world where magic is part of everyday. But it shouldn’t have to be.

So here’s to more Emilies. They harken back to an earlier time of girls lit, when books for girls were about relationships but they were also about honor, family, duty, goodness — you know, the stuff we don’t mention anymore. Anne Shirley, Jo March, so many fantastic girls who have lived on for a hundred years or more. Maybe there’s a new age of YA fantasy dawning, in which girls could have adventures and find their talents and make steadfast friends and save the world — and they wouldn’t have to have a wedding at the end of it.

That would be pretty magical, wouldn’t it?

Emilie and the Hollow World, by Martha Wells

Published by Strange Chemistry





Houston Barnes & Noble this weekend; a couple of reviews

Reminder: I will be at the Jane Austen Event at the Town & Country Barnes & Noble in Houston on Saturday. I’ve heard there will be scones, so you have to come and join me, Alyssa Goodnight and Jennifer Ziegler. We’ll be signing books and chatting about Jane Austen and our favorite books and adaptations.


The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells is the sequel to her 2011 fantasy The Cloud Roads. It continues the saga of the Raksura shapeshifter Moon and his new clan, the Indigo Cloud people. Wells creates a world so richly imagined that even the people and places that are not part of the main plotline captured my interest. The world lives on even when the book is closed. Plus the main character of Moon is so relatable, and the Raksura are so well realized in all their irascible, cranky glory, that it’s just plain fun. Add in a fast-moving plot, and now I can’t wait for the next one, coming out next year.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. My new YA book crush. A young princess has been marked by God as the Chosen One to save her people. She is sent to another kingdom in an arranged marriage, and she discovers hidden strengths. Carson takes all the cliches of fantasy and turns them on their head. The arranged marriage is described humanely, with all the awkwardness that comes with two strangers expected to get along; the princess is dismissed as useless by everyone, even herself, but she comes into her own. Carson also treats the religion in the book, a Catholic analog, with respect, which is unusual in fantasy.

I have a stack of books about a foot high as a result of going to back to back book signings (Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Moon), so I have forbidden myself from entering a bookstore (well, except for the Houston Barnes & Noble this Saturday) until I get through the stack. A writer must have discipline*. Stop laughing. We must. Really.



*A writer must have discipline or a writer will have a zero balance in her bank account.


Apollo Con writers workshop

It’s that time of year again. Time to polish your manuscript and send it in for the annual Apollo Con writers workshop.¬† The workshop is free to attendees. I’ve already got one manuscript in, and the deadline is fast approaching.

So don’t overthink — do a quick spell check, check for length, make sure your formatting is clean and professional, and send in your RTF today!

If you have any questions, e-mail the Workshop Coordinator address on the workshop page, or drop me a line in the comments here.

As for Apollo Con, this is one of the best little cons in Texas, you know. Don’t miss it. Martha Wells is Writer Guest of Honor, and Ann VanderMeer is Editor Guest of Honor. What more can you ask for?