Category Archives: Strong Female Leads

‘As if money was a substitute for fair play’: feminist subtext in The Governess Affair

After the Vicki Essex review and the feminist heroine fiasco, I’ve been feeling like many of my latest posts have come down on the negative side of the critical spectrum. To balance things out, I kept an eye out for positive examples of romances with feminist leanings — and now I’m thrilled to say that Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair has a strongly feminist subtext based around power, money, consent, and women’s autonomy.

{Be ye warned: spoilers abound. Also, at present the novella is free on Amazon, so I’d run right out and grab it if I were you.}

Cover for Courtney Milan's The Governess Affair: a light-skinned woman with dark hair wears a long gold gown. She has her back to the viewer, and is turning to look at the viewer over her right shoulder.

The book opens with a description of two men, one of them a duke, and the other, our hero:

An untutored observer would focus on the Duke of Clermont, apparently in full command … his patrician features were sharp and aristocratic. Compared with Hugo’s own unprepossessing expression and sandy brown hair, the untutored observer would have concluded that the duke was in charge.

The untutored observer, Hugo thought, was an idiot. (2-3)

Less than a page in, the visible marks of patriarchal power—expensive clothing, “patrician features”—are irrevocably undermined. Hugo isn’t a servant. He’s a former boxer who is now something of an enforcer, working to eliminate the duke’s many debts. If he succeeds before a given date, he will be rewarded with enough money to launch his own business empire. He successfully helped the duke marry an heiress, but the new duchess’ father was canny enough to put her fortune in trust, to be doled out on a regular schedule—provided, of course, that the duke does not do anything to irritate his new bride.

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This Star Trek Post is Brought to You by Not Getting Whooping Cough

So there is a pertussis epidemic afoot in our neck of the woods at present, and after one local news source referred to it as the Hundred Day Cough—the Napoleon of viruses!—I ran out and got myself vaccinated.

At which point my brain fell all to pieces.

It’s not whooping cough, and it’s not an allergic reaction: it’s just my body taking energy to make antibodies, like it’s supposed to. But it has drained all the thinky-juice from my brain-parts, so instead of making headway on any of my works-in-progress I am weeping over episodes of My Little Pony (that poor tortoise just wants to be loved!) and watching a lot of original series Star Trek for the first time ever.

Which is why I want to talk about the Unnamed Female Romulan Commander.

A still shot from 'The Enterprise Incident,' featuring (among other figures) the Unnamed Female Romulan Commander in a long-sleeved, two-tone asymettrical mini-dress with black over-the-knee boots and sheer black hose.

That’s her there, center left, in one of the greatest outfits Star Trek has ever given humanity. She appears in an episode called ‘The Enterprise Incident,’ which is also pretty fantastic. The UFRC is in charge of the Romulan flagship (!) with a cloaking device, and spends most of her on-screen time seducing Spock (!!) using her words, logic, and that incredible minidress-boot combination. (Which is, of course, what any right-thinking dude-inclined woman would do if dropped into a Star Trek episode.) All while trying to also seduce him into defecting, which somehow doesn’t come across as evil so much as it does, well, strategic. Spock is clearly a badass and good to have on your side, plus if he’s fighting with the Romulans then she can keep seducing him, and it feels like everybody wins.

Spock, of course, is there to steal the cloaking device. There’s an elaborate game of espionage being played, though the episode goes to some lengths to keep the reveal from happening too early. It’s one of Star Trek‘s most effectively plotted stories. And though the UFRC doesn’t win, she’s not humiliated, and she’s treated with the respect due to her rank by everyone on the Enterprise, and Spock even privately admits that their brief sexytimes will have a greater impact on him than the theft of the cloaking device.

And then she disappears from the Star Trek universe forever.

This is unacceptable.

I mean, look at her accomplishments!

  • She can command a damn Romulan flagship, which bespeaks a certain amount of ruthless intelligence and political cunning, but she is never vicious or cruel in the use of her power.
  • She can seduce both the human and Vulcan sides of Spock, and very nearly bend him to her will without denting his awesomeness or independence. Not even Kirk can do this—except in the slashier areas of internet fandom (love you, K/S!).
  • She respects the rights and dignity of her prisoners, even those she has condemned to death.
  • She does not lose control when she discovers Spock’s betrayal, and she is as gracious in defeat as she is in victory.
  • She has emotions and expresses them, but they are not her sole motivation.
  • She manages to find two flattering, tasteful outfits in the Star Trek universe—which let me tell you, is no small feat. I expect she has a personal dressmaker on staff, because every other non-Federation lady has the worst outfits.

I don’t really have a larger point here. Just that one of the weaknesses of the original series is a tendency to ignore opportunities for long-form narrative arcs, as well as a distressing amount of sexism for a show that was/is considered a progressive benchmark. Following up on the UFRC would have been an excellent way to address both.

And if anyone knows where I can find a replica of that minidress, please let me know.

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A Is For: Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne

Welcome to the first installment of the A to Z April Blogging Challenge!

Today, to kick things off, I want to talk about one of my favorite fictional heroines: Princess Amy, from M. M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. This is one of those few books that are impossibly perfect and perfectly lovable.

Amy’s full name is Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne. She’s the youngest of seven sisters, each more beautiful than the last—but her christening present was to be ordinary, so while her siblings’ hair is golden and gently curled, Amy’s is mousy and brown and limp. Her freckles are a scandal, and by the time she is sixteen she has taken to slipping out of her bedroom in the palace and hanging out in a house in the woods, where at least she doesn’t feel like she is constantly letting everyone down.

Like Cimorene in the equally wonderful Dealing With Dragons, Amy runs away rather than let her parents marry her off in humiliating fashion to some prince who thinks she’s nothing special. She ends up in a neighboring kingdom and then… well, who am I to spoil the rest of the story?

It’s impossible to overstate how many times I’ve read this book, and how much comfort it brought me over the years. It’s one of the classic “be true to yourself” stories that got so many of us through so many rough, awkward teenage years (to say nothing of the rough, awkward grownup years we’re still trying to wrap our heads around).

Even now, when I’m tempted to worry about how I’m letting people down by not being perfect all the time, I recite Amy’s string of names like a mantra of strength.

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A Tribute To Anne McCaffrey, Accidental Romance Author

Word came over the Twitter today that beloved author Anne McCaffrey has died at 85. She was one of my absolute favorites growing up, and what’s more I’m currently in the middle of the biggest Dragonriders of Pern-reading binge in the history of dragons. Or binges.

It’s always dangerous to revisit things you loved as a kid—there is the chance they will have gone stale or turned fragile, and then you can never quite recapture that soothing golden glow. But then there are the things that turn out to be even better now that you’ve grown up and gotten around more than you did when you were, say, twelve. And then you feel smart for having such good taste as a kid.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the first book in the Pern series: Dragonflight.

It is my contention that Dragonflight is a classic example of romance as well as sci-fi/fantasy.

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