Friday, 23 April 2010

Mini Book Review: Skullduggery Pleasant

In my quest for books to study I've been consuming a large amount of kids lit lately. Finally, I repeat, FINALLY, I found a book worth talking about.

Skullduggery Pleasant is about the eponymous dead detective and his (young, female) side-kick. And, whilst the female character is only supposed to be 12, the writing is mature and witty, something that I've found lacking in a number of other novels I've read lately. It's almost as if some writers think that language and comedy have to be dumbed down if a book is aimed at pre-teens. Not so for Derek Landy - his characters are truly brought to life through their thoroughly entertaining banter.

Stephanie, the young girl, has a boring life until Mr S.P. turns up, plunging her into a world full of magic and danger that she never knew existed, (you know this story, right?). Stephanie has few skills in the magic world, yet is determined to learn and develop her own abilities. She is served through most of the book by her stubbornness and ability to learn fast, but that's not to say that she doesn't need saving by her mentor on numerous occasions.

(Which is perfectly valid really, seeing as she's only 12 and has never fought freaky monsters before.)

S.P. as a character is witty, fun and mysterious, always allowing Stephanie to come along and do her part, but protecting her in the most dangerous situations. This might all seem a bit patriarchal, but surely a completely patriarchal S.P. would make Stephanie stay at home, out of harms way, not expose her to the risks of his unorthodox methods of detective work. Which would make a thoroughly boring story really, wouldn't it? There needs to be a balance between letting the female character have her own agency and giving a young, inexperienced character the chance to develop (and just being instantly awesome isn't very plausible or interesting, is it?)

Furthermore, Stephanie also has a corresponding female character to look up to, in the form of a mercenary assassin called Tanith. Strong, skilled and respected, Tanith bonds with Stephanie and also fights to protect her.

It's interesting to note that the jacket of the book has only a picture of Skullduggary Pleasant, no other characters. The blurb doesn't really emphasise the female protagonist. This is a book aimed at the widest audience it can possibly get. It is also blatantly the start of a series, where Stephanie is going to grow and develop (hopefully) into a powerful mage.

I see this as a fantastic start, the characters of Tanith and Stephanie are begging to be filled out and developed into kick-ass, awesome women and S.P. is fabulous comic relief and an all around bad-ass. The dialogue is mature and fun and the story line is gripping. I need more.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

TNA Knockout Women become Divas afterall

OK, so, we all have guilty pleasures, don't we?

This one has been one of mine for a while now. Though since the recent changes I'm starting to feel cheated.

When I started watching, there were female wrestlers such as Awesome Kong and ODB, who seemed talented, physical and SUBVERSIVE. There was an ironic group called 'The Beautiful People' who seemed to be taking a swipe at those 'other' female wrestlers, and I loved the joke.

Now though, the joke has turned reality. The 'joke' group now have mud wrestling sessions, strip poker games and (seemingly) the most airtime of any of the female wrestlers. One of them challeged a former member to a 'leather and lace' match. You can imagine what that involves, I'm sure.

The worst part, for me, however, was the 'locked box' match between 8 wrestlers a few weeks ago. The concept was 8 women wrestling for 4 mystery keys to boxes containing: an open contract for any match, a pet spider, the women's title belt, and.... a striptease.

Yes, the person getting the unlucky key would have to strip in the middle of the ring.

Surprise, surprise, the 'winner' of the striptease was the crazy gothic Daffney who didn't seem best pleased, but went on to start an ironic striptease in the ring, only to be interrupted by one of 'The Beautiful People' running on and stripping off herself. Obviously, the Beautiful Person was tall, blonde and busty.

Question: what would have been wrong with Daffney challenging the box results, beating the s**t out of everyone there, then going to smack Hulk Hogan in the head for letting such blatant sexist bulls**t invade something that was actually becoming good and progressive? No, they had to bring on a blonde bimbo character to further their sh***y quest for the penis vote.

I suppose it's too much to ask for a feminist wrestler?

But, the ratings speak for themselves: the locked box results was the most viewed part of the show. So it looks like we're in for more sell-out sexist bulls**t from TNA, all in the quest of ratings over skill.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fictional role models for young girls?

So, I have been looking for potential books for my next dissertation for about 2 weeks, and today I spent a good 30 minutes in a high street books retailer looking for children's/young adult novels with female protagonists.

(Yes, I know it's cheaper to buy from Amazon, but I need to LOOK at the books, read inside, get a feel for the writing style, not just browse through a bunch of crap about what other people think of them. And it's 3 for 2 in High Street Books Retailer).

Anyway, wow. The display was bestselling and new books. I searched up and down, looking for stories about strong girls. Failing that, I then searched for stories that weren't about vampires. Then for the remaining stories that had female protagonists...

It was a disheartening sight. Sure, Sabriel was in there. But I needed a book that was published more recently. Books that looked promising turned out to have starring roles for boys. Books that had female main characters were, invariably, pink. With pictures of make up.

Sometimes it really seems the mainstream is so obsessed with getting boys to read that the ONLY adventure books worth publishing NEED to have male protagonists.

I have a meeting with my proposed supervisor at University for my masters this week, and I have little-to-nothing to take to her in the way of recently published empowered female characters. Who would have thought it could be so difficult to find?

So I'm throwing it out to the internetz: anyone, please, throw me the names of some books for age 11+, published between 2008 and 2010 that have one or more of the following conditions:

  • female protagonist
  • going on a quest/journey of discovery
  • preferably fantasy