Back in the World: Matriarchy Edition

October 17th, 2015Posted by Nancy



There have been one or two comments about the fact that Cold Hillside appears to be set in a matriarchy.  One person objected to this, on the grounds that reverse oppression is not an improvement over the original brand (a fair opinion).

I didn’t set out to create a matriarchical culture for Lushan.  The original germ of the idea was two countries with different political structures and visions of power and the people trapped between them. That idea required that there be some level of authority wielded by women and at least one of the countries had to be ruled by a woman, even if it was not the norm. Once I started toying with the idea of using the Faerie Court then the Queen had to be one of the powers.

As I started to develop ideas for the novel (a very long and painful process, as any readers of earlier posts know), I realized that there were two core concepts I wanted to be there, no matter how those ideas expressed themselves out in the course of the actual writing.

The first came out of the realization that I didn’t want to write a conventional fantasy novel about the struggle between good and evil (to use the broadest of cliches) but a psychological drama that happened to be set in a fantasy world.  In the most perfect imaginary version of the book, it would be like a Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novel, with added fey.  Sadly, I didn’t come anywhere close to that but part of that vision the book was the focus on the relationships and how they drove the story.

Though there is a central male-female relationship within the book, in my mind the relationships between the women are equally important.  Teresine’s loyalty to Sarit, Lilit’s thorny interactions with her mother, Raziel’s reluctant acceptance of her place in the world through Teresine’s tutelage, the disappointed anger that drives Amaris’ relationship with Teresine – exploring all of these was part of what kept me grinding away at the book when it would have been easier to quit.

In order to have these relationships be central to the characters, they also had to be central to the plot, which led to the second core concept.  These couldn’t be women who had no power or agency within their world.  Once I started down that road, I found that I loved writing a culture in which most of the key parts that in a traditional fantasy would have been played by men were fulfilled by women.  The rulers, the advisers, the soldiers, the leaders of the merchant houses, the religious figures, the bakers, the bartenders, the farmers, the apprentices were all more likely to be women than men.  At a certain point, I had to work at not automatically defaulting to making virtually every new character who walked into the scene female.  (As an aside, I had no trouble at all imagining the universe of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice populated entirely by women.)

There are male characters I love in the book.  The most fun I had during the whole process was writing Daen.  He wasn’t like anyone I had ever written before and most of the time I could just stand aside and let him talk (and believe me, he swore A LOT more in the first draft).  Lilit’s father Hendren is the most genuinely decent person in the entire book.  Teresine’s conversation with Perrin and her encounter with the foreign soldier were unexpected glimpses into the lives of the men who contributed to the survival of Lushan through their engineering and martial prowess.

Could I have written this book within the context of a patriarchical culture?  Maybe, but it would a hell of a lot harder.  Could I have created a more egalitarian society? Maybe, but I didn’t.

In the end, I wrote the only book I could.



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