Tough Traveling: Middle-Aged Heroes
The Thursday feature “Tough Traveling” is the brainchild of Nathan ofReview Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information.
This week’s tour topic is: Middle-Aged Heroes
This hero stuff is usually a young person’s game. And, occasionally, a grizzled old veteran can get involved. It is a true rarity for someone to join the good fight for Fantasyland living in that in between ground.
“YOU LEAVE MY FAMILY ALONE!”
I tried to make most of my picks with two exceptions all women because it’s so rare to see women older than their 30s in many books these days, but fortunately, I have met some excellent female characters who may not be as young as they used to be, but they’re still capable, compelling, and–even sometimes–ladies who will kick your ass with their bare knuckles as demonstrated by the matriarch of the Allan family.
The Executioness (The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell)
The Executioness is a short story set in the same world as as short story by Paolo Bacigalupi where magic is outlawed because of the consequences of using it being detrimental to everyone. They show sort of opposite sides of the same narrative. In The Executioness, a mother has taken up the mantle of her father as an executioner (often of magic practitioners) for the crown in order to provide for herself and her children. When her children are taken, mom takes a journey to save her family. The Executioness was created for the purpose of answering the question: “What about middle-aged women in SFF?”
Bernadette Mataki (Gears of War by Epic Games)
Benadette Mataki wasn’t very young when she first met and trained some of the Gears (soldiers) she would come to know as her family, and 14 years after Emergence Day, she’s pushing into her 60s. Age doesn’t slow Bernie down, though. She walked 14 years across a dangerous land to find her family again–the Gears, and she can still snipe and fight like a boss.
Shan Frankland (City of Pearl by Karen Traviss)
Shan Frankland is an officer leading an expedition to another planet in hopes of the planet being somewhere humans can live. She knows that undertaking this expedition could take 150 years. What she didn’t expect when she gets to the new planet is there would be a godlike entity whose purpose is to decimate those who might endanger the native population, and that they might inadvertently cause a war on the planet. The ideas in this book makes me think of Varley’s Titan in a way, and I loved that book. (Side note: Traviss also wrote the Gears of War novel series, and the first book was excellent.)
Dave Hooper (Dave vs the Monsters: Emergence by John Birmingham)
I can’t explain Dave better than his description, so let’s go with that:
When an oil rig drills too deep, it unleashes a torrent of nightmares—the creatures of legend, always thought to be figments of our imagination, are now a very real threat to the survival of humankind. But when he kills a seven-foot-tall demon with an axe to the skull, Dave Hooper—a booze-soaked, middle-aged oil-rig safety manager—is transformed into an honest-to-god monster slayer.
Maya Greenwood (The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk)
Maya has moved beyond middle-aged to old age as she’s ninety-eight years old. Chew on that, and she’s the main protagonist (one of the main protagonists) of the series. However, the second book of her series, Walking to Mercury, takes readers back to when she was middle-aged and struggling to find herself. Maya reshapes her lands through her wisdom and power gained from the earth into something more beautiful, but finds it all about to come crumbling down as a threat looms. The second book focuses on what led to shaping her into the power she becomes in the first book.
The Cellist and death (Death with Interruptions by José Saramago)
Death with Interruptions held many interesting concepts including the idea that death might be (or might’ve been) an actual person people can track down. While the concept of death being a maiden is not new, through some magic science in the book, they were able to conclude what she she may look like. Later in the book, death (with a lowercase D; death with a capital D she calls unfathomable and truly final) falls in love and takes the form of a woman who’s either middle-aged or just a bit shy of middle-age as this magic science has concluded. The Cellist, who moves past mediocrity into brilliance when she appears, is middle-aged.
Deloris Allan (The October Faction by Steve Niles)
Even though she’s married to a retired monster hunter, Deloris was a badass before she met Frederick and now, having a husband and kids, she feels she has to keep safe makes her even more of a mama bear even if she’s not young anymore. You never come between a mom and her cubs. Never. She’s not afraid to brawl for what’s hers, and she will win.
I’m really digging Tiara’s idea of featuring middle-aged women heroes, so I’m going to continue in that vein.
Not only one but TWO strong, spirited middle-aged women are the stars of this superb novel, just a taste of the many great characters in this refreshingly diverse cast. Seriously, move over Sigrud, because it’s all about Shara Komayd and — my personal favorite — Turyin Mulaghesh.
Essun is the newest middle-aged heroine to join my favorites. Being a rogue Orogene (an individual who has powers to manipulate earth energies), she’s lived an interesting life, to say the least. Eventually she settled down in a quiet community, got married and had children, making her living masquerading as an ordinary school teacher. It all changes one day when she comes home to find her young son murdered and her daughter kidnapped by their father. Essun goes after them, with the feelings of love, fear and revenge like a stone in her heart. A mother’s wrath is a powerful thing.
Speaking of moms, you don’t want to mess with Victoria “Vic” McQueen. Vic was only 8 years old when she discovered that she has a special power. By riding her bike, she can conjure up a rickety old covered bridge that always seems to lead her to exactly what she’s looking for. Until one day that bridge leads her to Charles Manx, a predator who snatches children from his vintage Rolls-Royce and brings him to his creepy fun-park-of-the-damned called Christmasland. Vic escapes the encounter but she is left traumatized. As she grows into adulthood (middle-aged hood) the memories start to fade away, but Charles Manx does not forget. He’s on the hunt for children for his Christmasland again, but this time he’s got his eye on Vic’s own son.
I have a soft spot for lady detectives, and Satrine Rainey is one of the best. A former street urchin who spent her childhood fighting to survive, Satrine also worked as a spy before eventually settling down to a quieter, calmer life in her middle aged years. But after disaster strikes, Satrine is back in the game, using all her wits and her skills to con her way into a position with the Maradaine Constabulary so that she can support her disabled husband and two young daughters.
Confession: I’ve not actually finished this novel yet (been stalled on it for the longest time) but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. Two decades have passed since the great general Cobalt Zosia led her mercenary army into battle, overthrowing a mighty empire. What does a legendary heroine do after that? Retire quietly to the countryside, of course. But after a massacre in her village, Zosia is back on the battlefield once more, seeking vengeance for the murdered. She may be twenty years older, but once a warrior, always a warrior.
This book takes place in a dystopian future where old people are seen as useless and nothing more than takers and freeloaders, so along with all the “undesireables” of society, those past their prime are cast out to live on a trash island where they will be detained and out of sight. This means that ALL the main characters in this series — Clancy, Lena, Jimmy and Delilah — are elderly, none of them under the age of 63, well beyond middle-aged.
Judging by our lists, it seems there are quite a few older ladies out there, but just because they are all here for you to add these books to you to-read lists, doesn’t mean this is common. As a woman approaching 40 myself, it’s nice to see stories featuring older women and to show that they are just as capable–if not more so, thanks to their earned wisdom and experience–as their younger counterparts.
Ista is so done with the gods and their shit. She’s spent much of her adult years trapped in the shrouded mist of sainthood, with everyone around her believing she was insane. In truth, she was touched by the gods and the only person who could recognize this in The Curse of Chalion was Cazaril, another older protagonist. In Paladin of Souls, Ista has been freed from her cursed sainthood as well as her royal duties–if not the royal entourage.
The main character of this story is an older man, crippled by guilt and the scars of battle. But Lucian is not alone in his journey to save a a young child pulled through the Veil to his world. He struggles against his twin sister, Catarina, who has succumbed to her demons. And he is hunted by his former lover, Rachel, he fights to maintain control over the demons that writhe within her.
Traitor, murderer, exile. Yet Maskelle still commands respect wherever she goes once people recognize her power. As I wrote in my original review: “She is a middle-aged woman of colour coming to terms with the creaks and groans that come with her age. She is a bit bitter, but not without reason. She is proud. She is powerful. And she knows how to laugh at herself and with those around her.” Maskelle even gets a fit young lover to take her pleasure in, something that our current society tends to frown upon thanks to the wonders of sexism.
Adoulla is a much older protagonist who knows he is beyond his prime and is already considering retirement when a grave threat comes against his home. He is joined by his assistant and a young tribeswoman to fight it, but also enlists the help of his friends, Litaz and Dawoud, a healer and a sorcerer whose loving relationship Adoulla envies from time to time. Litaz, a healer and alchemist, is a pinnacle of strength and confidence for both her husband and the rest of the members of this motley posse.