Given my limited time for reading, I’m often well behind the bestseller bandwagon, reading a book loooong after it made its big splash. So hop into the Wayback Machine with me, return to those days (whenever they were) that The Lies of Locke Lamora came out, and pretend I’m not horribly behind the times.

Y’all were right. It is a very good book: full of plot, fairly intricate and exciting, and Lynch does a good job of writing con artist characters whose cons are legitimately interesting. I liked it a lot.

I wish I didn’t have one big flaming problem with it.

But I’m afraid I do, and I started to notice it early on. We were 93 pages in (mass-market) before the first female character appeared, and I think another hundred or so before the next one showed up. In the entirety of that 719-page book, there were precisely two women who, in my opinion, had any real significance to the story.

I gave up on Sabetha appearing about halfway through; apparently she’s a surprise Lynch is saving for later books. I was disappointed with the end of Nazca’s involvement with the plot. After a while I stopped keeping mental count, but I’d estimate that maybe a third of the speaking roles in the novel belong to women, and most of them are minor, throwaway characters: the chandler they conned out of candles, the guard at the hanging, one of the random garristas among about half a dozen in a particular scene. Etc.

It’s all the odder because the setting, which most closely resembles a fantastic Venice, does not borrow the gender politics of such a time and place. Lynch does a laudable job of establishing that there are both men and women among the thieves, sailors, guards, alchemists, clergy, people in paintings, whatever; women apparently have the freedom to follow a variety of professions, as their intellect and physical capacity suit them. But when it’s time for those thieves, sailors, and so on to speak up and do things . . . .

My best guess is that his brain just defaults to “male” when inventing characters. Sofia and Doña Vorchenza both prove that Lynch can write interesting, intelligent women with a real influence on the story. It might just be that he needs to monitor himself more closely on this, and prod himself out of his defaults. Bug could have been female; Sabetha’s existence at least proves one can be a female “Gentleman Bastard.” Or Master Ibelin. Or the Falconer. I suspect this would be a relatively easy problem for Lynch to fix — I just hope he does so. Because it’s annoying to be distracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise good story by the relative absence of half the human race.

Is the sequel out yet? Has anybody read it? Is there progress in the right direction?

0 Responses to “”

  1. mrissa

    There is some progress in the right direction. There wasn’t quite enough for my tastes early on, but in the second half of the book, things picked right up in that regard. Mostly.

    • Marie Brennan

      That’s good to hear. Like I said — I liked the book. If I’d thought it was a bad book, this would (oddly) feel like less of a problem.

  2. hawkwing_lb

    Yes. A pirate captain and her first mate: both women. Both excellent characters. They made quite the impression on me, at least.

    • Marie Brennan

      Oddly, I find ‘s comment more reassuring than yours. Why? Because there’s a bad tendency for people to hold up one or two examples as proof a problem is solved, when the real problem exists one step down from the exemplars. (In other words, it’s the situation of people saying, “no, spec fic doesn’t have race problems! We have (or had) Octavia Butler! And Samuel Delaney! And Nalo Hopkinson!” Having a few well-known names doesn’t mean people of color aren’t horribly under-represented among spec fic writers.)

      So I’m glad to hear of two specific examples of good female characters in the sequel, but that doesn’t necessarily reassure me any more than Sofia and Vorchenza did in the first book. The problem lies past those few good ones.

      • hawkwing_lb

        Ah. I didn’t mean to imply that the problem was solved, or even mostly addressed. (Perhaps I should have been less brief, but it’s late for me.) But I do feel that Red Seas is a stronger book overall than Lies, lacking some of that book’s annoyances, though it does have annoyances of its own. I agree with that the first third is definitely weak in regard to female representation, but I think – perhaps wishfully – that later developments may indicate a trend towards a more balanced presentation of male and female characters. Since the pirate captain and her mate are pure cool, and get somewhat more page time, as I recall, that the female characters in Lies.

        But perhaps that’s wishful thinking, as I said.

        • Marie Brennan

          Oh, I didn’t read your comment that way, don’t worry. More just me musing on why your words didn’t do as much to reassure me.

          I’m encouraged to hear, though, that the trend seems to go in the right direction. Even if Lynch doesn’t fix his problem in one fell swoop, I’ll bear with him so long as he seems to be working on it.

  3. d_c_m

    it’s annoying to be distracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise good story by the relative absence of half the human race.
    *snort, laugh, choke* Oh yeah, I hear ya’.

  4. sartorias

    Yep, this bothered me in this book, also in tobias Buckell’s otherwise nifty Crystal Rain and in the Patrick Rothfull blockbuster. (there is a woman in that, but she was so cliche a Mary Sue I kept skimming her scenes.)

    • Marie Brennan

      Interestingly, I think all three of these are first novels, yes?

      Mind you, my own first novel made the same mistake, just in the other direction. (I kind of wish my debut hadn’t been the one with almost no male characters; I’m sure it established a certain image of me in readers’ minds, that isn’t what I’d want it to be.) But I could, if asked, explain why that was the case. I don’t claim my reasons are particularly good, but at least I know what they are. I’d be interested in talking to Scott Lynch, to see how he views his own book.

      • sartorias

        I am certain that these three did it by accident, not design. And yes, first novels all. What you want to bet that gets fixed swiftly.

        • Marie Brennan

          I wish I could bet that — but it’s unfortunately common for writers to persist in such mistakes. I expect Toby Buckell will get better; the others, I don’t know personally. (Crystal Rain et al. have been on my reading list because of the cultural stuff in them, but as I incline more toward fantasy than SF, they haven’t made it to the top yet.)

          I didn’t mean to suggest any of them did it by design, though. Just that they may or may not be conscious of why the accident happened. (In my case, it’s that I associate the word “witch” with the female gender, which led to all the witches being female; then they became a major enough focus in the story that male characters were left with highly limited options for featuring in the plot.)

          • sartorias

            Yeah…sometimes the story vision is going to preclude women–if you’re writing a war story during a time when women were kept out.

          • Marie Brennan

            Even then, there are ways around it. (Case in point: the extent to which Dunnett makes the women relevant in the Lymond Chronicles.)

          • calico_reaction

            I haven’t read it yet, in fact, it’s next in my pile, but apparently Buckell’s Ragamuffin has a female protagonist, and there’s more attention paid to women. I know for a fact he received some flack for the first book, though I don’t think that had too much bearing on the second, since he was writing it before the first was released.

            Sorry, I’m babbling today. 🙂

    • calico_reaction

      Aside from the MS character I’m assuming you’re referring to, I thought there was a rather large cast of women in the book. They were all secondary or minor characters, but full characters in their own right, and definitely not ignored.

      I just read this book a week ago, so it’s rather fresh in mind. 😉

      Rothfuss did a far better job with the ladies than Toby did, IHMO.

      • sartorias

        Yes–it still seemed somewhat unbalanced, but that might be an unfair cop. I just remember, when reading it, I wish there were more interesting female characters. (Though that itch did get scratched by the fence, who I thought awesome, and gave me lots of desire for book two!)

        • calico_reaction

          That’s interesting. I know when I read it, I thought there weren’t any MALE supporting cast, and then I remembered he had his two buddies, and all his antagonists were male. Oh, and the present there’s men too and no women, so yeah, I guess I can see where you’re coming from, when I think about it hard enough. 😉

          Definitely looking forward to book two. Rothfuss did a great job with the first person POV, and it suckered me right in.

  5. Anonymous

    Female characters

    It seems to me that a lot of books these days throw in a mixed cast for the hell of it, to be PC, to try to please everybody. Some stories are just Man Stories; some are just Women Stories. Could you imagine a random female having been thrown into, say, DELIVERANCE? The whole idea is silly. I say you should write a story as it is–if it’s male adventure, then that’s what it is; throwing in a woman won’t make it different or better.

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