Thursday, 1 December 2011

Amazon warriors and author brands - Katherine Roberts

It's a known fact that authors never see the obvious in their own work. That's why we need editors, of course, and why it's so much easier to spot the faults in other people's books than it is to see the glaring errors in your own. But there are other things authors are blind to, which might only become apparent after they have written several books. I'm talking about the author's particular passion, the thing that really gets them going - whether it be a recurring theme, a special setting, a type of character, or a particular genre. When it manifests itself early enough, marketing people call it a brand, and happy is the author who is not dragged off down some alternative path that fits everyone else's view of what she should be writing.

Up until this month I never thought I had a particular thing. My stories and books are quite wide ranging have been published under various labels ranging from "adult horror" (my short stories, which were really dark fantasy), "the next Harry Potter" (my debut novel Song Quest, which was really otherworldly fantasy) to "books for boys" (the Seven Fabulous Wonders series, only four of which feature a boy as the main character, though strangely boys do seem to enjoy the girly ones as well). I've felt uneasy about all those labels, and it was only when I got as far as formatting my latest backlist title The Amazon Temple Quest as an ebook and spotted certain similarities to my current series, I realised I might have a thing going after all... for warrior princesses.


In the Amazon Temple Quest, my warrior princess is called Lysippe. She is the youngest of her tribe, last of the legendary Amazon warrior race, on their way to join King Philip of Macedon’s army for his coming Persian campaign. They are also on a quest (hence the title) for one of the lost “gryphon stones” of their people, which ward off death. Before they reach Macedonia, however, Lysippe and her sister Tanais are captured by slavers. Tanais is badly wounded, leaving Lysippe to lead a daring escape attempt during which the runaways seek sanctuary in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Lysippe and Tanais are not your typical fairytale princesses with jewels in their hair, batting their eyelashes at handsome princes. They wear leather leggings, carry half-moon shields, ride horses, and are armed with bows and arrows. In keeping with the myth element of my Seven Fabulous Wonders series, the amazons in my book also have magical powers:

Seven are the signs of a true Amazon:
the yellow glare,
the sleep that heals,
a fighting spirit,
a blinding shield,
birth without man,
death without pain,
and the power to command a gryphon’s flame.

Yet they are vulnerable too, since they are not as physically strong as men. Here Lysippe has ridden out alone after arguing with her sister, and has just been captured by the slavers, who mistake her for a village girl…

She took deep breaths as her captor crouched before her and removed his helmet. He had pale silver hair and grime on his cheeks where dust had built up under the bronze. A jagged scar split his forehead above his left eye. Most unsettling of all, he had no eyebrows or eyelashes so there was nothing to soften that cold, blue glare. Lysippe made herself meet his gaze, though she still felt queasy from the pain in her ankle, and the bruises she’d suffered in her fall were beginning to hurt.
    He fingered the worn leather of her leggings. “Where are you from, slave? Where did you steal that horse?”
    “I’m an Amazon!” Lysippe said, trying to sound braver than she felt. She peered past him to see what had happened to Tanais. “Northwind’s mine – I didn’t steal him. And my mother and all her warriors are on their way back, so you’d better let me go!”
    The men who had stayed behind laughed.
    “Don’t lie to me, slave!” her captor growled. “Everyone knows Amazons are extinct.”
   
Warrior princesses also make an appearance in a short story I wrote for adults about Queen Boudicca’s daughters, “Empire of the Hare” (included in my e-collection Death Singer). That story was shortlisted for the Library of Avalon Geoffrey Ashe Prize when it was first published, and is told by the eldest daughter Ralla, who is in love with the Roman tax collector, something that brings her into conflict with her mother when things turn ugly between the Iceni and the invaders. Here the queen has captured a Roman enemy in battle and is torturing him in a druid grove...

“You haven’t met my eldest daughter, have you?” Still holding me, she ran a finger down the prisoner’s cheek. “This is Ralla, lover of foreigners. She loves them so much, she’ll let anyone have her… tax collectors, the entire Roman army, maybe even you.”
    My cheeks burned as the prisoner’s eyes turned to my face. But there was no contempt in them, only a flicker of hope, like the flash of the doomed hare’s belly.
    “Shall I arrange it, Ralla?” she said to me. “Give you the potion that brings love and let you dance with him before we send his spirit into the dark?”
    I shuddered. The druids have a potion for everything. Some are rumoured to make the body dance in spite of the wishes of its owner, and I’d certainly seen evidence enough in the groves.
    “Or will you do your duty tonight as a princess of the Iceni and dispatch this spirit to Adraste?” She forced my hand closer until the tip of the knife pricked the prisoner’s throat. He swallowed and met my gaze. Mother let go – physically. “Go on, Ralla,” she whispered. “Do it.”

Ten years later, and a slightly younger warrior princess has inspired a series of her own... King Arthur's daughter Rhianna Pendragon, whose first book Sword of Light comes out in February from "Dragonology" publisher Templar. I'm quite excited about this, because for the first time my warrior princess has fought her way on to the cover. And although we are being careful not to make the book appear too girly in case boys are put off by that, Rhianna is very much the heroine of the stories.

Rhianna Pendragon (drawn by Katherine Roberts) 
Although inhabiting very different books and stories, all these warrior princesses have something in common. They are strong and brave. They ride horses and brandish swords and take on the men at their own game. They do not expect a handsome prince to fight their battles for them (although they wouldn’t say no if a prince happened along). Yet they are not just sexier versions of kick-ass male warriors, as heroines written by male authors tend to be. My warrior princesses seek spiritual fulfillment as well as power and glory, the same path I am perhaps seeking in my own writing as I swing my pen - or keyboard - instead of an imaginary sword.

The Amazon Temple Quest is now available as an e-book for Kindle at the promotional price of 99p until Dec 31st

You can read "Empire of the Hare" (and six other stories of fantasy heroines) in Death Singer ebook price £1-99.

You can preorder Rhianna Pendragon's first adventure Sword of Light in hardcover (publishes 1st February 2012). 

My website is http://www.katherineroberts.co.uk/ and you can follow me on Twitter @ReclusiveMuse

5 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

Lovely pun in the post title :)

And a fabulous drawing!

Susan Price said...

Yes, love the drawing! And 'Empire of the Hare' is a terrific story, and 'Sword of Light' a good read - I read it in proof.

madwippitt said...

And I always think of you as Bucephalus-woman! :-))))

Katherine Roberts said...

Glad you like the drawing.

Ah yes, madwippitt, Bucephalas did try to take over my life. But in spite of having a big head, he's only managed to get himself into one of my books!

madwippitt said...

I suspect it's because The Great Horse was the first of your books that I read. You always remember your first!