I was lucky enough to see an early copy of Kristin Cashore's forthcoming Fire
, which takes place in the same universe as her debut Graceling
although substantially earlier. There are many things I could talk about when discussing what I love about this book. I could talk about how much I love the protagonist and the plot, which is true. I could talk about how squeeful it makes me for there to be incidentally disabled characters in this world. I could talk about how much I love Fire's unconventional character arc -- so unconventional, in fact, that even knowing Graceling
as I did I fully expected a last-minute situational reprieve.
But instead of going to talk about what really fascinates me: how Fire is not a Mary Sue
. Generally, that's not such a big deal. Most fictional characters aren't Mary Sues. But Fire ought
to be. I just plugged her into one of the Mary Sue Litmus Tests
and got a 96
. If I hadn't read the book, but had somebody describe it to me, I would have yelled "Mary Sue! Mary Sue!" gleefully. Unusually colored hair? Check. Everyone loves her? Check.
And yet, ultimately, Fire is a fully realized and intensely flawed character, far more than the sum of her identifiably-Sueish traits. If I didn't know better, I'd see her as a reaction to litmus tests, almost as if the author said "these are bogus; I can write a character with all of these traits who is not a Sue at all". (Cue aside about authorial intent and how interesting it is to read her as a reaction to litmus tests even though I know she wasn't written that way.)
One of the things I love about Kristin Cashore's writing is how, while writing firmly within genre, she consistently breaks narrative expectations. Yet my love for Fire as a character who breaks out of Mary Sue tropes is a little bit silly, isn't it? After all, the clearly identified trope of Mary Sue doesn't come from conventional published original fantasy (although it certainly exists there as well). How can I read across genre-boundaries when I say that the text is breaking narrative expectations?
Here, of course, I'm
the reader whose expectations have been so satisfyingly broken. I
read both girls' fantasy and fan fiction, so I have narrative expectations that cross both genres. But the book itself certainly doesn't have an implied readership of fan fiction readers. Although that's not necessarily true. Given the marketing and demographic realities of current young readers of fantasy, there may well be an extremely large overlap between this book's implied readership and those who are familiar with the tropes of fan fiction, just as there is probably an extremely large overlap between this book's implied readership and those who are familiar with, say, High School Musical
. Is that overlap relevant, though? Would Hunger Games
be a different book if its implied audience weren't very likely to be familiar with Survivor
-like reality shows?
I'm just thinking aloud here; I don't have answers to any of these questions.
Except to say that Fire
was totally awesome.