{Guest Post} Strong female characters in YA fantasy By Bronwyn Eley

Saturday, 7 September 2019


What do you think of when I say ‘strong female’? Do you think of an overzealous, over-confident, opinionated and harsh-looking female? I guess some would. Because, for some, women will forever be seen as the ones who love, the carers, the ones you go to for comfort. This is not a bad thing. But women being anything more than that – women who are bold with their emotions, confident with their sexuality, ambitious in the workplace – can be seen as going ‘against our true nature’.

But what is so important to me, when writing, is representing reality. I’ve met women who are as above: caring, homely, sweet, there for you when you need them. I have also met women who are cold, cruel, lost, confused, angry, selfish and vapid. I have met women who are intelligent, brave, ambitious and passionate.

What I believe is that ‘strong women’ encompass many – if not all – of these qualities. That a ‘strong woman’ might still be vapid and cruel at times, but she will have the capacity to overcome those petty emotions and be a better person. Representing strong women in YA – in all books – does not mean we present perfect women. Women who are only brave, intelligent, beautiful and ambitious. Because that’s not realistic. Show me one woman who has never made a mistake – who has never been cruel or selfish – and I will fall over from shock.

Having negative qualities does not mean she is not a strong woman. In fact, having the strength and self-awareness to know when she has made a mistake and overcome it...that is strong.

Elizabeth Bennet (or, rather, Jane Austen) said it well in Pride and Prejudice when Darcy is listing the qualities he believes mark an accomplished woman. That she must have thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages. That she must conduct herself in a manner worthy of respect. Basically, he was talking about upper-class women who must be ‘perfect’ at all times.

When Elizabeth says she is not surprised that Darcy has only met six accomplished women in his life, Darcy asks why she is so ‘severe upon her own sex’.

Elizabeth’s response has, to this day, stuck with me. She says ‘I never saw such a woman, I never saw such capacity.’

The fact that Darcy seems to believe it is a slight against women that Elizabeth doubts finding a woman with such qualities is extremely naive. This is perhaps what Austen intended. Women are complex creatures, just as men are. Humans are complex and just because we have flaws and negative qualities does not mean we aren’t good people, that we aren’t strong.

Relic was my first attempt at writing young adult fantasy and I hope that I’ve done it justice. From the beginning, it was extremely important to me that all my characters – women and men – were represented in a true light. I chose to set my novel in a city that – for the most part – did not discriminate based on sex. I wanted to give my female characters every chance to be who and what they wanted to be. This is one reason I made Kaylan a blacksmith. Being traditionally a man’s occupation, it is not uncommon in the city of Edriast for there to be female blacksmiths. Kaylan is not the first and she won’t be the last. In Edriast, there is no gender segregation when it comes to occupation. Women can be blacksmiths. Men can be nannies. There are jobs. These are humans. They do the work; it’s as simple as that.

This is certainly a personal ideal of mine; something I wish was a reality. It might be someday!

YA is an incredibly important genre because of who it is aimed at. That’s not to say people outside the ‘young adult’ age bracket don’t read YA. I am outside that bracket and I write YA, as well as read it. YA is not just for young people. It is for the young at heart, for people who crave adventure, for people who want to remember.

But, of course, YA is read by young adults... by people whose minds are open and still forming, gobbling up anything and everything in their journey to find out who they are. So the characters that they read can have a huge influence on who they become, on what they see as normal, on what they see as right and wrong. Stories have incredible power to shape us.

YA fantasy is an interesting genre too because it is often set in a world that is like our past – in medieval times. During those times, women were treated like property. Women were seen as the weaker sex. Women were seen as mothers, were seen as a means for pleasure for men and were limited in too many ways. So it’s interesting that in YA fantasy, in a setting so similar, that we often lean towards representing these kick-ass, savvy and powerful women. Strong women in this world is not uncommon, right? But take those all qualities that we desire or expect out of a strong woman and chuck them in the past, in a world without technology, without the comfort many of us are used to and what happens? We get women who can fight, women who are not limited, women who are heard. This is not true of all YA fantasy but authors take this unique opportunity and let their female characters embrace it. As a reader myself, I have come to expect this in YA fantasy. I want women saving the world, going on adventures, being bold, being challenged, making mistakes and rectifying them.

There’s still work to be done with how both women and men are represented in literature. For me, with Relic, creating realistic women was one of my top priorities. Showing how women really are, while also showing that it is not just bravery and skills with a sword that make a ‘strong woman’. Strong women still make mistakes, still cause others pain, still suffer themselves and perhaps they are stronger for it.

About the book


Relic by Bronwyn Eley
Released: 12th September 2019
Published by: Talem Press
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 497
In the city of Edriast, there is no deadlier duty than to serve as the Shadow. As the personal servant of the powerful Lord Rennard, the Shadow's life is all but forfeit. Rennard possesses one of five rare and dangerous Relics – a jewel that protects his bloodline, but slowly poisons everyone else in its proximity.

When the current Shadow succumbs to its magic, nineteen-year-old blacksmith Kaylan is summoned to take his place. It's an appointment that will kill her. As the time Kaylan has left ebbs away, hope begins to fade...

That is, until she discovers a plot to destroy all five bloodlines in possession of the Relics. A rebel force plans to put an end to Rennard's rule and Kaylan suddenly finds herself embroiled in a cause that might just be worth fighting for. But no cause is without its costs.

As her life hangs in the balance and rebellion bears down on Edriast, Kaylan must decide where her loyalties lie – and how she'll leave her mark on the world. Relic is the absorbing first novel in The Relic Trilogy, a thrillingly dark YA fantasy series.

About the author


Bronwyn joined the military right out of high school, where she learnt (among other things) to disassemble and reassemble a rifle blindfolded. After that she spent a lot of her time travelling around the world. Her favourite places (so far) are Scotland, Mongolia, Iceland and Ireland. Bronwyn finally found her natural habitat when she landed her first job in the publishing industry. While she has always been a writer, it was only when surrounding herself with books that she realised her life’s dream was to become an author. Relic is her first novel. Bronwyn lives in Sydney and spends her time eating chocolate, reading and practicing her martial arts.

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