the royal we

the royal we

Becoming a princess may be a fairy tale we’ve all grown up with, but finding a relationship where you are loved in spite of your flaws is a true happy ending. Both Bex and Nick make mistakes, but that both of them are allowed to be imperfect but still in love is what makes The Royal We so touching.

Unfortunately, as real life knows all too well but fairly tales gloss over, love isn’t all it takes to make a life together. And when you fall in love with the future king of England, the roadblocks to happy ever after are a bit bigger than in a civilian relationship. Like a sledding hill compared with Mount Everest.

Bex Porter, American exchange student to Oxford, and Nick Wales, as in Nick OF Wales, future king of England, begin their relationship as all the best relationships start: bonding over awesome terrible TV with awesome terrible snacks. Spending late nights eating junk food and watching the next installment of Devour, a supernatural American soap opera, is one of the truer ways to fall in love that I’ve ever read. (After all, weekly emails over a TV show is part of what drew me and my own man together–TV and true love are both magic.) And when the two give in to their feelings, finally, it’s sweet and charming and touching, and Nick is every bit a prince (the lowercase kind–a nice, caring gentleman).

But a paradise of twinkies and soap operas can’t last forever. Eventually their relationship will have to come into the light, like an evil twin vampire that is surely on an episode of Devour. And when the palace is through with Bex, she’s not sure she can still see herself when she looks in the mirror.

Not every love can withstand a family that changes the way you look and act to be their version of “acceptable,” and not every relationship is built to exist in front of vicious paparazzi and internet commenters. But the thing that makes Nick and Bex special is that they aren’t extraordinary. They don’t have a perfect love that can make it through anything–they have a real love that gets beat up, and is hard to hold on to, and can be full of doubts one minute and full of grace the next. Nick and Bex are not immortal, they are not angels, they are not superheroes. They are human. And that makes them perfect.

And their relationship isn’t the only great one in the Royal We. There are friendships built in college dorm rooms that last through grown-up jobs and real-life stresses. Bex’s twin sister Lacey and Nick’s brother Freddie provide some of the best support and create the worst obstacles, as siblings sometimes do. And Nick and Bex couldn’t have relationships with their fathers that were more different if they tried.

And like any great soap opera, there’s backstabbing and plotting; the sex is sexy, and sometimes scandalous; there’s sharp one-liners; and plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud and some that made me ugly cry.

The Royal We is so funny, warm, and full of life, it will be the perfect way to warm up after this dreadful winter. It comes out April 7, but you can get the first seven chapters for free right now on Amazon.

vin from mistborn, in her mistborn cloak

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Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is a great leading lady to start off my year of leading ladies (one of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more books by and starring women).

Sanderson uses clothing to distinguish his characters and their emotional states–which is pretty much how clothing works in real life, too. I’ve drawn Vin before, when she was at a ball, but this Vin is in her Mistborn cloak and in her element.

Vin has used disguises her whole life to disappear into something less threatening so that people will overlook her. But her Mistborn cloak lets everyone know that she is special–and dangerous. She isn’t hiding her power anymore, she is embracing the part of herself. In her cloak, Vin is the Heir of the Survivor, possibly the Hero of Ages, and the Savior of Luthadel.

But, of course, that isn’t all she is. She also loves wearing dresses, and she is in love with Elend, and she cares for her friends. She is many things, and embracing one side of her doesn’t erase the rest of herself.

My drawing is ink and watercolor, and here’s a (very short!) slideshow of it coming to life.

My other posts on Mistborn are:

mistborn book two: vin’s biggest challenge may be dresses, not armies

At first glance, it look like a fairy tale. Vin has fallen in love with the young king of Luthadel, Elend Venture. She caught his eye at a ball, where she was hiding her poor upbringing. Her dresses were beautiful, and Vin danced with a grace few could master. And now Elend has proposed, so Vin could be a queen if she says yes.

But Elend only became king after Vin and her crew killed a terrible dictator and overthrew an oppressive government. Vin was graceful partly because she became a powerful Allomancer–a trained warrior and assassin with powers that draw from different kinds of metal.

And she doesn’t need a magic mirror to tell her she is the most dangerous person in the land.

Vin is a hero we don’t often see. She is small and beautiful, and she is also a powerful killer. Her role in her crew is essentially to provide the muscle. She can kill 10 men before another could get their sword out of its sheath. She is her boyfriend’s bodyguard. She also likes dancing and wearing ball gowns, and she wears perfume every day, often trying new scents.

But even the most powerful woman in all of the Final Empire struggles with what it means to be both feminine and powerful, both beautiful and strong. Especially when her boyfriend can’t do the things she can.

text from mistborn: the well of ascension

It kills me to think of how many women have thought this same thing–that by having talent or shining brightly they are offending a man around them. Just by being themselves, just by being a woman who happens to be good at something.

Vin has always struggled with her place in the world. As part of a thieving crew with an untrustworthy leader, she hid her strength and femininity to be unassuming and less threatening in a world full of men. When she joined Kelsier’s crew, and began to make real friends and discover her powers, it became helpful to them to play up her femaleness and use her to spy on nobility at balls. When she met Elend, Vin was pretending to be Valette, a clueless noblewoman in big dresses and jewelry. But none of those personas was the real Vin.

So after the Final Empire fell, Vin wasn’t sure what to be. She cared for Elend and became his bodyguard, and there was no one more powerful or vigilant. She gave up wearing dresses because she felt that a trained killer shouldn’t wear a gown–the dresses she wore were bulky, anyway, and didn’t let her move quickly. But being Elend’s love led her to play a role once more, and she accompanied him to a meeting with his father to discuss an alliance. To get ready to meet her boyfriend’s father, like many before her, Vin went shopping.

Tindwyl, a Terriswoman adviser to the king, and Allrianne, a noblewoman who makes no apologies for loving fancy things, are Vin’s shopping buddies. With their guidance, Vin finds a dress she loves that makes her feel beautiful. And with help from the tailor, adjustments to the dress allow her to move quickly and gracefully so she can still be the warrior she needs to be.

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Throughout the Well of Ascension, Vin struggles. She struggles with who she is and who she wants to be, and easy questions like what to wear become anything but simple. In the end, Vin has to decide on who she is. And if she can be someone who likes dresses and perfume, and someone who can control armies, and someone who is in love with a king, and someone who can kill an emperor god, and someone who gives hope to those around her.

Vin is all of these things, but embracing her complexities in a world that wants to see women as fitting only certain roles is perhaps her hardest challenge.
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the quiet power of sazed, from mistborn

sazed from mistborn

The Lord Ruler in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series ruled with a literal cloud of depression over his subjects. He tempered emotion through allomancy, a type of magic, and he hunted anything that would disrupt the status quo. In his eyes, all ska were the same, all noblemen served one purpose, and all rebellions were nothing but minor annoyances.

Vin and her crew tried to fight the Final Empire with armies and espionage. But a more subtle, and possibly more important, way of fighting the Lord Ruler was to celebrate uniqueness. To stand out, to aggressively be yourself in a place that hampered joy and hope, was a victory all its own.

Sazed, one of my favorites in Vin’s crew, contributed to the crew’s plan the best way he could–as a servant. Sazed is a Terrisman, the most valued servants in the Final Empire. He is calm and patient. He is smart and kind. And he knew himself well enough to know that when he wanted to fight the Lord Ruler, he could best contribute by using his unique strengths.

Crew leader Kelsier wanted to be the Hero with a capital H–the one in the forefront of the action, a visible leader. But Sazed was just as much a hero by being himself in a place that tried to squash his heritage, joy, and individuality. Kelsier fought the Lord Ruler in front of everyone in a town square; Sazed fought him by translating the text of something the Lord Ruler tried to keep hidden. Without Sazed’s quiet thoughtfulness, the crew would fail wether they had a great leader or not.

Sazed honored his people, and all people, by remembering for them, as a Keeper. The Keepers searched for memories of other cultures, languages, religions, and any knowledge they could find, and kept the memories stored away until the Final Empire fell and people would need them once again. Sazed was always willing to teach and share his knowledge, and he often tried to match religions to the people he knew, to find a religion that fit their personality.

Sazed knew the truth–he knew many truths. He knew that one religion does not fit all, and that by fighting for individuality, he was toppling the Final Empire one unique memory at a time.

I drew Sazed in his formal robes, which he would wear accompanying Vin to a ball. All Terrismen wear similar robes to indicate their status, and their colorful embroidery sounds like a delight amid the gray depression of the mist. My drawing is ink and watercolor in my sketchbook. I might go back in and add more color to it later, but I sort of like the idea of keeping it colorless except for his colorful Terrismen robes.

illustration of vin from mistborn, at a ball

vin from Mistborn

Vin is a survivor. She is resourceful and smart, overcoming beatings on the street to become a valued member of a thieving crew. Vin is a fighter, no matter if she’s stealing from the rich or dancing among them.

There were a lot of things I love, love, loved about Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first in the Mistborn trilogy, besides the main character, Vin. The storytelling is complex and layered, the world is detailed and interesting, and the characters are human and tragic.

Within the great story and characters, Sanderson used clothing to help build his world. A uniform helped unite an army, a cloak for the magical Mistborn helped them hide in plain sight, and a dress helped Vin spy on the nobility.

She didn’t need shadows or corners–she just needed a mask of sapphires, makeup, and blue fabric. — Mistborn: The Final Empire

With make up on her face instead of ash, and a shawl on her shoulders instead of her Mistborn cloak, Vin infiltrated the nobility by attending ball after ball. And instead of seeing a streetwise thief, the nobility was blinded by her dress and saw instead a nobleman’s daughter.

Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life – Bill Cunningham

In our world, clothing and fashion works much the same way. I don’t usually need to spy on nobility at fancy balls, but I do need to convince people I’m a professional at work. So like Vin, I dress the part and it helps fortify me for the role I need to play.

The more Vin acts like Valette, her noble persona, the more she realizes that this confident noblewoman is just another side of her. But becoming more comfortable among the people she means to eventually fight–and actually seeing them as human–causes trouble for Vin and her crew as they plan a heist bigger than any they’ve tried before.

I drew Vin going to her first ball, when she realized that the dress and makeup were just another disguise she could hide beneath. The drawing is pen and marker. I would have liked to make her dress a lighter, dreamier blue, but I wanted to work with the markers I already own. I can’t wait to take a look at some of the other uniforms and clothing in Mistborn, and delve into some of the great parts of this complex story.

more women please (on women in books and comics)

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I love the Harry Potters, the Quentins, and the Kvothes of the literary world. They are believable, flawed characters who are a hell of a lot of fun to read about. But sometimes I just get tired of watching boys have all the fun and get all the glory.

Not to say there’s not terrific women characters in these books as well. Harry Potter, the Magicians, and the Kingkiller Chronicles (my small, biased sample) all have really interesting, varied women who do real things that influence the story.

But I want to see more leading ladies.

This doesn’t mean we need fewer great adventure stories with men at the helm, it means we need more of them with women leads. It doesn’t take anything away from the complexity and enjoyment of what’s already out there to add to what’s already good. More women, more diversity, more stories. Because from that we get sharper and more human storytelling, which can only be a good thing.

A few weeks ago I asked on Facebook for recommendations of books with women leads (specifically fantasy or quest adventures because that is what I like). We came up with a great list that includes Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Mary Robinette Kowal’s glamourist histories, the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and more. (And I’m assuming we all already know about Divergent and the Hunger Games.)

I haven’t read all the books we talked about–I’m putting Mistborn at the top of my list. What I have read this year that I’ve been really excited about is comics. I’m relatively new to the comics world–I first read Saga and Sandman last year–and I wish it hadn’t taken me so long. The books I’ve read this year have diverse, provocative storytelling based on complex human (and not so human) characters.

And by chance, just about every series I’ve picked up this year has a woman lead: Saga, Sex Criminals, Wytches, and ODY-C.

I couldn’t have planned a better introduction to comics than Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, if I tried. It is a creative, complex space …saga (sorry!) and it’s touching and funny and brutal and smart. Hazel, the daughter of two lovers who are on the run from their warring home planets narrates Saga, so we are literally in the head of a woman telling this story. Alana, Lying Cat, Izabel, Gwendolyn and more (more! there’s so many great women in this comic I can’t even list them all) make sure that women are not only included, but they are at the forefront of this story.

In many fantasy stories I get super bored reading sex scene after sex scene from a straight man’s perspective that focuses on the size and shape and smoothness (barf) of some girl’s breasts. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is just as dirty as it sounds, but the perspective on sex (and life) comes from Suzie, the main character who can freeze time when she orgasms. Sex criminals is full of sex and crime (obviously, I guess), but it’s really a story about being vulnerable to another person and being brave enough to share your fears and secrets with the world. It takes themes of gender issues, sexuality, and hiding who you are and mixes them with bank heists, sex toys, and intergalactic police.

I love horror, but finding leading women in horror is few and far between. (Can you think of some? Let me know). Lucky for me, Scott Snyder, Jock, and Matt Hollingsworth’s Wytches’ lead is a young girl, Sailor, who moves to a new town where something is lurking in the woods. Sailor and her family are trying to escape a tragedy and make a new start, but the wytches don’t appear to forgive and forget. Wytches takes on fear, bullying, and family–which at times can be pretty scary, am I right?

I heard some buzz about Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C before I read issue no. 1, which just came out a few weeks ago, and, boy, is it earned. The absolutely stunning art accompanies an updated version of the Odyssey. Set in space, this Odyssey is full of women. Just about every character is a woman (or a sebex), and there’s warriors, lovers, parents, and, of course, Captain Odyssia. It was a blast to read and I can’t wait for issue no. 2.

If you, like me, are thirsty for new and exciting characters of all kinds, please check out some comic books. If I never picked one up I’d be missing out on some of the best stories of the year.

 

let’s talk about sex (criminals)

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When I was reading Sex Criminals, I saw one of my most embarrassing real life moments play out in the pages. But when it happened to Suzie instead of me, it was a lot funnier.

My embarrassing moment happened when I was in college and I went to the student health center. (A lot of stories probably start this same way.) I don’t remember the specifics of what was wrong with me or why I went there, and if I did I probably wouldn’t say, but I do vividly remember the doctor seeing a mark on my skin. And I remember them not knowing what it was.

So they called in a few more doctors. And a few other nurses. And any one else they could find. To look at me, partially dressed, and an unknown mark on my skin. That they must have decided was nothing because I don’t remember being treated for it, or ever finding out what it was.

Suzie’s moment came when she went to talk to her gynecologist about birth control. Instead of finding an irregular mark, Suzie’s young, attractive doctor found her textbook-perfect cervix. And called in every intern at the doctor’s to see it, too.

For a young woman with a questionable sexual event in her own life who gets shot down every time she tries to talk about it, having people line up to look at her cervix probably doesn’t even make her top five biggest embarrassments.

The greatest part of Sex Criminals isn’t the relatable characters, or the funny moments, or even the great art–it’s that this comic takes deeply embarrassing stories that no one ever wants to talk about and turns them into the funny, charming main event. And doing so makes it a little easier to laugh and talk about it in your own life.

Suzie realizes as a teenager that she can make time stop when she orgasms (as if sex isn’t confusing enough for teenagers without a super power). She spends time alone in the Quiet, as she calls it, until she meets Jon, who has the same mysterious gift. Then they spend time in the Quiet together. And that’s when things begin to get (even more) interesting.

Sex Criminals is so fun and one of my favorite comics this year (though the subject matter may not be for everyone, and definitely this is not a comic for kids, if the title didn’t give it away). The first volume is out now, volume two will be out in February, and you can pick up current issues at your local comic book store or on Comixology. It’s also in the final round of the Goodreads Choice Awards. Cast your vote for your favorite comic!