So there are these books.
One cover has a woman on it. She's young and thin; though her face is mostly in shadow she's definitely hot; she is wearing tight, leather clothes, her hair is artfully tangled and blowing in an invisible wind and she has a sword over her shoulder that's over half her height in lenghth. *
One cover has a woman on it. She's lean and curvy; though her face is mostly in shadow she's definitely hot; she's got a gorgeous red gown and red hair, both sweeping in an invisible wind. Her chest is not prominent, but definitely noticeable. She's got a bow with an arrow notched. **
One back reads: In a world where people born with an exceptional skill...are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden...of the Grace of Killing. *
One back reads: Fire's exceptional beauty gives her influence and power. People who are susceptible to it will do anything for her attention, and for her affection
In one book the main character, a teenage girl, has one blue eye and one green eye, is monstrously good at killing people, hates her long hair and wants to cut it all off, despises wearing dresses and girly things and has serious anger management issues. This is Katsa. *
In one book the main character, a teenage girl, has stunning red, orange and pink-hued hair, is very good at archery, is so supernaturally hot she transfixes herself when she looks in mirrors, is a fantastic fiddle player and can read and control people's minds. This is Fire. **
I saw both of these in bookshops time and again. I picked them up, handled them, read their backs and examined their covers and sometimes even flicked through. Every time I put them down, hurriedly, thinking to myself:Oh, I wouldn't want to read that. The main character looks like a total Mary Sue.
It took repeated good reviews and word of mouth for miss_haitch
to take the "plunge"
, the "risk"
, and read one. Then the other. It took those repeated good reviews, word of mouth, and her glowing recommendation for me to brave the possibility of exposing myself to a Mary Sue
and read these books.
I cried, I laughed, I growled in anger, I screamed in fear, I could not stop reading these books until they were done. I read them as I walked to work, coming back on the bus, in the evenings. I tried to read them slowly because I am a fast reader and these are not lengthy books, and I did not want them to end.
These women, these main characters, are extraordinary even amongst their extraordinary brethren. They have funny coloured hair and eyes and are really good at the things they love doing. They are passionate, caring, heroic women who inspire other characters in the world.
They also have flaws. These flaws aren't 'character balancers'. These flaws are not there to make sure the 'Mary Sue Balance' comes out at zero. They are there because these women are not perfect, because no one is perfect, and because these women are sometimes misguided and hurt by things that have happened to them.
No doubt some people might see Katsa and Fire as Mary Sues. I did.I avoided these books because I didn't want to read Mary Sues, but these books are two of my favourite books. Ever.
Not because "It's O.K., Katsa and Fire aren't Mary Sues because they're flawed", or, "It's O.K., Katsa and Fire aren't Mary Sues because all of their power and skills make sense in the setting
". It doesn't matter if they're Mary Sues or not. They are awesome characters. They are awesome women. And they are a joy to read.
This is why I don't want Mary Sues in my life. The fear and disgust of possibly contacting one prevented me from reading books that I love. This is not even going into what that fear and disgust can do to a writer. I'm not going to let those feelings stop me again. I'm going to read what interests me, and if being interested in powerful, mistake-making, passionate women makes me interested in Mary Sues, then my life is better for it.
* = Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
** = Fire, by Kristin Cashore