When I was thirteen or fourteen I had a night when I literally couldn’t sleep for sheer frustration that stories were only ever about interesting people. I remember lying in bed, fists clenched, nearly in tears for the injustice of this situation.
I have no idea what prompted it. Eventually I realized that stories were about interesting people because stories about boring people tend to be, well, boring, and reasonably satisfied by this conclusion, eventually fell asleep.
But that cry of my heart has stayed with me. It’s was only quite recently that I realized what I meant, as I was considering my characters and realizing that yes, they are all interesting–but interesting in certain ways. Where were the ordinary people having adventures? Where were the people who were not beautiful, or exceptionally talented, or wealthy, or born into the right type of picturesque poverty for a certain type of story (the Cinderellas, the third sons of the Miller or the Woodsman, the picaresque adventurer).
Isn’t this why we love Bilbo and Frodo and Sam–especially Bilbo and Sam–so much? Precisely because they are not Aragorn, the king-in-hiding, or Gandalf the wizard, or Legolas the elf, or a dwarven king, or Boromir the great warrior?
There is still something missing, though. The stories that don’t leave out the ordinary, the homely, the middle class (for that’s part of it, isn’t it?), or the lower classes as agents, for that matter — most of them are still missing women in anything but the exceptional roles. We get Circe or Eurydice and all their sister-types … but where is the woman putting on her shoes and saying, I’m off to have adventures today?
They exist–she exists–here and there in stories. Raederle in The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy is fairly exceptional, but Morgan’s sister Tristan is wonderfully ordinary. The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye, is all about this (and a delightful fairy story it is, too). Ista in Paladin of Souls is glorious, but she is royalty … so too, for that matter, are Tristan and Raederle and, obviously, the Ordinary Princess, Amy (short for Amethyst), herself.
Jullanar of the Sea is my take. The name comes originally from one of the stories of The Thousand and One Nights, and is about some sort of princess and some sort of djinn (I haven’t read it for a long while, if I ever did read more than the title–I have a four-volume set of the stories, and flip through them occasionally looking for ideas without actually reading them). My Jullanar has very little to do with that, either in ambiance or type of story or types of character.
As a young woman, Jullanar was not so good at school that she got into one of Alinor’s great universities; instead, she got into one of the minor ones, quite a ways from her home town. She was pleased to go, however, for although she loves her family–three other sisters, a doted-upon little brother, her mother quite conventional, her father a comfortably-well-off doctor in the regional capital–she is excited for the prospect of new things, meeting new people, having minor adventures. She cherishes hopes of not being merely the confidante and go-between of more beautiful and daring friends.
When she gets to the gates of Pfaschen, however, she finds out that the university is closed for the year due to plague. She’s a considerable journey–at least a week by the post-chaise–away from home, has her term’s money and supplies, and doesn’t know quite what to do. In the coaching inn outside of town, however, she discovers that a trade caravan is being assembled prior to leaving the bounds of the Empire of Astandalas and heading off to Ixsaa.
She’s a properly-raised young woman. Leaving the empire is not something she should aspire to, in the least. And Jullanar isn’t the sort of young woman who wants to rebel that strongly–she was never going to be the run to actually run off and join the circus or the army or go to sea–but she recalls that a beloved, if definitely eccentric, aunt went off on a daring sociological mission to study the cultural habits of those outworld barbarians in Ixsaa … and so she petitions the caravan-master for a place, and since he could do with a bit of extra money, as they didn’t get as many merchants involved as usual because of the plague, well, he accepts.
Jullanar’s aunt Maude lives next door to the Rose and Phoenix Inn. Damian Raskae lives down the street. Jullanar will eventually, one logical, plausible, reasonably sensible, not-so-very-daring-at-all step at a time, end up one of the most notorious criminals and folk heroes in the entire history of the Empire.
You can be sure I’ve got lots of stories about her to come.