Badass Book Reviews Welcomes:
Kristi Charish kicks off her new Urban Fantasy series with Owl and the Japanese Circus, an action packed story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. With all of the twists and turns, our ‘Indiana Jane’ has her work cut out for her! Kristi joins Badass Book Reviews today to talk about female leads and the standards they are held to versus their male counterparts.
Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
Book #1 in The Adventures of Owl
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: January 13th, 2015
ARC Provided by Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books
Women in Urban Fantasy: Likeability
I play a lot of video games and my favorite book and movie genre is action adventure. I’m about to watch an action movie now, one with a protagonist who is famous for seducing rivals with raw charm and sex appeal, isn’t above throwing a punch first and asking questions later, is more about the challenge than the consequences of their actions, thinks guns are an awesome insurance policy, globe trotting and international espionage is par for the course, and they don’t shy away from getting way the hell on your bad side.
No, I didn’t forget the martini slugging bordering on alcoholism. I’m not watching James Bond; I’m about to turn on Tomb Raider.
And somehow the image of what I’ve described above changes drastically with the revelation I’m watching a movie with a female protagonist, not a man.
There is a double standard for female and male protagonists in entertainment media. Often a behavior we accept (and often expect) from a male protagonist is balked at when a female performs the same task. Be it slugging martinis and seducing women like James Bond or thieving like Han Solo and Jack Sparrow, as a culture we seem to be more accepting of men falling into these roles and behaviors versus women. Though it is changing; we’re seeing more and more unconventional female protagonists portrayed and featured in both movies (Katniss anyone?) and video games (The Last of Us) than we’ve ever seen before. It’s no longer the red light of death if you propose a movie with a female lead [As a point of entertainment media history, green-lighting (getting a movie approved for production) was markedly harder for a movie where main character was a woman.] The logic behind this is that while women will watch movies about both male and female protagonists, men will only watch movies about male protagonists, so the safest bet is to go with a male lead. This has largely been denounced as an unfounded practice- if 2013 box office numbers are to be believed, putting a female in the lead earns you 20% more at the box office than a male- but it’s still used.
There’s another area where women protagonists are judged differently from their male counterparts. Likeability.
In any piece of entertainment media, the main protagonist needs to be likeable enough to pull you through the story. Many a reader or movies goer has said they stopped following a story because the protagonist wasn’t likeable or relatable. But the question I want to ask here is whether we’re holding both genders to the same standard, and I’m not sure we are. There is a perception in both written and film media that it is a character fault or personality failing when a female protagonist isn’t ‘likeable’ enough, and I’m not sure the same checks and balances are applied when a male protagonist veers into the unlikeable grey lane. Audiences adore Han Solo and Jack Sparrow, a pair of thieves, and James Bond is a favorite for many as well though many have summed him up as a spy and contract killer. But, put a woman in the same role and questions about her integrity as a character and overall likeability come up.
And when I say likeable, I don’t mean there are things you can relate to and you enjoy reading about a protagonist. In that sense, James Bond is a very likeable character. He’s also a full-blown sociopath, but that doesn’t stop people from loving the movies. When I say likeable, I mean the actions of the character portrayed in the book. Would you want to spend an afternoon with them? Are they a good person who contributes to society? Are they likeable in the greater scheme of the world they inhabit or are they sexually promiscuous and prone to socially unacceptable behaviors such as smoking or dressing in too revealing a fashion? With few exceptions, in order for our female protagonists to be likeable in a book, they need to be likeable in the world they inhabit. In other words, they need to fit some incarnation of the ‘good girl’ mold.
Obviously not every reader has this expectation- plenty of urban fantasy heroines stray well outside this mold. But why is there still the expectation and pressure from the commercial population at large for a female heroic character to fit a mold of acceptable societal behavior, expectations male protagonists are not held to? Why is Lara Croft often portrayed on the Internet as a sex object (I’ve seen whore and slut bandied around), yet Indiana Jones is a likeable rogue? If you look at the cannon for both characters there aren’t many differences between the two except that Tomb Raider is fond of short shorts and form fitting tank tops. It shouldn’t be enough to downgrade her entire character to a pin-up girl sideshow.
Mind you this isn’t always the case. But think about the last time you thought- ‘I just couldn’t bring myself to like the main character’ or maybe even found yourself criticizing a protagonists sexual or even clothing choices? Chances are those thoughts have applied to proportionally more women than men. I know that’s what I found when I asked myself the same question.
Why are we more judgmental of women in entertainment media than men? What is it about a female protagonist doing something less than above board that brings us to criticize, but we’re more likely to let it slide when a man does a comparably underhanded deed? Oh, we’ll likely comment on it (i.e.: a lot of people commented on James Bond being a sociopath), but the level of judgment and condemnation just isn’t on the same level as the criticism Angelina Jolie’s shorts and chest raised in Tomb Raider. Even Katniss in the Hunger Games is criticized in the book for being less than ‘nice’, and both Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Black and Kelley Armstrong’s Elena Michael’s have been criticized for their in book sexual exploits, yet for Indiana, James Bond, and Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler’s NUMA adventure series), sexual exploits are expected.
I hate falling back on the old double standard as a reason. I think (hope) there’s more to it. Maybe its remnants of social conditioning from earlier days still exerting its influence on our perceptions, or a last dying battle cry from the old guard challenging the societal overhaul of the past 50 years. I don’t know if there is an answer but maybe there’s a different question we should be asking.
What does it take to like our female protagonists?
And would we be able to live up to our own standards?
About The Author
Buy Owl and the Japanese Circus today:
Angie’s Review – 3.5 Skulls – B-
I have been anticipating Owl and the Japanese Circus for some time, and it did not disappoint! Having been burned by the archaeology community just a few months shy of college graduation, Owl decides the best course of action is to stick it them. So what’s a gal to do but go over to the dark side and turn to Antiquities thieving? But Owl has one rule – she doesn’t work with the supernatural.
I liked Owl as a heroine. Her inability to recognize supernatural beings cracked me up, especially since she was surrounded by them all the time. She was hot-headed and fly by the seat of her pants. It takes a while for her to learn from her mistakes, but I thought this made her character realistic. She’s young; she has some mistakes to get out of the way. But that leaves lots of room for her character to develop in future installments! Chaos seems to find her wherever she goes, and she’s not always equipped to get herself out of sticky situations. That’s where some fantastic secondary characters come in.
I’m an archaeologist who likes cats, not a cat burglar who likes old stuff. I spent five years in grad school slaving away on dig sites, only to get thrown under the bus when the department needed a good scapegoat. Three months before I was supposed to graduate. Excuse me if I don’t have a moral dilemma making a profit from under their noses.
Nadya, Owl’s best friend, was the more level-headed of the two, and Rynn, the only male in Owl’s life (who she refuses to define her relationship with), is constantly getting her out of scrapes. Both of these characters have a bit of mystery to them throughout the entire book, and one of the exciting things was you just didn’t know who Owl could or couldn’t trust. It seemed to change from one moment to the next, and I was constantly on my toes looking for any little clue as to whether or not the people around her were being untruthful. The one thing you knew for certain Owl could count on was her feline companion, Captain, who took his job very seriously and tried to keep his owner safe from vampires.
“I can’t make normal friends,” I told Nadya. “I am not physically or mentally capable of connecting with people who aren’t as fucked up as I am.”
The world building in this one was well thought out and very detailed. There were a few times at the beginning when it may have been too detailed and slowed down the pace a bit, but once the story took off, it was non-stop action. There were a lot of supernatural creatures introduced in this first installment of The Adventures of Owl, and I can’t wait to see them show up again as the series progresses! Owl’s also made some friends in the gaming world, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them. The ‘whodunit’ aspect of the book was nicely done. I had my suspicions, but there were enough playters to makie it impossible to nail it down for sure until the last minute.
Overall, I thought Owl and the Japanese Circus was an exciting kick-off to a new Urban Fantasy series, and I can’t wait to read the next installment!
Series Reading Order:
1. Owl and the Japanese Circus
2. Owl and the City of Angels (Expected Publication: Summer 2015)
Thank you to GALLERY, THRESHOLD, POCKET BOOKS and Netgalley for providing a review copy of this book.
© 2015, Badass Book Reviews. All rights reserved.