Saturday, November 1, 2014

Heroines can be mothers too

Posted by: Angela Korra'ti
Have you ever noticed that women in starring roles in SF/F are rarely mothers?

It’s more common in romance and mystery to be sure. I regularly see mentions of romances where the heroine is pregnant (generally in a scenario where she doesn’t want to let the hero find out that he is in fact the father), or where she’s a single mother raising a child (often a precocious youngster or an angsty teen). And over in mystery, one of my favorite current series (the Crowther and Westerman books by Imogen Robertson) features a heroine who’s a mother and a widow.

Science fiction and fantasy, though, it’s way harder to find women—or for that matter, men—who are both protagonists and parents. It’s not entirely unheard of, mind you. I can think of exactly one example on my own shelves off the top of my head that features  a heroine who’s a mother: the Raven duology by Patricia Briggs. And while I haven’t managed to read Scott Lynch yet, I’m given to understand that he’s got a female pirate in his books who also has children.

But the simple fact that I have to work to think of examples is pretty much my point. By the very nature of the genre, it slants towards young protagonists. Some of this is age bias; Western culture doesn’t tend to imagine people older than, say, their mid-thirties in the starring roles of the sorts of plots likely to show up in an SF/F novel. There’s the question of SF/F plots frequently being action-heavy, and a lot of folks don’t tend to envision people in their forties or older in starring roles in an action-heavy plot. And there’s the question of love stories as well. While I do regularly see romances acknowledging that people who’ve already got a history with prior relationships and even children can in fact have interesting love stories, this is not nearly as common in SF/F.

All of which I mention because I myself am not a young author anymore, as I’m heading into my upper forties. Nor am I likely to ever be a parent. But despite this, I’m finding myself becoming more interested in writing about women who are mothers.

I’ve got two characters important to the Rebels of Adalonia books who have on-camera children. There’s Khamsin, who first shows up in Valor of the Healer, and who has a four-year old daughter and a son barely old enough to walk. And there’s Margaine, with a newborn daughter. Neither of these women are the main protagonists, but they are vital to the overall plot. In some ways they are interesting to me in ways that my heroine Faanshi can’t be, just because Faanshi’s still very young and doesn’t have the history of establishing a family that Khamsin and Margaine do.

One more woman vital to the overall arc of the Rebels of Adalonia books is Ealasaid, ruler of the country of Adalonia. Ealasaid is old, and therefore certainly has had plenty of time to preside over multiple generations of her family. She doesn’t quite fit into the pattern, since she’s an antagonist in the story rather than a protagonist. Nonetheless, she’s another important character who has in fact had her family life—and the impact her own choices as queen have had upon it—be a critical part of the story.

What about you, readers? What are your favorite stories, of any genre, that feature a protagonist or a major supporting character with children—mothers or fathers? Let me know in the comments!

Angela Highland, a.k.a. Angela Korra'ti, is the author of the Rebels of the Adalonia trilogy from Carina Press, and the Free Court of Seattle series as well. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter, or come say hi to her at


  1. I agree, mother main characters in SF/fantasy are a bit of a rare breed. Interestingly, the Raven duology was the first ot come to my mind too.

    A few more: Catelyn & Cersei from GoT (both get POV, but neither are a main character), Claire Fraser from the Outlander series, Danielle from Jim Hines Princess series (I believe she is pregnant in bk one and a mother in later volumes), Merry Gentry in Laurell K. Hamilton's series spent numerous books trying to get pregnant and is finally a mother in the latest one. Juniper, from S.M. Stirling's Emberverse is a 30ish mother of a deaf teen daughter from the very beginning. Oh, and Ekaterin in the Vorkosigan series is a mother already when we meet her in Komarr.

    To be fair, I'm not sure fathers as main characters are that much thicker on the ground.

    1. Awesome, you thought of several mother examples I hadn't.

      And yeah, I have to think real, REAL hard to try to find examples of fathers as main characters in SF/F. The aforementioned Raven duology is an example, since the protagonists are the parents of the central family.

      Amusingly, as I'm typing this comment, my housemate is watching Beetlejuice on TV--and there's a story where the protagonists are a couple. So that's another example.

  2. From Lois McMaster Bujold, Cordelia Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson in the Vorkosigan series, and in her Chalion books, Ista dy Chalion. A good chunk of the plot of _Barrayar_ centers on Cordelia's pregnancy and rescue of her son, and Ekaterin is the mother of a 10-year-old whose genetic mutation is a crucial part of the plot of _Komarr._ They're both also quite the adventure heroine. Ista's children are teenagers, but they're also in the crosshairs as inheritors of the crown of Chalion, and Ista herself is the victim of a curse which changes her life. All extremely good reading.

    1. Excellent, Nicole just mentioned the Vorkosigan books too. :)

      OOH OOH and of course how can I forget the Amelia Peabody series? With the Emersons, of course, as a romantic couple AND parents throughout the bulk of the series. Grandparents, even, in the later books.

  3. My hero and heroine are responsible for shepherding two small children thru disaster and to safety in WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM...not *exactly* "mothering" but....and in MAGIC OF THE NILE, the heroine is a mother. But I agree with your main point, not too common in these genres.

  4. Alanna the Lioness (by Tamora Pierce). The focus is on her daughter's adventures, but it starts off addressing the difficulty in being the daughter of a hero who is almost always off fighting. Anne McCaffrey has a few such characters, both in Pern and in some of her more space themed sf. Jane Linskold's Wolf series (which I recommend for SO MANY reasons). The main character does not, but several of the major players do, and it focuses pretty heavily on one of the mothers as a major antagonist.


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