They really don’t improve later. It’s bizarre that she’s a feminist icon. I can’t fully explain it, unless it’s because girls in this sort of thing are rarely allowed to be both pretty and smart, but that’s not really true at all - we’ve had pretty and smart all the way back to the 1960s in pop-culture, if not longer. Who she ultimately ends up with seems forced and a let-down too (to be fair, so does Potter).
This continues pretty much indefinitely. She’s apparently (according to Rowling) her “self-insert” character. Which tells you a lot.
I watched a video by Lindsay Ellis recently which pointed out that, consistently here and in her later books, Rowling has a very, very narrow window of “acceptable femininity” (which is exactly what you’d expect given she was one of the “mean girls” at her school). Ugly? Definitely desperate, and probably a psychopath. Fat or overweight? Disgusting, vile, fit only for jokes. Insufficiently girly-looking? Creepy, nasty. Non-white? Irrelevant. Working class? Losers, stupid, laughable. (Rowling has often complained about being poor, but had a solidly middle-class background - she was poor because she didn’t have a job and seemingly didn’t want one - I don’t judge her for the latter and it was a smart move but at the same time it’s like, I’m pretty sure she could have had one so complaints of poverty aren’t as legit as they are for people who work hard and are still poor.) And so on. It’s even worse in the detective novels she wrote (esp. as the self-insert there is basically Rowling herself, description-wise - and boy does she spend a lot of time hating on fat people, uggos and “the poors” in them).
I was, and I was unimpressed. I’d been reading books with better female leads since I was like eight or so. It’s one of the many reasons I stopped reading the actual books and switched to synopses after book 4. Hermione should have been the main character.
That’s for sure!
I’m re-reading Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels, which are astonishing, I’d forgotten how astonishing. They could have been written yesterday. The first one was written in 1964, and it’s utterly timeless - if anything more relevant-seeming now, as a story of sacrifice and change and doing the right thing even when it hurts. It’s also a story where the main characters are non-white, and the pale blonde people are violent raiders, seen as backwards, but none of that seems forced or “political” or whatever, it just seems like the way that world is, so it’s even more effective. The descriptions are wonderful and there’s almost nothing wasted, which I increasingly value in authors, because it’s increasingly rare. I’m now on The Tombs of Atuan (the second book), which was particularly striking to me when I was younger, and seems amazingly creepy so far in quite a “real” way. Looking forwards to reading Tehanu and The Farthest Shore, and the short stories, because I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any of those. I didn’t even know Tehanu existed until well into the 1990s (I had a collection of the first three books from the '80s).
Ok, that’s going on the list! I had been avoiding it because I used to read her reviews on io9 and felt like she was a bit keen on some well, not very good writers, and tended to write very over-the-top-feeling praise, but it sounds like whilst she might have have liked them, she learned from good ones. No wasted words is high praise to me.
Felt the same way as you about The City We Became, and I think it’s largely because the enemy is described in such nebulous terms and whilst she works had to give it avatars and stuff, it’s too Lovecraftian (which I think was intentional but still). It’s no The Broken Earth series, that’s for sure.