The Bastard Princess: Eldrie the Healer by Claudia Edwards
There are strong female characters, and then there are Strong Female Characters. The former have a deep-seated resilience despite an uncaring world; the latter try to goad six men into a fight because they’re pissed.
The bastard princess—Eldrie—is the latter.
On paper that might not sound so bad: an almost anti-hero strong female character can be fun. For that to work, though, the character has to have either
a) a certain amount of self-awareness
b) a complete lack of self-awareness.
Instead, Eldrie is often smarmy, which is the exact wrong level of self-awareness.
In other situations, her strength just comes off like that of an angry woman in an anime. In my head I could hear her shrieking “baka!” and see those red-lines of cartoonish rage striped across her cheeks.
At another point, she was hurt by something, and her strength was in the form of that straight-lipped overly-okay-with-it fashion. “Sure, no, that’s great. Good luck, I’ll never see you again and that’s cool. I don’t need you or anyone, so whatevs.”
In no way was she ever not strong, except when she couldn’t save a dying child. She got sad, then drunk (in one of the least-realistic drunk-sequences I’ve ever seen/read), and then the next day she’s back to 100% strength—both emotionally and physically. Even though she doesn’t usually drink, and was fall-down drunk, she pops out of bed without even a hint of a hangover. The dying child is behind her. She’s fine.
Her companion, Huard, is similarly poorly characterized, but almost inverse to Eldrie. He’s brutish, pushy, gentlemanly, chivalrous, level-headed—whatever gives Eldrie room to be strong. It’s weird and a bit off-putting. In a few pages he goes from acting like a rapist to understanding, and even abiding by, unwritten boundaries between men and women.
There were things I liked. I appreciated how Eldrie acted when she was alone and had nothing to prove. I liked lines and turns of phrases, and even the political posturing of the world seemed interesting and depressingly realistic in its futility. But characterization is too important to me to let both of the main characters slide.
I get the feeling that the book gets better when it starts to follow a plot, and I suspect that plot is that our bastard princess attempts to learn magical healing. It would tie down Huard and Eldrie’s characterization to a concrete goal while skipping the weird bullshit of questing without a cause, and I could see that being a story I enjoy. Alas, unless I find myself hankering to come back to this world, I won’t see this story unfurl, because I’m done. The first 50ish pages have left me unable to approach the plot with the sort of attitude to appreciate it.
Sadness. Legit sadness. I hate when I don't like a book.
I have more of Claudia Edwards’ books on my shelf. I’m very curious to see if the characterization in those novels is more realistic and consistent.
Cover art by Larry Elmore