I'm delighted to present a guest blog post from D.B. Jackson (aka, David B. Coe) about the women in his urban fantasy series, The Thieftaker's Chronicles...
I am something of an oddity in today’s urban fantasy market: I am a man writing books that center on a male protagonist. I’m not the only one, of course. I hear that some guy named Butcher is doing pretty well with this formula, and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books are also receiving well-earned critical and commercial attention. But the fact is that right now urban fantasy is being written predominantly by women, about women. And women are writing some pretty incredible books: the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, the Jane Yellowrock books by Faith Hunter, the Walker Papers by C.E. Murphy, the Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison, the Greywalker series from Kat Richardson…I could go on, but you get the picture.
What sets my Thieftaker Chronicles (Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, and A Plunder of Souls) apart somewhat from these others is that it’s actually historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. Writing in that time period would seem to make incorporating strong female characters into my story lines next to impossible, but you might be surprised. Colonial Era social norms and economic realities actually allowed women greater freedom than many assume, and that has allowed me to surround my male protagonist with strong, dynamic, and entertaining female characters.
I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that the second half of the eighteenth century was some sort of golden age for women’s rights. It wasn’t. This is the era, after all, that brought us “universal” white male suffrage. But by the same token, the strict circumscription of women’s freedoms that many of us have spent the better part of a century trying to undo, is more a product of nineteenth and early twentieth century society. The fact is that life in the pre-Revolutionary era was difficult and North American Colonial communities could hardly afford to restrict half of their populations to the parlor room. Women in 1760s Boston were shop owners, innkeepers, and craftswomen; many enjoyed economic independence that would have been unheard of one hundred years later. True, a good number of these women were widows, who gained some economic advantage from their husbands’ estates. But their freedoms were hard-won, and they held fast to them after dealing with the tragedy of their spouses’ deaths.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, therefore, that one of the key female characters in the Thieftaker books is Kannice Lester, the widowed owner of a tavern called the Dowsing Rod. She is young for a widow, having lost her husband to the smallpox epidemic that struck Boston in 1761. But she is a savvy business woman and a strict disciplinarian who does not permit fighting, smuggling, or any discussion of religion or politics in her establishment. Unless she happens to be the one holding forth on the villainy of the Crown and the virtues of Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. She can go drink for drink with any man and has been known to tell stories that would make a sailor blush. She’s fiercely independent, but also is in love with Ethan Kaille, the thieftaking, conjuring hero of the series.
Theirs has been a fun romance to write, in large part because their love affair is already well-established. I didn’t write about the heady early days when they first fell in love, but rather have focused on the later years of their relationship, when as a couple they sometimes have to work at overcoming their political disagreements (Ethan is a loyalist, at least early on in the series), and at dealing with his selfishness or her stubbornness. She is in the wrong as often as he, which, I believe, makes their relationship that much more interesting and realistic for my readers. And I will admit that I’m a little bit in love with her myself.
The second key female character in the Thieftaker books is Tarijanna Windcatcher. Janna is an older woman who claims to be of West Indian descent, although some have claimed that she is an escaped slave. She was orphaned at sea and rescued by a wealthy sea merchant from Newport. Janna never knew her family name and so took Windcatcher simply because she liked the sound of it. When she grew into adulthood, her wealthy benefactor fell in love with her, and though they could not marry because of her race, they remained together for many years. When he died, he left her with enough money to ensure her freedom for the rest of her days. She moved to Boston, where she opened a tavern of her own: the Fat Spider. Like Ethan, Janna is a conjurer, perhaps the most accomplished and knowledgeable conjurer in all of Boston. She calls herself a “marriage smith,” and she makes most of her coin selling love magick in the form of spells, potions, and collections of herbs. She is cantankerous, often to the point of rudeness, and she does not suffer fools. She’s often hostile to Ethan when he comes to her with questions about spells because, as she puts it, “there’s no coin in that for me.” But she is a true friend when he needs one.
Perhaps the most important female character in the Thieftaker Chronicles is Sephira Pryce, Ethan’s lovely and deadly rival in thieftaking. Sephira is based loosely on a true historical figure—Jonathan Wild, London’s most infamous thieftaker, who built a lucrative criminal empire for himself by hiring men to steal goods and then later returning them for a finder’s fee. In other words, he was responsible for nearly all the crimes he “solved.” Sephira is similarly corrupt, and so is a natural nemesis for my honest thieftaking hero. She is brilliant, beautiful, canny, skilled with both fist and blade, and utterly ruthless. And yet, she is also funny and at times a deeply sympathetic character. She has a wonderful, full-throated laugh that Ethan likes despite himself, even though it’s too often directed at him.
Ethan’s rivalry with Sephira forms the dramatic core of every Thieftaker novel. They are Yin and Yang—she is attractive, influential, wealthy. She has a coterie of toughs in her employ, and hobnobs with some of Boston’s most famous and powerful people. Ethan is older than she and bears the scars of a hard life. He is a loner, an ex-convict who lives day-to-day, job-to-job, shilling-to-shilling; he works alone and has few friends, though those he has he trusts. He has access to magick, which is how he is able to compete with her in the streets of Boston. Yet, on occasion—as in A Plunder of Souls, the newest Thieftaker novel, which has just been released by Tor Books—they are forced to work together, or at least to cooperate. And though neither would admit it, they have as many attributes in common as not: tenacity, intellect, resourcefulness. They are natural enemies, but if they weren’t they would be fast friends, if that makes sense. It’s a complicated relationship and tremendous fun to write. I will admit that of all the female characters in the books, Sephira is probably the one whose station in life is the least realistic from a historical point of view. But I don’t really care, because she’s my favorite character.
I chose to have Ethan as my protagonist because I wanted my lead character to come to the books with a certain life history—Ethan was a sailor in the British navy, a mutineer, a prisoner at hard labor on a sugar plantation. I could not have given that history to a female character without stretching my historical accuracy to the breaking point. But the strong, intelligent, challenging female characters with whom he interacts are what make the series work. And as the father of strong, intelligent, at times challenging daughters, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.
Here's where you can read more about David and his series:http://www.dbjackson-author.comhttp://www.dbjackson-author.com/bloghttp://www.facebook.com/dbjacksonAuthorhttp://twitter.com/dbjacksonauthorhttp://www.goodreads.com/dbjacksonhttp://amazon.com/author/dbjackson