When Ardis discovers a man bleeding to death on the battlefield, she knows she has to walk away.
1913. In her work as a mercenary for Austria-Hungary, Ardis has killed many men without hesitation. One more man shouldn’t matter, even if he manages to be a charming bastard while he stands dying in the snow.
But when he raises the dead to fight for him, she realizes she must save his life.
If a necromancer like Wendel dies, he will return as a monster—or so the rumors say. Ardis decides to play it safe and rescues him. What she doesn’t expect is Wendel falling to one knee and swearing fealty. Ardis never asked for the undying loyalty of a necromancer, but it’s too late now.
Ardis and Wendel forge an uneasy alliance underscored with sexual tension. Together, they confront rebels, assassins, and a conspiracy involving a military secret: robotically-enhanced soldiers for a world on the brink of war. But as Ardis starts to fall for Wendel, she realizes the scars from his past run more deeply than she ever imagined. Can Ardis stop Wendel before his thirst for revenge destroys him and everyone else around him?
(Not) Passing the Bechdel Test
My book fails the Bechdel Test. This is why, when asked to blog about the Bechdel Test, I chickened out and had to convince myself to do it. Because failing the Bechdel Test means I failed feminism as an author, doesn’t it?
For those who don’t know or don’t remember, the Bechdel Test was created by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, when one of her characters says that she will only go to a movie if it meets these criteria:
(1) It has to have at least two women in it,
(2) Who talk to each other,
(3) About something besides a man.
Recently the Bechdel Test has been applied to movies and books as a litmus test of feminism. But passing the test doesn’t automatically get you a gold star, and failing it shouldn’t brand you with sexist shame.
True, there are a number of movies and books that fail the test abysmally. If they have more than two female characters, they are usually separated by an impassible sea of male characters. If the women do bump elbows in the same scene, they might not have a single line of dialogue. (Google the “Sexy Lamp Test.”) And when they do speak, it’s often about a husband or a son or the man they are fighting for.
(sarcasm) Because that’s totally realistic, right? Women don’t have anything better to do than pine after or care for men. (/sarcasm)
But my book, Shadows of Asphodel, still fails the Bechdel Test.
Ardis, the protagonist of Shadows, is a mercenary who works for the Archmages of Vienna. In this alternate 1913, she suppresses rebellions in the fractured empire of Austria-Hungary. Ardis fights with a jian, an antique Chinese sword with secrets of its own. Ardis is loyal, tough, and smart enough to survive.
But whenever Ardis talks to another woman, the book fails the Bechdel Test right and left. When she speaks to her boss, Margareta, it’s about the rebel man she killed on her last mission. When she speaks to Natalya, another mercenary, it’s about the man Ardis was hired to protect. It could be argued that Ardis actually discusses her work as a mercenary, not any particular man, since it’s just another job.
Shadows of Asphodel is also a romance novel, since much of the story explores Ardis’s relationship with Wendel, a necromancer she rescues from the battlefield. I would argue that romance can be a feminist genre, but mainstream romance almost always auto-fails the Bechdel Test. Though it should be remembered that the test came from a comic focused on lesbian subculture. I do think many critics take the test out of context.
I suppose I could have shoehorned in a scene where Ardis talks to another woman about something devoid of men, but that seems like a superficial “fix” that wouldn’t add an extra side of feminism to the book.
“The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. I think this is about as indicative of “feminism” (that is, minimally indicative, a pretty low bar) as the Bechdel Test. It is a pretty basic test for the representation of women, as is the Bechdel Test. It does not make a movie automatically feminist.” (here)
Shadows of Asphodel passes the Mako Mori test. Even though Ardis talks to Wendel and talks about him to other women, these scenes evolve her own narrative arc. Ardis has a life of her own, a career as a mercenary, and her choices drive the plot of the story. In many ways, Wendel acts as the antagonist with a shot at redemption, and Ardis must choose between defeating him or saving him. To subvert tropes, Wendel could be seen as a damsel in distress, and Ardis as the knight in not-so-shining armor.
In a nutshell, a woman can save a man’s ass if she so desires, and she can find his ass attractive. Romance doesn’t stop her from being important in her own right. If we allow a man to fall in love without letting it define him, we should allow women the same freedom in fiction. Even if the story fails the Bechdel Test, which may be a failing of the test itself.
About the author:
Karen Kincy (Redmond, Washington) can be found lurking in her writing cave, though sunshine will lure her outside. When not writing, she stays busy gardening, tinkering with aquariums, or running just one more mile. Karen has a BA in Linguistics and Literature from The Evergreen State College.
Author's Giveawaysa Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway