Mums Who Made It
Mothers get a pretty bad time of it in fantasy – we’re notorious for being missing, absent, dead, or dying.
How else is our hero to get the emotional trauma needed to spur him on? That boy needs some backstory! Character depth! Fridge the mother et voilà! Tortured soul we can empathise with.
Frankly, us mums are fed up of this.
I live in constant fear that my son will stumble across a mysterious sword, or he’ll hatch a dragon egg, or he’ll catch the eye of some meddling old
It seems ironic, then, that we have a Mother’s Day (which, here in the UK, is today, because we like being different ok) to celebrate how much we love and appreciate our mothers (those deserving of it. I wonder how long it will take my own kids to question the validity of this celebration).
With this in mind, and as a fore runner for our Women in SFF feature month in July, we rounded up some contributors and asked them – can you think of a mother who survived a fantasy book? We were surprised by just how many they came up with… did your favourite make the list?
If you’re a mother, Happy Mother’s Day!
(And for the gods’ sake hide that magic jewellery.)
Spoilers may abound
Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C Wrede! The first three books follow her from teenager (who deliberately gets herself kidnapped by a dragon to escape her restricting role as a princess) to adult (who isn’t going to let a little thing like being heavily pregnant stop her having an adventure!), but the fourth book skips forward in time and switches protagonist to focus on her teenage son, Daystar, as he sets out on an adventure of his own. Though she doesn’t feature much on page in the last book, the warmth of their relationship is clear from the way Daystar thinks and talks about her, and he often makes use of her great adventuring advice. It’s so interesting to see her both as protagonist and as the mother of a protagonist – for me, the series is one of the best examples of the complexity of a mother’s identity.
Also, Marian from Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer. No longer “Maid” Marian, the protagonist here has left the feckless Robin Hood to raise her two children alone. She’s a deeply competent woman and a wonderful mother, and her love for her children shines out as she does her utmost to keep them safe from the world, whether that’s their father’s rejection or the dangerous magic of the forest.
And it’s only a short story, but “The Ransom of Miss Coraline Connelly” by Alix E Harrow is a series of letters between a mother determined to get her daughter back from the faerie queen who stole her, and the queen herself, who’s become more than a little bit attached to the girl. It left me in absolute floods of tears at its adorable resolution, and definitely shows that the main thing that makes someone a mother is love.
Ilane of Mindelan from The Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Mother to nine children, including protagonist Kel, she’s cool-headed and warm-hearted – very much a woman who takes no nonsense, but still a loving mother. She’s a renowned diplomat and once defended herself, her kid daughter, and a bunch of national treasures against pirates with a glaive. Tamora Pierce also deserves shout outs for Eleni Cooper, Queen Thayet and Alanna the Lioness herself – while she has her fair share of dead or absent mothers, she generally has a great line in complex, well-rounded, present mothers too!
Alexia Maccon from The Parasol Protectorate and The Custard Protocol series by Gail Carriger. Alexia becomes a mother during the course of the series (including two books of adventures while pregnant, and one where she has to defeat a vampire queen while also looking after her toddler!) and her daughter inherits some unusual talents from her preternatural mother and her werewolf father. Alexia copes with any chaos Prudence throws at her with remarkable aplomb, throughout both her series and Rue’s!
Millie from the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. Once a lonely sacrifice-in-waiting for a bloodthirsty goddess, Millie escapes to become the wife of Chrestomanci and mother of his children. She’s always described as plump and loving, and creates a wonderfully warm and practical counterpoint to her husband’s mysterious nature.
I’d like to propose both Lovis and Solveig from Timandra Whitecastle’s Queens of the Wyrd, both of them ferociously, dangerously, hilariously maternal. Lovis constantly fretting about the safety and childminding arrangements for her young daughter who has to accompany them on their dangerous quest, Solveig anxious for the fate of her older independent minded absent daughter who has dashed off in search of adventure – two phases of motherhood right there!
Essun from N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Her story arc is driven from first page to last by motherhood and her commitment to her lost daughter.
Offred from the Handmaid’s Tale – To be fair the twisted version of motherhood on which the book is predicated might run against the spirit of this post, and the TV series – in making a plot development Offred’s devotion to the idea of rescuing her daughter – does go beyond the scope of the original book. But, hey it wouldn’t be a fantasy post without a grimdark angle.
The Red Queen – Jalan Kendeth’s grandmother and therefore also a mother from Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War trilogy. Proof that motherhood doesn’t mean you can’t live for practically ever and be a badass political operator and warrior that nobody messes with.
I’ll go with Clara Kalliam from Daniel Abraham’s Dagger & Coin series. I love that series for so many reasons, but Clara is a total darling. When her husband is executed as a traitor (spoilers, I guess), she elects to live in poverty and shame in order to protect her sons. Not only does she ostracise herself from society so her sons can remain safe, she also overcomes her own ingrained social prejudices to fully welcome her new daughter-in-law to the family. Clara’s character arc in the later books is really nicely done, to the point where she epitomizes the true meaning of “strong female character.” Lady gets shit done while remaining true to herself, and I love her for it.
This might be a bit of a cheat, but I’ll put forward Lady Jessica of Dune fame, the mother of our messianistic cautionary tale, Paul Atreides. Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit “witch,” tasked by her sisterhood to contribute to the bloodline that will one day create the so-called Kwisatz Haderach, a super-being that will bring to the fore the goals of the Gesserit. Jessica, however, has a will of her own. Her loyalty to her husband, the Duke Leto Atreides–and her love for him–push her towards betraying the sisterhood and in so doing, shaping humanity’s destiny in a very different way.
Her politicking and precognition abilities ain’t nothing to sneer at, either.
Lois and Solveig from Queens of the Wyrd by Timandra Whitecastle. That whole book is about being a mother and still being a person and I love it so much.
Navani Kholin from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is a great character, both a mother to two other main characters and interesting and active in her own right.
Orka – The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne. Although this is only the first book in a new series by Gwynne, Orka has left such an impact on me. Raising a son in a harsh world full of monsters and warring Jarls is no easy task, but this is a woman who’ll go to any lengths to protect her child. She’s the very definition of a fierce mother, and I can’t wait to see how her story arc unfolds.
Miriat – The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston. Miriat is a mother who sacrifices so much for her daughter Salka, who is no ordinary child. Raising a striga, a perceived monster, is hard enough alone but also having to endure prejudice and hatred is even harder. Yet Miriat’s love is unconditional, if somewhat overbearing in Salka’s eyes, but together they share such a strong bond.
Agnes – The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow. I love the way Harrow portrays pregnancy in a time period where being unmarried and pregnant was taboo. The way Agnes deals with the sneers and disdain is fantastic, but we also see that she is vulnerable as her fears and doubts are brought to light too. One of my favourite scenes is when the three sisters come together for the birth of Agnes’ child, but that’s all I’ll say.
Hesina – Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson. Hesina is Kaladin’s mother, who we first meet in The Way of Kings, but plays a much bigger role in Rhythm of War. She is a mother caught between wanting to help her son who is clearly struggling with depression and PTSD, but also having to contend with her husband who strongly disagrees with Kaladin’s choices in life. She tries to be the peacemaker and knock some sense into both men.
Misaki – The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. Throughout Misaki is conflicted between being a mother and being the strong willed warrior she once was. She’s a character who battles depression and is forced into roles she never wished for, but I personally feel by the end she learns to accept that she can be both.
Can you believe it? We made one of these list posts and no-one mentioned Terry Pratchett yet? We can’t talk about mothers in fantasy and not include Nanny Ogg. Formidable, fiercely loyal Nanny Ogg, the scourge of daughter-in-laws, she really epitomises the kind of motherhood I recognised, from my own mother and grandmothers.
For a mother who is quite possibly the antithesis of Nanny Ogg, Jen Williams’ Devinia the Red is a ruthless notorious pirate, and mother to the Copper Cat herself, Wydrin. She rocks up in the last book of the trilogy, The Silver Tide, and Devinia’s relationship with her daughter Wydrin is a stormy one. As much as I loved how recognisable Nanny Ogg’s version of motherhood was to me, I loved Williams’ bravery to confront notions of “maternal instinct”.
Finally I wanted to give a shout out to Merela from RJ Barker’s Age of Assassins. She’s Girton’s Master, not his mother; but having raised him, saved him, protected him, trained him. The love of a foster mother can be no less stronger than that of a birth mother, and it was beautiful to see it represented here.