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Thursday, July 16, 2015

GUEST POST: Free to Choose: the Women of The Ascendant Kingdoms by Gail Z. Martin

Fantasy Book Critic welcomes Gail Z. Martin. Gail is here to talk about her latest book in the Ascendant Kingdom Saga, War of Shadows. War of Shadows was published April 21, 2015 and is the third book in the series.

In addition to this guest post, we are also hosting a giveaway of the Ascendant Kingdom. Giveaway details can be found here


Free to Choose: the Women of The Ascendant Kingdoms
by Gail Z. Martin

Nothing like a cataclysm to strip away social constraints, loosen the bonds of custom and habit, and strip away artificial restrictions of class and privilege. In my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, those who survive the Great Fire and the Cataclysm that destroys the kingdom of Donderath face great hardship, but they also have the ability to remake the world as they see fit. And for the women in my book, that presents a lot of new possibilities.

In the Velant prison and the colony of freed convicts on Edgeland, class, title, privilege and wealth were stripped away long before the Great Fire by virtue of exile. So while the prisoners and colonists are on equal footing now, in reality the population cuts across social class. For those who survive the harsh prison to become colonists, value is placed on how a person can contribute to the survival of the group, and that survival is tenuous enough to sweep aside gender and class distinctions that might have applied. If it needs to be done in order for an individual or the colony to survive, someone has to do it and it makes the most sense for the people best at the particular task to undertake it. It's a harsh meritocracy, but there's thin margin for error and no leeway for people to be less than fully productive, so no talent or ability can be wasted.

At the same time, prisoners and colonists do their best to retain the parts of their culture and religious beliefs that help them survive tough times, give meaning to life, and mark the passage of momentous life occasions like birth, death and marriage. The Wise Women are the keepers of this cultural power. As the older women of the colony, they have survived much, and it is their memories and knowledge which transmit vital information. They are the midwives for birth and the ones who prepare the dead for burial. They mediate and intercede in disputes, since the small colony relies on the skills of all its members and cannot survive factions and splinter groups. This gives the Wise Women important social power even though before exile, they might have come from the lowest classes of society and lacked formal education.

And likewise, women whose upper class position or poverty might have kept them from pursuing a craft or business are freed by necessity to contribute to the colony's survival where their gifts best lie. They become shopkeepers, craftspeople, madams, farmers and healers, raise livestock, go out on the fishing boats and work alongside the men to do whatever needs to be done. Women whose choices were severely constrained either by their past choices or social class are free to do what they do best. Edgeland's harsh reality imposes its own stark equality.

Back in Donderath, the devastation of the Great Fire and the Cataclysm works a similar leveling, sweeping away the social and cultural traditions that restricted what women of a particular class were permitted to do, and valuing hard work and competence. So many of the men died in the war or were conscripted by the warlords' armies that women had no choice except to rally together to save their families and villages. They, too, become farmers and fisherfolk, leaders and brewers, soldiers, spies and fighters. We meet a lot of these women throughout the series, and their quiet strength and capability is the force that helps to knit the shattered kingdom back together, just as important to the recovery as the battles and fortifications.

When Blaine McFadden, my main character, is exiled to Velant for murder, his crime affects the social standing of his family and his betrothed, Carensa. They are shamed, no longer welcome at court, and for both Carensa and Blaine's younger sister Mari, marriage prospects dim because of the scandal that has tainted them. That all changes the night of the Great Fire, when the king and nobles are killed in the Cataclysm that destroys not only the court, but much of the kingdoms' infrastructure. Limiting social conventions have no place or meaning in this harsh reality.

Carensa marries and is widowed, then finds new purpose as a scholar and a magic-user. Mari and Blaine's Aunt Judith are also freed from social stigma and step up to leadership roles in order to save the people who rely on them. Kestel Falke, sent to Velant as a spy and assassin is also free to leave her courtesan past behind her and play a key role in bringing the kingdom out of ruin as a leader and a warrior. Zaryae is a seer, an outlander, and a vagabond. Alsibeth is also a gifted clairvoyant. Before the Great Fire, they told fortunes in taverns to earn enough money to eat. After the Cataclysm, their abilities elevate them to the forefront of the war effort, where they play key roles with strategy and crucial decision-making. In addition to their increased status, all of these women are now freed to make their own choices about love, choices that would have been unacceptable before the Great Fire.

Even in the ruined royal city of Castle Reach, the women who survived the Cataclysm step into new positions of leadership by virtue of necessity. They become street fighters, protecting their home territory against rival gangs and raiders. Some of the women gather the orphans and care for the sick. They augment scarce food supplies by turning unused land into gardens and put their knowledge of folk remedies to use as healers. Others go to sea with the fishing boats, help to rebuild the buildings damaged in the Great Fire, or scavenge the ruins for objects that can be used or repurposed. Now, it is their ingenuity that matters, not their former position or wealth. Dire circumstances require that the best use is made of all resources, including individual skills and knowledge.

Throughout history, when times are rough people do what they need to do to get by, and that often includes setting aside social constraints to make the most of individual talent. This was true long before World War II-era housewives traded aprons for coveralls to follow 'Rosie the Riveter' into factories. Only after the frontier has been tamed, the war is over or the emergency is resolved do people reclaim traditional roles, and even then they often find that those roles are significantly and permanently altered.

 The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe.  For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit


Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.

Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and, on Goodreads free excerpts, Wattpad



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