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Today’s guest is young adult fantasy author Danielle L. Jensen! Her debut novel and the first book in The Malediction Trilogy, Stolen Songbird, was released last year, and it was a delight to read, making it one of my favorite books of 2014. I cannot wait to find out what happens to Cécile next, and fortunately, I don’t have to wait much longer for the second book—Hidden Huntress will be available on June 2!

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

When I received the email asking me to write a guest post about women in SFF, the background information on the impetus behind Fantasy Café’s monthly feature gave me pause. Namely, that women were noticeably underrepresented in reviews, sales, and awards in the adult epic fantasy genre. How interesting, I thought, that this bias doesn’t exist in the young adult epic fantasy genre. Given that there are equally talented men and women in both spaces, why is there such a disconnect in recognition? My personal (and not vigorously researched opinion) is the difference is the readership base. It is generally accepted that the fan base for YA is female dominated, whereas the base for adult epic fantasy is a more even split. But why does this matter? Why are men seemingly less willing to read and enjoy works by women than women are to read and enjoy works by men?

My not-very-scientific research, which involved reading the comments sections of other blog posts on this topic and asking around a bit, yielded one overriding comment: women don’t write the sort of epic fantasy that most men want to read. For one, I don’t believe that; and two, it doesn’t answer the other half of the question, which is why women are willing to read works written by men, for, by that argument, other men? Better minds than mine have discussed this question, but this is my opinion, such as it is.

In the world of children’s literature, we talk a lot about the importance of readers finding protagonists they can relate to. Who are like them, or who they can imagine themselves to be. There is a big – and extremely important – push to make space for books that represent our diverse world. For there to be both authors and protagonists who are people of color, or who are gay, or who have a disability, so those who are not white heterosexual men have the opportunity to leave their mark on literary culture. Many fantastic diverse novels have been released in recent years, but that is only half the battle. The other half resides in the willingness of readers to pick up, review, and champion novels where protagonists “just like them” are nowhere in sight.

I’m going to go out on a limb – a very thick and sturdy limb – and say that with the exception of straight white men, all other readers of adult epic fantasy regularly enjoy novels about characters who are nothing like them. Women read books about men by men. People of color read about white people. Individuals in wheelchairs read about people who aren’t. They have to, because if they didn’t, the novels on the shelves appealing to them would potentially be quite few and far between. It is the unique, and, I’d argue, damaging privilege of straight white men to be able to go through life never reading a novel by or about anyone who isn’t a straight white man, unless they feel inclined to do otherwise. The consequence is that while the audience for fantasy novels for straight white men is the whole of fandom, the audience for authors who are not is, at best, half that.  And the consequence of this smaller fan base is novels being underrated, undersold, and, potentially, unread by those who might appreciate them.

Danielle L. JensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.