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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Davinia Evans! Her debut novel, the fantasy adventure Notorious Sorcerer, will be available on September 13—and I’m delighted to also be revealing its cover by Lisa Marie Pompilio and Andrew Broyzna!

Cover of Notorius Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
(click to enlarge)
Cover Design by Lisa Marie Pompilio
Cover Silhouette Illustration by Andrew Broyzna


In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy debut. 

Ever since the city of Bezim was shaken half into the sea by a magical earthquake, the Inquisitors have policed alchemy with brutal efficiency. Nothing too powerful, too complicated, too much like real magic is allowed–and the careful science that’s left is kept too expensive for any but the rich and indolent to tinker with. Siyon Velo, a glorified errand boy scraping together lesson money from a little inter-planar fetch and carry, doesn’t qualify.

But when Siyon accidentally commits a public act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight. Except the limelight is a bad place to be when the planes themselves start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the rest of the city into the sea.

Now Siyon, a dockside brat who clawed his way up and proved himself on rooftops with saber in hand, might be Bezim’s only hope. Because if they don’t fix the cascading failures of magic in their plane, the Powers and their armies in the other three will do it for them.

The Reason

I like to read storytelling that feels intentional. Like the author made choices—careful or cunning or gleeful—to include these words, these characters, these elements of story and world and theme. That the story was crafted.

Everything is there for a reason, you could say.

And yet, I flinch from that question: Is there a reason to include this?

This romance.

This queer character.

This woman.

Is she here for a reason?


The first version of my debut novel, Notorious Sorcerer, was actually a fanfic, taking some beloved characters and putting them into a fantasy world and story of my own devising. For reasons good, bad and ugly, a lot of fandoms were (bless their hearts) a bit of a cockforest. To include even a few women in my fanfic, I had to hunt around the fringes. But that’s how that particular cookie crumbled.

When I decided to expand that little flight of fancy into a proper novel, one of my first notes was “More women.” (In all-caps and underlined.) This was my cookie; it crumbled like I wanted.

The obvious first choice would be to genderflip one of the two main characters. But the more I considered it, the less I liked it. For starters, the story involved a romantic element, and I didn’t like removing queer characters for the sake of adding female ones. (Is there a reason for her? A reason for them?)

And when I changed one character to a woman, the dynamic changed in ways that I could feel but not quite put my finger on. It put a whole new slant on their bickering, their negotiation, their banter. I finally realised that, to quote the inestimable wisdom of Avril Lavigne: “He was a boy / She was a girl / Can I make it any more obvious?”

Sure, I could decide what gender and relations meant within the fantasy society I created, but I have no control over what a reader brings to reading the story. And for a lot of readers (like me) when you get a story with a complicated and intense dynamic between characters of opposite genders, we all know where this is going. The dynamic did have a romantic element, but I didn’t like how obvious—how much bigger and more important—that felt when the characters conformed to a more heteronormative view of the world. (Is there a reason why they kiss? Is there a reason why they don’t kiss?)

I briefly considered making them both women. At the time, I shied away from an all-female main cast. Given the book’s themes of individual innovation and breaking-away-from-the-system, it felt a little overtly sisters-against-the-patriarchy, and I wasn’t sure I was angry enough to write that book. These days, I might feel differently. Max Gladstone’s done some absolutely kick-ass majority-female books. And I’m only getting angrier.

So I left those two main characters as men. I later added in two additional main characters, sisters with plenty of troubles of their own, but before I got to that, I considered the wider world of the story, and started asking my own question:

Is there a reason for this character not to be a woman?


I don’t just want to see women in stories. I want to see interesting women. I want to see all sorts of women. I want to see cis and trans women. I want to see these women having all the sorts of adventures, storylines, discoveries, agencies as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing men having. I want to see so many women that some can be “bad” and some can be “good” and some can be “problematic” and some can be all three and more in the one package, and all of that can be interrogated. I want to see angry women and feminine women and intelligent women and forgetful women and cheerful uncaring women and women who are tired and just want a damn drink. I want women who are all of these and more.

I want to see different sorts of male characters. I want to see characters who are non-binary, or aligned with different gender spectrums, or exploring options.

I want to see all sorts of people.

Is there a reason we’re not?


My world was still half-formed and malleable, when I started asking my question. The original version of the story hadn’t been very long, and the world had been commensurately thin. I didn’t have baked-in gender assumptions yet, ways it had to be for the system to make sense. Could the current ruler of the city, whose missing son kicks off a big chunk of the plot, be a woman? No reason why not! Could the leader of one of the street-duelling gangs to which our hero belongs be a woman? Yeah, sure! What about the mentor-type figure to whom our hero looks up? Definitely, she can be a woman too.

I ended up with a world full of women at all echelons of society. Women wielding power, finding fulfilment, behaving badly, being role-models, making messes. I ended up with a world where there was no reason why any character couldn’t be a woman.

I’m not saying the setting of Notorious Sorcerer is a gender-neutral space. There are still some very gendered elements, and no doubt a whole lot of assumptions I carried in with me that I didn’t even realise I had. But I have had an interesting time exploring the results of that one little question—is there any reason why not a woman?

And it meant that when I added those new main characters—a pair of sisters up against the expectations and flaws of society—those expectations didn’t specifically include “what is expected of women”. Both sisters are struggling with finding meaning, finding fulfilment, finding a way to make their own space in the world. And yes, they’re also struggling with a disappointing marriage and coming-of-age worries, but those things aren’t women-only problems—not in the world I made up, nor the world I live in.

We all have our struggles. We often don’t get to shed the layer of gender assumptions, expectations, restrictions. We often accrue extra layers, tangled up with the demands of others. With the assumptions they’re bringing to the story of our lives. (Can I make it any more obvious?)

But perhaps part of how we change that—keep changing it, because things have shifted so much even in the time I’ve been writing this one story—is by asking those questions.

Is there any reason not to have a woman? A queer character? A romance?

What am I including? What am I leaving out?

It’s always a choice. Make it intentional. Make it with care.

Photo of Davinia Evans
Photo Credit: Gray Tham of Simply Gray Photography
Davinia Evans was born in the tropics and raised on British comedy. With a lifelong fantasy-reading habit and an honours thesis in political strategy, it was perhaps inevitable that she turn to a life of crafting stories full of sneaky ratbags tangling with magic. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with two humans (one large and one small), a neurotic cat, and a cellar full of craft beer. Dee talks more about all of that on Twitter as @cupiscent