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Today’s guest is fantasy author Hannah Kaner! Her debut novel, Godkiller, became a #1 Sunday Times bestseller after its UK release earlier this year and will be published in the US on September 12, 2023. It’s described as being set in “a land where all gods have been banned, and one young woman is paid to kill those who still hide in the shadows,” but she “discovers a god she cannot kill: Skedi, a small god of white lies.” I’m thrilled that the author is here today with “Don’t damsel your fury.”

Cover of Godkiller by Hannah Kaner

Don’t damsel your fury – Hannah Kaner

I remember being a furious child. Small and blonde, bookish and talkative, I hated how often I was “baby”, how often I was “cute”. I wanted to be loud, strong, and powerful. I wanted to fight my brothers and my cousins, strength to strength, arm to arm, bloody noses and bruises.

Worse was when they started getting bigger, taller, stronger. Worse is that being as loud as the lads was ‘annoying’ (them), ‘boisterous and unladylike’ (adults), ‘disruptive’ (teachers). I’m sure I was all of those things, but it was early that I understood that there was one expectation for ‘girls’, one for ‘boys’, and you were expected to fit neatly into one or the other.

“Look at you! You’re a woman, not a man—
your strength is no match for your enemies” (Sophocles, Electra)

The stories I consumed seemed to agree. It was a woman’s place to be rescued, or to be a best friend, a supporting act or a love interest, or just scenery. If they wanted to take action, they were either ‘chosen ones’ or they must lament or work within their gender or the limits of their bodies. Electra must wait for Orestes before she can claim her revenge, Clytemnestra is punished for seeking her own, Lady Macbeth demands “Come you spirits. . . unsex me here” so she can realise her ambition, Scheherazade must entice Shahryar with stories to save her head from rolling in the morning.

“All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.” (Virginia Woolf, Orlando)

It’s wild what we learn when we are young, how quickly survival takes centre stage. How important it is to fit, to entice, to cajole.

I started to think that in order to be respected as an agent rather than a supporting act I had to adopt some trappings of masculinity. I leaned into ‘tomboy’, I rejected the femininity I saw as weakness, in much the same way as N.K. Jemisin describes in her post ‘Don’t Fear the Unicorn’.

“Take care.
Ares, god of warfare, lives in women, too.” (Sophocles, Electra)

As I grew and felt more comfortable in my own body, in enjoying my femininity, I still struggled with its limits. I’ve been in ‘team’ scenarios where I’m advised to lower and deepen my voice to be respected, where I’ve had to consider how I can rebuff advances without being ostracised or inviting attack, to present my case as if it was someone else’s idea, and to be called a ‘bulldog’ when I have the courage to speak out.

“If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone, or you’re too sick to be angry. . . You should be angry. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.” (Maya Angelou, Iconoclast)

I’m not alone. As more women, diverse and powerful, trans and cis, use their voices and gain acclaim, the backlash causes whiplash: too much. Not enough. Too aggressive, too performative, too attention seeking, too girly, too emasculating. Not woman enough. As if ‘woman’ was a fixed and simple box tied to reproductive organs and an ability to be sideways-smart and pettable. Cute.

“Not, let it be said at once, an unaggressive or uncombative human being. I am an aging, angry woman laying mightily about me with my handbag, fighting hoodlums off.” (Ursula Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction)

So, writing Godkiller, I wanted to write a woman who never learned how to be small in a world that didn’t expect it of her. The challenges and limits of gender and expectation, queerness and nuclear families are still important stories to explore, but in Godkiller I threw those challenges to the wind. Kissen is everything Electra or Lady Macbeth, Clytemnestra and Scheherazade may have, in my imagination, desired. She is furious at the world and not afraid to voice it. She doesn’t need permission to be aggressive, bloody-fists forward, stubborn as a donkey and larger than life.

She is everything that I wanted to read when I was young.

“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” (Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Trickster)

And Kissen isn’t an isolated incident. In SFF right now, in writing right now, there are stories bursting at the seams with incandescent dances with women’s rage, rage of different ilk’s, furies of different fashions, of women’s anger in fierce flight. We are allowed to be monstrous, to be agents and, even better, to make mistakes.

The space that speculative fiction, fantasy and sci fi, gives us isn’t just to allow us to fight against the shape the world puts on us, but asks the question: what if the world was a different shape? What if instead of learning to fit into the world, what if we expect the world to fit us?

Photo of Hannah Kaner Hannah Kaner is the #1 internationally bestselling author of Godkiller. A Northumbian writer living in Scotland, she is inspired by world mythologies, angry women, speculative fiction, and the stories we tell ourselves about being human.