Please welcome to the blog Laura Bickle! She's here during a promo tour for her Anya Kalinczyk series, which includes Embers and Sparks. Laura is a lover of all things nerdy and fantasy. That alone makes her a win in my book! Below she's written a guest post all about powerful heroines, which are also my cup of tea. Please enjoy, and remember to check out her books and add them to your TBR!
Mythic Heroines: Ishtar's Uneasy Balance
by Laura Bickle
I've always loved reading about powerful heroines, women who are in charge of their own story. I grew up reading Robin McKinley's heroines, like Aerin in THE HERO AND THE CROWN, who slew their own dragons. I was even sympathetic to the legend of Medusa - in my eyes, she was a tragic figure who turned all her lovers to stone. Myths are rich in stories of women who have attempted to balance power and love. I quickly learned that writing a powerful heroine is a whole different kettle of fish than reading about one.
One of the myths I was drawn to was the myth of Ishtar. Ishtar is the Babylonian goddess of love, war, and sex. Her love was known to be fatal. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh tells her:
“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing… You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong... You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."
One of the most famous myths about Ishtar involves her descent to the Underworld, in pursuit of the soul a lost lover. She descends through the gates of hell, shedding her weapons and clothing as offerings, until she reaches Ereshkigel, Queen of the Underworld. Ereshkigel poisons Ishtar, dooming her to the Underworld. She can only be freed if someone will take her place.
Ishtar returns to the surface of the earth, in the company of demons, to find someone to take her place. She finds that her husband, Tammuz, has not mourned her. In a fit of rage, she sends him back to the underworld in her place, with the demons.
The myth fascinated me, the idea of a mythic heroine who was a love goddess, who could also be so ruthless. She wasn't like any of the other love goddesses I'd studied. Ishtar didn't recline prettily on a fainting couch, twirling her hair and awaiting her destiny; she picked up her sword and fought for who and what she wanted. I was eager to recast a bit of her in a modern image.
“You have the eyes of Ishtar.”
This is what the heroine, Anya, of EMBERS, is told. She doesn’t want to believe it. She’s got enough on her plate: by day, she’s an arson investigator on the trail of a serial firebug. By night, she works with a group of ghost hunters as a Lantern, a medium capable of seeing and devouring spirits. Anya’s responsible for keeping her fire salamander familiar, Sparky, from chewing on electrical cords. And she’s confused by her feelings for a fellow ghost-hunter, Brian, attempting to keep her distance.
A serial arsonist, Drake, tells Anya that she has the Babylonian goddess’s terrible gaze. He should know -- he’s a fellow Lantern, the only other one she’s encountered. And he tells her that she has much more than Ishtar’s gaze…
A character patterned after the Ishtar archetype was a challenging one to write. She’s not the usual heroine who always makes the morally-correct choices. She has a dark side, and she must struggle with it. She’s somber, angry, and is confused about her feelings.
Though she’s emotionally armored, she’s very human. She loves, and aches to be a part of something larger than herself. But she’s an outsider: she’s apart from the world of humans, and even the ghost-hunters don’t fully trust her powers. Like many of us, she wants to be understood. And the only person who fully knows what she is, what she’s capable of, is another Lantern: Drake, the man determined to burn a city to the ground.
As Ishtar did long ago, Anya finds herself in the company of demons. While attempting an exorcism, Anya absorbs an ancient Babylonian demon, who works to possess Anya. The demon manages to gain a toehold in Anya’s own darker impulses, driving her into the arms of evil.
Like Ishtar, Anya must surface from the Underworld victorious, rescuing the souls she’s descended to rescue. And she must decide which sacrifices to make, who will remain in the Underworld behind her.
Anya is more human than Ishtar. She's reluctant to use her power, and tangled in her own feelings of guilt. But, still, she has some of the imprint of Ishtar upon her, the desire and the power to act on it. I think that there's something inherently interesting about how people deal with power and love that gives them a story, something to struggle against.