I’m challenging myself to read only novels by women and femme people for a full year, from March 2019 through March 2020. Read this post to get the full story!
This time around, I read a collection of reimagined fantasy short stories by Ana Mardoll!
I’ve been a longtime Twitter follower of Ana Mardoll, but this is my first time reading xer fiction. This is also the first book by a publicly nonbinary author I’ve featured in the Challenge. Mardoll identifies as genderqueer in her profile and answers to she/her and xie/xer pronouns; to be respectful of that I’m going to use both to refer to xer.
In her introduction to No Man of Woman Born, Mardoll lays out the inspiration behind the collection: despite a deep love of high fantasy, xie noticed that traditional high fantasy and fairy tale narratives exclude people like her: genderqueer, nonbinary, transgender, bi-gender, and other folks whose genders don’t match those they were assigned at birth.
No Man of Woman Born asks a deceptively simple yet simultaneously subversive question: what if the classic gendered prophecies of high fantasy were fulfilled by someone with an identity outside the prescriptive gender binary?
The collection’s title is, of course, a reference to the famous Shakespearean prophecy, “No man of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. The stories in this collection are each built around such a prophecy, seemingly insoluble within the bounds of the gender binary. While Shakespeare found his workaround in the form of a Caesarean section, Mardoll’s characters show such paradoxes to be failures of perspective, language, and worldview that exclude their lived experience — until the prophecy’s fulfillment reveals the truth.
As in real life, their gender identities are an essential part of their stories, but not all of their stories–as Mardoll says in the intro, “these characters aren’t special because they’re trans, they’re special and they are trans.” In the best tradition of high-fantasy adventure stories, the characters within these pages are resourceful, inventive, brave, and compassionate. I thoroughly enjoyed reading their adventures and will definitely be checking out more of Mardoll’s books.
Already read No Man of Woman Born? Let me know what you thought in the comments!