Monday, 15 September 2014

Happy First Birthday!

So . . . it’s officially been one whole year since The Half-Strung Harp was born! Looking back at my first post – which was also the first book review I ever wrote – I’d like to think I’ve come on in leaps and bounds, both in my writing and in the way I view my reading.

I don’t have a lot of time to spend interacting on social media. As such, this has always been a very modest blog, with a very small circle of regular readers among my fellow bloggers. For those of you who’ve read and commented in the past – Nathan and Pauline of Fantasy Review Barn, Mogsy and the other lovely ladies from the Bibliosanctum, Ria of Bibliotropic, Hannah the Waystone Owl, Rabindranauth of Drunken Dragon Reviews, and all the others – I just want to let you know that I appreciate you taking the time to do so, even when I don’t always have the time to do the same in return.

Looking back . . .

I’ve made some fantastic fantasy discoveries in the last twelve months: series such as Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire, Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and Coin, and Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer; special gems such as Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song, Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, and Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades; and some truly enjoyable re-reads, particularly Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series and Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen (re-read still ongoing).

However, with the celebration of this blog’s first birthday comes a more sombre revelation: of the sixty books I’ve read and reviewed in the last twelve months, only four of these were written by female authors. Four! This struck me as a somewhat gross imbalance, and got me wondering: why?

Well, for a start, my preferred genre is fantasy fiction, which has traditionally been dominated by male writers. And I have to say that the writers whose work I’ve enjoyed reading the most – including those listed above – are, without exception, men.

However, in this day and age, one can’t simply plead the old excuse that ‘women don’t write fantasy!’ Because of course they do. So why do so many people assume they don’t? Is it because the stands and tables in Waterstones are so dominated by popular male authors that many people simply assume this is representative of the genre as a whole? Why do so many of us choose not to look any further?

What do the following books have in common?

The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan
The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan
Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper
The Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon
The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon
The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe
The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
Betrayal by Fiona McIntosh
Revenge by Fiona McIntosh
Destiny by Fiona McIntosh
Royal Exile by Fiona McIntosh
Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin
The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller
Blight of Mages by Karen Miller
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts
The Ships of Merior by Janny Wurts
The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

The answer is, I own them all, and some of the oldest have been sitting on my shelf for over six years now. And yet many of the books I read this past year were purchased much more recently, yet didn’t have to suffer the same neglect as those listed above.

Looking forward . . .

Much as I dislike the concept of forced diversity, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d like to try and read more fantasy written by female authors; not only to address the imbalance of my prior reading, but also because I’ve heard such good things from other bloggers that I feel I’m missing out. So, starting with those I own, and then hopefully moving on to those authors on my wishlist – K.J. Parker, C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, Kate Elliott, and others – my goal for the next year is to balance my reading, and try and discover some great female fantasy authors. Here’s to another year of reviewing, and hoping the blog’s second birthday will contain a much better showing from the fairer sex!

And of course, any recommendations in the comments would be welcome. :)


  1. First of all, congratulations on a year. It is a hell of a commitment to write reviews and upkeep a blog for that long; I watched a lot of blogs flame out after a couple of months (including my first attempt). Here is to many more.

    I have slipped a bit this year, back to about a 60/40 ratio of men to women authored works. But I will tell you this, it isn't forced diversity. It opens the world to so many new and awesome books. Had I not forced myself to step away from the most talked about books I would have never discovered so many favorites from my last two years.

    Good luck to you in the next year of blogging, hope to read your reviews for a long time.

    1. Thanks so much Nathan. It almost happened to me too: I sort of fizzled out for a couple of months (partly because Blogger went through a phase of being even more useless than usual), but I'm very glad I got back on the horse before it died completely!

      It's good to hear I've got lots of good things to look forward to. I think this year my goal is to read more by female authors, but next year it might be to read more 'obscure' work, or even just older stuff: most of what I read tends to be stuff released within the last few years, and I sometimes feel a bit band-wagon-ish when I read other reviews of books I've never heard of.

  2. Happy blogoversary! First year is a big deal, here's to many more! :)

    And I haven't really been paying attention to my female to male author ratio this past year, though the other day I went back to my Goodreads list to check and it was actually very close. I have read maybe like 2 more books written by men than by women, but then I also read a ton of urban fantasy and some YA. Just curious, have you read any Jacqueline Carey? I adore her epic fantasy Kushiel books! If you haven't, I highly recommend her stuff!

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    1. Cheers Mogsy! :)

      Yeah, it's not something I've ever really thought about before, and I was shocked to realise just how imbalanced my own ratio is!

      Just had a look at the Kushiel's Legacy series - it looks intriguing! Although some of the cover art is slightly appalling. :D

  3. Congratulations!! Keeping up with blogging is definitely hard sometimes, so the fact that you've successfully done it for an entire year is pretty darn great. And you read so many books too, on top of it! I'm very jealous, I haven't read nearly as much as I would like. (slow reader hanna)

    The genre is definitely dominated my males, and it's totally true to say that it is obvious both on fantasy book blogs and also in bookstores. I would also like to try reading more female fantasy authors. I'm looking forward to your future reviews for this, hopefully something will catch my eye. :)

    1. Thanks Hanna! :) I was out of work for about 5 months out of the 12, which explains why I managed to read so much! I'm much slower the rest of the time. :D