Today is International Women’s Day, so to celebrate, I wanted to talk a little about the female characters of Sand Dancer.
Sand Dancer is the tale of Mina, a sixteen-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can enter an Academy of noble boys and find her father’s killer. Due to the nature of this story, most of the characters in book one are male, however as the series progresses, each book will introduce a variety of awesome female characters.
Mina herself is a bit of a tomboy. She grows up on the streets of a desert town and is thus a rough-and-tumble kind of kid. She doesn’t have much experience with girls her own age, nor does she grow up with any real female role models. Her mother died in childbirth, and the only women who give her attention are the priestesses in the Temple of Gai, home to the town healers, and she’s more likely to argue with them than listen to them! Instead, Mina grows up on her father’s tales of legendary warriors.
Over time, his words changed from mantras of honor to instructions of modesty, as though Mina’s father sobered and remembered his son existed as a girl all along. His training stopped the moment she bled. When pressed, he spouted nonsense that only men could wield a blade and Mina should drop all foolish notions of becoming a warrior to focus on her studies as a Green Hand. It was an argument she lost many times. Girls don’t become warriors. They become healers.
Why teach her all those tales of their tribe’s warriors and heroes? Why show her how to swing a sword if he planned to ignore it all based on her sex? Those heroes wouldn’t have followed Father’s cowardly advice. Who would have heard their tales if they did?
Girls could become warriors. Mina just needed to prove it.
She wants to become a warrior, but her father doesn’t think this is a career path for young girls – she wants to prove him wrong! Mina doesn’t care for the gender norms of society being placed on her, though as she grows older she’ll explore just what being a woman means to her and make female friends her own age later in the series, including a young noblewoman who represents what Mina’s life could have been like if she’d grown up in a different environment.
It was important for me to write a character who is a bit sporty and scrappy, but who recognises that her brand of femininity isn’t better or worse than anyone else’s. The friendships Mina makes complement her own personality, and they work together to support each other in a world that doesn’t necessarily favour women.
Shortly into book one, Mina meets Iman, the stewardess of House Arlbond. Iman is a larger-than-life no-nonsense woman who teaches Mina how to use the House style of sword fighting. She acts as a stern mentor figure to Mina whilst supporting Mina through her journey. As the only adult woman in Mina’s life, Iman becomes an aunt to Mina and the two of them grow close. Iman is a staunch feminist who has fought in her fair share of battles but has now retired and enjoys reading and baking. It’s Iman’s job to pass on her life lessons to Mina, and that includes teaching her how to deal with foolish boys and foolish men.
The world of Sandair is a traditional one, though women tend to manage the towns and the markets whilst men run to battle and war. However, it’s women who lead the three main temples within the world. Women make up the majority of Green Hands (healers) in the Temple of Gai, and women also possess stronger fire magic as Fire Walkers in the Temple of Rahn. The Temple of Lune, home to the Water Bearers, are all women – no men are allowed to serve. The Water Bearers help preserve the water supply and run the public baths of each town, but they also double up as a shelter for widowed and abused women, providing support for women who have nowhere else to go. This is something I explore more in the sequel!
As the series progresses, we’ll meet some tough women from priestesses to Fire Walkers and a princess who’s destiny is tied with Mina and their kingdom. All the female characters of Sand Dancer have their own strengths, weaknesses, and value in the overall story.