NOTE: This analysis contains spoilers.
Yesterday, I reviewed Jon Mollison’s new book Sudden Rescue at the Castalia House blog. Though the book was fairly short, it didn’t feel short; all of the action and details were relevant, with no meaningless filler. What struck me, though, wasn’t the brevity or the heroics — though those certainly helped.
It was the relationship between the main character E. Z. Sudden and the space princess Karenina. It showed excellent sexual polarity.
It goes something like this: Sudden saves Karenina from floating around in space in a stasis box, then they have some fun back-and-forth banter while Karenina eases herself into his ship, then Karenina learns to lay low as a mechanic while she assists Sudden with running the ship and Sudden watches over her. Generally, she is grateful for his help, never trying to mark herself as more clever than him. She even learns not to rely on her high birth so much, and she becomes great friends with Jade, the AI on Sudden’s ship.
Also, Sudden protects her in a bar fight, but Karenina distracts the bad guys at just the right moment to allow Sudden to escape a beatdown. Later in the book, he also saves Karenina from a rampaging AI swarm, and Karenina in turn leverages her social clout to bring in a warship to rescue Sudden after his is captured by a completely different foe.
Those events allowed for true romance between the man and the woman. All throughout, Sudden played the role of masculine protector and provider while Karenina acted as the feminine helpmeet, helping to run the ship without complaint and using her high status to get Sudden out of trouble. Sudden came off as the dominant leader without being domineering, and Karenina responded to that vibe first with a few well-placed insults, then by following his lead, satisfying her craving for security. Helping Sudden proved to be rewarding for her, showing her that the galaxy didn’t revolve around her and her petty wants; she actually added value to Sudden’s life, and Sudden rewarded her with care and devotion to her.
This right here is golden; modern speculative fiction simply does not portray it anymore. Such tropes are blasted as outdated relics from a backward time, failing to affirm equality between men and women. Yet when these allegedly retrograde tropes play out, the story feels right. It feels nice. It feels satisfying.
If this story were written in the standard modern style, the relationship would go more like this: Karenina would emerge from the box not in a dress, but in some sort of combat outfit since she would have failed to beat up all of the pirates. Whenever Sudden tried to tell her to do something, she would fight against it and cut him down verbally at every chance. If he insists, she would punch him to “put him in his place.”
At the bar on Emerald, she would say that she could handle herself, then out-drink Sudden and everyone else while attracting a crowd. When the thug tries to take Karenina to the dance floor, she would knock him out right then and there, kicking off a bar fight where she defeats multiple opponents with the power of pixie ninja Army Ranger combat skills while Sudden forgets what a fist even is — in fact, Sudden will be knocked out and Karenina would carry him out like a sack of potatoes.
When they get to the Jumble, she won’t get snatched immediately — instead, she would destroy more robots with her elite martial arts moves while Sudden only destroys a mere handful. Then she will be captured, but when Sudden returns for her, she will not only have freed herself, she would lead the other prisoners in a pitched battle scene where she slaughters Synth ships left, right and center. When Ruddy captures Sudden, Karenina will have a long kung-fu battle against him and win, saying a quick line when she snaps his neck.
At the ending, Sudden will be in the hospital and he would still get married to Karenina, but they will point out how strong and powerful Karenina is, because she is the head of some Majesterium military division or something.
Something like what we actually got in the novel is a welcome change from the anti-romance status quo in speculative fiction. Instead of a snarky karate-kicking ninja girl who wants to prove she can “beat” a man, we get a lovely and helpful princess who makes her man’s life better. Instead of male and female being treated like opposite poles on a magnet with no real differneces between them, this story brings out those differences to create a connection between the two that warms the heart. Instead of a dry “partnership” like a business transaction or corporate merger, they are true lovers who need one another.
As I said in the review, buy Sudden Rescue. I cannot recommend this book enough. Action, adventure, romance — the whole trifecta is here.