Her Story: Ladies In Literature 2018 with Emily A. Duncan

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty-six authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!


About Emily A. Duncan

Emily A. Duncan was born and raised in Ohio and works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she mostly just plays copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramTumblrGoodreads


I had to reach all the way until my college years to find the first female character that cracked me open and haunted me in such a way that I’m still working through the feelings that her story gave me. So much so that six years after Shadow and Bone came out I finally have found myself able to step back into the world, because before it still felt too raw to return.

Anyone who has spoken to me for more than seven minutes knows how much I love The Grisha Trilogy (now styled as The Shadow and Bone Trilogy which is fine but it will always be The Grisha Trilogy in my heart). So for me to be writing about Alina Starkov will shock precisely no one.

Growing up, all my favorite characters were boys. Growing up, all my favorite characters were villains, but that’s an entirely different story, if not an unrelated point. Though every book I picked up the girls were nice to read about and their stories were ones I enjoyed, I never really stumbled upon a character that made so much sense to me in my heart as Alina.

There’s something about a tired, grouchy girl thrust into a world she does not understand and doesn’t always want to be a part of; a story about a girl who doesn’t really fit in anywhere trying to find her place, who was allowed to be both fascinated and repulsed by it all in turn, that I adored. Something about a girl who was drawn by darkness but truly, deeply, ultimately just wanted peace, was something I understood deeply.

All my favorite characters were villains, you see. And while the trilogy has an iconic, enigmatic villain whom I deeply adore, Alina’s stubborn, judgemental, snark and dry wit never let the reader forget that this was her narrative and she would do what she had to and make terrible, messy decisions, and impossible choices to see a seed of peace in a war torn world.

But it was the mess that I understood the most. Life is messy. There are impossible choices (if not quite so earth shattering as one might find in a fantasy trilogy) and people are wildly inconsistent, messy, complicated beings. It always struck me how Alina’s story embraced the mess and the facets of living a life where everyone expects something different from you; in which everyone has their own image of you painted in the way they want you to be, regardless of who you actually are. In which you live behind roles and personas – each one different for a different aspect of your life – but underneath it all you are just…you and the personas can only go so far.

Alina was allowed to be dry and grouchy and snappish. She was allowed to make quick judgements about the people she meets in the Little Palace and have her judgements turn out wrong (or right). She was allowed to be utterly complicated and petty and wonderfully real.

It wasn’t just that embracing of complexity that drew me so entirely to Alina, but that hers was the first story that I saw in which a girl was allowed to be drawn to the darkness and that was fine. No narrative condemnation, no angel/whore complex (which one will find aplenty in the old fantasy novels I spent my time reading), just a story of being drawn to something terrible yet beautiful and all the tragically delightful complications therein.

It was the summer right before my junior year of college when Shadow and Bone came out. I was majoring in English and toiling at a book that I had spent most of my life on at that point, but I was ultimately unsure if it would ever be wanted, because I had never seen anything like it. That book was about a girl who makes terrible choices and a boy who was, frankly, evil and their tumultuous, painful relationship. I was writing the novel I wished existed but wasn’t wholly confident it ever would (it was ultimately shelved, but that’s another story). Reading Shadow and Bone felt like coming home in a way that is to this day almost impossible to describe; meeting Alina was like reading about a character that I’ve known my whole life. It was a confirmation that maybe, maybe my weird little books about girls with questionable morals and ambitious boys with no morals at all might be wanted. That maybe, maybe, there was space for girls with sharp edges who just want to take a nap.

Let’s be honest here, I really felt Alina’s innate desire to just take a nap.

Title Wicked Saints
Author Emily A. Duncan
Pages N/A
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Fantasy
To Be Published 2019 by Wednesday Books
Find It On Goodreads

Something dark and holy…

One response to “Her Story: Ladies In Literature 2018 with Emily A. Duncan”

  1. Taylor says:

    I loved this article so much!!! I have had trouble articulating sometimes why I am drawn to darker stories and this hit the nail right on the head for me:

    “Something about a girl who was drawn by darkness but truly, deeply, ultimately just wanted peace, was something I understood deeply…It wasn’t just that embracing of complexity that drew me so entirely to Alina, but that hers was the first story that I saw in which a girl was allowed to be drawn to the darkness and that was fine. No narrative condemnation, no angel/whore complex (which one will find aplenty in the old fantasy novels I spent my time reading), just a story of being drawn to something terrible yet beautiful and all the tragically delightful complications therein.”

    Thank you for this!!!

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