Sometimes fortune smiles upon me. I posted on Facebook a few months ago how much I had enjoyed the batshit-insane post-apocalyptic barbarian queen epic She, and Ross Lockhart, friend/kick-ass editor of The Book of Cthulhu pinged me, asking if I’d like an advance copy of Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar. I looked up the cover (left) and started drooling. Yes, I said. Yes, send this book to me, please.
I mean, omg, look at that cover! Big-hair muscle-babe in sweet armor uses a Gatsu-proprotioned sword to carve up purple tiger-taurs amidst an epic landscape? That is pretty much all I ever wanted from a novel. But a question came to mind: Could Jane Carver possibly live up to my expectations after I had gazed upon that wonderful artist’s rendition of a bad-ass warrior woman’s enviable quadriceps?
Yes. Yes, it could. Actually—no. Jane Carver exceeded every single one of my expectations in the best possible ways.
I mean, let’s talk about the protagonist: Jane Carver. Jane is a strong, punchy biker chick and ex-Airborne Ranger, who, due to circumstances, is forced to go on the run from the law … straight into a magical cave that transports her to an alien planet: Waar. Waar is populated with terrible monsters and all-too-human alien humanoids. They ride big chocobo-style birds and have a quasi-feudal society. So far, so awesome. Also: The gravity is less than Jane’s used to, meaning she can jump high, punch hard, lift heavy things, and go braless without pain. YES!
Jane, to her credit, takes all this in stride, and for much of the book ends up helping a male-model handsome (but hopeless-with-a-sword) princeling named Kai who early-on in the book has his sexy bride stolen from him by a rival nobleman-cum-asshole. Noble Kai, who speaks in luxurious courtly language, is the straight man to Jane’s joker. The dynamic is awesome, and often very funny. Take, for example, this early exchange, after Jane helps Kai extricate himself from the ruins of his coach, post violent bride-snatching:
I passed him some of the meat pies and veggies. “Eat. You gotta get your strength back.”
He took the chow, but offered some back to me. “And you? Do you not hunger?”
I hadn’t realized it ’til then, but I did hunger. I hungered like dammit. Traveling light-years in a second, or whatever I’d done, sure built up a powerful appetite.
That’s the tone throughout; Jane narrates the whole thing (College Feminist Molly says: Look how she’s a Subject rather than an Object! Hells yes!). Thus we see Waarian culture through her eyes, and Jane is not uncritical of what she finds. It may be a beautiful world full of thoroughly decent people, but misogyny, machismo, and double-standards abound among the folks she encounters. Jane, however, calls everyone on his or her bullshit, which is really fun for the reader. Not only does she freak everyone out by being a woman who looks unusual (Waarians are purplish, dark-haired, and on the shorter side; Jane is 6’2″, white, and red-haired), as well as being strangely strong and agile, but she freaks them out with her feminist and class-eliding notions, too.
Jane articulates her problems with Waarian culture beautifully, and without pretension, and with laser-pinpoint accuracy. Take, for example, Jane’s thoughts on lordly, incompetent, honor-bound Sai’s quest to win back his fiancee via single combat when she first encounters regular ol’ Waarians (instead of the noblesse):
…I understood these people. The guys were just guys. The chicks were just chicks. They wouldn’t die for some sucker’s idea of honor if you told them heaven was an eternal blowjob. They might die for love, or for friendship or even their country, but they wouldn’t throw their lives away because it was more honorable to be dead.
Sorry. I guess Sai was pissing me off a little at that point. I bet he could have ditched his title, got the girl and lived down here on Sailcloth Street and nobody here would have given him a second glance. But with his upbringing that would probably have been harder for him than dying. Oh well, fuck it.
Jane rolls with the punches (and throws them) which is gratifying and makes for smile-inducing reading. Even better: she never considers herself superior to the Waarians because of her appearance/opinions/abilities, just different. Jane is a very “live-and-let-live (unless you piss me off or hurt my friends)” sort of person. She may think she has a handle on things, but her opinions aren’t rigid and she’s willing to learn as well as teach. Long does a bang-up job of writing a first-person female protagonist whose feminism is unobtrusive but so omnipresent you can tell that’s just who she is. It’s fantastic. I mean, after reading the book I wanted a sequel, but more than that, I wanted to go to the gym and then grab a beer with Jane. So, yeah.
The novel hit all the right notes for me, basically. I can’t talk more about what I loved with out spoilering too much, so I’ll leave off here and just say, if you like well-written adventure novels, get this book when it comes out. It’s so goddamn good.
There was literally only one little thing that bothered me in Jane Carver of Waar, and wasn’t a big deal, though it does come in the first two pages, in Long’s prologue. I liked the conceit of the prologue just fine: that Long met Jane outside of a bar, and she provided him with the account that comprises the book. But then there’s a weird moment, before we’ve even met Jane, where Long tells us:
Jane is remarkably honest in her admissions of her failings, but sometimes I wonder if she is’t being too modest. She says throughout the tapes how ugly she is. Well, I met her, and though she was no Scarlett Johansson, she was by no means ugly. She had the kind of broad-faced, rugged good looks you associate with frontierswomen and female fire-fighters.
This comment rubbed me ever so slightly the wrong way. I understand what Long’s trying to do here—Jane is, after all, a 6’2″ female ex-airborne ranger, and even on earth that’s not something one sees every day, so Jane has certain opinions regarding her physical appearance that are informed by the beauty standards of our world. That said, I don’t give a damn if the heroine of a novel is butt-ugly or not, and I don’t need an outsider’s reassurance that “it’s not like that, objectively speaking” if a heroine says she’s not attractive. I didn’t feel it was a necessary remark; indeed, I felt it kind of undermined Jane’s authority in telling her own tale. That said, I understand why Long included this comment. I think it was with the best of intentions, and it’s true that body-worship is part and parcel of the barbarian epic. I just think it would have been fine to have Jane tell us about herself, rather than Long as he appears in his prologue, I guess.
Anyways, who cares, the book ruled like dammit, as Jane would say, and I would read a billion Jane Carver novels. The back-cover copy may read: “Jane Carver is nobody’s idea of a space princess.” Well, maybe that’s true for some people, but Jane Carver is exactly my idea of a space princess. Strong, foul-mouthed, bad-ass, socially aware in interesting and engaging ways, self-aware, feminist, malleable while holding strong opinions, crafty, intelligent, resourceful, and still entirely human in all the right ways. Yes! Yes, yes, yes. We need more books like Jane Carver of Waar out there. I actually delayed finishing the book for a few days because I didn’t want to leave Jane and Waar behind; hearing that Long has already planned a sequel, Swords of Waar, took away a little of the pain. I cannot wait to devour it.