Happy Mother’s Day!
It’s Mother’s Day here in the UK today, and between spending the weekend with my own lovely Mum I couldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate some mothers from fiction.
These aren’t characters like Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger, who become mothers right at the end of their stories with their perfect marriages and their 2.5 kids and probably a dog. These are the heroines who are either already mothers when their story begins, or heroines who become mothers during their story. Importantly, it’s not the end of their story, because that’s not how motherhood works in real life either.
Motherhood is one of my favourite things to read about, I love messy mothers who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t know how to relate to their children, who love their children but want to be able to love their children and still love themselves. That’s not easy when so much of western society condemns women for not wanting to spend every moment of their time with their children.
So, without further ado, let’s celebrate some of fiction’s best mothers!
Essun from The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
Essun is not only one of my favourite fictional mothers, if not my absolute favourite, but she’s also one of the best SFF heroines of all time. The Broken Earth is a post-apocalyptic fantasy trilogy, and the first trilogy in history to win a Hugo Award for each book, and it’s brutal. This is not a particularly happy story and Essun has an incredibly difficult life, but she is so compelling and a wonderful exploration in how people who suffer trauma as children can unintentionally recreate that trauma for their own children as adults. Her relationship with her daughter, Nassun, is particularly heart-breaking and so well written. If you haven’t read this series, please, please read it.
Helen Graham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
As far as Victorian literature goes, Helen Graham is one of its strongest heroines and I feel like she’s often overlooked because her strength is a quiet one. She doesn’t come back from the dead and punch through windows, but Anne Brontë’s contemporaries found Helen just as shocking when she dared to slam the door on her husband. Oh my! Given that her husband is an abusive alcoholic, however, Helen’s actions are quite mild compared to what I would have done. She’s a Victorian superhero, and she’s prepared to create a pariah of herself to keep her young son safe.
Sybella d’Albret from Dark Triumph by Robin Lafevers
Mothers who lose their children are still mothers, even if, like Sybella, they only have their children for mere moments. So much of Sybella’s story is about her overcoming her past trauma and finding strength in her experiences so that she can move forward without guilt. Sadly, there are many women who have lost children, some before they were born and some years afterwards, and I think it can be easy to forget that those women are still mothers. For me, Sybella was a heroine for those women and I adore her.
Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
I mentioned this in my 5 reasons to read the Parasol Protectorate series post, but I love Alexia because she continues to have adventures throughout this 5 book series, even though from books 3-5 she’s either pregnant or the mother of a very young child. She loves her child, despite the pregnancy being completely unexpected and something of an unpleasant shock, but she’s still Alexia first and foremost and she continues to work and prioritise her career and pursue her academic interests. She’s just a badass, and she refuses to let the men around her decide what she’s capable of when they start to define her worth by the child she’s carrying.
Isabella Camherst from The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
Much like Alexia, Isabella refuses to let motherhood prevent her from pursuing her career. While Alexia is the only one qualified for her job, however, Isabella has to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously in an academic field run by men who think she should be at home, darning socks. Isabella also gives a voice to the women out there who love their children, but don’t necessarily know how to be a good mother. When her son is an infant, Isabella has no idea how to relate to him and it isn’t until he’s older and she can share her passions with him that she can come into her own and parent the way she sees fit. Naturally, society doesn’t agree with her way of parenting, but luckily for Isabella she doesn’t actually give a crap what they think, and her son is quite happy to have a mother who can take him on adventures.
October “Toby” Daye from the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
After being trapped in the body of a fish for 14 years, changeling Toby Daye finds her daughter now 16, not the 2 year old she unwillingly left behind, and with no way to explain where she was without revealing the world of the Fae she’s been cut out of her daughter’s life and doesn’t deem herself worthy enough to have a place in her daughter’s future. Not everyone has an easy relationship with their mother, and not every mother has an easy relationship with her children, and it’s refreshing to see that represented through Toby. She might not be able to see her daughter now, but that doesn’t make Toby any less of a mother.