This week’s flashback book is Daughter of the Bright Moon, featuring Rifkind, a warrior-healer whose character inspired Xena, the warrior princess herself!
This was such a fun book. Rifkind’s one of the few lady sword-slingers coming out of this sword and sorcery genre who doesn’t have sexual assault as a part of her origin story. She’s brash, bold, and completely cool with how totally awesome she is. It’d be easy to tip this into Mary Sue territory, since she’s basically an awesome healer, a powerful potential witch, and a seasoned swordswoman, but Abbey’s careful to remind of the reader of Rifkind’s character flaws. Rifkind doesn’t ask for help, she doesn’t look for subterfuge, and she often reacts without thinking, all of which constantly put her in danger.
What I found especially interesting is that Rifkind’s not white. She’s Asheeran, described as having golden skinned, high cheekbones, dark and almond-shaped eyes, and dark hair. After her clan’s destroyed, she has to journey across a barren wasteland to get to Dro Daria, where she plans to make her fortune. When she arrives, she discovers an evil wizard is looking for her mother’s ruby necklace so that he can use to take over the world. In order to thwart these diabolical plans, Rifkind joins forces with the Overnmonts, a noble family in it to win it — they want Rifkind to help them unseat the wizard (who’s presently dividing the court politically) so that they can rise to a position of power. Umm. Also, they want to save the country from ruin. That’s totally a secondary goal, tho.
Anyways, to get Rifkind to the court, they have to find a way to explain why she’s so brown/exotic looking. They end up passing her off as a country cousin from near the Asheeran border, the product of what they insinuate is a mixed coupling. There are several other points where Rifkind’s race matters; when she first arrives in Dro Daria, she’s immediately marked as being Asheeran, a member of the hated foreign hordes constantly threatening the country’s borders. All her attempts to pass as a non-Other are awkwardly successful at best, involving her using magic to hide the mark of the Goddess (a silvery crescent moon embedded in her cheek) and to cloud her racial identity.
I find it fascinating that something so impacting this character’s view of herself didn’t make it into the television series inspired by her adventures. Part of what I found so compelling about Rifkind was her understanding of herself as a loner, underscored by both her racial and gendered identities. She’s not a normal Asheeran woman, what with being sworn to the Goddess as a mage-healer and having earned her own sword and warhorse. When she leaves Asheera, she’s marked out even more — now she’s not only a woman/healer/warrior, but is also an Asheeran woman/healer/warrior/witch. She gets to a point where only Turin, her empathic war-horse,* is able to truly know her. That’s one of the underlying themes of the novel. Ultimately, Rifkind’s only able to beat the baddies by owning these multiple identities. They intersect, but that doesn’t mean they have to clash.