I forget just how old I was when I first read it, but The Raven Ring was particularly formative for me as a kid. To this day, I prefer characters who do not get in anybody’s way, characters who are multilingual, and competent female characters who do not have something to prove.
A(n awesome) Goodreads reviewer pointed out Eleret (the main character) and her perfectness. Ostensibly, she saw it as a flaw, and I have to amiably disagree. If a reader is a girl who must or wants to resonate with a lead female character, the range is not actually limited. But it does come down to these two major points, a lot of the time.
The first is the one most prevalent in YA (and other) fiction these days: the imperfect girl who is very aware of and/or limited by her flaws. I added the word “very” before aware, because this type is a bit like an anvil anxious to assure you that it is indeed heavy. Personal description in first person is rife with lists of flaws and “Good feature tempered by bad one.”
This may come from authors who are afraid of being perceived as Suethors (or ones recovering from that identity). Heaven knows we can’t have a heroine who is beautiful and knows it. She can’t be slender, she must be skinny–and if she’s slender, then she has to be clumsy or too outspoken, or some other flaw that is getting really boring.
I can’t remember the last time I read about a character who was confident in her looks without it having to be to a purpose. Jennifer in Runaway Mistress is gorgeous, but she has a reason (her looks are her livelihood) and they are also plot-relevant. She also throws them to the wind as soon as survival demands it. She is awesome, but that is besides the point. She’s also over twenty, so YA girls are stuck with the same growing pains over and over and over and over… you get the picture. Women get to vary, but under-twenties have to be of a type?
The heroines rife with flaws are a good thing. Really. But we have so much of it. The Raven Ring is a pretty old book, and it still stands out as having a female protagonist who isn’t awkward and limited or a cynical and lacking. She is wholly positive. Not perfect. Wholly positive. She is attractive, but her looks are unimportant. She is a skilled at fighting, sneaking, tactics, and being polite. She has a good memory and she’s practical. She has strong family ties and respect for her culture and traditions. In fact, her culture is the reason for all of her good traits. Do you know what that implies? It implies that she is not a super special snowflake. She is Cilhar, and Cilhar are these things. She does not stand out among her people, she stands out in a different culture. As anyone would.
For me, it really comes down to this: It is better to inspire confidence or admiration than sympathy or pity.
You can have too much of a good thing, and we have that in our sympathetic, flawed protagonists. Positive heroines like Eleret are pretty rare on the ground. Maybe it’s just because it’s taken my until 23:32 to get to post this, but the only other ones I can think of came from Tamora Pierce. (i’m thinking Alanna and Daine) Those books are pretty old. I read them first about fifteen years ago, and I doubt they were new then.