Not so long ago, fellow History Girl, Eleanor Updale, was complaining in the pages of the Daily Telegraph about the preponderance of feisty girls in the books for children and teenagers that she was required to read in her capacity as a Costa Judge. Now, I have written about a fair few feisty girls myself, as have other History Girls, and I was hard put to think of a heroine, from Elizabeth Bennett to Scarlett O'Hara and Philip Pullman's Lyra, who wasn't feisty, so I'm not sure how far I concur with Eleanor's point of view.
Karen Wallace's Emerald is a good example of the place of the F.G. in historical fiction. Her eponymous heroine is as feisty as they come. Emerald is living in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 (who was on the feisty side herself) and she is a bit of a tomboy with little regard for convention or feminine attributes, preferring fishing for pike to needlepoint. She also has a pet bear, which has to put her right up there at the top of the F.G. stakes. She is attractive, strong willed and single minded, as feisty girls often are, but she is also kind, considerate, thoughtful and clever. I don't see these things as negative attributes. Indeed, the counterweights and contrasts within her personality are what gives the story it's narrative drive and power.
Emerald is approaching womanhood and is about to be forced to give up her independence, such as it is, her home and all that is familiar to her, to be married off as her relations see fit. She has no male supporters, a sister who has sold out in the worst way possible and a pet bear under threat of the bear pit. What is a girl to do? What would we want her to do? Woman up, that's what. Be true to herself and start fighting back. Use some of that sensitivity and cleverness to negotiate her way through the snake pit of Elizabethan court politics, conspiracies and all, and save herself, her sister, her bear and her Queen. It makes an exciting, will she, won't she save the day, heart in mouth story. How much story would there be if she'd given up at the first hurdle, agreed to marry a man chosen for her and settled down into a life of domestic drudgery. Not much of one, clearly, and what would have happened to the bear?
Luckily, Karen Wallace allows her heroine to follow her feistiness and delivers a satisfyingly rich, thoroughly convincing, page turning read. She hints at the end that there may be more to come. I hope so. The Feisty Girl has a strong and time honoured place in literature, for children and for adults. Emerald is an excellent addition to this fine tradition.