Sandry, Daja, Briar, and Tris from Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series, found on the songofthelioness tumblr
A few months ago, I read an interesting post by Silver Miles of Steel Thistle about the fantasy genre and diversity. I have to say that Tamora Pierce doesn’t fit the typical mode, because she is one of the few fantasy writers out there who is always racially diverse, and equality isn’t effected by race, gender, or sexuality (at least among the main characters. Racism, etc. from outside characters is generally shown by the less savory sorts). The Circle of Magic series features a straight white noble, a black lesbian trader, a slightly overweight girl, a mixed race boy, a bi and lesbian couple, an Asian street rat, an older Indian … I mean the list goes on! You've got all ages, all races (although I’m listing them by their features here, since obviously there is no Asia etc. in the books), I think all sexualities (I can’t remember if there are any trans characters in the series, but it wouldn’t surprise me).
This is one place where the Circle of Magic series wins over the Tortall ones. While the Tortall lands are also diverse, all the main characters are straight, white women (Unless Daine isn’t white?). While there are plenty of side characters of other races, it’s not the same as having a non-white main character. And sexuality is definitely downplayed in the Tortall books (in comparison to the CoM series). It’s clear all the main characters are very open to people of different sexualities (already a giant step forward in comparison to most books), but none of the characters are anything but straight – even side characters (again, unless I’m forgetting one?). This is by no means a criticism of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series. I love them. I still reread them on pretty much a yearly basis. You look at when she started writing these series, especially because they are fantasy and it’s amazing what she managed to do. She wrote fantasy novels with a racially diverse cast, and even back in the 80s, she had characters who could care less if someone was lgbt. Quick, name some other authors who have managed to do even one of those things (where being racially different is not shown as inferior a la C.S. Lewis, and being lgbt is not used as trope). Even now, 30 years later. I can’t name more than a handful. Kristin Cashore and Sarah J. Maas are the only two I can come up with off the top of my head. I know I’m missing a few...but the fact that I have to think hard at all to come up with some? It shows how far we still have to go in this genre.
While I think I would have always been open to all gender/sexuality/races because I have great parents, having books like these helped affirm that I was right to think so. I grew up in the South. I spent half of that time living in the Bible Belt. I was definitely exposed to very different opinions on these matters. But I had role models in Alanna, Kel, Ali, and Daine. I loved these characters, wanted to be these characters, and if I felt that way? Think of all the other kids and teens who got to read these characters and see that it is ok to be different. All the kids and teens who were given a chance to wonder if maybe their parents or community are wrong about some things. That there are books out there that feature someone other than straight white characters.
Tamora Pierce dominates the genre with her ability to craft not only phenomenal books and characters, but to treat different races and sexualities as normal – part of who the person is, but not making their identity their race or sexual choice – is just amazing.