Once I had discovered her work, I collected Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Series as quickly as the novels showed up in the local bookstores. She and Ursula K. LeGuin had introduced me to an intoxicating genre: women's science fiction. Both created entire worlds, alien cultures that drew me into the depth and complexity of their societies, both examining women's lives on a planet where cultural norms of twentieth century Earth were suspended, transformed or transcended. Thendara House, Bradley's 1983 addition to the Darkover series, shook my consciousness and helped me break from barriers and limitations that I thought were inevitable.
The Renunciates of the novel had renounced the patriarchical culture of Darkover. Surrounded by women living in a world very similar to 16th Century Europe, these women refused to marry, except as a freemate, i.e. an equal partner. They asked for no protection from any men and claimed their place as full citizens. The women, in finding others of kindred spirit, created their own guild, and its sanctuary was Thendara House. Some of the women were lesbians. To the women of Thendara House, each woman made a pledge. It includes a statement about their bond to one another:
And I further swear that the member of the Guild of Free Amazons shall be to me, each and every one, as my mother, my sister, or my daughter, born of one blood with me, and that no women sealed by oth to the Guild shall appeal to me in vain.The book gave me a way of thinking about the women in my life, a template for claiming my freedom in relationships, my freedom to love as my heart guided me, and my place as a full citizen. I became politically active, participated in consciousness-raising groups, claimed my life partner, and built a home with her. We have delighted in her daughter and my sons as they have reached adulthood, knowing them as people incapable of underestimating the strength and intellect of women.
Fast forward thirty years. I want to salute Gun Brooke and what she has created in Rebel's Quest. It is the story of two women, both appearing to cooperate and give allegience to the oppressive rule of the Onotharians. Neither knows the other is in fact a resistance fighter again the oppressors. Roshan and Andreia have despised one another for decades, each thinking the other a traitor and collaborator with an elite class that only cares about their own power and wealth. The approach and avoidance dynamics, even after both learn that the other lives a double life and has made tremendous sacrifices for the Resistance, rings true. Both are strong warriors, competent and decisive in danger. Both risk their lives frequently for the cause of freedom for their people. But much time has passed since their youthful attraction to one another. The book moves from Roshan to Andreia's point of view frequently, so we are aware of their self-doubts, their caution and their reserve.
I love this book because lesbian relationships are simply a matter of course among the Onotharians and the Gantharians. Women admirals and resistance leaders are the norm. These women can priss it out in evening gowns and jewels. They can also lead their soldiers into battle, putting themselves in the most vulnerable point position. The novel lets me explores Reconciliation after lengthy separation and much pain. I embrace it because, while couching the emotional journey in a high adventure story of warriors, Gun Brooke has told the most pivotal story of my life, the one with far reaching effects some forty years later. I only hope to one day be able to tell the story with such clarity as Gun Brooke has achieved.