Trope Tuesday: The common female sacrifice, powers

by Monica Rivera Sosa

Even in fictional words of paper and ink women are still being oppressed and made to look small to conform to the standards of the patriarchy in the real world. Why are authors finding it so normal for women to “sacrifice” their powers for the greater good if it can be avoided? 

In the fantasy genre, there is nothing that makes me feel more empowered than seeing a woman with awesome powers as the main character (bonus points if they’re a woman of color). I love it even more when the female protagonist isn’t dependent on a man or a love interest. However, there are many books that have these strong female characters fight the villain in some completely avoidable effort to save the world that costs them their powers. Especially when these powers are incredibly cool and could do so much for their world. Many of the defenders of these creative decisions have said this is done because there is such a thing as “too powerful” which is strange to me because when they needed these protagonists to use these god-like powers to save the world, this was never brought up as an issue. Only after they have saved everyone is the author thinking about how they will live out their lives with these powers.

Are these authors thinking a woman is not capable of managing these powers responsibly on a day to day basis? Is it a burden on these characters to constantly be seen as the only savior around? There are a lot of ways to see this trope, but there are more negative connotations than anything else.

SPOILER WARNING: These are books where this trope is commonly used.

Ruin and Rising By: Leigh Bardugo

I know you’re tired of hearing me talk about the Shadow and Bone Series, but this is a big part of why it is always on my nerves. At the end of Ruin and Rising, and by extension the end of the trilogy, Alina spreads her powers to others in the fold to collectively destroy the Fold and The Darkling. This, in turn, causes her to lose her powers. After this, she decides she has nothing left for her with the Grisha and runs away to an orphanage with Mal. I have a lot of issues with this ending but specifically with her losing her powers when she had such potential to become a real leader to the Grisha following the fall of the Darkling. She was not overly powerful and she wouldn’t have become a dictator like the Darkling because there were other people there to lead with her, such as the Grisha Triumvirate and King Nikolai. It could be argued that this entire trope was added into the book in order for Alina to end up with Mal, rather than simply allowing her to thrive on as a powerful independent woman.

Kingdom of Ash  By: Sarah J. Maas

There’s so much we can say and complain about Sarah J. Maas but this is just the tip of the iceberg. At the end of this 1,000 page book and eight book series, Aelin is supposed to die in order to seal the gates between Erilea and other worlds. However, when Elena’s mother decides to spare her and send her back to Erilea, Aelin arrives without almost all of her powers. What she has left is a little flicker of her previously bright and brilliant flame. One of the previous defenses of this choice is that Aelin never wanted her powers and that this decision was doing her a favor. Though Aelin, while passing as Celaena didn’t like her powers, people fail to realize she never had  anyone to teach her how to control them and then they later became only a constant reminder of the tragedy in her life. It makes sense for Celaena to hate magic and her powers. Aelin, on the other hand, had grown into her powers by the time Kingdom of Ash came around. She was still the Queen of Terrasen without her powers (which is more than Alina can say) but she had lost her flame. She would always be the people’s fireheart but even she said in the end it felt like a hollow, because her fire had taken up so much of her soul. Why would they take that power away? She is the protector of her kingdom and her people and it’s hard to imagine Terrasen without its fire queen. It’s also very coincidental that Sarah J. Maas took Aelin’s power away when she could have made it an even sacrifice between her and Dorian. Even if an argument could be made for Aelin having too much power, it is still unfair for her to go from all-mighty-God levels of power to nothing.

A Court of Silver Flames By: Sarah J. Maas

Once again, there is a lot to be said about this book and this author, but I want to focus on the ending of this book as they are continuing the series and this could have repercussions later on. At the end of this book, Nesta sacrifices her powers to save her sister Feyre during childbirth. I wanted to present a case in which the main character, Nesta, is too powerful. She was not born with this power but rather stole it from a magical cauldron. I do agree with her ending in this case alone, because it was a demonstration of Nesta accepting herself and her life. She saves her sister’s life which is very important because she hated her sister for a large majority of this book series. Now, if she had lost all power I would not agree but I do like that SJM made her just as powerful as her mate, Cassian, because all mates are equals. An argument could be made that the females should be more powerful and that dimming her powers to get her on the same level as a man is slightly sexist but for her character arc, it makes sense. So, for Nesta, I think this trope was appropriate. 

I hope this cleared some things up about this specific trope. Hopefully, we stop seeing our strong, powerful, female protagonists being stripped of their power for the sake of a man.

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