Do you know who is my favourite fictional woman in Warcraft at the moment? Magatha Grimtotem. Yep you heard that right. Not Tyrande, not Jaina, not Sylvanas but Magatha .. isn’t that a shocker!

Lets face it Warcraft compared to a lot of fantasy works be they movies or books has a huge female cast on both sides. They have the huge racial leaders and prominent figures like Tyrande Whisperwind, Jaina Proudemoore, Shandris Feathermoon, Maiev Shadowsong, Magatha Grimtotem, Sylvanas Windrunner .. and her sisters. Then they have a pretty amazing cast of smaller characters that easily impress whether its Gorgonna and Krenna in Grizzly Hills, or the sinister workings of Moira Bronzebeard. My problem with all of them though is that none of them feel fully realised in their potential.

Now Magatha Grimtotem, she has it together. From the RPG books we learn she inherited control of the Grimtotem from her late husband, controlling the Grimtotem they helped fight the centaur and reclaim parts of Mulgore, then for years she worked in the shadows with the forsaken and other powers as she plotted towards her two main goals .. usurping Cairne, and eventually the removal of all non-tauren from Kalimdor. Then she almost succeeded, and while she is down, she isn’t out, even after staggering losses she still manages to manipulate the player into helping her nefarious end and escaping retribution. While her story is far from over all I can do is pray that don’t take a strong female character like Magatha and hobble her like they did Tyrande.

Tyrande, there you can almost see the downfall of female characters in Warcraft. She burst onto our screens in Warcraft 3 leading the Night Elves into the Third War. Visiting vengeance upon the Warsong Orcs, rousing her beloved from a ten thousand year slumber while busting the heads of bad creatures, breaking out a cursed and banished member of her society in the hopes that he could help fight against something he had a more personal knowledge of her .. defying laws and traditions in doing so. She then hand in hand forged a treaty with Jaina, Thrall and Cairne and mounts the offensive to protect the World Tree. She was in fact one of the pivotal figure that shaped the World of Warcraft as we see it .. but what happens since the release of WoW? We get a series of retro time travel books by Richard Knaack that make the youthful Tyrande out to be close on a witless girl who relies almost wholly on her boyfriend and his brother to get things done. In game we see her being bullied and pushed around by another potential faction leader (Fandral Staghelm) and she frets and worries and in the end resolves nothing with Malfurion having to come back and ‘fix’ everything. What happened to our go getter who was a strong and persuasive leader or her people?

Can you see what I mean, Tyrande had such potential at the end of Warcraft 3 .. potential which has been wasted in World of Warcraft. I am hoping that Tides of War reverses this trend, but I am not holding my breath considering Jainas history. While Warcraft has some fantastically powerful female figures they all lack something, some pivotal depth of character that we need to see brought in to give us a female lead we can admire. I mean at the bare bones we can admire Jaina, Tyrande or Sylvanas but lest be honest they need some urgent character development. Tyrande was a hardened leader who was then typecast as a frail female, Jaina was a headstrong mage who sought a way to save her people and then fell into the fencesitter role, and Sylvannas went from heroic defender and vengeance driven shade in WC3 to batshit crazy with Wow. We need more then stereotypes.

At this stage I am hoping the new Warcraft novel that Michael Stackpole is working on will bring out some of the strong feminine leads we need, his books in the past have created some of my favourite women in the Star Wars Universe .. Ysanne Isard, Mirax Terrik and Iella Wessiri. If he can do with any female character in Warcraft with what he did with any one of these we will have a female character we will be able to admire.

To be honest it is the stereotypical nature of the female characters in Warcraft that has always made me stop and wonder. Sure they may be mostly written by men, but men dominate in the fantasy field for a good part and still manage to write some incredible female characters. Its not like there are not a lot of inspirational female characters out there either I mean they about in nearly all series you come across.

I mean lets at least take a look at some of the lead fantasy females Warcraft could do with the likes of … Lessa (from Anne McCaffreys Pern Series), Mara of the Acoma (from Raymond Feist & Janny Wurts Empire Trilogy), Lady Patience (from Robin Hobs Farseer Series), Tavore Paran (from Steve Ericksons Malazan Books) and Jill (from Katheryn Kerrs Deverry Series).

First off how can we not mention, Lessa of Benden, rider of Ramoth. Family destroyed she spends her entire youth plotting revenge and then has her life turned upside down just when she thinks its at hand, she is forcibly joined to a faction that is on the planets most despised list and is then forced to help that faction stabilise and expand enough to prevent their planets inhabitants being obliterated by an ancient threat, and in doing so takes her character from strength to strength. Anne McCaffrey (rest in peace), was fantastic at creating these strong female roles .. whether you are looking at Lessa, Sassinak, Acorna, Helga or any of a dozen strong female leads she created over her lifetime.

I can’t help but mention my all time favourite female fantasy character .. Mara of the Acoma. When introduced we see her bouncing from problem to problem, trying to deal with a rapidly changed life brought on by the loss of her family in a culture of stifling traditions. We see her stabilise her life, explore the traditions of her people and break free to encourage growth and thinking in a culture grown stagnant. Few characters, let alone female characters, manage to inspire the way Mara does .. most of Raymond Feists female characters are background characters like Katala, or side characters like Miranda, and while they are all fairly well-rounded none show the depth of possibility Mara did.

From these two forefront characters let me divert a little and praise a background character from Robin Hobbs Assassin series .. Lady Patience. Here we have a would be Queen retire to estates with her husband when news comes he has a bastard son, on his death she returns to court, a ditzy dithering woman whom most find crazy and incomprehensible. Why to protect the bastard son of her now dead husband, a protection that none realise she tries to offer. Much of what you see of Patience is restrained by the confines of her perceived character while beneath it lays a heart and soul capable of great passion and heroic deeds as is proved later in the books. Robin Hobb has a number of strong female characters across this series and those that tie into it .. Kettricken, Molly, the Narcheska and the Vestrit Women of Bingtown all of which are worth a mention.

Then we have a polar opposite of Lady Patience who was built up in the background .. we have Tavore Paran, more than any other females in the entire Malazan series by Steve Erickson, Tavore played a pivotal role, and was always at the forefront, but always as a cold, distant and almost aloof leader of an army that never wanted her in the first place. Since her introduction to the series her character was built slowly and in snipits till you realise almost at the last here is a women who no-one understand who is above all else fiercely loyal to those loyal to her while at the same time trying as hard as possible to challenge fate and change the path of the world. Tavore is an incredibly complex character and like many of Steve Ericksons characters this isn’t immediately noticed as he sweeps you up in dozens of smaller storylines and events across a giant world.

Finally I’m going to mention what will probably be the most .. odd member of this list, because the person in discussion is Jill of the Deverry Series. Jill’s character standalone is different to the others because when you read the series you don’t just learn about Jill and her ways and relationships, but how they intertwine in this life and her past lives. Throughout the lives we see her play a number of roles, some restricted by the mores and values of the times, others such as her incarnation as Jill we see a wildly headstrong woman with the freedom to think and act almost as she pleases .. born to a wandering mercenary father living from week to week, falling in love with a young noble then doing all she can to rescue him after a kidnapping her life seems to be falling into place when it is literally all thrown away when she discovers that she has potential untapped and an opportunity to do more then become the sword swinging mistress of a great lord.

The thing is all of these characters are not gods going from strength to strength, they all take major hits and losses as the stories go and their characters get up, and keep going, redefining themselves as necessary .. and this is what Warcraft needs, not characters who start strong and become stereotypes, or characters with potential that isn’t explored. No what wow needs are characters who can stand on their own, who can use events to define themselves without falling into predetermined boxes. Hopefully Tides of War will help Jaina out of that mould but until we see more all we can hope is that over the course of this expansion and whatever extra material is produced to go alongside it (books, comics etc) that some real work is done to develop the female characters that so many interact with and endure themselves to.