‘Tis A Shame Most Of This Generation Doesn’t Know Her: IRENE CARA
Actress in Fame, Roots: The Next Generation. Academy Award Winner (1984). Grammy Winner. Talented Dancer. Singer of “What A Feeling….Flashdance”(International Hit Song). Singer of the “FAME” Theme Song. Award-Winning Singer & Songwriter.
My favourite character. Ever. EVER! (I’m a bit stressed and I feel so accomplished to be at the top of my list.) In case you are interested to know, this is also the other woman that I never want to meet in my life.
This woman is cold, cruel, callous, cynical, and any number of any number of other adjectives you can think off. Naturally, she has many epithets assigned to her that aren’t quite suitable in polite company. And one better be polite, because she is a queen, and a rather heartless one at that.
Let’s start, as always, with her backstory. Because I find that in one’s background, we can always see a faint outline of his or her future. No matter how hard we try to break free of our upbringing, there are always those little bits and pieces that have already become a part of us. So this girl is a shadow princess; quiet, meek, unobtrusive, and quite a shadow of the terrifying monarch she will become. But, as I mentioned earlier, there are always those little, subtle hints of this time of her life in her insecurities. Either way, she is the forgotten daughter of the king’s second wife. (Her mother is strangely absent from much of the story. Perhaps she was murdered, or died in childbirth, as was commonplace.) Her brother fallen off a horse and broke his neck in an ‘accident’ that killed him, and her father was poisoned several days before her wedding. He wasn’t a nice guy either; she had betrothed her to a pig who had most likely been the one who killed her father, and her fiancé and his father had plotted to use her to gain the throne. Her revenge? She poisoned her newly wedded husband’s wine cup, pretending to drink from it to allay suspicions, and then smiled sweetly through the feast while he choked and died. The next day, some idiot baron who has obviously not learnt his lesson yet decides to try his luck and order to marry her. Turns out she had anticipated this, and with a nod to her Captain, bam! *Arrow through heart and dies* Brilliant, and scary, that one;
While they squabbled over who would be king, she made herself queen.
So it is perfectly understandable why she is so paranoid, or why she lashes out so badly when Gen subtly insinuates that she is no longer safe in her own bedchamber. Building herself a little ice fortress, she seeks to protect herself, by not letting anyone come near. Her abysmal childhood clearly leaves its mark on her, even though she strives to be independent and bright, and hardly anyone would recognise her for the small grey mouse in the corner, weaving shirts and plots right under her fiancé’s nose.
Even when she falls in love, she tentative just as she is assertive; she cannot afford to lose herself, but at the same time, it is obvious to those 'with eyes to see’ that does have that desperate need for someone to shelter her. In her little insecurities, like how she is afraid her husband is merely lying to her (because he does it alot anyway, and is famous for his clever little half-truths), it is so painfully there that she never quite escaped the shadow of being a neglected child who was packed up with all the fine produce and just about 'sold’ to her fiancé. Sometimes, neglect can be worse than abuse.
Her friendship with Helen is also one worth exploring. The queens quite amount to bitter rivals in the beginning of the series for two main reasons; their ruling styles are too different, and Gen (ever the troublemaker, isn’t he?) Irene, or better known as Attolia in the books, has always been the harsher one. She isn’t afraid to torture the truth out of people while standing there, all poised, and cool (her words are so chilly you could probably feel the drop in temperature) in her gown for dinner. She would hang barons from her palace walls, just to ensure their loyalty. Helen never had to resort to such tactics. And Attolia hated her for it. The thing is, Helen is several years younger than Attolia, so at her coronation, Attolia had poured all sorts of vicious, but bitterly true, advice in the younger girl’s ears. If Eddis (that is Helen’s country) was anything like Attolia (Irene’s country), then it would have saved her a great deal of pain. But Attolia isn’t a nice girl; she knew that Helen was too soft-hearted to do what she did. And she probably thought that it was worth seeing the poor girl’s face turn ashen at the thought. Imagine her horror when she realises that the girl will never have to suffer as she did. Naturally, they could never quite get along. Then Gen skipped (or more like barrelled given his character) into their lives, and ruined the small, fragile balance they formed between them. He is like fire, dangerous, reckless and hypnotic at once. He is one of Helen’s youngest cousins, making her quite protective. He also manages to antagonise Irene the first time they met within the first ten minutes. So after a very messy series of events, he is now the centre of a tug-of-war between the two of them. On the other hand, he also brings them much closer. And you, as the reader, will be surprised to find that Helen, famous for bing kind but dead ugly, and Attolia, famous for her stunning beauty and downright cruelty, are surprisingly similar.
I won’t go into the details, but if you are still with me and not somewhere in dreamland, think about how strong these two girls are; at the age most of us are whining about school, most of their family is dead and they are suddenly at the helm of a country they have no idea how to rule because they weren’t even groomed to do anything. They aren’t strong the way Hollywood girls are; 'let me do a roundhouse kick!’ They are strong and brave in the way we all can; to find it within ourselves to sacrifice the necessary for the sake of the greater good. And to not give up. Definitely no giving up if everyone is depending on you to not starve.
And strong in the way that you can try now; summon the patience not to strangle your youngest relative/friend when they pull some life-threatening stunt.