I’m not even talking about your average, run of the mill bodice-ripper heroines. Those are actually pretty spunky most of the time, and getting spunkier and more self-reliant by the minute. I’m talking about the “kick ass” heroines of Paranormal Romance. Yes, I realize that admitting that I read Romance is akin to telling you I smoke crack cocaine or mainline kittens for some people. But there you have it: I read Romance. My Mom read Romance, and what do you read when you’re miles and miles from the nearest bookstore or library? What’s on hand. And what was on hand were Romances, Thrillers and Mysteries, with the occasional Horror. I read all the Horror first, then the Mysteries, then Romance, then Thrillers. With the notable exception of a few amazing authors (Thomas Harris pre-Hannibal and Jeffrey Deaver), I do not care for Thrillers. Now, I am unabashed in my love of Romance, spurred on by awesome sites like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, both of which you can find in the sidebar.
However, I came here to talk about Paranormal Romance Heroines, and why they annoy the shit out of me. Or rather, why many of them do. The problem is that, thanks to Laurel K. Hamilton, most writers of Paranormal Romance go so far out of their way to make sure that their Heroines aren’t just a “so Mary Freaking Sue it Hurts,” that they nearly make them unfeasible as actual Heroines. Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan is so clumsy, I don’t know how she gets out of bed without cutting off her own head. Sookie Stackhouse is (at least in the beginning) operating at a serious deficit because of her psychic powers.* While I love Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson books, she bends so far over backwards stressing that Mercy’s powers don’t make her super mega Awesome! that it gets a little invasive at times. Other heroines seem to follow in this mode, if the reviews at the two aforementioned websites are any indication. **
I just finished a Silhouette Nocturne book (Harlequin Romance’s Paranormal line) by Michele Hauf, “Kiss Me Deadly.” Ok, yes, I don’t really go to Harlequin for the apex of Romance writing, but usually their stuff’s pretty solid at least. While the book was entertaining enough to keep my interest on the bus, I should not find myself shaking my head and thinking, “The hell?” every four or five Blackberry screens (e-book). I won’t get into details. Like I said, it’s not bad, per se. But the dialogue did leave a bit to be desired (the heroine trying to sound tough or flippant, and I mean TRYING), and there were frequent, “The Hell?” moments. But she shared many of the same “flaws” to make her “not a Mary Sue” that other Paranormal Heroines also have.
As someone who writes fiction (still trying to get published), I do understand riding that ragged edge between having an awesome character, and turning her into the most perfect of perfect perfections who poots talcum powder while kicking ass in her designer boots and chipping nary a perfectly manicured nail. It sucks. It’s hard. On the one hand, you want cool, tough characters, characters who you hope are cooler than you with your thick ass glasses and bad hair. On the other hand, they need to be “not cool” enough to be relatable and to have the sorts of flaws that would make it feasible for a bad guy to exploit a weakness for conflict.
One thing a lot of authors (and I mean a LOT of them) do, is they make the female lead TEENY. I blame LKH for this, in part. It’s been an ongoing Romance trope for quite awhile, but I think LKH is the one who standardized it for Paranormal Romance. Being tiny is a good cheat for creating a character with an obvious disadvantage in fights. Granted LKH immediately neutralizes this by making Anita Blake the most Awesomest Awesome that Ever Awesomed. But a lot of Paranormal authors stress the tiny as a true disadvantage. They’re easy to knock over, pick up, push out of the way. Part of the problem for me is that, if they’re so bloody small that a good stiff breeze makes going to the grocery store a problem, how the hell are they tossing werewolves and vampires like kindling? The world’s best Aikido class? Not to mention, being a big girl, I’d like some big girls in my escapist fantasy.
Slight tangent: One of the resons I loved Angela Bassett’s character in Strange Days is that it looked like she could kick some serious ass. While not a particularly big girl, she had muscles. She stood and moved like she could fight. It made the fight scenes in that movie so good, because I could believe she could/would fight. This is one of the reasons I do not like Halle Berry as Storm in the X-men movies. I do not think Halle Berry could fight her way out of a wet paper sack. She’s pretty and a good actress, but… Like Jennifer Garner as Electra, I did not buy it.
The other “flaw” that frequently shows up is, as I said above, clumsiness, near fatal clumsiness. Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan is the best example that I can come up with. And really, one of the reasons I love Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson is that, however else she is not “that awesome”, she is not clumsy. Thank the Gods. I’m really getting tired of clumsy heroines. Seriously, I am not the most graceful of creatures, yet I can manage to traverse a room without death, dismemberment or mayhem ensuing. Most of the time. I would think that someone whose livelihood includes juggling sharp, deathy implements and hazardous poisons would have a physical coordination at least on par with that.
I’m going to leave off with that . This is getting long, and I have things to do. Probably in another post, I’ll detail the emotional flaws of these heroines.
*I freely admit I’m going off the HBO series, True Blood here. I have not read the Sookie Stackhouse books, mostly because they just didn’t sound that interesting, for all that they had vampires. I may have to give them a shot. So, I FREELY admit that I may be off base here.
**Another example of this outside the Paranormal genre, and in more mainstream novels, would be Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, who in spite of having survived fourteen freaking books as a bounty hunter now, is still horrible at it. Not to mention dealing with the most inept bad guys ever. I mean, they’ve blown up her car at least once (if not more) in every book, and have yet to so much as scratch her flawless hide. And who relies almost exclusively on the two men in her life to save her. I will not start with the played for laughs fat, sassy, black sidekick.