Romance readers like strong heroines, for the most part. We like reading about women who think for themselves, who aren’t easily led or influenced, and who are resilient and can achieve a degree of self-confidence or self-actualization in the course of the novel. A heroine who sits around waiting for the hero to show up, rock her world with a few orgasms, and make everything all better and more awesomer than ever before does not a very delightful romance make. It’s really quite boring. I yawned typing that.
Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books at Kirkus on creating the perfect hero.
A step beyond merely strong heroines, though, are the fierce heroines. Sometimes I love reading about ferocious heroines. Sometimes angry, sometimes violent, and always incredibly strong and determined—I love heroines like this. They can be violent and do things I’d never do in my life, like kill a staggering number of other characters before the last page of the book. They can be brusque, cruel, demanding and harsh—but as much as I dislike people like that in real life, there are times when I love reading about women like this in romance.
Women are not as a rule taught to be competitive. Female models of behavior in most forms showcase passive aggression and stealth ass-hattery instead of healthy and direct competition and assertiveness. Aggression and anger are not feminine traits. But in a fierce heroine, the most ass-kicking-est kind, aggression, anger, a propensity for violence when needed and a complete lack of demure apology for all of the above is refreshing because it is so different from the norm.
And paranormal romance has left ample room for female violence and aggression to be explored in detail, with very thought-provoking and enjoyable results. Shelley Laurenston’s shape-shifters are all incredibly strong and have no guilt or conflicted feelings about the violence they must sometimes create. Laurenston also wrote a series of marvelously bloody violent fairy tale type books as GA Aiken, starting with Dragon, Actually (Zebra, 2008). The first line of the cover copy says it all for this book and for the series: “It's not always easy being a female warrior with a nickname like Annwyl the Bloody.”
Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series is replete with fierce women, most notably the Valkyries, who are clawed warriors with strength and no limit to what they can and will do to protect themselves and one another. My favorite of her Valkyrie heroines is Kaderin the Cold Hearted from No Rest for the Wicked (Pocket, 2006), who has no feelings and does not back down from any kill. There’s one scene where she’s sharpening her claws—I love that she literally has claws. No hiding those!
I usually don’t enjoy violence in romance, but when the heroine is ferocious to the point that she destroys all the feminine stereotypes as forcefully as possible, I enjoy the reading experience tremendously. It reminds me that, contrary to what’s considered ladylike and appropriate, there are times where I can, and should, and do indeed kick some ass. Maybe not with the full collection of firearms and powers these women possess, but they do give me a little nudge to find my own inner fierceness.
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.