Smugglers Ponderings

Heroes vs. Heroines

In the frantic course of messaging each other after reading numerous books, we have discovered that we fall on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to “siding” with characters. While I almost always sympathize with the heroine of novels, Ana finds herself drawn to sympathizing with the male heroes.

Which prompted us to examine this dichotomy. Does this affect how we read and interpret books? Is the psychology of “picking sides” commonplace? And how do other readers stack up?

Thea – For the Heroines:

I have to admit, when I read books it is with the female characters that I am most drawn to. If a book has a washed out/nondescript female lead, chances are I won’t like the book. I suppose my latest fixation with Urban Fantasy exemplifies my desire to have a strong female character that I can root for while reading.

Ever since I was a young reader, I found myself drawn to female characters–from Nancy Drew (I was an addict) to Sweet Valley Twins (*shifty* come on almost everyone read these as a tween) all the way through to today’s obsession with Phedre no Delaunay and Mercy Thompson. One note–it is not a condition that heroines need be ass-kicking or extremely assertive to be strong in my book. For example, Phedre no Delaunay certainly is not ass-kicking in any sense of the word; in fact, as an anguisette, she puts herself in the vulnerable, yielding position. But, as Hyacinthe warns, “That which yields is not always weak.” In fact, I love it more when female characters are complex and not traditionally ass-kicking kung fu black belts, or gun toting necromances (see my adverse reactions to Dante Valentine or the later bitchy Anita Blake books) and embrace their vulnerability without any of the bs.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate male characters (or books with strong male characters)! Historically, science fiction, fantasy and horror are genres that have been dominated by male authors and male characters which suits me just fine.

I think the separation comes very clearly in a story that has both strong male and female characters though. For example, Ana and I recently were discussing Kushiel’s Dart. While Ana couldn’t really get into the first half of the book, she found her interest piqued when Joscelin became a large part of the story. For my part, I was enthralled from the first chapter and our introduction to the unusual, brilliant character of Phedre. We had a similar discussion over Outlander a few months back, and our feelings concerning Jamie and Claire.

Perhaps the most glaring difference comes in romance novels. I call upon the book Devil In Winter. I know that this is a highly regarded regency romance novel and that most women swoon over Sebastian Lord St. Vincent. I enjoyed his character and the book was fine–but I can’t call the book a favorite of mine because of the wet blanket character of Evie. She was stock Mary Sue, with no volition. Just…blah. I much preferred the book before it, It Happened One Autumn with the spunky Lilian Bowman (even if Marcus was a bit of a bore), or Secrets of a Summer Night with the quiet strength of Annabelle.

I think this also might be why I have some issues with romance heavy novels in general–women (as a trend generalization) tend to side with/admire the men in stories, and these books are written with that in mind. Which sometimes leads to less engaging or developed heroines, to skim over and just get to the good stuff of getting to the dreamy men. For me, I know that I like spunky heroines because of my own personality and some innate desire to see my chicas pwn (which I grant is probably another form of self-insertion).

I find it interesting to note where people fall in the spectrum, and I love the difference this brings to perspectives of novels.

Ana – For the Heroes:

I do not know exactly why I am drawn to the heroes. It is not a conscious decision. It is not something I set out to do – I do not open a book thinking I will be in love with the hero over the heroine, I do not simply pick sides, it just happens this way most of the time. I side with Heathcliff over Cathy in Wuthering Heights; Mr Darcy over Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice; I want Sebastian St Vincent’s, Derek Craven’s, Mr Thorton’s happiness in the end more than anything.

Does this affect how I read and interpret a book? Yes, definitely. My level of enjoyment is much greater when the male protagonist captures my attention. To the point that if a book has a male protagonist I do not like, chances are I will not like the book at all, even if the heroine is amazing. This happens so often that I am actually surprised when I like a heroine and want to learn more about her as much as I want to learn more about the hero. I can think of two recent examples: Jessica Trent from Lord of Scoundrels and Ellie from the Tairen Souls series. Suffice to say, that when it happens, when I like both characters equally, that is one of the reasons why I would grant a book a 10 – perfection.

Would I put it down to my own personality though? Not sure. I am assertive and frankly outspoken in my personal life and of course, I want to see women in general being strong, independent and kicking ass and yet I am definitely reading more and more romance and fantasy where I tend to procure a strong male lead.

Why? I think it goes beyond wanting to be like the strong female lead or simply desiring the male lead for myself or dreaming of having what he offers to the heroine. I believe that it has something to do with the fact that, being a woman, feelings and reactions of female characters hold no surprise or fascination to me because, let me be honest, I know how women can be strong and clever, how we can endure suffering and pain. It may be that what fascinates me about male characters is the possibility of having glimpses of a psychology alien to my own, even if fictional. It is the different that seduces me, not the similar. I love men. Simple as that. They fascinate me. Their bodies, their minds, their peculiar ways of dealing with things that are so divergent from my own ways. In that point, I guess then, it is personal – my best friends were always men and Dear Partner is so unfamiliar to me that it will take me a lifetime to understand him completely.

Obviously, nothing is set in stone, I can enjoy books without romance or fall in love with a story because of the female protagonist. Best example being Gone with the Wind and Scarlet O’Hara. It doesn’t matter how great Rhett Butler is, the book and story belong to her. But yes, ultimately, it is the suffering or happiness of the hero that touches me more deeply than anything else, romance or no romance.

What about you? Are you for the heroines or for the heroes?


  • Katie(babs)
    March 13, 2008 at 4:08 am

    I am usually a hero type of gal. But sometimes an author will write such a heroine that blows me away such as Cat from Jeaniene Frost’s series, Anita Blake before who went sex crazy, Eve from JD Robb and Annique from Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.

  • Ana
    March 13, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Katie, Anique was definitely another example of a heroine that I liked more than the hero in the novel!

  • Zeek
    March 13, 2008 at 5:05 am

    I say both. I want both to be right! hee!

    If one or the other isn’t enough it ruins the books for me- although I will admit to falling heavily on the heroes side.

    Annique ruined TSL for me. I coudn’t get into her AT ALL- at least to the point I read to before giving up for a time. (she’s a virgin, she’s blind, and yet soooo clever? what ev.)

    I love a strong heroine but it as to be believable for me. If she acts one way (milktoasty) but “thinks” of herself as another(i am woman hear me roar), it doesn’t work.

    If she’s too milktoasty it doesn’t work. If she’s too ass kicky with no vulnerability it doesn’t work either.

    If the hero is not clearly defined it doesn’t work for me. Whereas no one sets out to write a milktoast hero in romance, sometimes they come across as that because I can’t get into their heads. Same goes for a boorish one.

    I don’t know if that made any sense- but yeah, I need both to work for me to make a book a good read.

    (Btw, I love Phedra & Mercy!)

  • Thea
    March 13, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Annique ruined TSL for me. I coudn’t get into her AT ALL- at least to the point I read to before giving up for a time. (she’s a virgin, she’s blind, and yet soooo clever? what ev.)

    Ok kind of OT, but Zeek–when I read TSL, I had the same criticism of Annique. How the heck is she still a virgin, first of all?! She’s been working as a sexy spy, been in military base camps for most of her life, she’s sooo good at using her feminine wiles to get what she wants…but is a virgin? A blind virgin spy at that? I hated that about the book and it detracted from my reading experience. That said though, I still really enjoyed TSL and the character of Annique (although I totally agree with Ana that the hero was more of a snooze).

    Of course, having a kickass hero and heroine is the ideal!

  • Zeek
    March 13, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I guess I’m gonna have to eventually come back to TSL. The only other person than you who didn’t just luuuuurve it also said it wasn’t bad as a whole either.

    I just don’t have much patience with a book if the the heroine annoys me and the hero isn’t enough to grab me before the first 100 pages…

    Now that I think about it, if I really love the hero I have much more patience then if I really love the heroine and can’t stand the hero.

  • Marg
    March 14, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I am definitely more hero than heroine centred.

    If the hero is to die for and the heroine is not, I can still live with it. It will affect my reading of the book, but if I can’t connect with the hero forget it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.