It’s probably safe to say that anybody who has read two or more romance novels has a favorite heroine. On the flip side of that, most of us have a type of heroine that doesn’t work as well for us as it does for others. What’s the deal with that? Total deal-breaker, or are there mitigating circumstances? What about when romance heroines travel in packs? Does female friendship have a place in romance fiction?
First of all, the whole picking of favorites is an extremely individual matter, and the criteria for picking said favorites has as many variations as it does people who are doing the picking. Is that enough to blabber on for an entire blog entry about, when there are much bigger fish to fry? (Mmm, fish fry….) In a word, yes. I could quite happily grill every reader in a thirty mile radius about this very topic but it is March, I live in the northeast US, and I’m tired, so I will do said interrogating over the interwebs, from the comfort of my office chair, with a fluffy throw in my lap and beverage of choice at hand.
Romance heroines are a varied lot. That’s one of the best things about them. When I first started reading romance novels, the heroine was make it or break it for me. If I didn’t connect with the heroine, I was going to have a hard time reading that novel. That’s still true to some degree, today. Give me a strong-willed heroine, who isn’t afraid to go after what she wants, and I am all over that. This lends itself well to more adventurous sorts of romances. Pirate romance, for example; I am always going to look at a pirate book, based on that single word, “pirate,” alone. “Headstrong,” there’s another good word, when applied to a romance heroine. Not that she has to be a pants-wearing hoyden, but that doesn’t hurt. There was a time when I would studiously comb the historical romance section of the used bookstore in my college town, for any mention that the heroine assumed male disguise for at least part of the book.
For other readers, a more sedate heroine is what lights their spark. A dear friend likes reading wallflower heroines, because she finds it easy to identify with a shyer heroine, perhaps who is socially awkward and likes seeing the hero work to uncover her hidden depths. This same reader friend also likes Viking warrior heroines, so it’s definitely not an all or nothing game. While some readers only want to read one sort of heroine, and sometimes a very specific type, others want to color with every crayon in the box. Other readers are somewhere in between, with some sorts of heroines who tickle their fancy, others who don’t, and yet others where it depends on what subgenre we’re talking about, what time period, the writer, the publishing house, the heroine’s name, etc, etc, etc.
One way to get a good variety of different heroine types is to look for series that feature bonds between the female characters. This would include female/female romance, obviously, but that’s a little bit different. What we’re talking about here is the relationships formed amongst the various heroines in a romance series, when each one has her own hero. There’s still some girl power there. Though my first read of Jude Deveraux’s Velvet saga was a long, long time ago, I still have fond memories of all four heroines banding together, in the final book, into an unstoppable force that saved the day, in the end. I love that kind of stuff, and, as my reading progressed, came to be one of my favorite parts of ongoing series. How did the women get along, work together, and find their own places in the new family (including families of choice) unit?
Women’s fiction, especially that written by authors who write/have written romance as well, excel in this aspect, and show, to great effect, how very different women can complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to become something more than the sum of their parts. Come to think about it, that’s not too different from the bonds created between the heroines and their heroes. Whether it’s the women whose bonds make the framework for the series or they might not have met if they hadn’t all fallen in love with or married brothers, brothers-in-arms, fellow knights or SEALs, or what-have-you, there’s something special about watching not only the individual women grow, but be there for each other as they go through important changes in their lives.
For many readers, like myself, that’s part of the fun. Even though it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the heroines from books one, two, and three, are going to become close, watching how that happens, when said heroines come from, quite possibly (and, in paranormal, including time travel, literally) different worlds, that’s worth the price of admission alone. In a historical, we may have one suitable miss, one scandalous courtesan, and a scrappy pickpocket, all now members of the same family. In a contemporary, we might have a cop, a scientist, and a graphic designer, whose significant others are all part of the same military unit…or, on second thought, maybe one or more of the women might belong to that unit, as well. When we cross over into paranormal, or SF/F romance, there are literally no limits. A vampire, a ghost, and a shapeshifter walk into a bar? It can happen.
With all the variety of romance heroines, the best new is that we don’t have to choose. The same as romance heroines themselves, we readers can have it all.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you have a favorite heroine type? Favorite heroine, period? If so, share details. Is she more wallflower, or wild woman? Maybe she’s a little of both? Does that make her a wildflower? What do you think about when different types of heroines band together? Do you have a favorite combination of heroine types? Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. Tired of all this blabber about heroines and wish we’d move on to some other topic? We’d love to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.