This is not about that.
Lately - without really consciously deciding to - I've been reading a lot of scifi with a similar theme: Kick-ass chicks, or, if you like the more PC version: Strong Women Characters.
Surprisingly (to me, anyway), most of these books fall under the general category of "paranormal suspense" or "paranormal romance" ... since I've never been a fan of romance novels in general, it kind of took me by surprise how much I enjoy these books.
But, it turns out that if you take a kick-ass heroine, throw in a smattering of romance, and mix liberally with some shapeshifters, blood-suckers, spaceships or sidhe ... I'm all over it like zombies at a brain buffet.
Who knew? ;)
So: What makes a kick-ass heroine?
She doesn't have to literally kick-ass. (And if she does, it should be realistic ass-kicking, please. I mean, if she doesn't have super-human abilities, then don't expect me to believe that a 5'6, medium-build woman in heels can take on a pack of lycans and walk away with a token cut-and-bruise, no matter how many times a week she works out at the dojo down the street, thank-you-very-much.)
She does need to be tough, independent, talented at something, smart, witty - snarky can be fun, too. As long as it's not over the top. On the other hand, she needs weaknesses - some quirks or traits or personality flaws that make her realistic, maybe a little vulnerable - and a little easier to relate to. An interesting supporting cast of friends and enemies as literary foils never hurts, either.
I also tend to like my protagonists with a bit of dark to them. I mean, come on, Catwoman is way more interesting than Diana Prince, right?
Hmmm. Maybe it will be easier to just share my recent favorite books/characters of this genre ...
Kate Daniels series
Magic Bites - Magic Burns - Magic Strikes
I just finished the third book in this series and I can't wait for the next. Kate is a great heroine and I love the premise of the magic-tech balance in this unique world. It's nice to find there's still a new, creative way to spin magic, weres and vamps. Especially the vamps. Kate is one of the literal ass-kickers - she carries a sword and knows how to use it - but in a realistic kind of way (within the parameters of the world). She also has a really interesting background and psychology, which we get to see more of as she begins to examine them for herself.
Mercy Thompson series
Moon Called - Blood Bound - Iron Kissed - Bone Crossed
These books have all the elements of your standard shapeshifter-urban fantasy ... but they're way better. Mercy is a great mix of tough and yet vulnerable, independent and yet with strong sense of responsibility. I also particularly enjoy the European mythologies that are so deftly woven into her world.
Laura Ann Gilman
Staying Dead (Retrievers, Book 1)
Gilman has created a really interesting alt-verse here as well as several unique characters, including the protagonist, Wren. She's something of a "one-who-doesn't-know-her-own-worth" heroine. I'm really looking forward to Book 6: Blood from Stone.
The Hollows series
Dead Witch Walking - The Good, The Bad and the Undead - Every Which Way but Dead - A Fistful of Charms - For a Few Demons More - The Outlaw Demon Wails - White Witch, Black Curse
I love this urban fantasy series. Rachel Morgan is tough and cool enough to carry the realistic danger and intrigue in these plots, but also just screwed up enough to make the books funny, too. That's a tough mix to write. Kudos to Harrison for pulling it off. There's also a whole ensemble cast of interesting supporting characters. Including Jinx, my favorite pixie ever. Plus, you gotta love the titles.
Finders Keepers - Games of Command - An Accidental Goddess,
The Down Home Zombie Blues - Gabriel's Ghost, etc.
Most of these are stand-alones. They are quick and fun reads with original plots. Her heroines are quirky and tough. The heroes are also more fully realized and interesting than the 1-D kind found in some other "scifi romance".
Sirantha Jax series & Corine Solomon series
I picked up Grimspace (Sirantha Jax 1) about a month ago on a whim. I enjoyed the fast pace and unexpected twists, so I ordered the sequel, Wanderlust. I thought it was even better than the first in terms of structure and plot and pacing. And I still like Jax a lot. So, I just finished her newest book, Blue Diablo, the first in the Solomon series. So, far, Aguirre reminds me a bit of Sinclair. And I think her writing is getting better with each book. I'm looking forward to reading more.
Kitty the Werewolf series
Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Book 1)
Yeah, it's about a werewolf named Kitty. And yes, it has a sense of humor about that. But Kitty is also a smart, snarky, fun character. Every book has managed to surprise me just a little bit - to take my expectations and twist them just ever so slightly in a new direction. I've just ordered books 5 and 6 and I'm looking forward to seeing where they go.
Women of the Otherword series & Nadia Stafford series
Bitten, Stolen (Women of the Otherworld 1 and 2)
I've only read the first two Otherworld books, but I liked them both. Tough women, interesting plots. These aren't the tip-top of my favorites list, but they are good, interesting reads and I plan to pick up more to see if the rest are as good or better. :)
I also have to mention Armstrong's new Nadia Stafford series: Exit Strategy and Made to be Broken. Not a hint of scifi to be found, here. But awesome books. Nadia is a hitman (hitwoman?) - a killer for hire. With a conscious, of course. These books flirt with psychological darkness and come across almost like hard-boiled detective novel meets paranormal romance ... but, again, without any actual paranormal. Does that make sense? Well, anyway. I picked up Made to be Broken Saturday at the library and read it all in on sitting Sunday night after putting the kids to bed. Couldn't put it down.
Chicks in Chainmail anthologies
If I'm going to talk about kick-ass chicks books, I have to mention these short-stories. Fast, funny reads.
Debra Doyle and James McDonald
The Price of the Stars: Mageworlds Book 1
This is an excellent space opera series. It's been several years since I first read these books, but the plot was so original and the characters were interesting. They stuck with me for a long time. I'm planning a re-read soon. Hope it's a as good as I remember. :)
* This is where we start to move away from the "lighter" end of things ...
Stephen R. Donaldson
Mordant's Need Series: The Mirror of Her Dreams- A Man Rides Through
The Gap Series: The Real Story (Book 1)
These books don't quite fit with the rest above. For one thing, I didn't read these "recently". In fact, it's probably been 20 years since I first read the Mordant's Need books and more than 10 since I read The Gap Series. But they stuck with me. And I think that says something. Both series are also a lot ... deeper ... than the ones above. Mordant's Need was a great fantasy epic and I've read them several times. And plan to read them again. Ironically, I haven't re-read the Gap Series. And I'm not sure I will. It was great. But it was ... intense. Definitely a lot darker and more layered than anything else on this list.
Honor Harrington series
On Basilisk Station
These books also don't quite fit with the others above as there is very little romance in them. But, it would be impossible for me to make a list of kick-ass heroines without mentioning Honor Harrington. Some people call this series "Horatio Hornblower in space". That's not a bad description. It's more of a military SF series ... but what sets it apart is the character of Honor. She is simultaneously archetypal and unique. And she totally kicks ass six ways from Sunday. Love her.
So, what have you been reading for pleasure lately? Any recommendations for my reading pile? :)
Next time: Vampire Books. Because that list really needs it's own post. :)