Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Things I Love/Hate About Romance in Books.
Wait, you want me to keep this down to a mere ten? You’ve got to be kidding me! OK, here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. (Warning – minor spoilers)
Keladry of Mindelan (The Protector of the Small Quartet, Tamora Pierce) I wrote about Keladry last week in Tough Traveling: Knights and in a review of the whole Protector of the Small quartet back in 2009. She’s one of my favorite YA heroines. Kel is the first girl in her kingdom (or surrounding ones) in several centuries to openly go through training as a knight, and she faces the resulting prejudice, bullying, and even sabotage with dignity, stoicism, courage, a keen sense of justice, and above all, determination. What’s more, she does so without being a Chosen One or having any magical powers. She achieves her goals through sheer grit and hard work, not by being “special”. Through it all, she never fails to stand up for those who need protection – a true knight in the best sense of the term.
Mary Russell (Russell-Holmes mystery series, Laurie R. King) Mary Russell is probably the most intellectually brilliant of the heroines on my list. She’s also brave (but rarely foolhardy), and she’s a gifted shot with a dart or a throwing knife. Over time, she becomes skilled at martial arts, disguise, and the other talents useful to a private detective – or a spy. She serves in both capacities, along with her mentor and eventual partner Sherlock Holmes, for whom she is a match in every way. In a world in which women are still striving for equality, Russell demands it. I never tire of rereading her series. (Fans of Agent Peggy Carter – Russell has some of the same qualities; you might give her books a try. I reviewed some of the series here, plus a mini-review of Locked Rooms and a full review of the most recent book, Dreaming Spies. And if you do a search within the blog for “Mary Russell” or “Laurie R. King”, you’ll discover that the books show up on my Top Ten Tuesday posts fairly regularly. I love this series.)
Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling) I like book-Hermione a bit more than movie-Hermione, because she’s more flawed and therefore more interesting. That said, she’s intelligent, highly capable, loyal, principled, and utterly committed to justice and right for all creatures – witness her efforts on behalf of house elves. She doesn’t hide her intelligence, and she will do what she feels is right even when it doesn’t meet her friends’ approval. And as Internet memes are fond of pointing out, when the guy she loves starts dating someone else and later deserts her and Harry, she grieves, but she keeps on living her life and continues working toward their goals (unlike certain other “heroines” I could mention. *cough* Bella *cough cough*) This is another series I reread every year or two, whether in print or audiobook.
Harry (Harimad-sol; Angharad) (The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley) Like so many of my other favorites, Harry is strong-willed and principled, and does what she believes to be right and necessary regardless of the personal cost. She’s also a natural horsewoman and warrior, and gifted (if that’s the right word) with an odd sort of magic or ESP called kelar – not something she can control, but something which occasionally controls her. She is perhaps a bit lacking in confidence at times (not without reason, given her situation through part of the book), and doesn’t make friends easily, but when she does, they share a mutual loyalty. She also has a strong sense of responsibility. I’m not sure I’m doing the character justice here – I love this book, and reread it almost every year. (I’ve just realized that I’ve never done a full review of The Blue Sword. That needs to change – the book is perfect for Treasures from the Hoard. I did do a mini-review here.)
Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables series, L. M. Montgomery) Anne is also strong in her way, but it’s her imaginative nature I find most appealing. (Well, that, and her propensity for getting herself into amusing situations in the early books.) Although I was far from being an unloved child, like Anne is before she arrives at the Cuthberts’ house, I could related to bookish, fanciful Anne because I, too, preferred books to real life. Like Anne, as I grew up, I learned to enjoy and embrace life, but neither of us ever outgrew our love for books, and for spinning stories in our heads. She is an endearing, loveable character, and I love the way she grows throughout the series. Anne is loyal to her friends and sympathetic to other people’s pain; she’s bright and has a wonderful sense of humor. She has a temper, but (except in Gilbert’s case), it usually blows over pretty quickly. Of all the characters on the list, she’s the one I most see myself in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read these books.
Harriet Vane (Strong Poison, Have His Carcass, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon; Dorothy Sayers) Harriet is, like all of my choices, intelligent; she’s also fiercely independent, proud, prickly, and more than a little bruised and battered by life. Although Lord Peter Wimsey declares his love for her in Strong Poison (while proving her her innocent of murder), she refuses him until the very end of their third book together, a refusal born of pride, resentment of the gratitude she feels she owes Peter, and fear of losing her independence. Harriet may be the most complicated of the characters on this list; part of what makes her so interesting to me is that even when I want to shake her, I understand her feelings. And I admire her, because she tries to deal with her fears and resentments, and uses her considerable intelligence to work out what she really wants. It’s also a lot of fun to watch her and Peter trade quotes and quips; she may not be quite as good at real-life detection as he is, but she’s an intellectual equal in other ways. This is another set of books I reread at least every two or three years.
Penelope Featherington (Romancing Mr Bridgerton and several other Bridgerton books) Of all the romance heroines I’ve read, Penelope is one of my favorites. She’s quiet – a bit of a wallflower in some ways – but she is observant and she has a keen wit and a mischievous sense of humor, which hardly anyone ever sees. She’s deeply loyal to her best friend, Elise Bridgerton – and quietly nursing a decade-long crush on Elise’s brother Colin. She cares about her family even thought they take her for granted (and that includes her mother.) It’s so satisfying to see her blossom when she stops hiding in the shadows and starts speaking her mind – and to see someone finally appreciate her for the lovely person she is.
Miss Marple (the Miss Marple mysteries, Agatha Christie) I love Miss Marple! She appears to be a fluffy, rather dithery old lady, but that innocuous air is misleading. Miss Marple is highly observant, very intelligent, and she has, as it were, a nose for evil. Because she seems so harmless, even comforting, people talk to her, and she’s incredibly good at putting tiny facts together to come up with the truth. Whatever the crime, she will ferret it out – usually quicker than the police can. Yet what I love most about Miss Marple isn’t her crime-solving ability – thought that makes for some terrific mystery novels! – but the way she proves that even elderly spinsters can be interesting and can make a difference in the world. One gentleman calls her “Nemesis” – the Greek goddess of impartial and implacable justice – and he isn’t being facetious. Miss Marple may lack physical strength, but she’s relentless in her pursuit of justice: a heroine worthy of respect as well as affection.
Menolly (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and a number of other Pern novels; Anne McCaffrey) Menolly is the musician of this bunch, the only one who appeals that side of my psyche. She literally gives up home, family, and safety to be free to pursue her music. Rather like Kel, she ends up the only girl in a school and a vocation dominated by males. Like Kel, her determination sees her through, along with the friends she makes. She is shyer than Kel, and less confident than any of the other heroines on the list except possibly Harry Crewe, but she grows and blossoms, and by the later books (in which she is a secondary or tertiary character) she is a confident young woman. What appeals to me most about Menolly is her passion for music, something I really understand and can relate to (though her passion and talent far exceed mine.) Besides, she has fire lizards!
Mrs. Pollifax (The Mrs. Pollifax mysteries, Dorothy Gilman) Emily Pollifax is another older heroine, probably in her early 60s. A widow, she’s bored with her everyday life, so she decides to do something she always wanted to do: she applies for a job as a CIA agent. Mrs. Pollifax looks like a warm, grandmotherly type. And she is – she’s just so much more. She’s intrepid, kind, optimistic, resiliant, resourceful, and remarkably flexible in her thinking. As it turns out, she’s also pretty strong-minded and determined, and she needs to be. I’ve loved her since I was in my 20s. Now that I’m in my 50s, I find I admire her even more… and it occurs to me that I need to reread her books, because it’s been a while.
I’m going to stop there, because I can’t choose between the next 10 heroines or so.
I notice some trends in this list. I gravitate toward strong, smart, principled heroines, women who value friendship and justice and right. And strong doesn’t mean physically as much as mentally and emotionally – strong-willed, determined. None of these women are perfect, but all of them are admirable. Another noteworthy point: most of them are from series, which shouldn’t surprise me. You can get to know a character a lot better through a series of books, and you have longer to make friends with them, so to speak.