I love urban fantasy and I read a lot of it. If you have seen my reading stats you will know that I read about 65% urban fantasy. I have been reading Patricia Briggs‘ Mercy Thompson books this last weekend, who is always on top of the urban fantasy lists on goodreads. So far I quite liked it. However it focused my eye on a quite common trope in urban fantasy…. the lone female character, who has no female friends and very few female interactions. In some books it is profound enough a trope the book would not pass the Bechdel test, which should be surprising in a book with a female protagonist.
Edited: Always proofread things written on the tablet with autocorrect on, or it becomes weird.
Urban fantasy heroines quite often have male friends who they have wonderful banter and/or sex with. But more often than not it seems that they have no female friends, co-workers or family. If there are other females they are quite often in competition with our protagonist.
Some of it can of course be explained by the predominance of male dominated careers that our propagandists have. However that does not explain their lack of outside of work girlfriends or why they have no sisters, aunts, grandmothers etc.
I think that part of it is the fact that lots of urban fantasies borrows heavily from the mystery genre, in partially noir and westerns. Which is why I call this post the lone ranger gal.
Alone in a mans world
Urban fantasy heroines tend to be self-reliant and extremely competent. Perhaps there is a fear that any other females will take away from the protagonist’s thunder. That somehow, by having a female support network they will be less.
The thing that disturbed me is the fact that Briggs has Mercy Thompson in a position where other female supernaturals hate her our at least dislike her for no apparent reason. At the same time the were-society is highly patriarchal to the point of misogyny and Mercy comments that it isn’t really the two current leaders fault, that’s just how things are… By not giving Mercy any female friends this becomes even more visible.
I guess some of this can be explained by the fact that lots of urban fantasy seem to be female power fantasies… how wonderful it would be to beat the men at their game all by yourself. To be better than them. To be the lone ranger that rides in and solves all the problems all by yourself. To be able to navigate the male dominated world all alone, to stand up to the men, to force them to respect you. Which off course work better as fiction if the world the protagonist it’s navigating is a blatant male dominated world because highlights that that is indeed what is happening.
I personally really like themes of female friendship and family to be part of my books so I miss it when it isn’t there. There is of course an appeal to the lone wolf approach – there is a reason we all like westerns and noir stories.
In all of these stories there are internal reasons why these women don’t get along with other women… but those are author choices and that means that we get to question them. If any of these protagonists have female friends I don’t remember them, but please correct me if I am wrong. I should also note that these were all books that I really enjoyed.
- Blood Price by Tanya Huff – The Vicky Nelson books
- Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews – Innkeeper Chronicles
- Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton – Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
- My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
- Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead – Georgina Kincaid books
- A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton – Merry Gentry books
- Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin – Jaz Parks books