J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Gender roles in Urban Fantasy, part 2: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, and others.

Well, I’ve had a busy day working out in the humid sun so far. Time to kick back with a tall bottle of water, and finish my thoughts on the post I started yesterday.

I figured I’d compare my personal favorite, The Dresden Files, against my first exposure to the genre to begin with: the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton.

I picked up one of her books from Barnes and Noble a long time ago on a whim… it was Bloody Bones, which was actually book 5 of the series. Anyhow, I liked it enough to go back and read it from Book 1, Guilty Pleasures. I honestly felt sort of embarrassed buying copies of the books at bookstores for a long time, considering that every cover looked like I was just buying erotica for housewives.

The cover of the copy I bought. I guess I sort of knew what I was getting into… maybe.

I honestly didn’t care, though. The books were engaging, with a snappy, witty first person narrative, and enough violence and monsters to keep the college freshman in me intrigued. At the time, there wasn’t even much sex (if any) in her writing… just the same kind of tension that Jim Butcher has used to great effect with some of his characters. It feels like that was a lifetime ago, now.

Anita Blake is (was) a great character. She was a badass. She carried a gun. She faced down monsters that would make most anyone else pee their pants. She was independent, and didn’t really need anyone else to save the day.She was kind of like Bella from Twilight before there was a Twilight… except it made sense why all the vampires and werewolves wanted a piece of her. She was legitimately powerful in her own right… since she was a powerful necromancer that raised the dead for a living.

She was the kind of heroine modern urban fantasy needed, and they got her early on.

The comics aren’t half bad, either.

I sort of lost interest in the series after Obsidian Butterfly, however. At that point, she stopped solving her problems creatively, and instead fixed everything by having sex with every monster she could find, and gained powers from doing it. At least, that’s what it felt like. Call me a prude, but I just don’t find gratuitous sex to be all that interesting in my fiction reading. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine with a female character having sex in a book, even with more than one guy. It doesn’t make her a slut or anything. But when it becomes THE thing…

But more than that, it disappointed me that a truly GREAT, independent badass female character had to resort to becoming a primarily sexual being. Sure, I suppose an argument could be made that a woman dominating and conquering her obstacles by using her womanhood first can appear empowering. But I personally see it as kind of demeaning. It doesn’t do any favors to the view some men have of women as primarily objects for sex, and actual people second. It’s gotten so bad that when I finally saw Laurell K. Hamilton at DragonCon last year, my reaction was literally “meh”. I guess writing fantasy erotica is good for her career, but I’m just not her audience. I feel like her quality took a nosedive the moment Anita stopped being that strong independent character.

Bottom line: I feel like a strong heroine should be strong for the same reasons a male hero should be strong: because they’re brave, tough, and use their wits to save the day. Anything else feels very very sexist. I shudder to think if there’s a fantasy series where a male character solves his problems by having sex with monsters. I’m sure it exists, but I don’t want to read it.

Don’t get me wrong. I still feel like her first 8-10 books are STILL some of the best urban fantasy ever written. It’s easy to see the influence it has had on tons of other series, especially The Dresden Files. Every book up to Obsidian Butterfly is a 4 or 5 star rating in my book.

Other books:

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan Maguire. I liked what I’ve read of this series so far, but unfortunately it already falls for some of the same traps that the Anita Blake series has. Verity Price is very sexualized, which I find disappointing. She even waits tables at a strip club, and the author goes out of her way to describe Verity doing a standing split in the shower. I guess… that creates interesting imagery for me as a guy, but it annoys me that writers, even the ladies, feel the need to resort to tactics like this for their characters that should be known for reasons other than their sexuality. Bringing that out always creates the danger of a 2D character.

The cover doesn’t do her any favors, either.

The Nightside series, by Simon Green. How odd that it’s another male author that doesn’t marginalize or oversexualize his female characters. Shotgun Susie is a dramatically different character. She’s scarred, and gives no cares for how she looks. She lives in an apartment that a foul bachelor fratboy would feel at home in. And she doesn’t care about anything beyond the job she’s hired to do. She just likes blasting things. Granted, it’s part of Green’s style to not really dig too deep into his characters (there’s a ton of them, after all), but still, he makes his ladies competent. I like that.

You were expecting a rifle with a name like she has?

The Kate Daniels series, by Illona Andrews. I’ve not read beyond the first book (and a short story from an anthology) yet, but Kate Daniels is a pretty good character, known for her skills and heroism. She’s tough, and smart, and a pretty decent protagonist. Oh yeah, and the gimmick regarding the actual fantasy world is starkly original. My opinion may change when I read more of her, but this is a good place for lady readers to look for a strong heroine.

 

Anyway. Obviously, the record for women in Urban Fantasy is spotty at best. There are many more awesome male characters than female characters, which is puzzling considering that it seems like there are plenty of female writers in the genre. I can’t help but feel that if someone wrote a character like Harry Dresden, and just made him a woman instead, with a slightly different gimmick, then that writer would make a truckload of money. I’m kind of puzzled why it hasn’t happened yet, honestly. Who knows? Maybe it already exists, it’s just out there getting rejected by agents right now. Wouldn’t surprise me.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap up work here. Have a good weekend, everyone!

 

 

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One comment on “Gender roles in Urban Fantasy, part 2: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, and others.

  1. me
    June 10, 2014

    The reason is that strong men saving/protecting women was often a very real necessity in the past since men just are naturally stronger than women. So that image stuck in both men and women minds. Similarly, the sex object thing. Young women were more likely to success fully bear a child.

    You can’t undo thousands of years of evolution with 40 years of feminism.

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