While doing research about heroines, romance novels, who identifies with whom, and what exactly is the attraction to some of these absolute dimwits who populate old skool romance (I still haven’t answered that question to my own satisfaction), I’ve had to go back at my old and dusty keeper shelf and look at some of my favorite heroines from romances in the past 20 years.
I started reading romance that wasn’t breast-grabbing Sweet Valley Highs in 1992, and my introduction was Midsummer Magic, a book that still occupies a very special, creamy place in my heart (ok, ew, sorry, I couldn’t resist). But since digging in the depths of my bookshelf, I’ve come up with a few other heroines in the Frances mold that I just love revisiting.
The Lion’s Lady by Julie Garwood features one of my very faves, “Princess” Christina, a white woman with blonde hair and striking blue eyes (of course) who is raised by the Dakota and brought to England to make her debut. Because what does any self-respecting white girl raised by Native Americans need? A marquess, duh. One who is just as dangerous and out of bounds of society as she could be, were her past made known to all the snobby, snooty ton. I love her dialogue with Lyon, I love the fact that she munches on shrubs, and I love that she hides who she is but never once thinks she’d be better off if she’d never been raised by her Dakota family. She thinks most of English social customs are nuts. She kicks ass and has no problems about her ability to do so, though she knows she has to hide her talents. I only wish the period of time when Lyon and Christina verbally sparred with one another lasted longer, because their relationship was resolved so quickly in the course of the story that the only obstacle to their happiness was an external villain, and as much as I was ready for him to have his ass handed to him on the sharper end of a spear, I loved the conflict between Lyon and Christina more.
And speaking of kicking ass in a complete different way, Honoria Anstruther-Weatherby from Stephanie Laurens’ Devil’s Bride, oh how I love you, despite the man-jawed nightgown-wearing weirdness that is allegedly you pictured on the back of my very old copy (also, worst hair for a hero, ever. Ev-er). I sat on the floor in front of my bookshelf and read the opening third of this book, and an hour disappeared before I knew I’d spent it re-reading. Honoria is upper class and almost snobby about it at times, and determined to embrace her independence in a way that’s historically possible but still shocking (she wants to go to Egypt in the shadow of Hester Stanhope) at the time, but despite all that I really, really love how Honoria shines in ways that are entirely, utterly appropriate, and yet fascinating. She’s good at running huge estates, managing guests, making people feel at home, and telling that giant autocrat Devil where to get off. She’s innocent and yet fearless, and, my favorite part, level headed. She’s capable and longs for adventure of some sort. She kicks ass within the assigned boundaries of her class and her gender, and yet stands out because she’s so strong willed and confident in herself.
I love me some completely impossible heroines in historically plausible settings, especially the ways in which these women shine in that setting. I often wonder if the alpha heroine of the current urban-fantasy, ghost-hunting, vampire-slaying, lycan-shaving, mummy-unwrapping novels has some distant fringe roots in these types of historical heroines, who were ass kicking within the boundaries historically ascribed to them. It’s not like Christina wanted to be a dentist, or Honoria wanted to open a printing press. Ok, well, Honoria did want to go sail into Egypt all by her onesies but even as she pays lip service to her demands for excitement, she demonstrates through the plot how competent she is at the not-insignificant responsibilities expected of women at that time. That part just fascinates me. I could easily be assigning too much significance to heroines I love like damn and luggage, but Christina, Honoria, and heroines like them are unique in ways that never manage to grate on my nerves overly much.
What about you – who are your favorite heroines from Days of Yore?