In Defense of “Unlikable” Heroines: A Case Study of Three Heroines from Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling Series

Ed. note: This is a longform essay, so grab yourself a beverage and settle in. Aarya’s examination of the use of “unlikeable” to describe heroines from Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling universe is terrific, whether or not you’re a fan of the series. Prepare for critical, thoughtful deep diving ahead!

Aarya Marsden is a pseudonym for an Indian-American college student and long-time romance reader. Her favorite authors include Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Lucy Parker, Kresley Cole, Alisha Rai, Lisa Kleypas, Alyssa Cole, Tessa Dare, Meredith Duran, Mina V. Esguerra, Kate Clayborn, and many more. You can follow @Aarya_Marsden on Twitter, where she gushes about romance novels and laments about her senior honors thesis.

Warning: this rant contains explicit spoilers for Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, especially Mine to Possess, Kiss of Snow, Tangle of Need, and Shards of Hope. Read at your own risk.

TW/CW: discussion of child rape, trauma, violence against women, torture, lack of consent

Let me preface this rant by saying that I hate the term “unlikable heroine.” My government professor advised me last semester to avoid words like “populism” in my honors thesis because the word has so many definitions and interpretations that it’s essentially lost all meaning to use casually in academia. Similarly, readers use “unlikable heroine” to refer to any heroine that they a) can’t personally connect to, b) dislike for sexist various reasons, c) believe is not worthy of the hero, or d) all of the above. Yep – it’s super clear what the word “unlikable” means! Not.

“Unlikable heroine” has become a shorthand as it’s often not followed by an explanation of exactly why the reader dislikes the heroine. It’s also, in my mind, a sexist shorthand because a) the word “unlikable” is rarely attached to heroes and b) the same reasons for heroine unlikability are not fairly applied to their equally unlikable heroes. I’m not qualified to analyze the history of “unlikable heroines” in the romance genre and am not going to try.

I am, however, qualified to rant about and defend “unlikable heroines” in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling (P/C) series as I’m a huge fangirl. Over the years, I’ve participated and lurked in many online P/C discussions – including ones about “the most disliked characters in the series.” It’s a common enough topic – even fans have least favorite characters. And while the question seems harmless, the comments always, always give me a rage-induced headache. After reading the comment section (where the majority of answers refer to women), I typically look like this:

Me curled up on my bed with my phone

Dragon from ONCE UPON A TIME firing onto the ground

If you’ve never read this series, you might be confused as to why I feel like burning the world down after reading discussions like these. I’m angry because each one is a reminder of all the sexist and unfair standards applied to the most “unlikable” P/C characters – the women.

So let’s take a look at some of the women in this series. As someone who’s lurked in many PNR discussion groups, I would posit that the most hated protagonist in the entire series is Talin McKade (the heroine from Mine to Possess, coincidentally the first PNR I ever read). I’m also not surprised when I see Zaira Neve (the heroine from Shards of Hope) and Adria Morgan (the heroine from Tangle of Need) mentioned multiple times.

My rage is not limited to discussion groups: There are plenty of negative reviews that criticize the book for only the heroine. I’m a die-hard P/C fangirl and even I can admit that some of the heroes can be domineering assholes. I love them, but their behavior isn’t always sweet and respectful. There is no good reason as to why characters like Vaughn D’Angelo or Clay Bennett aren’t mentioned just as much as the women in these debates. (Yes, there is.)

Look: I’m not saying people can’t dislike books and characters. Some people might hate this series, the heroes, and the heroines – that’s okay! Some readers might love this series and hate a few books/characters (including the ones mentioned above) – that’s okay, too!

But when there is a discussion about the most disliked characters in the P/C world, and the top answers are always, always women, then it might be a time for everyone to examine the internal biases and internalized misogyny that can lead to this rage-inducing phenomenon.

And now, onto the rant:

Talin McKade, AKA What Did This Poor Woman Do? That’s Right: Have A Lot Of Sex And Lie To The Hero.

Mine to Possess
A | BN | AB
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Tally because Mine to Possess is the first PNR I ever read and my introduction into the P/C world. She isn’t one of my top three P/C heroines, but I’m especially protective of her.

In no particular order, here are some common negative comments about Tally:

  • Undeserving and unworthy of the hero Clay Bennett
  • Cruel/mean to the hero and rude to the DarkRiver Leopards
  • Resistant to the help offered by the hero/changelings
  • “Manipulative”
  • “Slut” or “sleeps around a lot”
  • “Unlikable” and “selfish”

Plot Highlights:

Talin is a human and Clay is a leopard changeling. They lived in the same apartment building when they were kids. Talin’s foster father sexually abused her as a child, and Clay ripped apart her abuser. The cops came, Talin went to another foster family, and Clay went to juvie until he was eighteen. Per Talin’s wishes, Clay was told that she had died in a car crash because she didn’t want him to look for her after his release. Years later, they meet again in San Francisco because Tally needs help from the local DarkRiver pack to find several kidnapped kids (she works for Shine, an organization that helps disadvantaged children).

Clay is completely shocked to find her alive.


“You’re supposed to be dead.” He let her see the rage inside of him, rage that had had twenty long years to ferment. Ferment and spread until it infused every vein in his body. “They lied to me.”

Singh, Nalini. Mine to Possess.

Of all the complaints re: Talin, the #1 complaint seems to be that she lied to the hero for almost twenty years. Poor Clay. Here he was, suffering and mourning for his lost friend/potential mate and living a half-life. How dare that evil Talin torment him so when he saved her life?

Why would she keep him away when he killed her abuser? Shouldn’t she be grateful? Why is she so continuously bitchy to him throughout the book and resistant to having a relationship? Why isn’t she more outwardly loving toward the man who worships her?

In case it wasn’t obvious: I don’t agree with any of the above statements. But let’s look at it from Tally’s point-of-view. From a very young age, her life is completely shattered. She’s a victim of trauma. And when she gets away from her terrifying situation, isn’t it normal for her to want to cut all ties to that trauma?


Eyes the color of storm clouds met his. “I asked them to tell you I was killed in a car crash.”

The knife twisted so deep, it carved a hole in his soul. “Why?”

“You wouldn’t let me be, Clay,” she whispered, torment a vicious beast in those big gray eyes ringed by a thin band of amber. “I was with a good family, trying to live a normal life”—her lips twisted—“or as normal as I knew how to live. But I couldn’t relax. I could feel you hunting me the second you left juvie. Twelve years old and I didn’t dare close my eyes in case you found me in my dreams!”

Singh, Nalini. Mine to Possess.

This is what I think: Talin owes Clay literally nothing. She was a kid when all this shit went down. Regardless of how “valid” her reasons are wanting to avoid him, she has the right to leave her past in the past. Yet somehow she’s manipulative and wrong for setting her own boundaries. I get that some readers may feel defensive about Clay: we’ve known him for many books now and obviously he’s suffering from a lot of emotional pain. But considering everything we know about Talin? Give me a break.

Talin isn’t nice or sweet or loving. She’s emotionally traumatized and suffers from a disease without a cure. She doesn’t fall into Clay’s arms for a long time and is (understandably) scared of him and his beast. Unlike the previous Psy heroines in the series, she doesn’t initially get along with or like the DarkRiver leopards. Specifically, she has a little spat with Faith (Psy heroine from Visions of Heat) and is guarded around Sascha (Psy heroine from Slave to Sensation). She’s convinced that the leopards don’t like her (she’s half-right).


“So, you knew Clay in childhood?” Faith asked as they sat in the large rumpus room upstairs. “He’s never mentioned you.”

Talin felt a stab of hurt followed by irritation. Who was this woman to question her about Clay? “Unsurprising, really. We were very young the last time we saw each other.” But he had walked in her soul every day of her life.

“I knew about you,” Tamsyn said from where she sat in an armchair between Faith and Talin. She was knitting something using a green wool that reminded Talin of Clay’s eyes. “‘My Tally,’ that’s what he called you.”

“You knew?” Faith frowned, the expression so subtle it was as if she hadn’t yet learned to share her emotions without shields. “Of course, you’ve known him much longer.”

Tamsyn continued to knit as she talked. “Yes. But he’s become good friends with you very quickly. You must have some kind of magic.”

The jealousy that hit Talin was a vicious creature, tearing and ripping and violent. “I guess he must’ve developed a thing for helpless women.” The bitchy comment was out before she could stop it.

Tamsyn’s knitting needles paused, then resumed. Faith raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think I’m helpless?” Her smile was ice.

Singh, Nalini. Mine to Posses.

So here’s the head count of Tally’s flaws: lied to Clay about her death, is “bitchy” and guarded around his friends, is resistant to his physical overtures and any relationship. Am I missing anything?

Oh, yeah. She’s had a lot of sex.

It’s revealed in the book that Tally is suffering from an unidentifiable disease. One of the symptoms is that she lapses into fugue states, where she can’t control her actions and wakes up hours later. Most of the time, the fugue states lead to sexual encounters outside her control.


“One of the specialists had me wear a tracker when the episodes started getting bad. Most of the time—” She swallowed and drank some of her chocolate. “It’s sexual. Most of the time it’s sexual. Not always sex but acting out. Acting different. Dressing different.”

His claws pushed out slowly through his skin. He had to force them to retract. “Is that why all those men?”

Her face was sad. “Don’t try and make me innocent again. I’m not. I never was.”

“You were a child then. You weren’t responsible.”

“But I was responsible for my adult actions. And I did sleep around. You can’t erase that!” she cried. “These episodes have only gotten so bad in the last year and a half. The doctors call them dissociative states. There are lots of psychological words to describe what just happened but most people recognize it as a fugue.”

Singh, Nalini. Mine to Possess.

There are many reviews which call Talin a slut. Only she didn’t really sleep around voluntarily because she didn’t really consciously consent to it. So… any accusations of Talin being a slut are somehow slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

I honestly think that Mine to Possess is a superb case study of how readers will tolerate any behavior from heroes but never allow heroines to stray from their ideal of niceness. If heroines do stray from that ideal, they become “unlikable.”

I haven’t talked a lot about Clay yet, but the truth is that he’s an alphahole. I love the book, but I can’t deny that he is extremely domineering, overprotective, and asshole-ish for a lot of the book. My least favorite quality about Clay is his reaction to the news that Tally has a sexual history.


For her, trust and sex were incompatible. If he pushed her in that direction, it might equal her last straw. Then there were the other men. So many she couldn’t remember their names. He roared again, the sound vicious. Why? Why had Tally sold herself so cheap?

Singh, Nalini. Mine to Possess.


SIGH. Teenage nostalgia is a wonderful thing, because I probably would have DNFed this book had I read it today. Just because it needs to be said: screw any hero who’s not okay with their heroine having sex in her past. This is slut-shaming times a million. Plus, in his infinite generosity, Clay decides not to blame her any more once he finds out about her illness. How magnanimous.

And that’s precisely my point. To reiterate, it’s okay if you hate the P/C series. It’s okay if you’re a P/C fan but hate Mine to Possess! I get it.

My problem is the number of readers who hate this book only because of the “unlikable” heroine. How is Tally so “unlikable” when Clay is equally (if not more) “unlikable?” Why are her actions condemned while his are not?

Adria Morgan, AKA How Dare She Fall In Love With A Changeling Without Mating With Him?

Tangle of Need
A | BN | K | AB
Tangle of Need is a polarizing book among fans. There are a lot of valid critiques to be made about a) the fated mates trope in general and b) whether the book spent enough time with the main couple. Tangle of Need is fascinating to me because it’s the only changeling book where the couple doesn’t end up mated.

There are three species in the world: changeling, Psy, and human. Only changelings can develop a mating bond with any of the three species, though changelings often form relationships and live happily in the absence of a mating bond.

I want to talk about why some fans have a problem with Adria, or more specifically: why they don’t have a problem with Riaz.

Plot Highlights:

Riaz is a lieutenant with the SnowDancer wolves and Adria is a senior soldier in the same pack. They’re both suffering from recent emotional wounds: Adria recently called it quits after a ten-year relationship and Riaz is suffering from the knowledge that his mate will never be his. Months ago, he met the woman that his wolf recognized as his potential mate (the mating bond isn’t cemented officially until both sides agree and the mating dance is finalized). Unfortunately for him, Lisette is a human and adores her human husband. Unlike changelings (who can feel the pull of the mating tug), Psy and humans aren’t as compelled by potential mating ties. Both Adria and Riaz are emotionally raw at the start of the book.

Adria is often described in reviews and discussions as “unlikable” or “difficult to emotionally connect with.” She’s icy, emotionally guarded, and doesn’t put up with shit. She’s a strong dominant soldier, and is hiding layers of pain and heartbreak inside her cold exterior. Her “ice” is so integrated into her personality that Riaz associates it with her scent.

“He walked into the break room—to come to a complete halt, the scent of crushed berries in ice wrapping around him, delicate as the most fragile snowflake.

Singh, Nalini. Tangle of Need.


She and Riaz initially have an antagonistic relationship – they can’t abide each other for personal reasons. It’s not exactly Enemies-to-Lovers, but she also never fawns over him.


She’d fought with focused determination by Riaz’s side, followed his orders on the field without hesitation.

However, off the field?




Glacial enough to bite.

Folding his arms when she didn’t reply, he stepped into her personal space, caught the subtle scent of crushed berries and frost.

Singh, Nalini. Tangle of Need.


Despite their antagonistic relationship, they do have a sexual attraction. When Adria tries to act on it, Riaz rejects her brutally.


His anger turned quiet, deadly, cold. “You just want to sleep together, is that it?”

Slender fingers flexing, clenching again. “I’m talking about sharing intimate skin privileges”—red painted her cheekbones—“nothing forbidden or taboo among packmates. I don’t see why you’re reacting like I’m suggesting something awful.”

“Because I don’t like you,” he said, saw her flinch.

Ruthless though he could be, he wasn’t usually such a bastard, but Adria had torn open the greatest wound on his heart, then rubbed salt on the injury with her casual approach to something that savaged him. He could barely see straight, much less think, but he knew one thing. “You’re not a woman I’ll ever want in my bed.”

Adria could feel her face burning, the heat blistering, but she didn’t run off, tail between her legs. “Can’t get much clearer than that.”

Singh, Nalini. Tangle of Need.


She doesn’t put up with his bullshit (even if it’s understandably caused by his own emotional troubles). When he tries to kiss her later, she puts a stop to it and defends her right to be loved.


And that, she thought with grim honesty, was all it would’ve been. Because whatever the cause of the rage she sensed in his kiss, Riaz, tall and strong and blood-loyal to SnowDancer, wasn’t capable of anything else. Not with her. “I’m worth more,” she told him, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. “Affection, respect, tenderness, I’m worth all of that, so don’t you dare come near me again until you’re ready to offer it.”

Singh, Nalini. Tangle of Need.


I love Adria. She’s one of my favorite heroines of the series. I like Riaz, but Adria is the reason why I love this book. This book is very painful to read at certain points – they’re both so raw and hurting. There’s an excruciating moment toward the end of the book: Lisette (Riaz’s potential mate) has temporarily separated from her husband. When Adria finds out, her world shatters. Wanting Riaz to have the opportunity of the mating bond, she ends their relationship over his objections (at this point, Riaz has zero desire to be with Lisette and is head over heels with Adria).

I have a hypothesis as to why readers consider Adria to be “unlikable” but still like Riaz (who is cruel and an asshole for the early parts of the book): she’s icy and emotionally guarded, preferring to shield herself against hurt. She’s introspective, and spends a lot of the book in emotional pain. She isn’t as outwardly affectionate compared to other changelings.

This is such an unfair standard because heroes are like that ALL THE TIME and we love them for it. Readers specifically ask for recs with grumpy/icy/gruff heroes who have trouble emoting (I certainly do!).

It’s especially an unfair standard when you consider the fact that Nalini Singh specializes in icy/emotionally guarded/physically combative protagonists (by “physically combative,” I’m referring to someone who uses physical strength and violence frequently, like changeling soldiers or Psy assassins).

I mean, isn’t that the defining character profile of every single Psy hero in the series? Let’s review the evidence.


List of P/C Heroes Who Are Icy/Emotionally Guarded/Physically Combative And Stay That Way*

  • Judd Lauren (Caressed by Ice) – ice is in the title!
  • Kaleb Krychek (Heart of Obsidian)
  • Vasic Zen (Shield of Winter)
  • Aden Kai (Shards of Hope)
  • Stefan Berg (novella “Echoes of Silence”)

*There have been six Psy heroes in the series so far and five qualify (some might argue that Aden is not icy, but I think he is. We can argue about this in the comments).


List of P/C Heroines Who Are Icy/Emotionally Guarded/Physically Combative And Stay That Way**

  • Adria Morgan (Tangle of Need)
  • Zaira Neve (Shards of Hope)

** I don’t think Sienna Lauren (Kiss of Snow) belongs on this list (she is emotionally guarded and physically combative, but not icy). Silver Mercant (Silver Silence) is icy and emotionally guarded, but not physically combative.

Funny how both those heroines always rank high in reader discussions of “most disliked protagonists” while Judd and Kaleb are almost universally loved.

Okay, I’m beginning to feel like that fire-breathing dragon again so it’s time to move on.

Zaira Neve, AKA Tortured Backstories Are Hot In Heroes But Not In Heroines

Shards of Hope
A | BN | K | AB
In case you’re not exactly sure what the Psy are: picture Vulcan-like creatures with powers such as telepathy or telekinesis. About a century before the books start, the Psy outlawed emotion in the Silence Protocol to control their abilities (Psy often lost control of their powers during emotional outbursts).

The Psy with dangerous combative powers must join a secret assassin squad called the Arrows. Even more than other Psy, maintaining Silence is integral for the Arrows. If they lose control of their powers, people will die.

Zaira in Shards of Hope is unusual among Psy heroines, who usually have non-combative powers (e.g., empathy for Sascha Duncan and Ivy Jane, foresight for Faith NightStar, or medical abilities for Ashaya Aleine). She’s also the only female Arrow with her own book.

Conversely, Judd Lauren, Vasic Zen, and Aden Kai are all male Arrows with books (Stefan Berg and Kaleb Krychek were never officially Arrows, but their skillset is similar to the Arrows’ skillset).

Every single Arrow has a torturous and miserable backstory. Childhood in the Arrow schools consisted of zero affection, constant pain and punishment for mistakes, and a solitary existence. And once they became adults, they were forced to become killers and assassins for the Psy Council. It’s a miracle that any of the Arrows can break Silence and fall in love.

Criticisms about Zaira’s unlikability are similar to Adria’s flaws (icy, emotional guarded, etc) but times infinity. Zaira has an extremely tortured backstory, can barely feel, and considers herself to be a monster. She relies on Aden to stay sane.


She’d spent most of her life in a cell without light, but there had been times when she’d been let outside, when she’d had to interact with other children. Her parents had called it “socialization” training so she wouldn’t be “an uncivilized monster” as she grew. Zaira didn’t think it had worked, but she was talking to Aden like a real person, so maybe she was wrong and it had.

Singh, Nalini. Shards of Hope.



Zaira’s shields began to crumble. Breaking away from him, she shook her head and tried not to hear the screaming need inside her. “Your faith can’t change genetics.” Her instability was part of her DNA itself. “Your faith can’t change the fact that I was born of monsters who were born of monsters. I can’t erase the violence written in my blood. All I can do is cage it.”

Singh, Nalini. Shards of Hope.


Here’s the thing about Zaira. I’ve read comments about how she’s “hard to connect emotionally with” and that she has “no personality except for her tortured backstory.” This is technically true from one standpoint – a lot of the book does focus on Zaira’s journey from feeling like a monster to being a woman who deserves love. I guess she would be “unlikable” to a reader who didn’t like torturous backstories.

My question is this: isn’t that also true of every single other Psy hero (*cough* Kaleb Krychek *cough*)? Kaleb is compelling and attractive because he’s so mysterious/evil and emotionally stunted. I’d argue Kaleb has less of a personality than Zaira outside his torturous backstory (don’t hurt me, Kaleb fans – I love him, too!).

Kaleb spends most of his book thinking that he would literally destroy the world without the influence of his heroine Sahara (he still thinks this even after his book!). Kaleb’s inner monologue focuses on how evil/unpredictable he is. This is somehow more of a personality than Zaira’s monstrous inner thoughts?


Look, I’m not saying that disliking Talin and Adria and Zaira is entirely and solely based in sexism or internalized misogyny. There are plenty of valid reasons to dislike all those books. But when I break down the reasons for their “unlikability” and compare that to some of the P/C heroes’ alphahole and domineering behavior… I can’t understand why the women are always the main examples of “most disliked characters in the P/C series.” I’ve watched this discussion regurgitate over and over again in different online groups: Talin is consistently the #1 most hated character in the series followed by, in more recent years, Zaira and Adria.

I wouldn’t be this mad if I saw names like “Vaughn D’Angelo” (Visions of Heat) or “Clay Bennett” (Mine to Possess) occur in equal frequency to the women’s names. But they never do. It just smacks of double standards and supreme unfairness – how come we forgive heroes for bad behavior but use heroines’ flaws to justify their “unlikability?”

I focused on the P/C series to discuss the internalized bullshit surrounding “unlikable heroines” because a) I know this series like the back of my hand and b) I really needed to vent after seeing yet another example of this conversation. None of the points I present are new to me, but it is the first time I’ve written them out. And man, it felt good.

This article is just a case study, but I’m sure there are other examples where readers declare a heroine to be “unlikable” but proceed to forgive the hero for the same (if not worse) “crimes.” It’s infuriating. I’m also sure that I’m guilty of this same behavior and am not immune: most of this bs is caused by internalized sexism (something I am not cured of).

But – I’m not sure how to stop it. Should we stop using the word “unlikable?” Try to be more aware about why we forgive some characters and not others? I don’t know. Maybe you’ll have some ideas on how to combat this.

What I do know is this: Talin McKade, Adria Morgan, and Zaira Neve are not unlikable, and I will defend them to my last breath.

Thank you, Aarya!

What about you? Are you a fan of this series? What’s your take?

Comments are Closed

  1. rudi_bee says:

    I so totally agree with you and share your frustrations (Zaira is my all time fave Psy heroine) but also to me the problem of “unlikable heroines” reaches even further.
    For a while now I’ve been thinking that while it’s one thing for a heroine to be brash/aggressive/icy it’s a whole other if she’s a ditz or a bit vain. Or vapid. idk.
    Maybe this is too left-field but I rewatched some episodes of Schitts Creek over the weekend and I can’t shake the feeling that if Alexis was a romance heroine she’d be hated by an uncomfortably large number of readers

  2. Maria F says:

    Those are three of my favorite heroines in the P/C series so I guess I’m an outlier! But some prople find me too prickly/too assertive of boundaries/too blunt/etc so maybe that explains why I find them more relatable than others (although there aren’t any heroines I dislike in the series). Thanks for your analysis and rant!

  3. Snow says:

    Thank you Aarya. I just picked up my first P/C book in years, “Shield of Winter” and I was flooded with memories of tormented alphaholes and prickly heroines. I couldn’t stand Clay and still think that Talin got the short end of the hero stick. I adored Adria. This essay makes me look forward to Zaira’s story.

  4. Azure says:

    I love this series, but I haven’t participated in P/C discussions about the series to know that Talin was considered so unlikeable. I loved Talin–she was the first human to appear as a main character in the series (everyone else was either Psy or Changeling to that point), and her interactions with the other characters were about what I would expect from her given what she’d been through. To be honest–I wasn’t crazy about Clay. I’d loved Lucas and Judd, was okay with Vaughn, but Clay left me cold.

    Reading this essay makes me want to go back and reread the series even though I have a TBR list that could circle the equator!

  5. I adore all three of those heroines! And I love this post. Thank you!

  6. Ren Benton says:

    This is relevant to the larger discussions about the wife-mother fetish prevalent in romance (i.e., those who believe marriage and babies are mandatory for HEA designation and the lack = not a romance), which doesn’t allow for women to be anything but warm, nurturing, and domestic. Traditionalists don’t demand/desire those qualities in men because they aren’t required in the protector-provider role that corresponds with wife-mother.

  7. kkw says:

    I can’t stand this series, although I haven’t read past the first couple books, and don’t even remember why I dislike them so -but either fated mating, or false logic/emotion dichotomies would do it, so I don’t think I even know these heroines.
    I really liked this essay, though!
    I think of unlikeable heroes, like unreliable narrators, as being a device chosen by the author, not the reader. It is…disheartening to learn it’s being used by romance fans to enforce gender stereotypes.
    Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair is the first unlikeable heroine I can think of off the top of my head – if she even counts? Trollope is making a point about Victorian bullshit and anyone who doesn’t like Becky in the end is on my list as willfully obtuse. Of course, the world is full of these people, and it is rage inducing.

  8. Susan says:

    I binge-read most of this series several years ago but, reading this post, am alarmed at how little I actually remember of them!

    That said, while I don’t remember disliking any of these women, Riaz certainly made an impression I and never warming up to him at all. I was unsatisfied with the book and wished Adria had just told him to stuff it. I’d have rather her ended up with no one rather than settle for him.

    I also think there’s a big difference between being cold/shut down/emotionally unavailable and purposely unkind. Active intent is an important distinction. At least, for me.

  9. Jaime says:

    So relevant to my interests right now, as I’m finally working my way through the Psy-Changeling series for the first time. Honestly, I nearly DNFed Mine to Possess because Clay was such a raging asshole about Talin; finding out that people blame her but not him is enraging, if not entirely unsurprising. But honestly, I nearly quit the whole series after that book – if I didn’t have enough curiosity about the worldbuilding to go “okay, I’ll give it one more,” Clay’s slutshaming fuckery would have been the nail in the coffin. I’m glad I kept going, because it got infinitely better from there, but man do I still hate Clay. Talin deserves about five years of intense therapy and a better man than that. And anyone coming for Adria has to go through me because fuck that nonsense entirely.

    I’m about to head into Zaira’s book, so I skipped over that part of this post, but it’s good to know that I’ll need to add her to my “defend at all costs” list of heroines.

  10. Emily C says:

    So I haven’t read these books, and likely won’t because shifters are just not really my jam, but the essay is terrific!
    Regarding “Likeable” and “unlikeable” protagonists in popular culture, that distinction is often meant to be black and white when it comes to women and very gray when it comes to men. For example, the ever-so-popular Antihero of prestige TV and movies- Walter White and Don Draper being the most cited examples.
    I was actually just thinking about this last night while bingeing on Good Girls on NBC. Christina Hendricks’ character, Beth, is pretty consistently chasing the rush of crime despite the danger. You know she’s really looking for validation that she’s good at something other than managing the PTA fundraisers and Bento-boxing lunches. She’s not particularly remorseful about it either. In fact, all the women keep being lured back in and you are meant to be rooting for them; you don’t want them to get caught. Their motivations are each unique, change almost weekly in some cases, and sit decidedly in the gray area of right and wrong. It’s really fun and refreshing to watch. I’d love some more Antiheroines in my life.

  11. Tina says:

    I love this series so hard. But like any long running series, not all books in the series are created equal and not all characters are going to be interesting or likeable.

    Specifically to the characters mentioned here:

    I am indifferent to Talin and that is because I am really indifferent to Clay. Both of them, not just her. They were probably my first dud couple of this series.

    I effing loved Adria. I really loved Tangle of Need mainly *because* it flew in the face of the whole fated mate concept (which I personally feel is a cheat in romance).

    I admit I did not like Zaira though. Not because of some internalized misogyny (more on that later) but because I think I am one of those unicorns who simply can’t stand the need for a tortured, super angsty background for any character. I didn’t mind it at first but it seems like somehow over time there developed an angst sweepstakes. How terrible can I make the childhood or background my protagonist? Not terrible enough you say? I’ll crank it up to 100! So yeah my issue with Zaira was her negative headspace ‘I am not good for you’ just felt constant.

    More general to the concept of the ‘unlikeable’ heroine, I think that is a difficult concept to unpack in some ways. Putting aside the fact that for individual readers there are individual heroines who are objectively dis-likable to them for any number of reasons a reader can laundry list out — I do agree there is some internalized misogyny at play here. However I don’t agree that it can always be laid at the feet of the reader. I don’t believe that one can call out internalized misogyny and only target it to readers and not expect it to also exist on some plane by the writer as well. Sometimes a reader is picking up what a writer is putting down.

    I think about the number of contemp or paranormal romances where the hero is the only character on the cover of the novel. Right from the cover it feels like we are being sold on the hero, not the heroine. Even in the three examples discussed here specifically, the heroine is missing.

    I also think there tend to be more series romances where the connective tissue is the ‘band of brother characters’ (MC romances come to mind) where you have five or six books to really get to know the male characters, get invested in them and their deep background and personalities. So you become protective of the character you know and are familiar with. And if a heroine gets introduced as a new character and her character isn’t developed well or the conflict arises from *her* it is kinda sets her up for failure for the reader.

  12. pals20 says:

    I love everything about this article and I agree with every single point.

    I remember being disappointed with Ms. Singh and disliking Clay and Tally so much when I first read their book. Ironically when I reread their book after years, I became far more sympathetic towards Tally but my dislike of Clay remained. I remember sobbing for Adria, I felt her pain so deeply and hell, I adore Zaira BECAUSE she was so broken inside.

    All that said, I do still trip up and tag a heroine as unlikeable, I hope this article will make me more circumspect before judging a heroine so. Ultimate goal is of course to dislike a book not a character because of human traits, but… baby steps.

  13. JoS says:

    BRAVO, Aarya, for this wonderful essay and starting the discussion!

    If I were to select a favorite trope, it would be the prickly/cold/unlikeable heroine, hands down. Which is why it always amazes me when people say they dislike a book because of the “unlikeable” heroine when, for me, that was the best part!

  14. Julversia says:

    I should go back and re-read this series again, because I don’t remember too many of the particulars of most of the pairings. What I do remember is that in general, Singh tends toward strong heroines in this series, and heroes who, in general, know the women have strength and agency of their own, and encourage it.

    I do recall being turned off by Clay’s overly protective stance in that book. Just because Tally is human does not make her less than. Something the Changelings have realized since the Alliance. Women can, and do, make their own decisions. And I’m really not here for slut-shaming or victim-blaming. It’s none of his business what she did before they met up again. Not to mention it is not his place to decide how traumatized she might have been by his behavior.

    Clay was honestly rather OOC for a P/C hero, and I didn’t like it at all.

    Riaz was pretty OOC for the general blueprint of a P/C hero, too. I’m not a fan of pining, honestly, especially pining that makes a person cruel and nasty to other people. I remember trying to get through that book as quickly as possible because he annoyed me to no end. I really only wanted her to move on to someone else. So I guess I didn’t really like either of them, really. Riaz was obnoxious, and Adria deserved better but kept giving a PITA man more chances than he should have had.

    Zaira and Aden I completely understood. They were both Silent for so long, and Arrows are some of the most Silent, because they have to be. So yeah, I never went into that story looking for a wide emotional range to come from them in order to connect with the characters. It’s different from most romance, in that not a whole lot of expression of feelings goes on, but that’s the nature of this particular race. If readers expect something else, or hold it against the heroine that she’s not approachable or likable, they’re reading the wrong series, or they haven’t grasped the concept of the Psy at all. Zaira becomes the more protective one in the end, anyway. Aden protects everyone else, she protects him. I find that to be a somewhat refreshing flip in the usual dynamic.

    There’s really nothing inherently “unlikable” about these heroines. Excepting Shards of Hope the heroes are arguably a hell of a lot more unlikable, and with more worrying traits than simply being “cold” or “unapproachable.”

    Fantastic essay!

  15. QOTU says:

    Thanks for bringing content like this to my life, SBTB! Great essay. I was just thinking the other day about how the Romance heroines always get put in “feminine” jobs (caretakers, art, food prep, education, family business, community work). I was always frustrated that there weren’t more books where the woman “chased “ the man (not the same as pined for) and got him. The books that do have a woman going after one man always end up with her together with another man, who snuck up and surprised her. Why can’t she identify a good match and pursue it? Why can’t she be governor? I suppose then she’d be “unlikeable”!

  16. MegS says:

    First off: Aarya, I’m here to fangirl a bit. I follow you on Twitter (I’m a lurker, not an interact-er), and you always have something valuable to say. Just wanted to say thanks!!

    Second: yes. To all of this. I am a MASSIVE P/C fan and am a chronic re-reader. I have issues with Talin and Clay’s book—it’s one of the ones I’ve only read 2-3 times—and I’m still unpacking all the reasons. I think you hit on a number of them here.

    I also ADORE Zaira/Aden. Adore.

    And I am increasingly into Adria/Riaz.

    Some thoughts: Zaira & Aden seem to flip the “expected” gender roles in many romance novels, in that he is the one being patient and accommodating in order to let her overcome her trauma enough to trust herself and trust him. THis is a stereotypically female role (to me). I wonder if people are reacting badly to that flip? Who knows.

    Last note: I think you are absolutely on to something with your Alice/Zaid theory. And that would be amazing.

  17. Wow, this is such a great comment section. My comment is going to be a little long because I wanted to respond to everyone, since you all brought up such great points.

    @rudi_bee: I love Alexis in Schitt’s Creek and I’m 100% certain that we’d all dismiss her at TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) if she were a romance heroine. I hate that term so much.

    @Maria F: I’m a heroine-centric reader, so I feel the same way. And I don’t dislike a single heroine in the series, though I find some of the heroes a bit too alpha-hole for my tastes.

    @Snow: I hope you enjoy Zaira’s book! Let me know what you think if you ever read it.

    @Azure: You should absolutely reread the series, TBR be damned. 🙂 I always enjoy rereading these books because I often find something new (e.g., foreshadowing for future books). Nalini Singh is a plotting genius.

    I didn’t talk about this in the rant, but I think there is also a tendency to dislike human protagonists (hero or heroine) in this series. I guess people find humans less interesting than the changelings and the Psy? Which is understandable, but I’ve always found the humans to be more relatable than the other species.

    @Stephanie Burgis: Thanks, Stephanie! I love these heroines, too (although Sienna is my favorite!).

    @Ren Benton: Yes, that definitely plays into it as well. And a lot of PNR/UF tends to deviate from “traditionalist” preferences for heroines.

    @kkw: I’ll be the first to admit that this series isn’t for everyone! 🙂 I love alpha heroes and fated mates, so this series is pretty much catnip for me. I’m not sure if “unlikable heroines” (as a device) is always chosen by the author, though. I don’t view any of these heroines as “unlikable” (and I doubt the author does, either). It’s really impossible to control what readers think about your protagonists.

    @Susan: I have friends who have never gotten on board with the Adria/Riaz pairing for precisely the reason you state. I personally love them, because I can really tell how tortured Riaz was in the beginning and how much he changes throughout the book. And I kinda love that they chose each other (without the mating bond). The scene at the end (with them watching the old human couple dance) always makes me cry.

    @Jaime: OMG, I love your reaction! When I form my Defend The Psy/Changeling Heroine Army, you’ll be my first recruit! 😛

    Your reaction to MTP is 100% valid and probably would have been my reaction as well had I first read it today. But I somehow love it even in rereads because I get nostalgic (it was my first PNR and introduction to the P/C series). I hope you enjoy SHARDS OF HOPE. That book has a special place in my heart because of Zaira.

    @Emily C: That’s a really excellent point. Anti-heroes are so popular (just look at the rise of Dark Romance. It’s not my thing, but so many people love it). I don’t really see an equivalent with anti-heroines, unfortunately. I don’t know if you’ve read Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, but my favorite book is KISS OF A DEMON KING because the heroine Sabine is “evil” and doesn’t ever apologize for it.

    I really must watch Good Girls on NBC – thanks for the rec!

    @Tina: Fated Mates is such a controversial topic. I see both sides, but I personally love it even while acknowledging its flaws. Maybe it’s something I should write about if I ever have the time.

    Re: the covers, I have no idea how branding/publicity works but I know publishing houses spend a lot of money conducting market research on what sells and what doesn’t. And for a while, there were a bunch of PNR covers with heroes on them. I’m really curious if there have been articles/research that explain why. As an aside, I really like the newer Psy-Changeling covers (like Silver Silence or Wolf Rain). They don’t look like typical PNR covers and have both the hero and heroine.

    Re: the band of brothers, you’re 100% correct. We’re way more protective of characters we already know (like Clay in this case). So we’re predisposed to have a negative opinion of Tally when she comes into conflict with beloved DarkRiver characters. I don’t think I’ve ever read a PNR series that exclusively focused on a “band of sisters,” so to speak. That would be really fun to read.

    Re: unlikability as a concept: It’s so hard to unpack. And like I said: there are several other reasons to dislike Tally, Adria, and Zaira besides the reasons I listed. I wanted to write the rant mostly because I was looking at the aggregate opinion of readers. If I read 200 comments about hated P/C characters, and the majority of the comments list the women (with high frequency results for Tally/Adria/Zaira), I have to wonder why.

    @pals20: You know, you’re not the first person I know to find Clay/Tally more sympathetic in the reread. Once we know the ending of a book, sometimes we find the disagreeable beginning more palatable.

    I’m a crier and spent most of Adria’s book in tears. Without a doubt, that was the emotional book for me. And like you, I have a special spot for heroines who feel broken inside. Gah. Just thinking about it makes me want to reread!

    @JoS: Me, too! I kept on putting “unlikable” in quotation marks because I find them *extremely* likable and endearing.

    @Julversia: One of the things I love about this series is how all the fans have such differing opinions. I really like your take on Zaira/Aden. I never found Zaira’s “monstrous/dark” thoughts off-putting because I understood that she simply didn’t have the emotional range to express other kinds of emotions. But I wonder if I would have expected that kind of characterization in a changeling. The Psy have my favorite POVs in the series because their emotional reactions are so strange and different than my own experiences.

    @QOTO: Your comment reminds me that the ratio of “romance heroines as art gallery owners to real life art gallery owners” is really skewed! Same with bakery owners and teachers. I’m an anomaly, I suppose, because I really enjoy reading about assassin heroines!

    @MegS: Wow, thank you! You should interact, though. I’m really nice on Twitter and I love talking about books. 🙂

    I love your interpretation re: Zaira/Aden. I think you’re right and that the gender roles are flipped. Normally, the heroine needs to have the emotional intelligence and patience to take care and “heal” the hero’s dark past.

    Ahh, the Alice and Zaid conspiracy theory.

    I have no idea if I’m right. Apparently Nalini once said that Zaid was 100% dead in an interview, but I’m not losing hope. That could’ve been a red herring!

  18. Venetia says:

    I love the series but honestly a lot of the heroes are raging alpholes who do not respect boundaries. Tally and Clay’s backstory was heartbreaking but Clay’s behaviour drove me up the wall. And possibly the most infuriating to me was Dorian and Ashaya. He’s great in every other book but his aggressive behaviour towards Ashaya was appalling and Lucas should not have allowed him anywhere near her until he calmed the hell down.

  19. Kristi says:

    I would love to see a rec league based on “unlikeable female characters” and what makes them so awesome. It’s time to celebrate the rude, brash, insensitive, sexually active, family-avoiding women that appear too infrequently as a main character. Anti-heroes are applauded as they are brought into the light by the presence of a sweet woman. It’s time to show some love for the anti-heroine. The main character from Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone would top my list. (btw…unlikeable heroines, for me, are usually just poorly written stereotypes. I can even get on board with a doormat who is written by a gifted author who takes the character on an interesting journey.)

    As for the P/C world, I’ve been a fan for some time. As a refuge from current political debates about globalism vs nationalism and race and gender issues still so turbulent, I recently soothed my soul with several rereads of my faves in the series. Skin color is of no more importance than fur color and dominance is not gender specific. The different Psy/changling races are strengthened by their connections to other races. Sigh. It took me a while to figure out why I was ignoring my tbr pile for so many rereads from the series but I finally caught on. Thank you for the rant!

  20. MegS says:

    Random thought: will Amara ever get her own book/novella/storyline? Until OCEAN LIGHT came out I kept thinking she would be the one to save Bowen, but…I can live with what actually happened!

    I’d love to see Amara get her time to find out who she is outside science and her bond with Ashaya.

    @Aarya: thanks! And I might well start interacting. Right now I’m learning SO MUCH via lurking. Hehe.

  21. Emma says:

    @Aarya: that twitter thread of yours is something I’ve been thinking about since KOS it’s nice to see it all laid out with evidence and everything!

    In general though, I think as readers we really do have to question why we like/dislike characters. As fans we often accept problematic behaviour more readily from male characters than female characters. And that’s the misogyny! Not the fact that we dislike them.

    In saying that tho, I love that Zaira and Adria are “cold” because it’s less common in heroines but I don’t have any patience for Kaleb. Mostly, I think because he’s aware he’s a shitty person and he’s happy with that.

  22. Amanda says:

    @Kristi: We did a similar Rec League on angry heroines, and I feel there’s probably some overlap.

  23. Katie says:

    This is a fantastic rant, and I agree with all of it. I only found Nalini Singh within the last couple of years and haven’t read fan discussion of her series, so I was unaware of this reaction to the heroines. In this case, ignorance was indeed bliss, because now I share the fire-breathing dragon feelings. This will be long, sorry in advance…

    Shards of Hope is in my top 5 for this series, and Zaira is a huge part of why. Assassin heroines are awesome. Now I want to re-read that one. Mine to Possess and Tangle of Need are not among my favorites, but that has nothing to do with disliking Talin and Adria. I’ve still actually done re-reads of them when between books because I read the series so fast it seemed good to go back. I love that Adria and Riaz didn’t end up mated. I just have a hard time with how awful Riaz was at the beginning and find the pacing odd because so much of the book focuses on Hawke and Sienna (I absolutely love them, but it kind of feels like two stories that each deserved a whole book got stuck together).

    Talin’s reasons for telling Clay she was dead seemed to be different every time there was a discussion about them, and I found it weirdly confusing. Thankfully they just stopped mentioning it eventually so I didn’t have to be annoyed by inconsistency. Clay…there were times I wanted to hit him. And the slut shaming, OMG, I probably kept reading the book because even as Clay is being a jackass about it, his internal monologue is acknowledging that his emotional reaction is unjustified. (I read the series in the order of library availability and had enough faith in Singh by this book not to think slut shaming was OK behavior in her world.)

    First, slut shaming even without Talin’s circumstances would piss me off. In real life or for fictional characters, no one should be policing or judging anyone’s genitals but their own. Some of Talin’s sexual history was related to the fugues, and anyone who judges her for that needs to be taught the meaning of consent. She was clear about the fact that she had sexual partners in her late teens and early 20s when she was not in fugue states, and equally clear that it was a form of acting out/self-harm related to the childhood abuse. She also should not be judged for that. How people react to trauma, including sexual assault, varies by individual. Some of the shaming directed at this character is possibly related to how people think victims (specifically women) “should” react to rape, which is BULLSHIT. Spoilers for another Nalini Singh book: Noah, the hero from Rock Redemption, also has a history of childhood sexual abuse and reacted to it by having lots of one night stands with strangers that were more a form of self-harm than healthy sex. I’d bet money the same people who hate Talin for the same behavior love Noah and would never dream of calling him unlikable, even though he did something really awful to the heroine prior to the events of the book. Victim blaming is horrifying and infuriating. I will happily yell at anyone who doesn’t like Talin because of it.

    Read the Alice/Zaid Twitter thread, and that is the EXACT SAME suspicion I developed when Alice talked about Zaid and loving a childhood friend that broke her heart. I really want him to be frozen, too. I’d still be thrilled with a book about Alice even if he was dead, but it would be so much more fun if he were alive.

  24. Holly Bloomdahl says:

    Zaira and Sasha are my two favorite heroines, though I think the only woman I disliked was Silver. Loved her so much, but was disappointed by her book. I do hate a number of the heroes. India’s mate is right at the top. No res left for Indigo’s boundaries at all.

  25. Hope-and-Memory says:

    Thanks for this post! I haven’t read Mine to Possess or Tangle of Need, but I loved Zaira and Shards of Hope– and I’m also incredibly bothered by the double standards between heroes and heroines that I frequently see online.

  26. sabina says:

    I mean… in a series that is so much about the nature and impact of emotions, how can you love the heroes who are struggling with the feels but not the heroines??? (I know the reason.)

    I think the icy/emotionally guarded heroines are my favourites, which is why I’m still holding out hope for a Nikita Duncan novella. Also more female Arrow books. Also Selenka, I mean, lady wolf alpha, please give me now.

    Also some of the alphaholes in P/C world really need to get over themselves. Especially Vaughn who IGNORES FAITH WHEN SHE TELLS HIM TO STOP TOUCHING HER BECAUSE SHE WILL FAINT and then she faints and he’s mad because his mate “can’t handle his touch”?????? WHAT BS OMG and also Drew who just keeps pursuing Indigo when she says no and gets the entire den on his side, the bastard.

    Re Alice/Zaid, I 100% believe they were lovers based on the textual evidence but I never considered that he might still be alive! This is my new favourite headcanon. I had been kinda shipping her with Samuel Raine, but maybe they should just be in a scientists-recovering-from-traumatic-brain-injury support group.

    ANYWAY, please take this incoherent ramble of a comment as a mark of how much I agree with every word!!!

  27. Lidy says:

    Great analysis! Thank you for writing it. I haven’t reread the series in a while, so my own comments should be taken with a grain of salt:

    I agree that part of the hate toward Talin is due to her sexuality. In fact, I’d written a huge paragraph about my reasons for disliking her, but long story short: I don’t care about her sex life and I do think she was selfish in faking her death rather than telling Clay she didn’t want to be friends with him anymore. So, further analysis reads as:

    Her relationship with the other changelings is understandable; she isn’t a changeling, therefore, not bound to act like one. But inferring that her, er, aversion to Faith is due to her being weary is a mistake, since it was a result of her realizing that there were other important women in Clay’s life. So, in this, her implying that Clay would’ve been unable to befriend a woman with no emotional traumas is demeaning the friendship he offered her when he had no idea she was abused as well as taking a page off his book (You shouldn’t have had sex, letting other men have you is like whoring yourself out! = You can only be friends with weak women!).

    Regarding the sex: her vagina, her body, her rules. So having an illness to erase what could’ve been a healthy sex life was frustrating, especially as it put her in situation that could’ve led her to being assaulted again.

    ToN is a balm to my soul because I hate the fated mates trope. My problem with the book is only one (and it isn’t really a problem, just a nitpick): Riaz’s past relationship with Indigo. It didn’t take anything from my reading experience (meaning I didn’t want to kill Riaz and/or Adria), but I couldn’t stop thinking how hellish my family reunions would’ve been if I had been in that situation (being with your niece’s ex/your ex’s aunt). STILL… the downgrade she got, from being almost Sentinel material to discovering herself a maternal dominant got on my nerves, like she wasn’t good enough to have Riaz in love with her because of her strong personality, but since she got demoted to being a bossy loving girlfriend he made the right choice by giving her a chance.

    The criticism regarding Zaira’s lack of personality can be used to any Psy character: there isn’t a Psy under the age of 90 who hasn’t been deprived of their feelings and taught they were harmful, so… *shrugs* Zaira’s one of the most mature and self-assured characters in the series, and it really shocked me to see people were hating on her so much. Must be because, unlike other heroines, she doesn’t have that… maddening sense of hope that everything will change for the better, she’s so sold on her own evil that she doesn’t really see a way out of her life, so she’s just drifting.

    Now you’ve given me an idea: Amara’s book. I’m sure 99% of readers would burn their copies/e-readers if the psycho disturbing lady (I dislike Sasha so much) who tried to turn her son into a scientific experiment got her own book.

    PS: I hope your Zaid conspiracy theory is true. I detected hero material as soon as he was mentioned and have lots of hopes for him and Alice, the ultimate power couple.

  28. Starling says:

    I hate it when a heroine’s sex life prior to meeting the hero has to be excused as due to trauma or illness or something. I would much prefer her to have just had lots of sex because she wanted to, period, and for the male lead character to GTFO if he can’t grok that.

    The idea that sexual activity is a character flaw is still so pervasive, even in romance, and it irritates the hell out of me. Female antagonists are characterized by sexual behavior, or female leads are shown to be acceptable despite their sexual history, as with Tally’s fugue states. Sexuality as an indicator of likeability is profoundly problematic.

  29. Elise says:

    Love this article and I agree with almost everything stated, I LOVE Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series in my top 3 series of all time.

    Zaira and Adria are two of my favorite heroines. Their strength and independence are part of what I like most about them.

    I believe Talin is written to be hard to like but she grows on you and you can understand her pain. Clay is definitely not my favorite hero but through the series he is integral.

    But of all the main characters, Kaleb Krychek is the one I have the most trouble liking yet, his story is one I really like. Yet Sahara’s “moral compass” and love cause a slow subtle shift in the blackhole that he was becoming. I like that this change is not fast or overt because it would be less realistic.

    Thank you for your article!!

  30. Linda says:

    What my problem is with talin is that she knew who and what clay was before he saves her. And then hold that against him after he saves her. They where little i know. But like zaira who fight for her man even if she is terrified for what she may do to him or te people close to him. She stands by him and helps him. She doesn’t hide. And whine if friends try to protect him also.

  31. Azure says:

    @Aarya–I caved. Rereading Slave to Sensation now. 😀

    @sabina–I would looooove a Nikita-Anthony story! Nikita has been one of the most fascinating characters in the entire series and I’d love to see what could come of such a relationship–if she’d even allow it!

    However, I would not be interested in an Amara story–at least, not a romantic one. I loved “Jane Doe” and its heroine, but for all that she was a sociopath, she would never have done to her loved one what Amara did to hers. Now, would I be interested in a story that told us more about what makes Amara tick? Maybe, if it would add to a fuller understanding of the bond between Amara and Ashaya. But romance? No.

  32. MsCellanie says:

    I’ve not read these books (and probably won’t. Based on the descriptions, they’re not my thing at all.)

    @rudi_bee & @Aarya Marsden –
    That’s because the romance novel version of Alexis probably would be TSTL –
    (I’m going somewhere with this).
    Sometimes, the “unlikeable” heroine is a failure of both the reader and the writer. For example, the TSTL heroine – the writer tells me that she’s “spunky” or “feisty” or “impulsive” or “brave” and then has her repeatedly do profoundly stupid things over and over again so that the hero can be shown saving and protecting her and so that eventually, they’ll be together so often that eventually they fall in love. Usually, at the end of the story, the heroine is still just as “quirkily” stupid… but the hero has grown to find this quality of hers endearing.

    I don’t like heroines like this. I want heroines that I wouldn’t mind knowing in real life. I want heroines to be at least minimally capable, to take obvious precautions, to have the sense that God gave a goose. When I read heroines like this, I get frustrated with them, with the heroes for putting up with this nonsense, and with the writers for normalizing the idea of women being incompetent. I vastly, vastly prefer women who either don’t need saving because they didn’t go to a bar, watch a strange man pour powder into their drink and drink it anyway* and women who save themselves.

    I like Alexis, but the show does not pretend that she isn’t intellectually lazy. She’s called on that repeatedly. It also shows her growth from the person she was (who was TSTL & did need constant rescuing) to the person she’s becoming – someone with agency and personal responsibility. On the show, it also shows that she’s a person with a very particular set of skills that she acquired as a way to thrive in the weird, weird world she’d grown up in. A lot of not very good romance writers would not write her half as well and let the heavy lifting be done by the hero while the reader is supposed to celebrate her “fun” personality.

    To bring this back to the essay – I think that happens with some heroines that get labeled “unlikeable.” If a reader has read enough books where the heroines are poorly written and are saddled with a lot of character traits that turn them into a person that readers do not want to spend time with it’s hard to give a new author the benefit of the doubt when it seems that they’re going down the same path. I can be a prickly, somewhat icy person. I tend to relate to heroines who have similar traits. But I’ve read authors where I have no idea why the love interest is still invested in the heroine because she’s done nothing but insult them for 300 pages.** That said, heros who do the same thing should also get called on their behavior by both the authors and readers.

    *real example.
    **another real example.

  33. Tina says:

    @Aarya- re your comment; “I don’t think I’ve ever read a PNR series that exclusively focused on a “band of sisters,” so to speak. That would be really fun to read. ”

    Shelly Laurenston is your gal! Her Magnus Pack series and her new Honey Badger Chronicles are very female centric. And her heroines are prickly and difficult but I love them ALL.

  34. BCranford says:

    I absolutely love this article. I’ve been a HUGE fan girl of the P/C series for years (and constantly recommend them), and I’m thrilled to see someone taking a stand for these “unlikeable” women. I’m probably not overly qualified to comment because I honestly don’t hate any one character—though I do have my least favorite books within the series—but I agree 100% with your assessment.

    I always felt like Tally got the short end of the stick, and while it’s true she’s not warm and cuddly like Sascha, there’s much about her to admire. How she picked her life up and made it about helping others so they didn’t suffer as she did being just one example.

    As for Adria—she will forever be one of my favorite heroines and Tangle of Need one of my favorite books. That it proves that real, soul-deep love can exist without the bond is, I think, as important to the world-building as the fact that there can only be one alpha. But that’s beside the point. What’s not beside the point is that in focusing on Adria’s “icyness”, readers are missing her inner strength and her compassion and the fact that, after so many years of putting someone else first, she’s giving that to herself—and isn’t that something that we, as women, should aspire to? To care for ourselves when someone isn’t treating you with the respect you deserve. (Don’t @ me, I love Riaz too.)

    And, well, Zaira… again, her strength is admirable, as is her ability to show her vulnerability. It takes her time but what’s not to love about a woman growing and changing and adapting, while also embracing the very thing that makes her HER?!

    Anyway, all this to say, I love this post, and I love the love for Nalini and the P/C universe. And after reading this, I kind of want to be your best friend. Let me know if you’re open to that LOL.

  35. PamG says:

    I really enjoyed this essay and the perceptive analysis of supposedly unlikable heroines. The only P/C character that I ever found inherently unlikable was Dev Santos, and Blaze of Memory is the one book in the series that I will NEVER reread because he’s such an evil shit to Katya. Nothing more fun than further victimizing a victim.

    I guess “unlikable” must truly be code for any woman who is out of her “proper” place, because my fave candidate among the thundering herd of Dems has been so tagged. I guess being scary smart, accomplished, and female is unlikable in this sad, sad world.

    Also, just as an aside, has anyone else contemplated a P/C reading marathon/drinking game in which male or female used as an adjective rates a shot; inherently, intrinsically, or innately modifying said gender terms earns a double; and the phrase “predatory male changeling” used to justify sexual aggression permits the reader to chug from the bottle. I would so love that game, just not for very long.

  36. Kit Ryan says:

    Great essay. I fortunately haven’t run into the “unlikeable” heroine discussions; I am always annoyed by the men characters who sleep around (without catching anything either!) but then expect proper &/or virginal matches. And while I’m not a fan of the mated-trope, Ms Singh’s books do not depend entirely on the fated-mates concept.

  37. Michelle says:

    @ Kit Ryan: OMG +1000000!

    I guess I’m the opposite of a lot of readers. I can forgive a lot in a heroine and not a lot in a hero.

    I love cold and mean. I LOVE Sabine. When I come across a douchebag hero I always think “would I tolerate that?” and “if dude treated my sister/brother like that, what would I think?”

    I was thinking recently about heroes who’ve cheated on heroines in the past and it’s forgiven but I’ve never seen a book where the heroine did it. I also don’t like that heroes get a free pass on being ‘rakes’ but heroines don’t.

    I dislike it so much I wrote my own cold, mean, highly sexually active heroine/emotionally well-adjusted virgin hero just so I could read it as a palate cleanser. It’s a terrible book and I’d never want to release it into the world but it makes me feel better after a doormat/overly forgiving heroine with an asshole hero.

    I hated Clay and Riaz and didn’t like Talin or Adria for putting up with their shit. Zaira’s awesome and I liked Aden, my only quibble being that I thought he was shorter! Guys who aren’t 6’ tall seem to be a rarity, especially in PNR.

    Shelley Laurenston is great because her heroines are badass, not always white (and often mixed race), physically powerful (with muscles even), and unapologetic about their sex lives. Livy from Bite Me is one of my favourite characters in all of the books I’ve read in my life.

  38. JenM says:

    I’m in the middle of P/C but reading the series very slowly as her heroes are usually so dominant that I always need a break between them. With all the toxicity in the world today, all I usually want out of my heroes are lovely caretaker alphas, or nice, easy-going guys that want nothing more than to make the heroine happy (whatever that takes). Nonetheless, I do love the series and plan to complete it. I’m currently on book 8 and haven’t gotten to Adria or Zaira yet, but this essay gives me something to look forward to. I absolutely adore strong heroines. I rarely find them “prickly” or “unlikable” and slut-shaming enrages me!

    I remember when I first got into reading UF, one of the first series I picked up was the Riley Jensen werewolf series by Keri Arthur. At the time, I was quite confused about the criticism of Riley that centered on the fact that she had different partners at various times in the series, sometimes in the same book. After reading endless romance with virginal heroines or heroines whose previous sexual (limited) experience was unsatisfying, and they never orgasmed until they met the hero, I found Riley’s sex positive attitude and background so refreshing. Sadly, this is still much more common in UF than in romance, but I do feel that romance is getting better about allowing true equality in the hero and heroine’s backgrounds when it comes to sex.

    I also want to give a big thumbs up to all of Shelly Laurenston’s books and if you specifically want a “band of sisters” it doesn’t get any better than her Crows series. Series centering around a group of women aren’t common in PNR, a bit more so in UF. Here are a few that I thought of: Yasmin Galenorn’s Otherworld series, Lauren Dane’s Bound by Magick series, Sara Humphrey’s Dead in the City series, and Cecy Robson’s Weird Girls series.

  39. DinaS says:

    This was a great read! I just recently found the P/C series and gobbled it up, it was so addictive! I have to wonder if Silver won’t eventually make it onto this list of most “unlikeable” heroines too, since she’s also a dominant woman with an icy personality. For my own part Mine to Possess was the first book in the series I truly disliked (I think it’s still one of my least favourites, if not the least, alongside Shards of Hope) – but I think that has to do with my frustration with plot failures and my feeling that Talin’s humanness was boring. I didn’t like the whole “omg I’m dying” plot. I also disliked Shards of Hope, not so much because of Zaira but because of Aidan (he felt more beta to me and I’m self-admittedly not a fan of beta heroes); I also disliked it a lot for plot-based reasons. Adria + Riaz were middle of the road for me, but I did like Adria.

    Have to add that among my personal least favourites was Kiss of Snow, in which apparently (to judge by the reviews I’ve read) I’m going against the grain! I hated (haaaaated!!) Sienna: she still felt like a child to me with her acting out and desperation to try to get Hawke’s attention, so much so that the already pronounced age difference between them felt even wider and just… blech. No thanks! Their romance didn’t work for me AT ALL.

    I would LOVE a Nikita book, however!!! I am really, really hoping we’ll get that!

  40. Snaptrix says:

    Loved this essay! I haven’t been on any PNR discussion forums but I knew instinctively that Talin and Adria would be hated (this world is a gift that keeps giving :/ ).

    That said, I’m surprised that Zaira would receive hate – I found her so badass that I am amazed that she was considered ‘unlikeable’ even given how shoddily the label is applied.

    I actually enjoyed Talin-Clay’s story because it felt very real to me; you know you will meet people like Talin and Clay out in the world while Lucas-Sasha feels a rarity.

    And Adria is probably my favourite P/C heroine (though Mercy comes pretty close!) – I loved how raw and real she is. I’m totally up to defend her against the misguided hordes! Riaz, yes, he is problematic but there are guys like this IRL,dime a dozen in their dominance and cockiness; it is nice to see them actually struggling with their hidden depths and that too,brought out by unconventional heroines like Adria.

    The P/C series is so awesome filled with so many fascinating characters (remember Desiree?? LOVED that take with a dominant female and submissive male). Infact, the more ‘traditional’ characters (like Kaleb) pale in comparison to such richly imagined characters like Aden, Brenna and the absolutely amazing world of non-protagonist characters that Singh builds up (remember the wild cat architect who sassy-flirts with all the gorgeous male leads; wish she gets her HEA).

    My only quibble with the P/C world is how the characters, more often than not, have tortured back stories which bring them closer to one another. I mean, romance between strong personalities is a dicey game in itself – there are a thousand shades of grey between ‘normal’ people that can be brought out well by skillful writers like Singh. This is why I loved the Mercy/Riley and Indigo/Drew books so much even as I loved the Max/Sophie dynamic.

    TL;DR TOTALLY part of Aarya’s fuming-dragon army. Will fall like vengeance on closet (and open) misogynists bringing down worthy woman characters like Talin, Zaira and my girl Adria.

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