Warning: Mild spoilers ahead, especially for the third book, Demon Night.
To me, Paranormal Romance* has fairytale quality. The stories feel fantastic beyond the obvious, probably because, in some ways, it sticks to traditional genre conventions and gender roles. The men are strong, dominant and possessive; whereas the women, regardless of strength, most of the time need to be saved and are visibly weaker than their male counterparts.
However, in the past few years this has started to change. The women have reclaimed their agency, the heroes have discovered their sensitive, respectful sides, and the different relationships established between heroes and heroines have moved towards a middle that begins to resemble true partnership.
Meljean Brook’s books perfectly fit this developing pattern, and we should stand to attention and take note of it. Her heroines push boundaries, defy expectations, and question conventions. They have agency and know their strengths and limitations well. They save the day, but also know when it’s wise to let someone else do the saving. These are complex and interesting characters that make their heroes work hard to become worthy of such wonderful women.
Lilith is a demon. For centuries, her one and only job was damning people to Hell. She lied, seduced and cheated her way into success. And even when weariness hit and her long-forgotten humanity began to rear its ugly head (she wasn’t a particularly good human either) she remained comfortable within her inherent evilness.
And then she fell in love with a guy so good and honest that he was gifted with the superpower of truth. But love neither changed nor saved her, so she had to lie, seduce and cheat her way into a happy ending.
Lilith is an unforgettable antiheroine that stays true to her nature, but still develops and grows as a character and as a woman. Ultimately, love enriches her life and facilitates change, but also accepts and respects her as she is.
Savitri is the geeky heroine of the bunch and the sheer force of her personality outshines a guy described as the most beautiful man in the world who also happens to have a big personality. She is the first human character in the series (not counting the novellas) and in a world filled with vampires and angels with superpowers, one would think that a young woman would be in a disadvantage. One would be wrong. In fact, Savi uses her humanity to her advantage over and over. She embraces her geekiness, knows what she wants and goes for it, something that’s also reflected in her approach to sex.
Charlie is one of the most deceptively vulnerable characters in the series. Alcoholism destroyed her career and almost killed her. Years later, she’s at better place, but still has to deal with the consequences of her past actions. She has strictly regimented her life in order to function and to prevent herself from giving in to the urges that almost killed her. But then the unthinkable happens: she turns into a vampire, and that constant hunger that will keep her alive is very similar to the gut-wrenching, intense craving that she spent so many years fighting. It’s a shitty thing to do to a character, but shows her incredible strength and ability to adapt. It also proves that strength comes in many forms.
Alice is tall, thin, and all angles; she only wears black dresses and has spiders coming out of her mouth. Or at least wants you to think she does. Her hero is so frightened and intimidated by her, that he keeps teleporting out of her way.
Her conflict is quite interesting and places her in a complicated position which causes her fear, anger, and despair, but also makes her even more resolute to find a way out of her troubles.
Ultimately, she does find a solution after she learns how work as a team. Which is another constant in the series – saving the world and fighting evil is a team effort among equals. As much as I love how strong and resourceful these heroines are, they never feel more or less than their respective heroes. They are equal partners.
Irena is the character whose strength is the most obvious and conventional. It makes perfect sense, because she isn’t a subtle character. She could easily be an over the top caricature, but her personality includes a healthy does of vulnerabilities to balance out her larger-than-life personality. Yes, she is loud, aggressive and forward, but she’s also insightful and smart. More importantly, everyone else sees her as a leader whose qualities extend far beyond the experience her age gives her. This is Paranormal Romance series with no alphas and in which the women are in command.
Also, she has sex with a statue.
Rosalia is motherly and a natural caregiver. She also manipulates and orchestrates people’s lives in such a way that she could easily be labeled a villain. This moral ambiguity is surprising, because Rosalia inspires trust (and even looks motherly, a choice I’m sure is quite deliberate), but also makes us question the idea of heroism and of female heroism (heroine-ism?) in particular. There’s also an interesting shift that happens in our perception of the hero and heroine, because Deacon, the male lead, starts as a traitor and must work hard to get in everyone’s good graces (something her never fully does), while Rosalia is recovering from terrible abuse and violence and one would never suspect what she’s capable of.
Everything she does is for the greater good and none of the good guys suffer (much), but does the end justify the means? In this case it does, but what makes me respond in such a positive way is the richness and complexity of her character.
Ash starts the book with amnesia and no social skills or empathy whatsoever, as well as some disturbing shape-shifting abilities. But this is Meljean Brook’s take on the amnesia trope, so it’s no surprise that Ash is full of personality and quirks. This is a character who doesn’t take herself too seriously even when surrounded by misery and pain.
This book is yet another example of the hero and heroine working together to get rid of their initial distrust and wariness in order to achieve a mutual goal that, in this case, is purely selfish. So we go back to the themes of moral ambiguity, except that this time we get to see previous protagonists from the perspective of a character that sees them as villains.
When Taylor became a recurrent minor character**, she played the role of the audience, not as an empty placeholder, but as an outsider who suddenly found herself in the middle of all these inexplicable situations and who was struggling to figure out what to do and how she fit into it.
Ever since then, she has been the reluctant heroine who acted based in honor and principles, but not out of pure selflessness or an urgent need to save the world.
Once her role in the series becomes more important, everything happens to her. She doesn’t have much control over it, so gaining control over her own life, deciding what to do and how to react to everything that’s happening, is part of her journey. Instead of giving up and waiting to be rescued, she evaluates the situation and identifies the different ways in which she can reclaim herself and her freedom. Maybe she has to change her views and expectations, but she doesn’t have to lose herself in the process.
And that’s it. Well, not really, because this post was so long that I didn’t include the novellas or the secondary characters, and I could write a similar post about The Iron Seas’ heroines. But now you know the main reason why these are my all-time favorite books. It’s all about the heroines and the men (and statues) who love them.
*I may or may not be cheating by calling this series Paranormal Romance. It doesn’t quite fit the label, but it’s not Urban Fantasy either. I guess we could call it Urban Fantasy Romance, except that there’s no such thing. So for the purposes of this post, let’s go with PNR.
**I'm only referring to her role as secondary character, because her book comes out next month.