I believe it’s reasonable to therefore conclude that personal independence is at the very least a necessary marker on the Heroine’s Journey. Further, the struggle to accomplish financial (or, in some cases, physical) independence can make for a more interesting story — one where we can more easily identify with our heroine. If I’m remembering correctly, the constant lack of money is also a classic element of the hard-boiled detective genre. I don’t mind that being a real problem in the first story or two, but I’d like to see things noticeably improving over time.
For example, there’s a spin-off series by Patricia Briggs (who writes the Mercy Thompson series) called Alpha & Omega, where the heroine has been severely beaten down, both emotionally and physically, by her original pack and alpha. The first story of her is in a compendium of short stories, and I was a bit wary of reading the following books — could the heroine ever recover and grow a spine, after the amount of abuse she’d had forced on her? However, with the love of her new sweetheart she becomes an increasingly confident, thoughtful, and effective member of the pack.
True, her money comes from her new husband, but it is her physical and emotional growth, and her ability to both rescue and succor those around her, which caught my interest. By the second book she’s quite the force to reckon with! Similarly, in the “Kitty the Werewolf” stories, Kitty’s growing internal strength is reflected in her ability to support herself, and as she matures she starts refusing to simply follow the orders of her abusive pack alpha. Again, this occurs in the first book, which I found a relief — had she continued to remain timidly obedient to the alpha, I don’t think I’d have continued on to the next story.
In the same vein, the first book on Harry Dresden so emphasized his utterly destitute state (along with the vindictiveness of his supposed allies and the overwhelming power of his enemies), that I almost didn’t pick up the second book; fortunately that overly-gloomy prognosis lightens thereafter. I did find myself wishing more than once, however, that Harry could maintain self-respect and independence without feeling the need to be appallingly, rudely mouthy.
Cassandra Palmer too does her best to keep her independence even in the face of competing forces in conflict over her possession. She knows she has a unique and valuable mental power, and so she cleverly plays the more powerful forces off each other, keeping any one of them from complete ownership — which I quite admired, even as I amusedly wondered how she’d keep it up.
Finally, my favorite heroine, Mercy Thompson, is not just doing her best to make it on her own, and fiercely independent in the face of those more powerful than she, but she’s equally clever about it without being stupidly mouthy. She’s quick and smart, and she’s more upbeat than Dresden: even when things look bad she’s still doggedly — and positively — doing her best.
Which leads neatly into my next category:
Be A Heroine!
A heroine is not just the main character in a story or poem. According to the dictionary a heroine is also a woman “distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength,” and has “performed heroic deeds” (from the wonderful rhymezone.com). I would add that a true heroine (a modern one, at least) must also be smart; must grow and learn from her experiences. In effect, a heroine struggles always to do what is right — whether it involves saving someone or simply maintaining hope for a better future.
This category is why I set aside several of the books I read, preferring to not continue the series. Ilona Andrews’ already-reviewed Magic series falls into this category, for reasons delineated there. There’s also the fact that I strongly feel heroines shouldn’t be vicious, murderous thugs, and quite frankly Andrews’ protagonist falls very clearly into this category by her sometimes nastily cruel behavior.
Another unpleasantly murderous character for me is the protagonist of Vicki Petersson’s Scent of Shadows (see November’s upcoming A Pentacle of Urban Fantasy reviews), from her *Sign of the Zodiac series. Both these women seem to humorlessly leave a string of bodies behind, with no real caring or remorse, and both of them are Mary-Sue-like überkinden in a weirdly straightforward, black and white world. Further, both of them seem to trail behind them a creepily impressive body count of villain-murdered innocents — for which they must, of course, extort terrible, bloody revenge… which leaves me wondering a bit queasily why they didn’t just do a better job of protection in the first place?