What is the Heroine’s Journey? (part V)
Oddly enough, in Midnight’s Daughter (Karen Chance’s story of a “dhampir” or half-vampire), Dorina Basarab is specifically a killer — a bounty hunter for the vampires, in fact. Yet, despite her clearly acknowledged violent and murderous tendencies, and her extraordinarily rude mouthiness, the author’s light touch has somehow taken this potentially unpleasant character, and made her someone fascinating, with a touch of pathos to her — someone who I want to read more of.
Dorina is not the meanest sonovabitch on the block; she’s actually weaker and slower than the vampires (and some of the other monsters) she hunts, so she has to be clever to survive. Further, she has weaknesses — dear friends she cares deeply about, rather than her being what I refer to with disparaging annoyance as the “brooding asshole loner” archetype — which is how both Petersson’s and Andrews’ protagonists felt to me, even despite both of them (reluctantly and unpleasantly) leading teams on occasion. They have no friends, no humor, no heart — and thus, to me, no pathos. Dorina, on the other hand, has a wicked wit to her which occasionally makes me grin in spite of myself, and which noticeably lightens the mood even when she’s messily slaughtering bad guys with the best of them.
Adding to the interesting mix in Dorina’s story, dhampirs are universally loathed and despised by the vampire community; it is only her father’s vampiric power and lineage which keeps her from being arbitrarily slain. She doesn’t lean on her father’s blood for respect, though, as both Andrews’ and Petersson’s protagonists end up doing (even if supposedly unwillingly) — Dorina struggles near constantly to maintain her freedom and independence from her father. What gives the two of them some pathos are the author’s wonderful little grace notes. For example, her father has a well-hidden photo album of his daughter through the years. The reader is led to believe Dorina’s father may in fact actually love her and be proud of her by now — but he doesn’t know how to break through her extraordinarily thick emotional defenses, which she has due to her being quite sure she’s nothing more than a useful but ultimately disposable tool to him.
The slow-growing respect Dorina unwittingly earns from a few of the more astute vampires is also something I enjoyed reading, and I’m looking forward to how she’ll react when she realizes she actually is respected, in future books. Being a cheerful romantic at heart, I’m also greatly looking forward to the almost grudging regard that’s emerging between her and one vampire in particular — in the hopes, of course, that it will grow into something more!
I chose not to continue reading Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series (starting with Halfway to the Grave) for a different reason; Cat, her protagonist, left me wondering if she even knew what the word “heroine” meant. Cat initially lives on her family’s farm, and for reasons explained in the book, at night she goes to the local bars and acts like a drunk girl looking for a good time — read: easy to take advantage of — to kill the vampires she picks up that way. So she’s starting out slightly crazy, and financially dependent on her aged grandparents. That’s all right, I thought; perhaps things will change for the better?
Things did change, but I’m not sure I’d consider them necessarily for the better: she falls in love with a vampire who is also hunting vampires — but only the “bad” ones, as a bounty hunter — and they decide to work together. In order to do so, however, she effectively becomes a prostitute: she and the male vampire become lovers, and he hires her for her body, for her ability to dress like a whore and lure out the unsuspecting vampires with the promise of sex — in order to kill them for the monetary reward, and because they are bad guys.
I’ve never liked the male-wet-dream oriented “madonna/whore” trope, and I like it even less in an urban fantasy. I don’t read this genre for women who are good at being murderous cock-teases — I read it for women who are powerful in their own right! Things get even worse, though, at least to my perspective. At one point when the going gets rough, Cat engages in one of my least favorite romance novel tropes: she “nobly” sacrifices herself for her lover — without even asking how he feels about it! She simply decides she knows what’s best and leaves without explanation. Were I the male vampire I’d be sorely tempted to give her either a good spanking or more roughage in her diet, once I caught up with her again. To be fair to him, he puts up with an awful lot from her, and does so with remarkable grace and patience.
Cat engages in one other trope I find personally repugnant: at one point she acts like a nasty, mouthy asshole to those weaker than her. I found this rather stupid, since her ability to easily push those people around was predicated on a temporary condition. Once that wore off, I would hope she got the thrashing she richly earned by her astonishingly snotty, superior behavior. I’m not holding my breath, though — and I guess that’s one of the reasons I won’t be reading any more of the Night Huntress series. Personally I feel actions should have consequences; I didn’t get the feeling Cat would receive the deserved consequences for her uncalled-for actions.