Sex, Magic, Fantasy & One Cranky-Pants Heroine
by Madeline Iva
This is the one. This is the book you gotta read. That’s what I keep hearing about Amanda Bouchet’s debut release PROMISE OF FIRE, the first in THE KINGMAKER CHRONICLES with sex, magic, and fantasy woven together into one Greek Gods of a romance fantasy gyro.
But this is not a review. I too, have a fantasy romance coming out soon. I too, am trying to roll up magic fantasy sparkies into a delicious heap of smexy. I could not review this book if I tried. Instead I read it/inhaled it/grokked it with small stabs of anxiety and admiration. Look at how consistent she is in all the smexy, all the spells and everything. Is my book this consistent? Is my book this polished?
No, it’s not. I mean–I just got back my edits, and the editor explicitly said: “After you have done this, give me back a clean manuscript. I will then give it to a copy editor who will also look at its consistency and give you some feedback.”
So I’m a little in awe of Amanda’s book. But let me entice you a little more:
What we’ve got here is a world in which our heroine has literally run away to join the circus. How fun is that? She’s swiftly kidnapped by a hot warrior dude and Amanda Bouchet keeps the smexy sparks rolling between these two through the entire book. He needs our heroine to keep his kingdom intact. See,the heroine has this handy little gift: when people lie to her it shreds her brain with pain. Handy, if you’re wondering who’s going to be loyal to you and your family in the new regime, no?
Along the way, we witness magic in a variety of inflections, but also tweaked and tumbled by the Greek Gods, who frequently stick a finger in humanity’s pie. As I was reading (and fretting) my sweetie wondered aloud how Bouchet carries off Greek Gods without Greece. Very adroitly, is my answer. There’s a Mount Olympus, thus there are gods crawling off it and littering the landscape. Bam!
And…I won’t add any more spoilers, except our cranky-pants heroine is tied to a rope with a muscled bunch of hotness on the other end, and while they stalk the landscape, we capture glimpses of her (literally) tortured past.
Okay–so buy it already! But what I really want to talk about is an issue near and dear to my heart — a topic I’ve repeatedly discussed with Kiersten Hallie Krum: How to get people to like your strong, intelligent, sassy-pants heroine? I mean, she sounds great on the surface, right? You’re thinking: I love strong, intelligent heroines! Bring ‘er on!
No you don’t. From a romance writer’s point of view, you’re just waiting there in the weeds, sneaky reader, ready to suddenly dart out on Goodreads or in the Amazon reviews section and declare our beloved heroine a selfish bitch, who’s very snarky (but not in a good way) and completely unlike-able. Yes you do. And I know this, because I’ve read romances and had this same reaction myself. Oh, the humanity!
Btw, you can check out Kiersten’s book Wild on the Rocks, if you relish an independent, relentlessly snarky heroine.
So I’ve fretted over this problem for years–all the years I’ve been getting on my feet as a romance writer. At first I was reassured by what Elizabeth Shore (fellow Lady Smut-er) said: “It’s okay if your heroine is intelligent. As long as she’s not perfect.” Smart words, Elizabeth. Other romance writers say we want to read about people smarter than ourselves. Don’t be afraid of strong heroines.
Yeah! But. Um. When I told my fellow romance writer (and thus romance reader) friends that the heroine of my novel loved magic and her raison d’ etra was to know and master magic in all it’s forms they reacted with a unanimous ew. I said, ‘No, you don’t get it. Um.” And then Joanna Bourne said: “She’s like Tinkerbell.”
“Yes!” I said, pounding the table at Panera. “Yes! Thank you, Joanna.” Turning to the rest, I said, “She’s like Tinkerbell.”
“No one likes Tinkerbell,” Joanna said.
So this is the cross I bear. How to make readers engage with my heroine when she doesn’t want babies, or to be used as a door matt by her man, her family, and the masses in general? I’m exaggerating here, of course, to make a point, but I direct you to Virginia Kantra‘s paranormal series Children of the Sea.
Kantra, at a Washington Romance Writer’s meeting said it was a challenge getting her publisher to accept a older, unmarried, female heroine who was content being alone and just wanted to have some hot sex. (Sound familiar? Half my friends are like this.)
They said, “Well Virginia, as long as, you know, she’s nice to animals and maybe the occasional old person, you’re good.” (These are completely made up quotes on the part of her publisher, by the way.) Kantra said by the time the story had gotten through all the edits, the story was set in this very peculiar beach town, strangely littered with hundreds of stray cats and elderly people on every corner. My point exactly!
Okay–back to Bouchet’s book. How, I ask myself, how does she carry off this cranky-pants heroine who is unwilling to get close to anybody and anyone, and ultimately, is more powerful than anybody and anyone in the whole book? How does she pull this off? (?!?!?!)
Well, I will tell you. After chewing over the plot in my mind, I think her secret sauce is the backstory. Bouchet’s heroine was repeatedly taught that to love someone is to see that person (again, literally) gutted. To trust is to kill. She keeps anyone and everyone at a distance, but at the same time (and this, Kiersten, is the key point) as readers, we feel the longing she has to make connection to the people around her. We see how, despite her prickly defenses, the cranky is rapidly slackening. She genuinely likes and respects these people. She wants to be one of them–she can’t quite admit it to herself, but she does. And she is becoming one of them–which is putting each and every one of their lives at risk. This is the drama that winds up the end of Bouchet’s book.
…And now I’m swiveling my head back to my own manuscript, taking a deep breath, and getting ready to plunge back in. Bye!
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Madeline Iva writes fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary romance. Her novella ‘Sexsomnia’ is available in our LadySmut anthology HERE, Her fantasy romance, WICKED APPRENTICE, will be out REAL SOON!(September, 2016.)