Take away the themes and you have the plot; take away the plot, you're left with characters. Characters fuel the fire, add the spice to the dish, and essentially determine our level of approval for a book. When we don't like the main character, we toss the book away, settling on liking the sub-characters from a distance. When we like the main character, the book as the potential for a favorite.
What characteristics do we look for when we start reading about this main character? This person must have aspects that appeal to us and that mesh with our moral ideas.
Recently, I believe there has been a rash of hero vs. heroine disputes among urban fantasy novels, and why we pick up a book in the first place. So much so, does it even come down to the main character at all, or their lover instead?
Take a common situation for urban fantasy: meek girl, hot (so-called untouchable, but perfect) guy. So many books have this commonality. The girl is usually plagued with a self-doubt, low self-esteem complex. He would never go for me. And yet he does. This perfect, untouchable, bone-melting hot guy has fallen for the meek girl.
If the main character (the girl, lets say) doesn't meet our status quo, and yet we still prefer the book, it leads us to assume that it is because of the hero.
I have a deep-seeded wish that one day, urban fantasy will turn towards a better light for stronger, more capable, stabler heroines. Right now, it seems as if the entire urban fantasy genre is dominated by searing hot heroes. Something about their untouchable ways compels us and we are left mocking the heroine. What do we take away from that? Do we subconsciously start acting like if we're just like that meek girl, we'll get the super-hot guy too? Do we degrade ourselves like that? Submit to a man's dominance because he's hot and sexy?
What happened to strong heroines? Girls that put their foot down, whose bite was just as bad as their bark? Girls that look for deeper things than the "instant attraction" when the hot guy walks into the room, surrounded by a gaggle of girls? Girls that aren't fooled by a coy look and a well-placed lie? Girls with something in their heads beside what the guy thinks of them, as if it defines who they are.
Is this a reflection on today's girls? That we are becoming followers, instead of leaders? That we subject ourselves to a guy's whim, that we melt into a puddle when they touch us? If literature reflects us as a population, what have we become? So many little robots, flipping and tumbling at a guy's beck and call.
Where is the book where the heroine fights back? Where they hold their own, not run and scream like a five-year-old. Where they can drop-kick someone just as well as their boyfriends, perhaps better? Or maybe find themselves being in charge, and they do it well because they aren't allowing themselves to be governed by their lover?
Where are those girls?
There are many examples to this situation, but I will not note them here. My point is to emphasize the similarities that are becoming increasingly constant. When we pick up an urban fantasy book, are we reading for the heroine, or the hero?