A heroine with real problems is always more engaging than one who lives in a glass case. Some of my favorite protagonists sink deeper into the dark brush of our world, and judging bythe response to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, many people feel the same. These characters may live in alternate worlds, but they’ve suffered real pains in their pasts. No matter how great they are at their job or fighting the Big Bad, these heroines still have to deal with some serious personal issues.
It helps make them more human. I’ve never had a drug problem, but experiencing a skin-crawling withdrawal alongside Chess Putnam in Stacia Kane’s Unholy Magic was near traumatic, and added depth and insight into the character’s scarred soul.
Those characters with emotional baggage have the most to lose when things take a negative turn, and I can’t help but devour the novels depicting their epic highs and lows.
Think you can handle the heavy? Here are five of the best “damaged” heroines in urban fantasy.
1. Chess Putnam from Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series
Chess is an addict. She has a full dependency on drugs to simply function, but that’s been OK, because outside of work no one has expectations for her. Chess grew up sans parents, being pushed from one abusive foster home to the next until the Church of Real Truth—which functions as the defacto government in Kane’s Orwellian alternative world—gave her a place and a job: banishing ghosts. She’s an impressive witch, but her interpersonal skills aren’t as well developed and she has huge trust issues.
2. Rhiannon Murphy from J.A. Saare’s Rhiannon’s Law series
Rhiannon is a tough woman. She can see the dead and has an affinity for spotting the undead (vampires) as a result. Seeing ghosts when loved ones have died? Having to deal with horrific deaths of ghosts seeking answers? Not exactly good for mental stability. Like Chess, Rhiannon has an abusive past, and prefers anonymity. Saare doesn’t make things easy for her either. Between the first book, Dead, Undead or Somewhere in Between, and the second, Renfield Syndrome, she finds acceptance and has it ripped away, but I assure you Rhiannon gets stronger for it.
3. Jackie from J.N. Duncan’s Deadworld series
Jackie’s a pretty good cop. She can handle the supernatural stuff, no problem. What she can’t handle is her own life. Spending each night at the bars getting tanked and hoping to drag someone home to ease the loneliness. Binge drinking and some seriously painful sex issues make Jackie a muddled mess, but she has those in her life who care. Her partner and best friend has been trying to save her from herself for some time, but when she meets Nick, she might have a chance at survival. He’s a vampire, a former wild-west gunslinger and he’d given up on happiness, too. Something about these two together helps elevate them from their pain.
4. Angel from Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie
The simple truth is Angel is a loser when we meet her. She’d tell you so herself. She can’t hold down a job—mostly due to lack of motivation to show up. She’d prefer to spend her nights drunk with a skeezy boyfriend. That is, until she’s killed and turned into a zombie. The beauty of Rowland’s White Trash Zombie is you get to watch Angel start to turn herself around. She’s never thought of work as adding to her character, but as she’s forced to work in a morgue (fresh brains!), she finds herself caring more and more about the people around her and less about herself.
5. Justine Jones from Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionist Trilogy
Justine could probably be your best friend, if she wasn’t terrified to be outside. When we first meet the heroine of Crane’s Mind Games, she has a crippling phobia of germs. She’s convinced she’s going to catch every awful disease touted on the news and it’s inhibiting her life. This isn’t just a carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse type aversion. Luckily, she meets Sterling Packard and he wants to help her channel her fear into a weapon. Not only will she be free of it for blocks of time, but she’ll take out the bad guys. Nothing is ever that simple, though. Is it?
Do you like damaged heroines? Which are your favorites?
While Chelsea Mueller runs Vampire Book Club, she won’t turn down a sexy werewolf, demon or faerie. (Her husband often reminds her that she’s taken.)