Sep 13 2011 9:30am

Footloose and Fancy-Free: Male Urban Fantasy Protagonists

A Hard Day’s Knight by Simon R. GreenThere’s more than just a gender difference between urban fantasy heroes and heroines, there’s a difference in their romantic status, too: Most UF female protagonists have a partner, and the majority of UF males protags do not. Nor are they really looking for one.

What is the norm for male protags, or is there even a norm? Do male Protagonists need a significant other, or do we prefer them when they stroll through endless hookups and sexual innuendo? Is a partner a sexy sidekick—or a pain in the ass?

Unlike female protagonists who tend to either be celibate, monogamous, or looking for the “man of their dreams,” male protagonists range widely in their sexual behavior, going from downright slutty to pure as the driven snow.

As examples, Simon R. Green’s John Taylor has Suzie Shooter usually by his side. It happened so fast that honestly the reader doesn’t have time to think about it. It demands acceptance.

Hounded by Kevin HearneYet everyone’s favorite Iron Druid, Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan, has an occasional fling with a goddess or two, but no one occupies his bed night after night.

As I wend my way through the Urban Fantasy highway, I find I like my male protags footloose and fancy free. I prefer an unattached strong male who can both take names, kick ass, and have the once in a while connection. Male characters with a constant partner makes them a target—now they have a weak spot, where any evil being can take easy pot shots: Kidnap the girl, that’ll make him weep. It also holds them back; “I can do Plan A, but I might get killed and “Suzy" would be sad., or go for Plan B, where I live happily ever after.” No, thank you...CHOOSE PLAN A!!!

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files has had an occasional partner and it always ends badly, and it’s not hard to see why: Because he’s killing Vamps, saving Chicago and dealing with a batshit crazy mob boss. There is no room in his life for a wife and kids. That’s why he has pets!

Lightbreaker by Mark TeppoMark Teppo takes a different point of view in his debut novel Lightbreaker. Not only is the main character Markham not interested in finding a partner, but he’s trying to track down and kill a previous one. Until that is done no one is going to light his fire, so to speak.

Let’s revisit Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Atticus O’Sullivan again; sure, there is sexual tension between him and his charge Granuaile, but it never really goes farther that that. He knows it’s not right and so does she. That’s fun!

Harry Connolly wrote a damn fine debut novel called Child of Fire where we meet Ray Lilly, an ex con with a real scary monkey on his back...his boss. She’s female and yet there is NO attraction whatsoever, they work together, talk (sorta) and solve problems, without any scratching of itches. It works fantastically.

Is this because many male protags are written by men themselves, who write free-wheelin’ guys living the high life, or do they just develop their characters differently?

Child of Fire by Harry ConnollyWhen a male character gets a partner straight away, it feels as though we lose sight of who he is. As stated above, not only does he make himself a target, but I feel like we never really fully know him: His weaknesses, strengths and who he is on the inside. I don’t really like to know a male character through his partner. Do you want to know your date through his mother?

In urban fantasy, females seem to need love interests and males don’t. I wonder, is this partially a product of our society, the way we see ourselves interacting in real life?

Now you know how I like my male protagonists, what about you? Like a man with a “good woman” by his side, or someone unattached and livin’ life large. Now that’s for me!

Want more free-wheelin’ protagonists? Check out these books:

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
The Snake Agent by Liz Williams

Synde Korman talks music and books on her website Tombstone Tails, along with creating a line of literary jewelry on her etsy site Cemetery Cat Designs.

When she’s not herding cats or creating art, she works as a part-time bookseller. You can find her on twitter as @psynde.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. SamiSunshine
I wish more female Urban Fantasy protags did the same thing. I hate when an author drags out a romance between the heroine and a hero for a dozen books. There are more female protags who could learn a thing or two from being single (*cough* Anita Blake *cough*).
Synde Korman
2. SyndeKorman
yes! I am in agreement with you Sami! thanks for your comment!!!
3. Isabel C.
I prefer the "James Bond" model for both my male and female UF protagonists. Honestly, I get bored pretty quickly once the sexual/relationship tension gets resolved--it's why I tend to read and write single book romances--and there's only so long you can stretch things out.

I also can't identify with celibate-by-choice heroines, so that lets a fair number out as well.
Megan Frampton
4. MFrampton
I agree with @IsabelC--I like both my heroes and heroines to be single, but if it's done well, I'm okay with a permanent companion. As long as the permanent companion doesn't interfere too much with the plot--I was disappointed in the Mercy Thompson series once Mercy got together with Adam, but I do like how Lilith Saintcrow and Stacia Kane handle it.
Marcela Fandino
5. BookaholicCat
I agree with previous commenters, I prefer my heroes and heroines single and with lots of sexual tension on the side. When they settle the stories lose some of the spiciness, making them duller and in some cases boring.
7. Bastard
Well, isn't that why there's PNR for those looking for the sexual tension plot scenarios? It's my constant frustration with urban fantasy, not essentially that the romance aspect exist, but they are often mishandled in UF taking over the plot focus, which in my opinion shouldn't be.

Here are some of my favorite male protags in addition to the above ones:

Jesse James Dawson by KA Stewart - closest in voice I've seen to Dresden. He's married though and with a kid, and I thought that was just pure awesome. Looking more like that.

Frank Triggs by Tim Marquitz - Funniest narrator I've seen so far, a goldmine of one-lineners. He's a pervert though, but one has fun with his sexual frustrations. Book has some silarities to Sandman Slim, but don't read the same.

Connor Grey by Mark del Franco - A bit of a dull narrator all told, but he's even keeled which I like and very procedural focused. He's single, but some love interest develops a couple of books in, and it's a fun relationship so far.

What I kinda notice, but surely need to read more samples, is that female protagonists love intererst are often about the hot sexy guy. While male protagonists, though while they might see their partner as sexy, we often progress towards a more fun type of love interest which is more welcoming to me. And often a very likeable love interest. I don't know, let me know if I'm off-base.
Synde Korman
8. SyndeKorman
oh bastard I forgot about Mark and Kari's books..nice examples...
Yes..likeable love interest and realistic.. not some crazy ripped model.. you know..
Jessica Turner
9. TheSpinecracker
I am shamefully under-read when it comes to male protag series. And I'm not sure why; reading Kevin Heane's series was one of the highlights of my summer. You've given me a laundry list of new series that sound awesome. Thanks! x
10. Bastard
Well Synde, I sure wouldn't mind a crazy ripped female model. Those are awesome.

@TheSpinecracker it doesn't surprise me. The problem would be reversed if male authors dominated UF I would think. But even if there's an abundance of male protags, one has to put some effort into finding them, particularly find them in series that interest you.

Another one I've enjoyed is Mike Shevdon's series, protagonist is divorced with one daughter, finds a love interest. In all I enjoyed the books and I think the relationship is a comfortable one, though antagonistic at first between everyone, peace is made (though I see most of you enjoy the tension aspects). Book reads like a quest adventure with a lot of history tidbits of London, so if you like that sort of thing worth checking out.
11. wondering
Does a female character with a partner make herself a target? Do we never really fully know partnered female leads? Are they known through their male partners, and if so, does that not bother you with female characters? Just curious, because it sounds like you might have different standards for male and female protagonists. Are unattached male lead characters more attractive to female readers? Thanks for the thought provoking posting. I might look for some of these series.
Synde Korman
12. SyndeKorman
Hey there "Wondering"
I don't think a female protag is any different than a male protag.. Only that more male chars are unttached as opposed to female chars..
Either way I want to know the character before they are attached...
thanks for asking...;)
Bastard Books
13. BastardBooks
Oh, and also forgot about Mathew Swift by Kate Griffin. Un-attached, had girlfriend. Cool series.

By the way, I was "forced" to check mark that I like Pananormal Romances, but I don not. Just Urban Fantasy.
14. Keira
I'm another reader who isn't very well versed in books from a male protag's perspective, but am admittedly curious. Going to read Hounded soon.

My main point in posting is this, which kinda links to what @Wondering was saying: I like my books with a balance of three aspects: violence, humor and romance. The books that always earn five stars from me have achieved a good combination of the three. My favorite example of such is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

I like the nitty gritty, want to see violence and fast paced action scenes, that kind that make my heart hammer and leave suspece a tantalizing touch away.

Humor will always win my heart, whether in book worlds or real life. Books start to blend together after a certain point, but humor always burns brightly in my mind, marking the story as memorable.

And then there's romance. I agree with the other posters; I love tension, love the torture of it. From my reading endeavors, I've found most authors can't write a couple getting together and keep it interesting afterwards; the two fall into a boring lull that screams of a stagnant real life relationship. I hate that. I think the best example I've seen thus far of an author handling a hero and heroine getting together would have to be the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. Loved that.
But as I was saying, I love the tension. For me, it's most intense, most emotional, most satisfying, if the relationship actually has time to BUILD, for the characters to actually get to know one another and whatnot. This isn't to say that I don't mind the intial impression to be something along the lines of, "Damn he's hot!" blah, blah praise looks. That's fine, but I like when the plot is engaging enough that a clandestine tryst just doesn't work, despite some side thoughts about how appealing the idea is. And when I say I like when the relationship builds, that doesn't mean that first they have to be besties and start to get "more than friendship" ideas. It just can't be bam! we meet, we f*ck, we're magically in love! No. In fact, often times I like the love-hate relatioship, when the other makes them want to scream and tug their hair out in frustration. I suppose what bugs me about so many characters getting together is that there isn't real love; it's like those three words are just said in order to make whatever erotic fantasy justifiable; kinda relates to the show vs. tell thing. If the protagonists only have physical chemistry and the "mental stimulation" is only vaguely noted, I feel like I'm being told. @Wondering's comment has made me wonder if the reason I like the intial distance between the charries is because I don't connect with the characters themselves, but instead their desire for each other, and that desire alone. Another series that I love the buildup in is the Fever series by Karen Moning.

Any recommendations of books that fit my bill are much appreciated.
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