Feb 5 2012 5:00pm

Top 5 “Damaged” Heroines from Stacia Kane, J.A. Saare, J.N. Duncan, Diana Rowland, and Carolyn Crane

Unholy Magic by Stacia KaneA 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.

Dead Undead or Somewhere in Between by J.A. Saare2. 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.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland4. 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.)

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Synde Korman
1. SyndeKorman
great article chels.. Love everyone of those damaged gals.. Especially
Chess, and Justine...
Smash Attack
2. Smash Attack
I loved this post, so very much! I think Chess, Justine and Rhiannon are some of the best heroines for the very reason you mention: they're broken, which in turns makes them much more human to us. I adore them for remaining true to themselves and those they love during their personal struggles.
Smash Attack
3. j. duncan
As an author, and a schooling background in psychology and social work, writing damaged heroines is a great deal of fun actually. Delving into really problematic personal problems is both challenging and rewarding and has the benefit of creating lots of juicy conflict. The one particular challenge I have found, especially in writing Jackie, is working her issues out in such a way that it makes realistic sense for developing a healthy relationship going forward. Because, those issues create some serious stumbling blocks, and in the real world, difficult personal issues can take far longer to resolve than you have time for in a novel. So, having it all work out AND be believeable is a definite task when it comes to writing.

Anyway, read all of the books above if you have not. I've only read Stacia's book myself, which I highly recommend, but if you love the challenge of a difficult character, dig in, I don't think you can go wrong with any of the above. Enjoy, and happy reading everyone!
Smash Attack
4. Charlayne
Broken characters are probably the most interesting of the books I've read. All of the ones you've listed are on my TBR list.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood has all the male (and female) characters with flaws. That''s one reason why I loved the series so much
Darlene Marshall
5. DarleneMarshall
I love Justine from Crane's books. The entire series is so whacked out gonzo and over-the-top. How can you not love a series where people wear tinfoil hats for real?
6. ChelseaMueller
So glad y'all liked the post. If you love one of the books on the list, you're probably going to love the others.

And for those of you who already adore Chess, and are trying to decide which to read next: Rhiannon is for you.
Ginny Doremus
7. FaeRhi
Honorable Mention has to be given to Joanna Archer from the Zodiac Series by Vicki Pettersson. Raped at a very young age, her mother killed, left for dead and suddenly she has no idea who she is or what she is until much later when one of her own kind finds her. By that time, she's so suspicious of everyone and so reliant on only herself that it ruins almost every relationship.
Shannon Patch
9. ellieinlust

I had to leave a comment for you. I just read two of your articles this evening-- The one about the best angry sex scenes and this one. I am so thrilled to have found a place where I can find other books like the ones I already adore. I just went through 1-4 of Downside, and I can't imagine what I'm going to read until I get Chasing Magic in my mailbox. You have helped me immensely. I've always had a hard time finding websites that will recommend to me authors and books that are similar to what I'm feeling that day, what style, genre and QUALITY writing-- which seems to be in shorter supply these days.

Again, thank you, and I'll keep looking around for your articles.
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