Jul 8 2014 1:00pm

TSTL vs. Kick-Ass Heroines from Frost, Armstrong, Brockmann, and More!

As an avid reader, I come across a lot of heroines. Some of them kick-ass, some of them forgettable, and unfortunately, some of them Too Stupid to Live. What are the characteristics of a TSTL heroine you say? Well, I happen to have a handy-dandy list right here:

1) She’s an overthinker.

Joan in Mad Men
Source: drunkcoworkers.tumblr.com

We have all read this kind of heroine before. The hero walks into the room, says, “Hi!” to her and for the next three (or more...) pages she overthinks about how hot, awesome, sexy and worldly he is; then she laments about how he probably will never ever talk to her and how he wouldn’t even look her way or see her for who she is and oh why bother and then she runs out of the room crying. Which brings me to…

2) She runs out of the room crying. All the time.

Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka
Source: reactionswithgifs.tumblr.com

This heroine has serious emotional issues which are classified as just being (annoyingly) “how women are.” Is he late for dinner? She throws the dinner plate and runs out of the room crying. He’s talking to a female customer at his place of business? She makes a scene and runs out of the room crying. He tells her he loves her? She runs out of the...wait. She stays in the room to cry for that one.

3) She thinks her love will save the day. Then she gets kidnapped.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor
Source: gifawesomeness.tumblr.com

Kidnapping is a popular device used in romance novels; otherwise, how can the hero come to the rescue?! However, some TSTL heroines get our poor heroes in some bad scrapes. (To be fair, those guys love the drama. I mean, they have to, right?) For instance, say our hero is in a gunfight against four baddies and is low on bullets. He tells her to stay hidden while he gets reinforcements. She runs right after him yelling out his name, thinking she can “help” with no useful skills and runs right into the arms of the worst baddie. Or, she thinks she is Nancy Drew and is just going to follow up this lead despite the fact that she isn’t actually a detective, journalist, or in any way stealthy.

4) She’s a bad communicator.

Nicole Scherzinger
Source: reactiongifs.com

This heroine keeps all of her emotions and opinions inside, and the hero has no idea that anything is wrong until the day she just snaps or stops returning his calls. Maybe she sees something that can be easily explained by simply asking...but why would she do that? That would be too much like right.

5) She has no self esteem.

Source: lucyinnovation.wordpress.com

This heroine puts up with crap from everyone in her life. Her parents, her friends, her siblings, her co-workers, her kids...you get the idea. It’s nice when a heroine can learn some self esteem through her relationship with her hero, but that’s not what this heroine does. Instead, she listens to her jealous frenemy/co-worker/sister when they tell her the hero would never want to be with her. They almost always pass this little bit of advice on when the hero has rejected their advances, but the heroine is TSTL and hasn’t figured that out.

Yes, TSTL heroines are annoying. However, getting the chance to read a true Kick Ass heroine’s story is an exhilarating experience. You want to be that Kick Ass when you grow up. When I grow up, I want to be like:

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost1) Cat from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series:
Cat has been kicking ass and taking names since she was a teenager. Cat had a one woman vendetta against vampires and ended up getting one of the strongest vampires in the world to train her and fall in love with her. Here is a woman with spunk, determination, and a bad attitude when you get on her bad side. She is also a softy for the right people, so stay on her good side. Or else.

2) “Scout” Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird:
Atticus gave his daughter every chance to grow and flourish into a future Kick-Ass heroine, but to be fair, she was already pretty kick ass as a kid.

3) Lex from Kit Rocha's Beyond series
The queen of Sector Four has a big heart but not many people know it. In the post apocalyptic future, Sector For is run by Dallas O’Kane and his crew. Lex and Dallas are partners, but even the king knows not to cross the queen. He had to learn the hard way, though.

4) Elena from Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Underworld series:
Being the only female werewolf in the world could mean a lot of things. What it mostly means to Elena is living pack life and being a kick ass enforcer, keeping mutts (lone werewolves) in line. She also holds the leash to the most most dangerous werewolf, Clay Danvers.

5) Alyssa from Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters series:
Alyssa Locke and Sam Starrett have a complicated relationship. In the meantime Alyssa passes time being an FBI agent and top notch sharpshooter who can kick major ass...usually Sam’s.


Nicole Leapheart's alter ego is Miss Boxy Frown, and she posts book reviews and TV recaps at missboxyfrown.blogspot.com. She reads and watches everything from romance to sci-fi, but enjoys it even more if some smut is involved. And tattoos.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Penelope Gordon
1. pegordon
Personally I put Elena in the TSTL category - she's way too emo to be a kick-ass heroine in my book. In Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld series Eve Levine and Jamie Vegas are much more kick-ass - and Savannah Levine, Eve's daughter is rapidly working up to that status.
Heather Waters
2. HeatherWaters
Fun post! Alyssa Locke is probably my #1 favorite character in the Troubleshooters series. She's such a badass.
Nicole Leapheart
3. BoxyFrown
Really? Tv Elena annoys me but Book Elena is awesome to me. I find her pragmatic, resourceful, and particularly skilled. She runs circles around her male counterparts.

I like Jamie but I never considered her particularly kick-ass. Savannah was born a badass, she had no choice. She definitely had some years of serious brattyness but I forgive her.
Nicole Leapheart
4. BoxyFrown
I want to be her when I grow up. And get a Sam of my own.
Heather Waters
5. HeatherWaters
@BoxyFrown -- Total scene-stealers, those two. I was obsessed with them before their book (finally) came out.
Nicole Leapheart
6. BoxyFrown
I was rooting so hard for them
even when I wanted to punch Sam. His backstory was one of the most fascinating of any hero I have read.
7. Kareni
Eve Dallas is another heroine who takes no guff.
Nicole Leapheart
8. BoxyFrown
I love Eve!! She is super badass. I cant believe I didnt add her!
Katherine Bloom
9. lsbloom
The worst is the TSTL heroines who pretend to be KickAss and I put Elena in that category. She gets in trouble because she instists she is so awesome and then can't be bothered to lift a finger to save herself for hundreds of pages. So annoying. She fights and jumps to silly conclusions. Maybe it gets better but she annoyed me too much to make it past the second book. At least TV Elena doesn't have quite so much silly bravado.

I hate crying, simpering, can't think for myself, but I really really hate, idiotic grandiose I'm not listening to anyone I'm going to do it all my way stupidity that should get you killed but doesn't becuase you're the heroine. Bleh.

This is why Scout rocked. Daddy thought her to come to her own decisions and she was reasoned and kind and smart.
10. librrae
NUMBER 3!! These TSTL characters kill me. The most recent TSTL character I read was in Suzanne Brockman's Do or Die. The heroine is a criminal lawyer, A CRIMINAL LAWYER!, who thought it was perfectly reasonable to leave a SAFE HOUSE and walk a block to her apartment to shower and change clothes, all while the MOB was after her client. She even admits to being too stupid to live a few scenes later, but that self-awareness wasn't enough for me to like her. (Sorry for the CAPS, but it still irks me.)

Other kick-ass heroines I love include Kate Daniel's in Ilona Andrew's series and Charley Davidson in Darynda Jones's series.
Nicole Leapheart
11. BoxyFrown
When I started reading the Otherworld series, I did what I never do and read out of order, so the first book I had was Broken. Between a female werewolf and Jack the Ripper I was hooked! After that I started the series over properly, but maybe since I was introduced to Elena later on in her life I feel differently about her.
Wanda Wolfe
13. wolfewr
Add Sookie Stackhouse to the list of TSTL, please. The totally idiotic things that woman does is just amazing, book after book.
14. Bell
Two heroines that I love are Mercy Thompson from Patrica Briggs. And Hero from CS Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.
15. orchid7
Sorry, but for me- Cat from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series must go onto my TSTL list. Yes, she has moves. BUT- she's constantly whining and repeating herself. And talk about always running off half-cocked and needing the hero to come swooping in to rescue her yet again? Ugh. Poor Bones. The only reason I stuck with finishing out that series was for the hero and his friends (especially Bones and Vlad). Cat had thoroughly annoyed me by the end.
Nicole Leapheart
16. BoxyFrown
High five, my friend!

My friend has been trying to get me to read the Mercy Thompson series for years!

Too funny! Cat could make me mad, but I never felt she was tstl...but I can see what you mean!
17. Shark with Lasers
Ah, the sparkly hoo-ha. Who can know why some heroes find it so mesmerizing? I guess there's no accounting for tastes.
18. jane1234
I feel like Kristen Ashley females are VERY TSTL -- they fit all of these criteria. I don't know why I like her books so much, honestly.
19. Mandythe chef
You forgot Kaye Daniels, from Ilona Andrews series, Mercy from Patricia Briggs series, Rachel from Kim Harrison's series.
Kaetrin @Kaetrin's Musings
20. Kaetrin
I don't agree that any of those categories are TSTL except the "Then she gets kidnapped" one. The other things might be *annoying* but that's not at all the same thing.

The TSTL heroine (or hero) is someone who unthinkingly (and often repeatedly) puts her/himself in danger and requires someone to rescue her/him, such that by the end of the book, a reader could be forgiven for thinking "it's a wonder s/he survived".

What one person finds annoying is another's catnip and just because a heroine (or hero) can kick ass doesn't mean she/he doesn't make decisions that further the plot but otherwise make no sense.

And, some heroines start off annoying *and* TSTL and then become kickass and the great thing about the story is reading about how she develops over the course of a book/series - exhibit A would be Mac from Karen Marie Moning's Fever series.

Really, I think you're misinterpreting the trope. It reads like a list of things you don't like vs things you do (which is fine - we're all allowed to like what we like and dislike what we dislike) but I don't think it has much to do with TSTL.
Nicole Leapheart
21. BoxyFrown
It's true, the classic tstl trope is about a heroine who is a trouble magnet without a clue, but we all have read so many books with what I consider to be tstl heroines (whom, to borrow your definition, "it's a wonder they survived") in the broader sense that I think it would be appropriate to apply tstl here. I literally wonder how these heroines are supposed to be able to live life if they have no coping skills, common sense, or suffer from narcissistic disorders.

I tried to show through the few kick ass examples I posted that being a kick ass heroine does not have to literally mean being a physical fighter. Obviously my kick ass list may be different than someone else's, but that is the beauty of books! I'm glad it's subjective as it makes for lively debate!
Carmen Pinzon
22. bungluna
Rachel Morgan from Kim Harrison's series was the reason I stopped reading it. To me she's the epitome of TSTL.

Kick-ass heroines I love who have not been mentioned yet:

1. Lily Yu from Eileen Wilks Lupi series.
2. Joanne Walker from the Urban Shaman series by C.E. Murphy. She starts out a bit clue-less but evolves nicely and never sinks to TSTL levels.
3. Cordelia Naismith from the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. She's cerebral but can take action when she has to. Great heroine!
23. Tonidh69
Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, and Elena Devereaux!!! Kick ass ladies!
Kaetrin @Kaetrin's Musings
24. Kaetrin
@BoxyFrown. If you're going to broaden a definition so much it becomes a personal one, maybe it would be a good idea to state that up front. Because your personal definition doesn't conform to the actual meaning of the trope. It's perfectly fine for you to have your opinions but I don't think you get to redefine a trope.

You've given no book examples of your broader definition of TSTL so I don't know what heroines you're referring to. There are plenty of real life people I find pretty annoying but I don't wonder how they survived (I *might* wonder how others put up with them, but that's a different thing) - so I don't see your angle here.

And, why is it only heroines in your examples? Heroes are perfectly capable of being TSTL.
Nicole Leapheart
25. BoxyFrown
I don't think it is so broad of a definition, but more general. I would submit that your definition is very rigid. I chose to highlight traits instead of characters specifically because I didn't want to call out authors.

Excellent point about the men, and stay tuned for an alpha-hole post that will be done in the same spirit as this one.
Nicole Leapheart
26. BoxyFrown
@ Shark with lasers
The sparkly hoohah is mandatory and I love that you reminded me. ha!

@Tonidh69, Mandythe Chef, bungluna

Awesome choices, some I need to add to my tbr!
Kaetrin @Kaetrin's Musings
27. Kaetrin
@BoxyFrown I don't think it's "rigid" so much as "accurate". I offer this as proof:
Katherine Bloom
28. lsbloom
I have to say. I enjoyed the post and found the dichotomy discussion a helpful positive spin on investigation.

Finding nuance isn't being inaccurate. And citing a wiki isn't a verbatim truth. Tropes are defined by the amalgamation of repeated stories, they aren't commanded from on high and therefore they retain a sense of malleability. Frankly a blog post discussion "too stupid to live/be tolerant of eventually getting her emotional fulfillment" is wordy. In this discussion live is encompassing an entire genre of literature with many subgenres. In urban fantasy life and death is what is on the line, but in a number of romance novels it is happily ever after/dying alone. I think the post does a fine job of straddling a very wide topic succinctly and accurately.

@BoxyFrown I will think of Elena as growing up eventually, that's a nice thought. Probably won't read it, but I'll imagine she gets some sense to go with her backbown. Thanks.
Brie Clementine
29. Brie.Clem
@lsbloom: I agree; finding nuance isn’t being inaccurate. On the other hand, deviating from the common definition by using over-the-top generalizations without offering examples to illustrate the point, is.
30. Abra
I totally disagree about Cat in Jeanne Frost's book. Not only is she TSTL, Bones is constantly lying to her (for her own good according to him) and she just comes back for more. He let her think he was cheating for goodness sake and I haven't counted how many times he's hidden information that causes her to be put in danger. Bones treats her like a child who can't make her own decisions or be able to follow a plan. Daddy issues?

The other thing that drives me crazy is when the hero protects the heroine from something she's perfectly capable of fighting, and it some cases has already fought (or is more qualified to fight), because he can't bear to see her in danger. That is demeaning and insulting - not romantic as I see some reviewers write. A classic variation on this theme is leave her to save her or make her jealous to save her. These plot lines are very common in PNR particularly, so I always read reviews and plot summaries to try and avoid them.

My favorite kick-ass heroines - any of the Debra Dunbar and Susan Illene characters. Also good are Ivy Granger from E.J. Stevens, Elena from the Guild Hunter books by Nalini Singh, Sam from The Deep in Your Veins series by Suzanne Wright, and generally speaking Megan from the the Demon novels by Stacia Kane and October Daye from Seanan McGuire. The women in these books are leaders and while the heroes are kings/alphas/top angel, they treat the heroines as partners. The last two are a little higher on the angst scale, but still good.
Nicole Leapheart
31. BoxyFrown
I love Nalini Singh's Psy Changeling series, but couldn't get into the Guild Hunters. Elena is kick ass for sure, but I think the way you feel about Bones is how I feel about Raphael. He is so cocky! The women in the Psy Changeling series tend to have backbones of steel may they be human, Psy, or Changeling. I will have to add the others to my tbr!
32. Tonidh69
Oooooooo! Another kick ass chick is from an older series that is complete now....Riley Jensen! By Keri Arthur
Post a comment