Aug 17 2017 8:30am

Move Over Tortured Heroes—Give Us the Angst of the Tortured Heroine of Sci-Fi Romance

 Finding Hekate by Kellie Doherty

A tortured romance heroine is like buttering bacon. You start with something tasty and then add a rich, delicious layer of sweet angst. The tortured heroines in sci-fi romance hail from far away worlds and otherworldly settings, perform a variety of futuristic jobs, and often possess extraordinary abilities (often a reason many of them feel so tortured). What they have in common are secrets, internal conflict galore, and self-doubt that drives them to distraction. No wonder they could really use a supportive romantic partner!

Having recently finished Finding Hekate by Kellie Doherty (Amazon | B&N | Kobo), I feel like I just ate a whole plate of buttered bacon. Mia Foley probably broke the mold for tortured heroines. She's a starship captain with a deep, dark secret. And I do mean dark—she's committed some horrible, violent acts. But she's not a criminal. Rather, she's haunted by a tragic past and compelled by a sinister group known as the Acedians to make morally questionable decisions over and over again. Her secret not only eats away at her soul every single day, it threatens to destroy her tender romance with Cassidy, a super sweet gal who serves as Mia's first mate (think Kaylee from Firefly).

Here are a few other examples of notable tortured heroines in sci-fi romance...

Touch of Steel by Kate Cross

Claire Brooks from Kate Cross' steampunk romance Touch of Steel (Amazon | B&N | Kobo) falls under the category of the beautiful and sophisticated tortured heroine. Claire is an actress by trade, steeped in the world of glamor and fame, and uses her career as a cover for her spy work. Beneath her sparkly persona, however, she's haunted by her need to avenge what she believes is the wrongful death of her brother, a fellow spy. Even though her revenge mission will create havoc on her life—including her burgeoning romance with her new partner—and could doom her to a fate worse than death, she's determined to carry out it out no matter the consequences. Truly tragic.

Jak Stowell from Lise MacTague's On Deception's Edge trilogy is a real keeper and the kind of tortured heroine you'll want to wrap in a warm blanket. We first meet her disguised as a man in Depths of Blue (Amazon | B&N | Kobo). She's a soldier in an all-male military on a socially backward planet. She's haunted by the death of her brother, with whom she served before he was murdered. Meeting weapons smuggler Torrin Ivanov in a high-stakes encounter is love at first sight and sets Jak off on an emotionally wrenching journey of identity struggle, angsty romance, and self-discovery. Read this trilogy for its action-packed, theme-rich story and stay for the beautiful angst.

The Protector by Diane Burton

The heroine of Diane Burton's The Protector (Amazon | B&N | Kobo) is Rissa Dix, a hard-working tavern owner in a frontier colony. Using her wits and leadership skills, she valiantly battles slave traffickers even while struggling to cope with the aftermath of having lost her own child to slavers. At the same time, she's deeply conflicted about whether she's worthy of love when an attractive younger man enters her life. Tortured by the past and fearful of the future, Rissa's challenges as a mature heroine make her a deeply sympathetic character.

The Champion of Barésh by Susan Grant (Amazon | B&N | Kobo) features heroine Jemm Aves, a woman who not only works herself to the bone for the local mining company but also goes undercover as a man to participate in the dangerous sport of bajha. Everything she does is for her family, and that includes maintaining her secret identity to join a big league bajha team owned by a prince. Jemm is torn between several things—personal ambition and providing for her family; falling in love and keeping her independence; her humble beginnings and the temptation of wealth; and finally, keeping secrets and telling the truth. It's a wonder she even makes it through the day, let alone a week.

It's empowering to read about relatable sci-fi romance heroines grappling with their dark past/secret, internal crises, and perceived flaws, especially since the stories frequently use a futuristic lens to provide social commentary on issues many women face right now.

Now that I've shown you my plate of buttered bacon, who are your favorite tortured heroines?

H&H Editor Picks:

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Heather Massey seeks out sci-fi romance adventures and writes about them for Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit

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1 comment
Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I don't know about this buttered bacon thing (I never even thought of cooking bacon in butter, what!), but hell yeah to dark and twisty heroines with emotional baggage! Thanks for the recs.
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