In my last Bookish Ramble I mentioned I would write about the lack of female friendships in urban fantasy.
Let me preface this entire post by saying that the majority of the novels (or TV shows) that I allude or directly refer to in this post I have enjoyed, and some I will probably read/watch again.
Let me also preface this by saying that the genre(s) I am referring to in particular is urban fantasy, often associated with paranormal suspense/romance, with strong influences from fairy tales and urban legends.
So. Where are the female friendships in urban fantasy? Let me start off with drawing a picture for you.
Main Protagonist, whom we’ll call MP from now on, is a feisty, take-no-prisoners 20-something year old woman who may or may not have secret powers, but she sure does get into trouble a lot. She has a love-hate relationship with some Alpha male who may or may not be a werewolf/vampire/ghost/fairy prince. All of his friends – if he has any – are equally as hot as he is, and MP is either also interested – possibly – in either his BFF or his Arch Nemesis.
If Alpha has a brother they are either besties or life-long enemies, there is no in-between (except from book to book/episode to episode depending on the writer’s mood. Lacking drama? Brother flirts with MP. He’s been behaving so well! MP is now confused and Alpha must murder his own flesh and blood!)
She also has some sort of Father Figure, even if he’s not related to her, and a Brother-Who-Is-Not-Her-Brother (who also may be in love with her, so thank God he’s not her brother; different genre). If there’s anyone gay in the vicinity they are or will be BFF’s (which is fine with the Alpha lover because no competition) and there’s always some mundane guy who’s all like, “MP, these people are dangerous. You’re in danger. This is dangerous. I must protect you from your own choices, you precious flower,” blah blah blah.
If you’ve thought of at least five stories, books or TV, then I did my job.
Where are the other female characters, you say? Well they do exist! Except sparingly, unless,of course, they happen to be playing the antagonist.
MP has a friendly, vivacious roomate who seems totally cool to hang out with, except MP never does and you see her for like two pages before she’s either killled off or randomly disappears. MP also has a cool co-worker whose sole purpose is to gush over the Alpha Lover when he barges into MP’s workplace to show dominance – I mean, to show how much he cares.
Wait! There’s more! MP does have a sister, who has had a bevy of children so that MP can seem maternal when they visit. One of the children is in danger! Thankfully, the Alpha Lover is there (because he’s stalking her) to save the child! MP gives herself to him in a frenzy of passion to prove how grateful she is. The writer leaves it completely unclear whether they moved off to another location or if everyone else is just standing there watching. Spicy!
I know, heavy on the sarcasm. But wait! It gets worse. Here are all the female characters MP doesn’t like! The woman who has been in the Alpha’s nest/pack/kingdom for a long time and they used to fight wars together and known each other for a long time and MP doesn’t understand why Alpha still has to interact with this other woman at all, ever! But of course the other woman doesn’t like MP either, because why didn’t Alpha fall in love with her? Then there’s the bratty sister, the evil step-mother or bio-mother, the leader of a rival pack/nest/kingdom who of course wants Alpha!
Okay, Enough With The Sarcasm
But this is the played up outline of what I see in a lot of urban fantasy regarding female friendships. There’s either tension because of the male characters, or there’s tension for no apparent reason, especially when every other relationship MP has is healthy and/or reasonable considering the circumstances (I played up her and Alpha’s relationship for laughs, but sometimes it is markedly healthier than any of her relationships with women).
I’m not looking for an urban fantasy version of some girly rom-com where the movie ends with the group of friends walking off into the sunset. But, as a reader, when I see these same tropes played over and over and over in urban fantasy, it’s starting to not only give every story the veneer of sameness, but if taken to an extreme, it can render an otherwise interesting story flat, for me.
It also seems so contrived to me. A lot of the time the issues MP has with other women stem around Alpha Lover, and to me that also can cast a shadow on Alpha’s character. Why doesn’t he have a healthy relationship with other women? Especially if these women are under his care, in the sense that he’s their werewolf alpha, or the vampire leader of their nest, or their prince. If he has had romantic relationships with these women, that’s a whole other conversation. Power imbalance and all.
I’m going to say it – and this is not a diss against this particular genre – but some of these tropes seemed to have bled over from the romance and/or erotic romance genres. I get it. That’s their thing, and I love that for them. But there’s an oversaturation of a crossover in the urban fantasy genre, in my humble opinion, to the point where I am almost having a hard time finding a series to read that doesn’t read like a romance or erotic novel.
Not only would I like to see more healthy female-male relationships portrayed in the urban fantasy genre, but I would also like to see more plot-focused or character-focused series’, and potentially not romance-focused. Not saying that a romance can’t have strong characters or plot. There are a lot of romance novels with amazing plots and characters. But when you advertise urban fantasy and give me romance, where the story is romance focused, I find that frustrating.
The Sookie Stackhouse novels are one example of a series I did enjoy, but is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Mercy Thompson sort of starts out with the female-female tension, but even the characters acknowledge this, and there’s actual character growth. Also, the series as a whole juggles the romance/plot/character growth pretty evenly.
Kate Daniels definitely has more male characters than female characters period, but Kate’s interaction with each female is unique to the situation and personality, and her relationship with the various males are often-times funny and sweet, not to mention her quite healthy romance with . . . well I won’t give it away. It’s a few books in.
All three of the urban fantasy series’ mentioned have pretty fantastic plots throughout, though out of all them, I would say Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series is the most introspective and self-aware, Kate Daniels series is an absolute blast and endlessly entertaining, and Sookie Stackhouse reads as fluff with a bite, to me, although Charlaine Harris does mention some pretty dark and disturbing things, although in the most casual way possible somehow.
As for TV shows, Teen Wolf is pretty awesome and the female friendships are pretty great, not to mention the relationships between all of the characters. The Vampire Diaries is a hit or miss with each episode; sometimes they did it exactly right, sometimes it was a hot teen drama mess. TVD’s spin-off, The Originals was more focused on familial relationships, but a lot of people liked it better than TVD.
I wish I could think of more TV shows, but I’ve seen more sci-fi and high fantasy than urban fantasy. I highly recommend The Expanse.
Anywho, that’s my ramble on female relationships in urban fantasy. I have a lot more thoughts, about a lot more things, so expect to see more in the Bookish Rambles tag.
Comment below, and let me know what you think! Thanks for reading!