My wife and I had a very interesting conversation in the car on the way to work today. Both of us enjoy reading some paranormal romance/urban fantasy and I made the observation that, when it comes to the romance aspect in this subgenre, bad boys always come out on top and good guys always finish last.
As we went through the various examples of the genre we’ve read, neither of us could come up with an instance in which the female protagonist ended up with a “nice guy”. It seems like she always ends up with a manipulative douchenozzle with fangs. Essentially, the kind of guy that, if observed in the wild and without supernatural powers, would probably be the self-centered high school quarterback or a variation on Andrew McCarthy’s character in “Pretty in Pink*.”
For example, our conversation started with the Bill vs. Eric debate regarding the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Neither one of us were a big fan of Bill and Eric is a manipulative, alpha-male douchenozzle (at least in regard to Sookie. I love the dynamic he has with Pam, on the other hand…).
Both of us got off the Laurell K. Hamilton / Anita Blake train wreck when Hamilton shifted the series from Urban Fantasy to Paranormal Porn. Not because of the sex but because of the betrayal of her main character’s basic personality and past history. Regardless–Anita Blake started off with Richard (a nice guy werewolf) and becomes torn between him and the effete Machivellian vamp, Jean Claude (essentially, Lestat without the cool). I had always felt sorry for Richard (until he turned into a competitor for the Douchenozzle of the Year trophy later in the series) and thought Anita was a sap for falling in with a creature that was obviously trying to neutralize (and even wield as his own weapon) a competing predator in his territory.
The other series we like is Kim Harrison‘s “The Hollows” series. For my money, Harrison has taken up the mantle that LKH dropped so long ago. Her books are highly entertaining and she hasn’t forgotten the elements and characters that have made them that way. I am a couple of books behind in the series (damned huge To Be Read list…), but I do remember her main character (Rachel Morgan) having a bit of a complicated relationship with the vampire Kisten and with her half-vampire roommate Ivy. At least Kisten wasn’t a complete asshole, but he wasn’t what I would call a “nice guy” either.
Granted, in all of these examples the “guy” in the equation is a vampire. And what are vampires if not seductive, dark, and manipulative? I get that.
And when I say “nice guy”, I’m not necessarily limiting it to males. I’m talking about a type. Essentially, I’d like for once, just once, for the significant other in the hero’s life to be a solid, basically good, person that loves and values the protagonist because she is so kick-ass. He wouldn’t have to be “issues-free” (we all have issues) but his issues wouldn’t revolve around manipulative, ulteriorally motivated, douchenozzlery.
Of course, maybe some of this comes from the root of the genre. I’ve read a few romance novels (mostly of the Harlequin variety) and the guys there tend to have the whiff of Summer’s Eve about them as well. So, perhaps it’s part of the DNA.
I mean, I understand that many women love the “bad boy”. But, I guess as one of the “nice guys” reading these books, it gets a bit tiresome. Everyone wants to place themselves within a novel. Usually that means inhabiting the hero for awhile. Sometimes, it means inhabiting those around the hero. As a “nice guy” that enjoys this mostly female-centered genre, maybe I want to see myself in there a bit more.
I’m not looking to sap the relationship-conflict that’s at the heart of some of these books. Conflict drives a narrative and romantic conflict is a staple of the genre. I just think that there’s a more creative way to go about it–a way in which maybe the nice guy can come out on top from time to time.
I could be wrong. Maybe there are some series out there where the nice guy gets the kick-ass girl. Where she has both a lover and a friend that supports her in her Fight Against Evil™.
So how about it? Any suggestions from you folks? Drop them in the comments box…