Like every good author, I try to read in my genre. For me that means romance, and there seems to be a unifying theme in the last few books I’ve picked up.
The heroes are HUGE.
Just yesterday I finished Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennet. Lovely book. Loads of fun. Would read more by the author in a second. But damn, is the hero Winter Magnussen ever a big man. He’s described as a bear, as a wall, as a bull.
And yeah, in case you were wondering, ALL of his anatomy is proportional.
In contrast, the heroine Aida is petite, delicate, fragile. She’s spunky, and saves his butt more than once, but there’s always the feeling he might break her if he moves wrong.
Along the same lines, a couple weeks ago I read Silk Is For Seduction by Loretta Chase. A 2012 RITA finalist, it’s a grand book that did a tremendous job of carrying me back to 1830s England. And our hero, the Duke of Clevedon? He’s tall, and broad, and his hands are large. In fact, there were so many descriptions of his exceptional size, with particular attention to his big hands, that by the end the visual I had was of a pale, curly-haired Shaquille O’Neal dressed in Regency garb.
Perhaps not the image the author was after…
And like Bitter Spirits, the heroine in Silk is petite and feisty. I liked her and I liked the story, but as a writer, I had to wonder about the subtext. I think it’s pretty clear that by creating characters who are at the extremes when it comes to size, authors are throwing cultural expectations into hyperdrive. For some perspective, here’s a quick quote from a highly authoritative source (eHarmony.com):
“For example, taller men may be seen as more powerful and attractive, so women who are with taller men benefit by attaining a higher social status. In addition, if height signals physical dominance, it is likely that taller men make women feel smaller, protected, and perhaps more “feminine” as well.”
Readers identify with the POV character, and these books seem determined that for the time it takes you to finish the book, you’ll see yourself as 5’1” and 105 pounds with a big ol’ stud of a man trying to get you into his bed.
It kind of creeps me out a little. Because of the extreme emphasis on size, there’s an underlying dominance/submission thing that makes me uncomfortable. It’s one thing to feel feminine and protected, quite another to worry about getting broken.
Not all books roll that way. Delphine Drydens BDSM/Erotic romance The Theory Of Attraction has an overt D/s storyline, and while yeah, Ivan is taller than Camille, his dominance comes from an intellectual/emotional place rather than being a result of his physical size. (And if you haven’t read Theory, you really should. It’s one of the best examples of integrating the D/s lifestyle into a character that I’ve ever come across. You end up with the feeling that Ivan pretty much had to be a Dom, that nothing else would have worked for him.)
I also don’t generally find the same subtext in m/m romance. In Hainted, Jordan L. Hawk’s fabulous book about magic workers in Appalachia, Lief is taller than Dan. There are a few references to the height difference, mostly in terms of how comfortable it was for Dan to rest his head against Leif’s shoulder. Both characters are powerful men. They have different abilities, but if somehow things changed dramatically and they started scrapping, I’m not sure which one would come out the winner.
In fact, I tried hard to think of a romance hero who WASN’T a really big guy, and the closest character I could come up with is Micah, one of Anita Blake’s boyfriends. Though he’s not technically a romance hero, he’s handsome, hung, and just about the same height she is (~ 5’3″). Their partner Nathaniel’s only about 5’7″, which makes him the giant in the threesome. And you know what? While I get that Anita’s very attracted to both of them, they do NOTHING for me. I love Micah’s emotional maturity and I love Nathaniel’s ability to ground Anita, and I’ve sure read my share of sex scenes involving them, but meh. Can’t see myself in Anita’s shoes, and not just because she’s not wearing any and in the middle of several men at once…
So as usual in my blog posts, I make some observations but don’t really have any conclusions. What do you think? Have you read books where the hero is a giant and the heroine is tiny? Do you enjoy that kind of energy, or does your inner feminist rise up screaming? Conversely, can you think of a romantic hero who’s NOT a bug guy?
It’s food for thought, if nothing else…