Saturday, October 1, 2011

Heroines & Villainesses—Which Do We Prefer? (Plus Giveaway!)

Giveaway Result!

We have now passed the witching hour of midnight (EST) on October 2 so I have closed and drawn the giveaway, & the lucky commenters are:

That Brunette (proving that 3 is indeed a lucky number) has won Feed by Mira Grant

zzebra 138
has won the copy of Phoenix Rising (A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel) by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

I very much enjoyed the comments on heroines, antiheroines, and villainesses--thank you all for participating!

'ThatBrunette' & 'zzebra138', if you email me through my webmail, contact(at]helenlowe[dot]info, I will arrange to get the books in the mail to you.


Recently, I ran a competition on my blog where I asked readers to nominate a character from my first novel, Thornspell, whom they would like to see a short story written about. (And our very own, stanch Supe follower and ismellsheep blogger, Sharon Stogner, was one of the judges—thanks again, Sharon!) Some really great comments came in and I am looking forward to completing that story and posting it on my blog soon. :)

But I was also intrigued at how—when it came to the main female characters in Thornspell—commenter preference was almost equally divided between the heroines, Rue and Syrica, and the arch-villainess, the Margravine zu Malvolin.

Just to give you a feel, here’s a sample of the comments:

About Rue:
  • Well I would like to see a short story about Rue. There is a lot that could be said about her struggle against the Magravine’s spell, and her efforts to help Sigismund while her own power (or most of it) remained bound and fettered by the … [ thorn spell ] …
..........(This was the winning comment, btw, so the short story is about Rue. :) )
  • … I thought …[ Rue] … was a lovely character and I liked how her role in the story was mysterious
About Syrica:
  • I’m going for a story about … [Syrica] … because when you think about it she was stanch, countering the death spell and then hiding out for a hundred years to see things through.

About the Margravine:
  • Well, I would have to say the Margravine because I always have an interest in villainous ladies …
  • I can’t help but admire the Margravine’s brand of egocentric malevolence …

Often, in fiction, the antihero, or even the villain, can be as interesting and fascinating as the hero. I’m thinking about Georgette Heyer’s The Black Moth, for example, where it’s the villainous Duke of Andover who steals the show; or the appeal of the wolf lord, Galadan, in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar trilogy—and then there’s Jaime Lannister in George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones series.

But what do we think about heroines and villainesses like the Margravine? Are they often more interesting than the heroine? Do we want them to be—e.g. do we prefer Faith to Buffy, or more tellingly still, Drusilla to Buffy? Or do we prefer our heroines to stand straight and true and always win the day, no matter how interesting the villainess? And is there such a thing as an anti-heroine? What do you think?

The vampire, Drusilla (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Let me know right here on the Supernatural Underground and your name will go in the draw for the two books I’m giving away this month—both with feisty heroines, I hasten to add! :)

First to be drawn will be Mira Grant’s novel of the post-zombie apocalypse, Feed, which was one of the finalists for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel.

And for all you steampunk lovers out there, I’ve also got a copy of Phoenix Rising (A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel)—currently a finalist for an Airship Award—up for grabs. To read my recent interview with co-authors Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris, click here.

I am really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on heroines vs villainesses!

You can earn points in the draw by:

+1 Linking to this post on Twitter
+1 Linking to this post on Facebook
+1 Linking to the Supernatural Underground blog on your own blog/website
+1 commenting on my Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog.
Just post the total number of points that you’ve earned in your comment, and your name will be entered in the draw again for every point you earn.

Eligibility will close at midnight, US Eastern Standard Time, September 2—just before my next Super(-natural) colleague is due to post. I will then draw the two winners via Random Number Integer and post the result here.


Supernatural Underground author Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet and interviewer. Her latest novel, The Heir of Night, the first of THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet, is published in the USA, UK, and internationally and recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award 2011 for Best Novel. Her first novel, Thornspell, is published in the US by Knopf. Helen blogs every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really site and on the first day of every month right here on the Supernatural Underground.


ThatBrunette said...

I Twitted, I Facebooked and I commented on your blog.


3 is the magic number. :-)

Barbara E. said...

I have to say I prefer the heroine, but the anti-heroine or villainess can be a lot of fun and very interesting. Though they're interesting, I'm not sure if I want to see someone who isn't very nice win the day. I want the person who triumphs to deserve it.

Barbed1951 at aol dot com

Na said...

Hi Helen :) I can't believe it's already Octobe. It just goes to show the months are flying by.

I think villainesses can be interesting and maybe more so than heroines just because I have found myself rooting for them. If I can get an understanding of their mindset I can justify their reasons for being "bad". They are imperfect, makes mistakes and for that reason are more human to me.

I haven't read the series but Jennifer Estap has an assassin in one of them and that interests me. It'll take a lot to win me over (or not) and if they can I know they are great characters. Moral roles don't weigh as much to me as the fact that they are characters with character.

+1 I commented on your blog
Cambonified (at) yahoo (dot) com

Sharon Stogner said...

thanks for the shout out Helen :) there were so many great character choices from Thornspell (fantastic book by the way)

I like to read characters that are dark and complicated. If the villianesses are conflicted about their ways and there is a chance for redemption then they can easily become my favorite.

Helen Lowe said...

"ThatBrunette"--thanks for commenting here and on my Helen Lowe blog. I enjoyed your comment on the cover differences between the UK nd US and have replied here (

You might also like to check out the post I did on the two covers on the HarperVoyager blog. :) (

Helen Lowe said...

BarbaraE: I agree that the person who triumphs needs to deserve it and I do have difficulty with stories where the heroines/heroes behave in much the same way as the supposed bad guys--otherwise where is the distinction, I wonder? It's one of the themes I am trying to explore through the Wall of Night series and discussed on john Scalzi's "Whatever" blog last year, here (

Do you think maybe the difference between fun/interesting and downright abhorrent can mark the line between anti-heroine and villainess? In my reply to Na's comment on my Helen Lowe blog I use the example of Faith in Buffy as an anti-heroine-–she does plenty of bad stuff, but you understand her as a whole person and also that's she capable of coming back from her 'bad self', so can’t just write her off. Whereas with Drusilla, although we understand her backstory we also get that she is now thoroughly evil--and so irrevocably a villain.

But whether anti-heroine or villainess, they are both great examples (imho) of characters that manage to draw you in--you're definitely interested in having them in the story!

Although when it came to a showdown between Buffy and Faith, or Buffy and Drusilla--no question, I always wanted Buffy to prevail! :)

Helen Lowe said...

Na, "I Know" re it already being October. I felt like that at the beginning of September when I did my "Where 'Does' Time Go" post--and asked myself the question all over again the other day when I received a "please-fill-out-the-best-date-for-our Xmas-function" form from the readio station where I do interviews. How "can" it be Christmas again already? I wondered (plaintively!)

Sometimes I think we root for the antiheroine, or even the villainess, for the very reasons you cite--that they seem more human in their imperfection (ie we can 'realte' to them better), whereas often the heroine or hero is written as "too perfect." I have used the example of Faith and Buffy in reply to Barbara above and also in reply to your comment on my blog, mainly because I think part of Buffy's enduring appeal as a heroine was that she wasn't perfect or a "do-gooder"--she always played as a "real girl."

Helen Lowe said...

Sharon--you're welcome! And it was great having you as a judge on the "Thornspell" competition. :)

You will have already picked up that I am wondering if it isn't the chance for redemption that makes an antiheroine as opposed to an outright villainess ...

And even with a villain like the Margravine, who reads as pretty much irredeemable in "Thornspell", was she always that way? Could she ever come back from it? It's pretty clear in "Thornspell" that she doesn't want to, and that a character like Drusilla in "Buffy" can't--but sometimes it's interesting to explore why characters become antiheroines or villains. That question is behind many of the characters in "The Heir of Night"--plenty of whom manage 'dark' quite nicely! ;-)

Drew said...

I am always conflicted. To me it comes down to who is the most interesting character, and that is often the villainess - because she has more flaws. A good example here is Luciana Delonghi in "A Song For Arbonne" - although probably not strictly speaking the main villainess, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise at certain points in the story!

Vivien said...

I prefer a heroine. There's something I can identify with more with them. Being able to survive and live. There's something so vibrant about that.

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

alainala said...

well i hope the contest is still open because it says it ends Sept 2..
i tend to like villianesses if theyre interesting.. sometimes theyre just evil and you want them to die, but you still want to know what makes them tick.. but i do love a good strong heroine! i would love to win the peculiar occurrences one, but either would be awesome
(and i hope its open to canada!)
alainala @ hotmail DOT ca

Unknown said...

I love to see good triumph over evil and that is always more interesting to read about when the evil is truly understandable. When a villainess is just evil for the sake of evil, it gets rather dull. But when you can understand and even sympathize with her motives the story becomes much more complicated. :)

Thank you for the wonderful giveaway!
I tweeted:!/LiederMadchen/status/120323949128196096
and commented on your blog.

=3 entries


Llehn said...

I have to say that Drusila is by far my fav villain. I think bad characters are more fun to play because they don't need to follow the rules while characters like Buffy need to adhere to some kind of hero character arc, which takes a lot of fun out of them.


Helen Lowe said...

Drew, I agree that Lucianna Delonghi acts the villainess in parts, but she's always playing games within games so you're never quite sure--and you always feel that there's a residual fondness she has for Blaise that, for me, tips her (ever so slightly!) away from villainess and into anti-heroine. Having said that, perhaps what Guy Gavriel Kay is trying to do in "A Song for Arbonne" is show that sometimes conflicting loyalties play their part in where a person ends up standing, or forces them to a place they'd rather not be. (The "hero", Blaise de Garsenc, is like this to an extent.)

But although I could "appreciate" Lucianna's character, the heroines I was cheering for in that book were Rosala de Savaric and the singer, Lisseut, as well as the countess of Arbonne, Signe de Barbentain--all very real women, and of ability, sure, but forced by circumstances to become "heroic."

zzebra138 said...

A heroine with flaws, such as Faith or Sabina from the Sabina Kane series by Jaye Wells.

Helen Lowe said...

Vivien, I agree, in the end there's always something admirable about someone who steadfastly stands up for the right and the true--if she can do it with a quip, like Buffy, or irony, like Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings, then all the better!

Helen Lowe said...

alainala--definitely still open! And international! :)

I often think that understanding is the key to interest with both heroines and villains--understanding that it isn't necessarily easy for the heroine to do the right thing, but also getting that knowing "why" a person is villainous doesn't make their deeds any more acceptable--again, Drusilla is a good example here.

Helen Lowe said...

Llehn, I think Drusilla and Spike in Buffy 2 are amongst my favorite ever villains, too, and definitely my favorite "Big Bads" of the Buffy/Angel series!

But although rule breaking does give the villains more leeway for fun, I still have a soft spot for the heroine who is out there doing the hard yards. For example, in the film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", I have always preferred Shu Lien to Jen, because she is ethical and tries to do what she knows to be right, even though it brings her nothing but grief.

Helen Lowe said...

zzebra138--I definitely agree that a heroine, or hero, with flaws appeals more. Because we can empathize more, I think!

Helen Lowe said...

alainala--definitely still open, and equally definitely international! :)

I often think that "interest" is the key with both heroines and villainesses--we need to see that it isn't necessarily easy for the heroine to do the right thing, and conversely, even when we "get" why a character has turned to villainy it doesn't necessarily make their deeds any more acceptable. Either way though, there has to be something there to keep us reading.

Helen Lowe said...

Llehn, Drusilla is one of my favorite villains, too, and Dru and Spike in Buffy 2 my favorite of all the Spike/Angel series' Big Bads--partly because they were so much fun together!

But although being a 'big bad' may give more scope for fun, I do have a soft spot for the heroine who is steadfastly in the face of adversity and does the "hard yards." For example, in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", I have always preferred Shu Lien to Jen because of the way she holds to her ethical sense and her duty, even though it brings her nothing but grief.

Jacqui R said...

I always like the heroine they always have heaps of trouble then it all comes right in the end. The villainesses are usually great too but you just can't beat the heroine.

2 points for me just off to comment on your blog.

ticklebear2 at yahoo dot com

Helen Lowe said...

If you end up cheering for the villainess there's just something wrong, isn't there? I think that's what happened in Georgette Heyer's "Black Moth" where the villain, the Duke of Andover, totally stole the show ... But Heyer was only 17 (I think)when she wrote that book and by the time she wrote "These Old Shades" (where anyone who has read Moth knows it's effectively the back story to Shades even though the names have been changed) she had figured out how to make the Duke of Avon (ie 'Andover') a compelling anti-heroish hero. :)

Jay said...

Great comment & discussion, ma'am! I always like a heroine with 'tude, like Ripley in Aliens & Terminator's Sarah Connor, but an anti-heroine who comes through in the end, like Faith, is ok by me as well.

Llehn said...

YES! Dru and Spike in Season 2 have amazing chemistry! I'd love to see someone replicate a pair of bad asses like them on paper or on the screen!

And yes, I do agree with what you say about having ethical heroines. They show you that there's a better way to do things and that you can achieve the same thing as your less ethical counterpart.

Helen Lowe said...

Thank you, Jay.:) Ripley & Sarah Connor are both excellent heroine choices. I am definitely with you in liking heroines with "'tude!"

Helen Lowe said...

Llehn, I have secretly always wished that Dru and Spike had stayed a 'dread duo of bad-assness', simply becasue they worked so well in Season 2 ... (Sighs)

Keeping your heroines ethical and fun is the trick, I feel--not lawys an easy tightrope to walk!

Nikki S said...

I have to say the villianesses just because I myself am kick-ass, daring, and not afraid of anything. I really think they are a lot of fun because they're not seen as often as heroines. (Unless they're like a wicked witch -_-) I like their uniqueness.

But at the same time, who doesn't like a kick-ass heroine who plays on the "goood team?"

Either way, both are great because it shows some empowerment to women!

BTW I LOVE this post! Good idea!

Helen Lowe said...

Thanks, Nikki--I'm glad you enjoyed the post! But with 'kick-ass, daring and not afraid of anything' on your cv you sound like my style of heroine. ;-)