Reading Heaven and Hell, by Kristen Ashly opened my eyes to something that has been bugging me with the last several KA books I’ve read. It took a while because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but with this book, I finally figured it out.
While she writes these amazing, badass alpha males, they are all pretty chauvinistic. It is most often done in such a way that they are still damn hot and sexy, which is one of the things that kept bugging me because I don’t find that kind of behavior sexy. There are parts of all of these alpha males that I absolutely adore, but a lot of times, that gets pushed to the side because of the attitude. The female characters also have their own issues that I don’t normally like and how they act and respond to those alpha males really emphasizes that chauvinism.
When taken as a whole, the majority of female characters in KA books, while spunky, quirky and, on the surface, pretty cool, they are also most often the stereotypical heroine that ultimately needs someone to take care of her and rescue her. They also often seem like they are bordering shallow and flighty. No matter what strengths she may have, she is rendered weak when put up against these serious alpha males. They talk over the female characters, are almost always right and have some reasonable, rational, logical response to every concern that the females may raise, making them seem irrational, over reacting, or even bitchy and that makes those thoughts, feelings or concerns seem frivolous.
As a standard (and there are exceptions to every rule), the female characters are the ones to compromise or give in. Heaven and Hell is a good example of that as really the only compromise the male character allows in the entire story is the biggie in the end. Sure, it is huge and important, but the smaller, every day compromises are just as important as the biggies. Again, not always, but so often these books seem to be carried on the solid personality of the alphas, even if they are chauvinistic, and only a bit on the quirky of the females. There just aren’t that many female characters that come across as truly strong.
This creates a power imbalance in the relationships between the male and female characters. Not once have I read a KA book where there is a true balancing of that power. When it comes to the “man’s world” aspects of the relationships it is always the man’s way or the highway with zero room for compromise. I am not usually a fan of this huge divide between men and women in romance. I see no reason why you can’t have these amazing, protective alpha males that still balance and support the strengths of the females, making them stronger instead of making them seem weak and unable to stand alone while also not emasculating or lessening the power of that alpha male because she would in turn balance and support him.
So why is it that I have, and still mostly do, love Kristen Ashley? In a lot of ways, it isn’t the characters, as I’ve seen often enough, there are lots of aspects that I don’t like about her characters, yet I still love them. It is the way she writes them, infusing them with huge, gut snagging emotions that make them so incredibly real. The histories she wraps those characters in and the fact that they are so far from perfect they can only be human makes it impossible not to connect with them.
It is because of the realism and beauty that she manages to weave into every story that I keep coming back and why I still love the stories even if I don’t always love the characters or what they represent which kind of makes me hate that I like them in the first place. There is such a uniqueness to her style and how she writes that just draws you in no matter what. That is kind of difficult for me to understand. How can I love a story but not so much the characters, even sometimes when I feel like the story may be missing something? It doesn’t seem rational or logical, but it just is.
The last several KA books that I’ve read have been really difficult for me to rate and review because there are quite a few things that I love and hate about them so it is incredibly hard to figure out where it falls in the grand scheme of things. I’d have to say that I’d still rate Kristen Ashley as my favorite romance author because what she writes always hits strong. I’d even say that a few of her characters are some of my favorites, but I don’t actually like her characters (at least parts of them) most of the time.
It’s kind of crazy, but even with the things that I’m not such a fan of, I’ve yet to find another romance author that I like they way I do Kristen Ashley. It would be beyond awesome to get the kinds of characters I know I’d love wrapped up in the kinds of stories KA writes, they way she writes, but that is probably expecting something like perfection and not even our favorite authors are capable of that.