I love urban fantasy and I read a lot of it. A sizeable chunk of what I read is urban fantasy, but there is one trope I think is way to common: The Lone ranger Gal. the lone female character, who has no female friends and very few female interactions. In some books it is profound enough a trope the book would not pass the Bechdel test, which should be surprising in a book with a female protagonist.
Original posts from 2014: The Lone Ranger Gal in urban fantasy
Urban fantasy heroines quite often have male friends who they have wonderful banter and/or sex with. But more often than not it seems that the protagonist have no female friends, co-workers or family. If there are other females they are quite often in competition with our protagonist . This gives us The Lone Ranger Gal.
Some of it can of course be explained by the predominance of male dominated careers that our propagandists have. However that does not explain their lack of outside of work girlfriends or why they have no sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers etc.
I think that part of it is the fact that lots of urban fantasies borrows heavily from the mystery genre, in partially noir and westerns. Which is why I call this post the lone ranger gal.
Alone in a mans world
I have been reading Patricia Briggs‘ Mercy Thompson books over the weekend, which is always on top of the urban fantasy lists on goodreads. So far I quite liked it, it did however make me notice this trope again.
The thing that disturbed me is the fact that Briggs has Mercy Thompson in a position where other female supernaturals hate her or at least dislike her for no apparent reason. At the same time the were-society is highly patriarchal to the point of misogyny and Mercy comments that it isn’t really the two current leaders fault, that’s just how things are… By not giving Mercy any female friends this becomes even more visible and disturbing.
Why do we see so many lone ranger gals?
Urban fantasy heroines tend to be self-reliant and extremely competent. Perhaps there is a fear that any other females will take away from the protagonist’s thunder. That somehow, by having a female support network they will be less.
I guess some of this can be explained by the fact that lots of urban fantasy seem to be female power fantasies… how wonderful it would be to beat the men at their game all by yourself. To be better than them. To be the lone ranger gal that rides in and solves all the problems all by yourself. To be able to navigate the male dominated world all alone, to stand up to the men, to force them to respect you. Which off course work better as fiction if the world the protagonist it’s navigating is a blatant male dominated world because highlights that that is indeed what is happening.
I have heard some in the industry, that you don’t give the protagonist any female friends, because then they would never go for the hot vampire bad boy… But I am sorry if your plot is dependent on the protagonist only making bad choices, then you need better plot. Your plot should not be hinging on someone holding the stupid ball!
I personally really like themes of female friendship and family to be part of my books so I miss it when it isn’t there. There is of course an appeal to the lone wolf approach – there is a reason we all like westerns and noir stories.
Other examples of the lone ranger gal
You find this trope in many different urban fantasy books, below are some of the examples I can think of that i have read.
Most of these examples are not even paranormal romance where you could expect the cast to be smaller because it is a romance, even if most urban fantasy does have romance b-plots.
In all of these stories there are internal reasons (Doylist explanations) why these women are lone ranger gals, why they don’t get along with other women. Putting those reasons in are however the author’s choice and that means that we get to question them. I should also note that these were all books that I really enjoyed.
- Blood Price by Tanya Huff – The Vicky Nelson books
- Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews – Innkeeper Chronicles
- Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton – Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
- My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
- Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead – Georgina Kincaid books
- A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton – Merry Gentry books
- Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin – Jaz Parks books
If any of these protagonists have female friends I don’t remember them, but please correct me if I am wrong.
It shouldn’t be a problem for a book with a female protagonist to pass Bechdel test.
This review was originally posted: October 27, 2014. Updated and edited June 27, 2023