There is a host of reasons to like Kresley Cole’s works. My top two are they are relentlessly fun and deliciously subversive. The fun is probably readily apparent, but this article is about her subversivity.
Cole takes very traditional tropes and reverses them completely. For example, Cole’s books are female-centric with the female myths playing larger roles. Instead of the brotherhood or the male cadre of warriors, you ave a group of sword wielding, smart mouthed, head chopping Valkryries that like sparkly things, nail polish and video games or devious witches that are so beautiful they have to spell themselves to protect others from their personal glory.
Cole takes it even farther by flipping the hero into the traditional heroine type. As Robin blogged over at Reader’s Gab, so often heroines are solitary creatures with few friends and and not much of a support system; most importantly, the heroine is generally inexperienced.
So while Cole’s heroines are the ones with the constant fellowship and support, Cole’s heroes are isolated for various reasons. Lachlain was captured for hundreds of years [A Hunger Like No Other]. Bowen was emotionally stunted because he had lost his mate [Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night]. Sebastian purposefully isolated himself by avoiding his brothers and seeking comfort in scholarly work. In Cole’s newest two books to be released back to back in May and June, the heroes are isolated again. Conrad, the hero of Dark Needs at Night’s Edge, is said to have been “alone and friendless for centuries.” In Dark Desires after Dusk, Cadeon Woede is blamed for the loss of his brother’s crown, putting him in disgust to others. “Yet as Rydstrom mounted his stallion, his soldiers gazed at Cadeon with an expression of hatred, tinged with disgust. They clearly thought Cadeon should die.I had best get used to that look, he thought. Even at his young age, he knew he’d be seeing it for the rest of his life.”
Cole’s heroes are often sexually inexperienced. They’ve had few or no partners. Lachlain abstained from consorting with women in his clan because he was sensitive to how that might make his future mate uncomfortable. He searched out jewelry and gifts, not for any current mistress or lover, but for his future mate.
The vampires cannot even get it up until they are “blooded” by their “Bride.” In a sense, these men are completely manless without the right female which is yet another reversal of the trope that posits a woman is only complete with a man on one arm and a baby in the other.
Sebastian was a bumbler with women before he was turned into a vampire and had pangs that he might not be competent enough for Kaderin. “Sebastian’s forgettable-’or disastrous-’experiences had not prepared him in any way for Kaderin’s passion.” He compared himself unfavorably with his brother: “He could never have compared with Murdoch’s experience, and he’d dreaded looking down as he took a woman and knowing that she was thinking the same.”
In Dark Needs, there is a hilarious scene early on in the book where Sebastian tries to give Conrad a reason to live. He tries to sell Conrad on the majestic experience it is to be blooded. Neomi, the heroine ghost, is sitting in the room at this time, intently listening to everything that is going on. Conrad is becoming increasingly embarrassed as Sebastian proceeds to state baldly, to Neomi’s great interest, how few women Conrad probably has had. “Is that all she sees him as? A madman to be ignored? Or worse – pitied? That is how she sees him. A filthy, sexually inexperienced lunatic.” Neomi is the one with sexual experience. At one point, Conrad questions “Does nothing abash you?” Cadeon, in Dark Desires, is more sexually experienced but he is so enraptured in his mate that when he first meets her, he stutters and stammers and she dismisses him which, of course, makes him want her all the more.
Cole plays on the innocence of her men, but never fully emasculates them. She relies, in part, on their great physical strength, their tremendous good looks, and their machismo. I find her heroes to be an exaggeration of the stereotypical male and while they appear alpha, the truth is that these men are pussycats that are willing to devote their lives to a woman and to making that woman happy. You get the sense that if Kaderin the Coldhearted wanted Sebastian to wear a skirt, he would don it with pleasure and enough swagger to make her swoon. The innocent, yet alpha male, is a tightrope that Cole expertly navigates.
Because despite the bumbling, the sexual innocence, the emotional impairment of these heroes, the men are not emasculated nor are they overpowering. I think that Cole gets away with this because her story is a paranormal one. Her Valkryies and Witches are smart, powerful, beautiful, and unafraid of their own attractiveness. They can see through the facade. They know their power over men and thus the excess manliness only serves to heighten the chemistry.
Cole’s writing is very smart and very female centric in a genre that all too often makes it all about the men. Kind of like this article. In celebration of Cole’s writing and her back to back releases, Dark Needs at Night’s Edge and Dark Desires After Dusk, I’m giving away 15 copies of Dark Needs at Night’s Edge. They are currently sitting on my counter and I am anxious to send them out. So go forth and comment. I’ll randomly select you to win a copy of Dark Needs so you too can enjoy Kresley Cole and one of her innocent, beleaguered men.