Thursday, April 19, 2012

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Three Cheers For The Scrappy Romance Heroine


I’m still on a cyberpunk romance kick and recently finished Kim Knox’s SYNTHETIC DREAMS. A few interesting elements and themes emerged, which I’d like to share with you (in a non-spoiler way). To catch you up to speed, here’s the story blurb:

Vynessa Somerton was just a girl when she learned about true evil. An encounter with the tyrannical Corporation scarred her body and exiled her to the crime-ridden S-District. Now an adult, Vyn creates glamours, worn by those who visit a virtual playground to live synthetic dreams. She's tried to stay unnoticed by the Corporation, but her latest invention has brought their agents to her door.

Paul Cross works for the Corporation, but he's been plotting their downfall since they took his brother and replaced him with an imposter. Paul has a plan to get his brother back, but he's going to need Vyn and her invention to carry it out.

Vyn agrees to help Paul, but their alliance shatters the barriers she's put up to protect herself, tempting her to give in to desire. Just as Vyn starts to trust Paul and believe he wants her, scars and all, the Corporation prepares for its final move. Can Vyn trust Paul completely, or has he been using her all along?

One detail about Vyn that doesn’t emerge until you begin the story is the fact that she’s a scrappy heroine. What do I mean by that? She wears scruffy, secondhand clothes. She lives in a rundown apartment in a dangerous section of the city. Plus, she’s a loner.

I love me some scrappy heroines, and Vyn is no exception. In terms of looks, she’s a heroine in the Lisbeth Salander mode (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). Scrappy heroines are tough punks and that makes them the ultimate underdogs.

Scrappy heroines are particularly suited to cyberpunk romances like Synthetic Dreams and one reason for that is the need for them to be smart, savvy, and street-wise in the dangerous, high-tech worlds they inhabit.

Vyn operates on the wrong side of the law, creating illegal beauty enhancements for anyone who can afford them. Most significantly, her body is covered by a fine network of mysterious scars. But even as she flirts with danger and bears mysterious markings, she has a need for unconditional love and acceptance.

In the first chapter, Vyn, disguised in her “simulacrum” invention that makes her look like a Victoria Secrets model, encounters Paul—a gorgeous hunk, natch—for the first time in a virtual bar. They share a heated kiss, and Paul is obviously turned on. Typical male response to a woman with super model looks and thanks for nothing, right?

Here are Vyn’s thoughts during the kiss:

She had to wonder if he would be talking to her if he could see her true self. The woman who bore no resemblance to the pneumatic blonde simulacrum—the small, skinny woman marred by the fine white network of scars covering her face and body.

After I finished the book, however, that scene took on a whole new meaning. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that their encounter challenges the reader to question her assumptions about what a heterosexual man is seeing when he looks at a woman. It’s a lovely revelation.

The romance in Synthetic Dreams is not so much a Beauty and the Beast role-reversal, although that element is present. Rather, it invites readers to explore our perception of physical attraction and self-worth in the context of love as well as the role played by a dominant corporate culture that attempts to pedal fabricated notions of beauty.

In essence, Synthetic Dreams can be enjoyed as a rebellion against the objectification of women as well as a celebration of all kinds of beauty, writ subtly through the lens of a romance.

Not a bad day’s work for a scrappy heroine, eh?

Joyfully yours,

Heather