Can Action & Adventure Be For Women?

With Fifty Shades of Grey dominating the best-seller lists, it is easy to believe that “mummy porn” and “chick lit” are all that women want. While these books are certainly enjoyable, women may be missing out on some excellent fiction by ignoring other genres, including those that seem to be geared towards men, such as action and adventure. So why might women enjoy what appear to be testosterone-fuelled books?


Lead Characters

Action and adventure books are past-paced stories with strong lead characters, intelligent twists and turns, and often set in dangerous and exotic locations. They also tend to overlap with other genres such as the thriller, mystery or historical novel. Take Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, although not the best-written novel, it is undeniably an entertaining page-turner, as borne out by its best-seller status and subsequent film.

Strong Male

Action and adventure novels tend to have a man as the main protagonist, but that doesn’t mean that the female characters are weak, simpering and only for sexual interest. Many are strong, intelligent characters that women can empathise with, although action and adventure novels often have a bit of sexual frisson and romance as part of the plot.

The Hero

At the heart of any action or adventure novel is the hero, usually a strong, complex personality that the reader can relate to. Jack Reacher, the invention of Lee Child, is one such character. Ex-U.S. military, 6 feet 5 inches tall and a loner, he may appear to be designed for the male market; however, over 50 percent of Child’s readership is women. Apparently, female readers are attracted to Reacher’s unwavering fight for justice and respect for the opposite sex. Lee Child has sold over 40 million books and has just published his seventeenth Jack Reacher novel, A Wanted Man, proving that fans just cannot get enough of this hero.

Wilbur Smith

Another prolific and popular adventure writer is Wilbur Smith, who has confessed that in his early books women just “appeared”, but now he uses them to influence the plot. His latest offering, Those in Peril, is about a wealthy businesswoman who takes the law into her own hands to rescue her kidnapped daughter. The book shows just how tough and resourceful women can be, often with greater courage and endurance than men.

Female Writers

The action-adventure genre does tend to be dominated by male authors, but one early female writer of the adventure novel was Baroness Orczy, who wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel, the classic story set in revolutionary France. Another female novelist, whose work could be classed as adventure, is Kate Mosse, author ofLabyrinth. Her extraordinary novel is set in modern and medieval France and follows the adventures of two women born centuries apart, but whose destinies are intertwined.
The slogan on the back of Lee Child’s books used to say, “Jack Reacher – women want him, men want to be him”, which may explain the popularity of action and adventure books, as they appeal to men and women, but in slightly different ways. So ladies, next time you are choosing something to read, do not ignore the adventure section.

This post was written in paternership with Audio Go, home of BBC talking books.

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