"When I address authorial intent in reviews, it’s generally because I’m confused or bothered by something in a book. I don’t ever pretend to *know* an author’s intent, but sometimes I have ideas about what I *think* the author was going for. For instance, in the latest Joanna Bourne, I felt like the author made choices that deliberately made the heroine weaker than the hero (though no one seems to agree with me on that, which is fine). As is often the case, I chalked it up to romance genres conventions – the hero is favored a bit (by the author and presumably the reader) over the heroine, and the hero is expected to assert some mastery over the heroine. So I am assuming that the story is written a certain way to please the average reader.
"Is it wrong for me to assume I know the author’s intent? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m not just doing it to be an asshole – I’m addressing something that bothers me, and furthermore why it bothers me (my belief that romance still tends to be rather conventionally sexist in a lot of ways). I think I need to acknowledge my assumptions about the author’s intent to give context to why I feel what I feel."
I just about entirely don't respond to reviews or speak in the comment trail of discussions about my own books. It's not that I'm not grateful for the interest. But,
-- I don't want readers to think I'm looking over their shoulder when they discuss the books. That has to be quelling.
-- I think books have to stand up for themselves, without explanation or defense.
-- There's not much to say if somebody doesn't like the work. It's like lichee nuts. Lots of wonderful, intelligent, interesting folks are going to not like my books or lichee nuts and no amount of discussion is going to change this.
-- The most important reason I don't respond to comment or criticism is that I don't want to make a fool of myself, which is what folks mostly do when they try to defend something they've written.
But, breaking a long habit of keeping my mouth closed, I'm going to go ahead and respond here.
I don't deliberately make the female protagonist of my stories less strong, competent or active than the male protagonist. If I felt the Historical Romance genre demanded that the heroine be weaker than the hero, I wouldn't write Historical Romance.
It's true my heroes tend to be more skilled in killing than my heroines. If there were only one sort of strength -- killing people -- then I'd have no argument. But I'm trying to write stories about the decisions characters make, rather than stories that are primarily about killing people. I'm writing about the strength that's shown by decision-making.
At the end of Black Hawk, Adrian has grown to be the kind of man who refrains from killing his enemy until he has solid, incontrovertible proof of guilt. Adrian's story, through several books, has been about acquiring ethics and self-control, not about learning to kill more skillfully.
And Justine's strength? In Black Hawk I use Justine's willingness to give up her sister, her decision to risk her life to rescue the Caches, and her determination to overcome degradation and rape to show her strength. She has spy skills -- they're probably better demonstrated in Forbidden Rose than in Black Hawk -- but I'm mainly interested in the hard choices she makes.
Is Adrian the 'better spy'? He brings formidable spy skills to the table. Consider his lockpicking. He stands behind Justine and mentally complains about how slow she is getting through a door.
But lookit at what's really happening in that scene. Justine enticed him to that door, (which is why he's snarking at her.) She holds all the knowledge in this situation. In a few minutes she's going to make him do exactly what she wants.
Who's the master spy? The boy who can pick locks? Or that clever, clever girl with her knowledge and determination and her sure understanding of what makes him tick?
I can't argue that you somehow should feel the balance of power and strength between hero and heroine is equal. Everybody who reads the book is going to have a different emotional response to what I consciously or unconsciously put in the story. I can only say it is not my intention to show the heroine as weaker than the hero.