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The Cruel Hero

Romance - from historical to contemporary

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Edited: Nov 16, 2009, 3:25pm Top

This is a concern I've encountered before, but it came into stark relief this weekend while reading 2 books.

The first book was Dark Prince by Christine Feehan. My best friend read the entire series and I felt it prudent to see what it had to offer, as she just loved it. I stopped reading this book at about page 70. First, it broke my number one rule of a romance novel, which is "no sex before page 100." But, more importantly, I couldn't stand the hero.

I'll readily admit maybe I'd have gotten him in time if I'd kept reading. But I couldn't do it! At one point he telepathically fondles the heroine (they hadn't even met yet) and then he drinks her blood (without permission, how rude) by biting her the first time they physically kiss. And the first time they have sex (way too soon in the narrative, in my opinion, hence the rule), he again drinks her blood without permission, nearly killing her. All this while managing to be possessive, arrogant, bossy, manipulative, secretive, overly protective and prone to violence against others in addition to the heroine.

What was there to like in this hero? Has anyone else read this book and can tell me if, had I read one more page, he'd have either a backstory that made his behavior relevant and sympathetic or a change of heart that made him a tiny bit more likeable?

Which leads to the next novel I read, and finished, and loved over the weekend -- Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas. This novel also had an overbearing hero, who was prone to violence and rude and overprotective. But I loved him. First of all, I got it. Kleypas gave him a backstory (and informed me, the reader, of it) that made his behavior understandable. AND his nasty behavior wasn't directly solely at the heroine, but at the world in general. I can grasp the concept of a man whose history makes him all-around nasty; I can't grasp the idea that a man's history makes him cruel TO THE WOMAN HE LOVES.

So my questions are thus: Why do so many romance novels have cruel heroes who treat their love like crap? (I can cite further examples from the likes of Johanna Lindsey, Elizabeth Lowell, Judith McNaught, etc., all authors I enjoy, btw.) Why do women -- like my best friend -- read these books? Do they like these heroes? Or is there another part of the narrative compelling them to continue?

Does a hero have to be a jerk? If not, then why are so many heroes in romance novels such big jackasses? What's the novelists' motivation? Is it in the hero's ultimate redemption? Or is this a matter of perceived attractiveness to readers? Do novelists believe readers (read: women) like jerks?

(I apologize for the stream-of-consciousness writing and length. I'm at work and need to get this posted quickly. Thanks for any insight you can provide.)

Edited: Nov 16, 2009, 3:11pm Top

Actually Mikhail does kind of evolve over the course of the book along with development of his backstory. However, if you don't like the overbearing type I really wouldn't recommend the Carpathian series overall because with just a couple exceptions they are all pretty overbearing. Mikhail isn't even close to being the worst of them LOL!

As for why I like them....I can't say for sure. I think it's gotta be the fantasy part of it because never in a million years would I put up with anyone so domineering in real life. I'm not sure how I would have felt about Dark Prince if it had been the first Carpathian novel I read, I was introduced to the series through a short story that was mostly all backstory about the Carpathian race (can't think of the name off-hand). But, even the fantasy has its limits because I know that there have been a couple that I really couldn't stand (Dark Secret for one).

As for the traditional "cruel hero" written by the authors you indicated, Johanna Lindsey, Elizabeth Lowell, Judith McNaught, I really don't have much experience there. I will say that I am generally much less open minded about jerky heros in historical or contemporary romances, probably because they lack the fantasy aspect.

Nov 16, 2009, 3:19pm Top

Maybe it's because we like to see them brought reeaaaally low in the end by the heroine. That would be my guess.

Although I can't say that I like cruel heroes much. Domineering, yes, arrogant, yes, macho, yes, because ultimately we know who's in charge. ;-)


Nov 16, 2009, 5:12pm Top

Jenson> I would have to agree - All the Carpathian men are possessive & over bearing but I think I enjoy the over all stories. I do like that her heroines are usually very strong minded & really control the relationship even though the men "think" they do... The only book that really bugged me was Gregori's since he has been without color or emotions for so long - he has no control which is cruel but I end up loving their relationship & his character later in the series. All the men seem to evolve throughout the series.

Nov 16, 2009, 5:59pm Top

Some of it has to do with when the book was written too. I love Jayne Ann Krentz, but when I find an older book of hers, I check to see if it was written in the 80's, and I don't buy it if it was. I've hated every one of hers I've read from the 80's.

Diana Palmer falls into this category for me. I know a lot of people love her, and I've tried reading her books, but every single one was a DNF because the hero was so nasty.

The Carpathians I can live with, because it's fantasy, but I can't abide a contemporary with that kind of hero.

Nov 16, 2009, 6:42pm Top

I think sometimes the hero is selfish in the beginning only to emphasize his love in the end. Most authors I think are writing for themselves...they like the stories they are writing. I don't think they are coming up with a story based on what they think women like. I agree, sometimes Johanna Lindsey gets carried away with the macho man who can do anything he wants... in at least one of her stories I think the hero basically raped the heroine (who unrealistically happened to like it. That's weird). But otherwise I think people like to see the dark hero turn soft by the heroine's awesomeness, which it seems is what happens with Judith McNaught's main characters. I also like to see the hero beg in the end.

Nov 16, 2009, 9:17pm Top

misshollyhock, I think you would like the book Beyond Heaving Bosoms. The authors differentiate between old school heroes, like those found in Judith McNaught, Johanna Lindsey, Krentz, et al. and the heroes in the newer novels.

It is all about fantasy and power though. We like to see the hero reformed and the heroine get the power.

Read the book. I think you will enjoy it.

Nov 18, 2009, 9:19am Top

The Carpathians are Byronic heroes - "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Sure they're arrogant, but they have the goods to back it up. They're also physically attractive, intelligent, strong, powerful, loyal, etc. Their lifemates are literally the light to their darkness -- if they don't find the one woman who was made for them, they go mad and turn vampire and start killing people. When they find "the one," they know it without a doubt and are very intense in pursuing the relationship. They are overprotective, but there are worse things to be, and a lifemate never has to worry about her Carpathian cheating on her.

In general, I think the appeal of the "bad boy" type in romance novels is that you know love will conquer all in the end. These heroes are more of a challenge to "conquer," so the reward is even greater.

As for the old-school cruel heroes from Lindsey, Lowell, etc., I think they appealed to certain readers. From what I remember, most of the heroines from those stories (not all) were too stupid to live. The men just wanted sex, but they were: 1) touched by the heroine's softness and vulnerability 2) trapped in a marriage for social or political reasons 3) pursued by the heroine -- and eventually they came to love her. I think nowadays the heroines are much smarter and stronger and those types of novels are not as popular.

I think people read fiction, not just romances, because they like the fantasy of it all. You get to see what motives people to make the choices they make and see the consequences without any risk at all. In real life, women fall in love with jerks all the time, but in the romance novel, he falls in love with her too and changes for the better. Happy ending.

Nov 18, 2009, 9:54am Top

I concur with mamalaz. Beyond Heaving Bosoms does a good job of explaining and dissecting this aspect of romance. And you do find a lot more of these kinds of jerky, rapey heroes in older romances written in the 1970's and 1980's.

Nov 18, 2009, 12:51pm Top

#8 BookLizard > You are spot on, IMHO!
I know that what I read and enjoy is fantasy and if something like that happened to me IRL I would be very annoyed or in worst case severely traumatized.

I really like the emotional rock and roll of a good Byronic hero. For instance J. R. Ward's vampire anti-heroes in The Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

So, happy reading everyone!

Nov 28, 2009, 2:15am Top

I went ahead and read Dark Prince since lavender mentioned it first in her analysis and I actually quite enjoyed the book.

It was true that Mikhail came out as overbearing, domineering, and inconsiderate at times, but they (the Carpathians) are conditioned with moral values that don't correspond with the "modern" views of feminism and independence. Not to mention their need to protect their women and children, which I found very chivalrous compared to our "modern" times, fuels the Carpathians domineering personalities. I didn't find them cruel, just intense and overprotective. Of course, in theory it sounds like a good thing, but I'm sure in practice, it might get a tad bit aggravating with someone hovering over you, no matter the good intentions.

I got to the second novel in the series, Dark Desire, and in one particular scene, Raven was trying to defend the cruel hero persona to Shea, what she said reminded me of this thread! I thought it was pretty relevant.

Quoted from Dark Desire:
|| Shea... "They brought us into this, and they have no right to arbitrarily decide what we can and can't know."

Raven... "I felt the same way for a long time." She sighed. "The truth is, I still feel the same way. But we persist in judging them by our human standards. They are a different species of people altogether. They are predators and have a completely different view of right and wrong." ||

However, I think BookLizard explained most of it very well too :)

Jan 13, 2010, 9:45pm Top

I have read Dark Prince by Feehan and I get what you're saying. There are worse "heroes" out there though.

There was another discussion somewhere else that had the topic headline: Books in which the hero & heroine hate each other through 90% of the book. This drives me crazy about some books. A little friction is ok at times. But I hate those books where the guy is bad-tempered, nasty, and cruel to the heroine through most of the book and there's a miraculous "Oops I'm sorry, I love you" moment at the very end and the long-suffering heroine just says "ok". I really like Mary Balogh, but "The Devil's Web" is a book like that. The "hero" was a total jerk spewing all kinds of vitriolic things at the heroine(this was part of a trilogy so this went on in the previous book as well as the 3rd book that focused on them) and then in the very last pages of the book a switch gets flipped and everything's supposed to be ok. That annoyed me so much.

Jan 15, 2010, 6:52pm Top

autrarkia, I agree with you. The Devil's Web was one of my least favorite Mary Balogh books. A little tension between the hero & heroine is fine but when the heroine puts up with that kind of nonsense, I find the whole story to lack credibility.

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