Current Project: NMMNG
Status: preparing to jump back after grading is done
I just finished Sabrina Jefferies's latest, The Truth about Lord Stoneville, and I notice I've been on a bit of a historical bender lately. One thing that historicals are wonderful for is focusing in on the hero--heroes often have a much larger arc than heroines in historicals. In the last few years, I've noticed a trend in these arcs towards deeply flawed heroes who ultimately transform into redeemable, lovable, capable partners by the book's end. Unlike many historicals of yore, this new breed of historical hero becomes a believable and worthy husband by book's end by acknowledging and overcoming his shortcomings rather than merely bending heroine to his will or overcoming her good senses with sensual overload. However, what I find truly fascinating is how dark some of these heroes start out now, even in the "lighter" regency subgenre, and how authors aren't shying away from giving these heroes true character flaws and bad choices rather than just a domineering personality.
Instead, I see a trend towards heroes who begin the book truly in the wrong. These are heroes who have messed up their lives in big ways. These heroes have often intentionally hurt those around them, giving them an edge of cruelty. It's a very fine line that these authors tread with these new heroes, and I absolutely applaud those who are doing it so successfully--Sabrina Jefferies, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, and Sherry Thomas have all wowed me with their recent releases. The key appears to be the completeness of the hero's journey--does he truly sink down and wallow in his wrongness? Does he get the chance to make up for past mistakes and go one step further? Is he redeemed merely by his passion for the heroine or does he undergo a fundamental shift in world view? It is this shift, this tilting of the axis of hero's world that keeps me reading.
For me, the take away lesson from this trend is yet more reinforcing of the hard work we must force our characters to do. The deeply flawed hero only really works when he is the one who changes, not when others step in and rescue him. Further, the worst of the character flaws seem to work the best when they are coupled with a deep secret that has the power to change everything hero has ever believed true about himself--true world view shifting. This comes back to motivation--irredeemable actions become understandable (if not forgivable) when properly motivated by things beyond the control of hero or by a tortured past. Heroes who are cruel for the sake cruelty are so 1987, but heroes who have done terrible things as part of believable backstory are the backbone of the continued upswing of the historical genre. These heroes have to open a vein and bleed before they are worthy of heroine, and the talented authors who craft them force them to do just that.
What I find truly intriguing as part of this trend is how my acceptance, and indeed, love of dark heroes is growing. I used to prefer my heroes a little less complicated, but I now find that I crave complexity. Now, my question for you today is how dark do you like heroes? Do you have trouble forcing yourself to be cruel enough to the heroes of your own stories? How hard do you make them work to redeem themselves? Also, who is your all-time favorite dark hero(es)?