Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beyond Virgins & Earls

(Image: © razzdazzstock | Dreamstime.com)
I enjoy reading historical romances.  I like the rigid social structures, the gowns, the carriages, the candle light, the propriety, and, well, the romance of it all. 

Nevertheless, as a reader, I was starting draw away from this sub-genre until I discovered some new trends. (Or, at least new-to-me trends).

You see, I was getting tired of the heroine always being a virgin and the hero always being an earl or a duke.  And, how icky is it to always have an older, experienced man find a girl who is barely old enough to have developed breasts as the most intriguing creature he has ever met?  (Okay, so that was more prevalent in earlier historical romances... but still!)

Maybe it is because it's been a long time since I've been a virgin (I can say this in public, because I'm pretty sure my mom figured out when I got married that my virginity was no longer an issue).  I can't relate to the breaching of the hymen scenes. I start to flip the pages, ho-hum. "Oh, so big" "Ouch" "Sorry"  "Oh, no, it's okay. I think I'll orgasm now." Blah, blah, blah. (I admit I have written half my stories with virginal heroines - so, really, should I throw stones?  Probably not.  But, as a reader, I'm a little bored.)

And, surely someone besides an earl or a duke was worthy of finding love in historical times. How many earls and dukes populated those eras anyway?  They couldn't ALL be earls and dukes, could they?  And, really, would all of these bright-eyed, barely-old-enough-to-read virgins be intriguing and captivating to them?  Really?  Didn't they just want a young miss to keep under their control while she birthed heirs?  They probably saved conversation for their mistresses.  And, would all the virgins be so interesting, speaking with unparalleled wit or acting like women of independent means (regardless of their situation)? 

I understand there are some things - like the whole virginity and age issues - that may be more historically correct, but sometimes fiction needs to be fiction.  Besides, what of the widows or other non-virgins?  Don't they deserve to find love?  Oh, and, does the heroine always have to have her first orgasm with the hero? (But, ahem, I see that I digress.)

Therefore, I am pleased to have discovered four series that don't quite conform to those limitations. (Warning: I've tried to not put in spoilers... but read at your own risk.)

I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth Hoyt's four-book series Legend of the Four Soldiers.  For one thing, there is only one virgin in the bunch.  Yay!  One of the heroes is an "uncivilized American."  Yay!  From what I can tell, Elizabeth Hoyt is continuing to write refreshingly new characters in her latest series, Maiden Lane, too - where one of the heroes is even a pirate come shipbuilder without later being revealed as a disgruntled, Robin Hood type duke.  (A hero in trade - shock of all shocks!). 

In Lisa Kleypas' Hathaway series, sure, there are virgins a plenty, but there is only one lord among the lot (at least in what I've read so far).  The heroes are unconventional and aren't even the typical rake, scoundrel, etc.  This freshness doesn't stop at the characters - or perhaps the characters' make the rest possible - but is further developed with dialogue, settings and plots.  Again, here are heroes who have actually had to work at something. 

In Sabrina Jeffries' The Hellions of Halstead Hall series, yes, there are lords and ladies - but they actually do something besides socialize!  One couple comes together because of their brewery endeavors.  One heroine writes novels!  And, I can't wait for the fifth book, where the hero is a Bow Street Runner!  Brilliant. You can't get much further from an earl or duke than a Bow Street Runner, can you?

In Cara Elliot’s The Circle of Sin series, the women are scholars.  Wow.  No little parlor misses there.  And, they aren’t all virgins either!  Yay! 

So, here I am, happily reading these historical romances, while I wonder how many clich├ęs I've included in (and need to weed out of) my own stories. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is the hero a perfect lover?

If romance novels are a place to escape, then of course it stands to reason the hero should be perfect and wonderful, right?  After all, who wants to escape with a dud?

According to some, the hero should be god-like in bed - almost like a pornstar without the cameras, awkward positions and intrinsic sliminess. 
Yes, the hero shall be perfect for the heroine - without the sliminess.
(Image: © Aleksas Kvedoras | Dreamstime.com)
He should last longer than any other lover.  He should be bigger.  He should be able to tease out the heroine's big "O" when no one else had ever been able to, or even if it is her first time.  He should be turned on, not off or indifferent, by any physical imperfection the heroine thinks she might have.  He is always in control.  He is an experienced, legendary lover.  He is always aware of what the heroine needs or wants or feels, even if she doesn't, and even if it is his first time. The heroine is his perfect fit and vice versa.  Their relationship outside of the bedroom may need some adjustments and growth, but when they touch everything goes forth like it has been blessed by Aphrodite. 
Indeed, the hero should be perfect. 

Except, the thing is that I don't buy that idea, because ultimately heroes are characters that are supposed to be based on living and breathing humans.  And, well, humans are not perfect. 

I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few weeks... well... since one of my critique group meetings, actually.  My hero was not a god-like pornstar, and one person concluded he was therefore "unheroic."  The other crits didn't have a problem with the scene... but this one evalutation has had me wondering - how perfect is the hero? 

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

In Elizabeth Hoyt's To Seduce A Sinner, after the first time the Melisande and Vale are in bed, she ends the scene being unsatisfied, thankful she hadn't been an innocent.  Vale was rumored to have been a wonderful lover, and he wasn't.

In JR Ward's Lover Awakened, Zsadist, the hero, is physically ill when Bella touches him. 

In JR Ward's Lover Enshrined, Phury is a virgin hero, who spills himself when they start getting busy (this happens more than once). 

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I liked those stories.  I like that the hero could be overwhelmed by the heroine.  I like that he isn't alway in control with her.  I like it because, in my opinion, not every hero can or should have superpowers in the bedroom every single time.