Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.
These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.
Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers
- Reluctant Heroes
- Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
- Cliffhanger Endings
- Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
- Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
- Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
- Promiscuous Heroines
- Contrived Endings
- Waifs and Silly Heroines
- Long Separations
- Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
- Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It
Historical Romance Deal Breaker #6: Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
A rake actually has great hero-potential: he’s done just about everything, sown his wild oats, and concluded that for him, women have only one use. Well, two, actually, since someday he’ll need an heir. But after awhile—although he might not admit it—there is a certain emptiness in his life that all the carousing he engages in doesn’t fill.
He’s finally ready to meet the heroine. And when he does, his life is never the same again.
If he has a mistress at the start, he has to get rid of her fairly quickly after he meets the heroine, and he can’t be sleeping with her or anyone else while he’s falling in love with the heroine. There can’t be any hint of emotional ties to the mistress either. He might not be aware of what’s happening to him, but there have to be indications right away that his attraction to other women is diminishing. And that his attraction to the heroine is growing, even though he may fight it with everything he has.
And while I know it’s very 21st century of me to object to gentlemen who sleep with servants, I find it icky when a powerful man uses an underling for sex, even if it’s consensual. Even if it happens before he meets the heroine; it’s just icky. And a proper hero cannot be icky.
It’s a bit different, however, if it happens when he’s an adolescent experimenting with his sexuality. A fully mature hero who has learned to control himself draws the line at taking advantage of his dependents.
Prostitutes and serving wenches, willing though they may be, also have a bit of an ick factor. Too much interaction on these lines—even before the heroine comes into play—makes me wonder about his chances of having contracted the French pox. It only takes one, after all.
And for that matter, I really like a hero who takes some precautions against siring bastards, no matter how primitive and unreliable the precautions might be. But if he does have any illegitimate children, he takes full responsibility for them.
A man who lives only for his own pleasure without any concern for the consequences is a sex addict. And sex addicts just do not make good heroes. Period.
What do you think? Am I expecting too much in my heroes? I’d love to know what you think.
*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.