Monday, December 3, 2007

Why I Love the Dark Heroes

I just finished reading Karen Marie Moning's Bloodfever. This author normally writes paranormal romances, and while I find her to be extremely over-the-top--the first novel of hers I read had the heroine breaking into the hero's home and hiding under his bed, among giant-sized condom wrappers, when he came home--I also find her writing to be oddly compelling and extremely sexy. I think, despite the camp, she absolutely nails her heroes. She gives them just the right amount of darkness and danger--which is quite a bit more than political correctness would think--without making them irredeemable.

Her Fever series--which has two books so far but I hear is supposed to have six or seven by the time it's through--isn't really romance; it's more like fantasy with a touch of romance thrown in. And despite that, I think it's much more erotic and compelling than her more run-of-the-mill romances. The erotic tension is building over a span of novels, not just one--and there's much more room for character development and growth. In the first book, the hero and heroine kiss once, sort of by accident--and in the second one, they're still not on a first name basis. And yet despite all the formality, there's an extremely hot sexual charge that's vibrating just below the surface.

The hero of the Fever series is much darker and less warm than other heroes I've met in her books; he's a true bad-ass without much of a "save-the-kitten" factor. Towards the end of the book, in a rare tender moment, he touches the heroine's face. The heroine says that "Being touched in kindness [by the hero] makes you feel like the absolute most special person in the world. It's like walking up to the biggest, most powerful lion in the jungle, kneeling and putting your head between its jaws. Instead of taking your life, it licks you and begins to purr."

I read that sentence and I had this weird moment of epiphany. I thought, she gets it. This author really GETS it.

Ever since I read my first romance novel, I've been most attracted to fictional heroes like this--scary, dangerous guys who have the power to be very nasty, but instead treat the heroine with kindness. The point isn't the kindness. The point is that they could be unkind. The more dangerous these heroes were to others in the story, the more their later kindness toward the heroine seemed like an incredible gift. The more special she is for bringing out tender feelings in him.

I wasn't sure exactly what this feeling was when I was younger--I just knew that the scarier the guy was, the more I liked him, for some odd, inexplicable reason. And I didn't understand why I felt the same way into adulthood--despite the fact that I'm an intelligent, college-educated woman who is passionate about women's rights and believes in equality and decency in relationships. But there are lots of reasons why we love those dark, scary heroes--the less politically correct, the better--that shouldn't leave us feeling too guilty. Here are just a few.

That passion is irresistible. Those bad guys are ruthless. They want what they want, and they don't stop at anything to get it. And when what they want is us--uh, I mean the heroine--that's absolutely irresistible. Every woman wants to be desired; there's no female on the planet who doesn't get a little shiver of delight at the thought that a guy braved rain, cold, snow, an angry boss, or maybe a whole army to be with her. And a bad guy is less likely to follow the rules, play nice and be fair in his quest to get what he wants--including the love of the heroine. It might not be politically correct, but it's enough to make any woman feel loved and wanted.

The heroine who can make a bad guy love her is special. Moning said it perfectly when she put it in terms of lions and jungles. When you can make the baddest, meanest, scariest creature in the jungle roll over and purr, you must be something special. He'll rip the throat out of anyone else that comes near--but for the heroine, he's all snuggles. That's sure to make any woman feel pretty amazing about herself.

It's wrong and we know it. Let's face it--we're not supposed to like these guys. We're supposed to like the clean-cut, hardworking guys who are sweet and funny and decent. And that's exactly why the dark hero is so attractive. He's not a tame, ideal husband you can bring home to mom and dad. He's the personification of our deepest, darkest desires--the ones we'd rather mom and dad never knew we had. The dark hero is the personification of freedom and wildness--the antithesis of civility. His very nature is illicit. What's wrong and illicit is always incredibly tempting--just because we're not supposed to want it.

So if you love the bad guys, don't worry. You're in good company--no hero sells more books than the alpha male. It doesn't mean you're doomed to fall for the wrong guy all the time or that you have some sort of weird masochistic tendencies. It just means that you want it all. You want wildness, freedom, excitement--and love and stability. In real life, this combination never happens--they're mutually exclusive. But in fiction, we can have our cake and eat it too. That's why my favorite scary, dangerous guys are fictional.

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