Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Turning a Villain into a Hero

I've just started reading How to School Your Scoundrel by Juliana Gray. It is the third of her Princess in Hiding books, featuring heroines disguised as men. This is a tried-and-true romance trope, and I began to tire of it after the second book. I was intrigued by this novel, however, because it uses another plot device that is done far less often -- making a villain from a past book into the hero.

That is not to say that the idea is new. It has been done often enough, but it is rarely done well. Often, the character seems to undergo a personality transplant between books. I am curious to see how Gray handles it. So far, she seems to be implying that the characters in A Gentleman Never Tells were mistaken in their perceptions as to the depths of the Earl of Somerton's villainy.

The possible appeal of rehabilitating a hero is obvious. Many women are attracted to bad boys, with the belief that the love of a good woman can save him. I happen to agree with advice columnist Margo Howard, who is fond of saying "Women are not reform schools."  However, the rehabilitation of a villain is the logical next step after rehabilitating a damaged hero.

The damaged hero trope became very popular in the 1990s, largely thanks to the works of Laura Kinsale. She is a master at writing about damaged but redeemable heroes. My personal favorites from her are Flowers from the Storm and Seize the Fire. She eventually took the next step and wrote Shadowheart, which features a brutal medieval villain from her previous romance For My Lady's Heart. I loved FMLH, but I have avoided reading Shadowheart because the description of the plot turned me off. There was a time when I read romances about women being forced to marry their captors, but that trope has long since lost its appeal for me.

On the other hand, I loved Loretta Chase's Captives of the Night, featuring a brutal assassin from The Lion's Daughter as the hero. However, TLD is one of the few novels by Chase that I haven't read (by the time I became interested in her back catalog, that one was out of print, and I'm too frugal to pay collectors' prices for paperbacks). I wonder if I would love the Comte d'Esmond so much if I had gotten to know him as a villain first. Of course, he has that James Bond thing going on (he is equally skilled as an assassin, a spy and a lover), so I might.

I am looking forward to learning whether I can appreciate a hero whom I first encountered as a villain.

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