I just discovered that Goodreads has a tortured heroes section — two in fact. Popular Tortured Hero Books, and the Tortured Hero Shelf. Meanwhile, All About Romance has a Tortured Heroes page that began in 1996!
You’ll see a lot of repeat books/authors on these lists, with books I happen to lurv. Which leads me to suggest: aren’t tortured heroes their own romance sub-category/brand? I think so. Here are five top reasons why we love tortured heroes:
1) He’s Cursed. Curses suck. They can be painful, they can repeat daily/nightly/monthly — wherein the hero becomes the shameful opposite of what he wants to be. See Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series for variations on this. What you basically have here is male subjugation. It’s hot.
2) He’s Cursed–for All Eternity. The hero has gotta believe he’s in a mess he just can’t get out of. Ever. Which is pretty bleak and grim, but it also means that this kind of hero is not Mr. Cool. You don’t play games with people if you’re suffering badly. So for the heroine, once you get past the messy, there the hero is at his raw, most elemental, vulnerable core. No games. An easy win.
Also, when he interacts with the heroine and she can provide him some sweet balm from his cursed, tortured life–it’s really really important to him. She quickly becomes the focus of his attention–his gratitude.
Or as he’s tromping around in the dark pits of Hades and he has to rescue her, and she becomes a total butt pain –but he’s used to pain. So he can stand it–after all–what else has he got to do except be tortured? He can expend great excruciating amounts of effort on her behalf to keep her safe. Even if he’s reluctant to get involved. Which is hot.
3) Mr. Messy, Messy, Messy. Kresley Cole’s books are on all these lists. The last book I read of hers had a hero who was just insane. Like insane in the membrane. Not only that he was ripping things apart, tearing up the place, raving and swearing, etc. He was at odds with the world, so once he finally got his head straight, he had to deal with the repercussions of his past–which were that everyone wanted to kill him, and he still felt like he should kill tons of people himself. Also… *spoiler alert*……..he’s a virgin.
Really, this big hunk of messy is someone only a Kresley Cole heroine could love… And it’s a sign of her true love that the heroine is willing to take on that much baggage and help sort it out. It also shows how strong she is. But you know, he doesn’t have to be insane to be a proper tortured hero. He could be covered in scars instead, or missing body parts–just as long as he’s not a Ken doll people — okay?
Even if he is a Ken doll (I’m looking at you, Mr. Grey) the point is that there is ongoing despair in his soul, and the heroine provides symptom relief–the cessation of torment and pain. by the time the novel ends, he’s my other favorite type of hero: broody. Broody is sort of like the hangover you get after being tormented for so long.
What’s great is the heroine gets to work on making it ‘all better’ which gives her an active role to play in the book, and so she’s not the passive object.
4) Use Your Words, Man. But tortured heroes don’t. Use their words, that is. Feminists say we have to learn to talk it out with guys–negotiate for what we want sexually & expect men to express their feelings. I’m all for it.
ON THE OTHER HAND, It’s nice to escape the real world every now and then and sink into a pre-verbal relationship in the tortured hero romance novel where all the real action is happening on a primitive non-spoken emotive level. Where people are using their feeling-vibes as a kind of language with each other. This of course, leads to things get physical quickly as they progress. Words are just the cherry on top.
It’s not that they’re not communicating. They are–horizontally. I mean, isn’t this the whole point of erotic romance? It’s human-animal level of bonding first, brainiac stuff later–much much later. The head is not a happy place for your tortured hero, so it’s best to connect with other parts of him right off the bat. Besides, your ideal tall, dark, and brooding hero is not chatty. J.R. Ward made a point of this when she made one of her best heroes mute. Go J.R.! (We introverts abhor chit-chat.)
5) The tortured hero has empathy–because he’s suffered. He’s not an oblivious, uptight, entitled Alpha prick. He’s not slick. He’s not bland. He’s intense.
Who’s your favorite tortured hero? Do you like the tortured hero’s cousin, Mr. Angsty Hero?
Don’t forget to follow us at Lady Smut — and stay tuned for our post on Grigoris Drakakis, romance book cover model who knows how to play tortured to a “T”.