Do you ever find certain types of characters difficult to like? I wouldn’t say that any particular type of hero or heroine is completely a “no go” for me. I firmly believe that, in the hands of a good author, just about anything can be made to work. However, when I come across certain character types on a book blurb, the description is not going to have me clamoring to pick up the book – often because it’s something I’ve seen handled less than skillfully way too many times before.
Pirates definitely fall into that category for me. I don’t know if it’s my background of having studied European and Middle Eastern history, but nothing I know about pirates makes them terribly romantic to me. Most historical accounts I have read make them sound uneducated and brutal, and conditions onboard ship sound filthy and unappealing. While I will admit that Jennifer Ashley’s pirates worked for me, the first pirate hero I remember encountering came in Joanna Lindsey’s somewhat infamous A Pirate’s Love. If you look up “rapey ‘hero'” in the dictionary, you just might find an image of Tristan there.
Other pirate/privateer novels I read over the years tended to have similar issues. However, even among the ones that didn’t feature rapist “heroes,” I just couldn’t move beyond the difficult life of a pirate to see the story as particularly romantic. Various authors, including Meagan McKinney, wrote pirates or privateers that one could consider dashing, but Jennifer Ashley was the first author I found who managed to humanize that sort of hero and make him truly appealing.
On the heroine side, while I haven’t found too many in recent novels, I used to run across gypsy heroines in older books and I have to admit that they have yet to work for me. As any of us who cut their teeth on Barbara Cartland novels knows, Cartland had a huge interest in gypsy culture that extended to founding several gypsy camps in England. This interest seems to have extended to a hugely romanticized view of gypsies in her novels.
In Gypsy Magic, Bewitched, and other novels, Cartland featured gypsy characters in her stories. On the one hand, she does write sympathetically of them, which is probably somewhat of an advance given that she wrote many of these books in the 1960s and 1970s. However, her vision of gypsy culture seemed to play up the mysticism of it and to make them seem exotic and “Other” and ways that often make me uncomfortable as a reader. I also encountered a gypsy heroine in Deborah Martin/Sabrina Jeffries By Love Unveiled As one can tell from my AAR review, it’s pretty obvious that one didn’t work for me either. To be fair, the half-gypsy heroine in this book is not portrayed as an exotic curiosity. Some of my issues with that book stemmed instead from the fact that the author created a half-gypsy heroine whose backstory sounded downright unbelievable. Oh, and of course our gypsy lady is a healer, so maybe I take back a little of what I said on stereotyping. Unfortunately, the book was just not written well enough to make one want to believe in Marianne.
Convinced that someone out there could make a gypsy plot work, I recently read Laura London’s The Gypsy Heiress. After all, this is Laura London, author of the much-loved The Windflower, and whose writing is praised to the skies by many longtime romance readers. I have to say that The Gypsy Heiress just must not be her book. The heroine, Liza, grew up as a gypsy and now finds herself in English society. However, as a character, she’s terribly frustrating. At times she sounds like a walking textbook of gypsy lore while at others she starts lapsing into gypsy superstition in ways that feel somewhat contrived. So, I still haven’t found that winner of a gypsy book. If you know any candidates, just let me know in the comments. I know there must be at least 1 good gypsy book out there; I just haven’t found it yet.
From chatting with readers online or at conference, I get the feeling that most of us have certain types of characters that just don’t appeal to us. I’ve heard many complaints about virgin widows, I know more than a few readers who eschew books with special ops heroes, and so on. What about you? Are there any character types that you find difficult to love or that you dread seeing in a book’s description?
– Lynn Spencer