perrybrand I’d be wary if one of my friends started dating a guy with a shady rep. Yeah, everyone deserves a second chance, but that doesn’t mean I want to test that myself, or have one of my friends be the ones to see if a jerk has reformed. At the same time, I love redemption stories. I think seeing a dark character get turned around by love is one of the best characterizations and plots an author can create (at least when it’s done right). This is why The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my favorite novels: the quiet and non-violent Lucy wins over the dark and revenge-focused Simon. It’s a story that will always be at the top of my list, even if in real life I would probably have warned Lucy away from him.

So I was intrigued by Rolling Stone’s cover article profiling Russell Brand, the controversial British comedian and actor that’s currently starring in Get Him to the Greek and is engaged to singer Katy Perry. I’m not a fan of his comedy and never have been, but the article about his life fascinated me. A former sex addict, heroin addict, cutter, bulimic, and sexual abuse victim, he has his fair share of demons. He hasn’t cleaned up his act entirely, but for someone who professes to have slept with over 2,000 women — sometimes five or six a day — to be marrying Katy with her parents’ blessing (both her parents are ministers) is nothing short of remarkable.

So many romance heroes are man-whores who revel in casual sex. They repent, find their true love, and we know, as readers, that they will never stray from their heroines. It wouldn’t be a HEA if we, even for a second, doubted his fidelity. But my coworker, who also read the article, summed the Russell-Katy situation up perfectly: “It must be so, so scary to marry someone like that.”

Fear is usually not the dominant emotion going into a healthy wedding. Katy must have found something in him to trust to commit to her, but it is damn scary to enter into a relationship with someone who has never been faithful in the past and has been with more women than would fit in a large auditorium. Because in real life, unlike our romance novels, there’s no guarantee.

I’ve never been in the position to decide to trust someone against all odds, so I don’t know what it takes to make that leap of faith. Perhaps part of my love of redemption stories is that it explores this element of relationships, examines what can connect two people and make one risk everything to be with someone who doesn’t have the best resume. In With a Twist, a book by Dierdre Martin that I reviewed last year, biggest reason I gave the book a C- grade was because I didn’t believe the hero had changed his ways; he gave neither the heroine nor the reader any incentive to believe his priorities had shifted to the heroine.

So what is it that gives us that incentive, either as readers or women? I’d be interested in hearing your opinions in the comments– what books have done this development well and what works or doesn’t work for you. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eye on Katy Perry and Russell Brand. Chances are, they won’t last; given his history and the high-pressure microcosm that is Hollywood relationships, the odds are against them. But you never know. Maybe he truly has reformed.

– Jane Granville