Note: There may be spoilers of some of the various books discussed in this column. I find A books easy to recognize: basically, everything has to go right. Fs are likewise relatively straightforward. But what about the B, C, and D books, in which something has gone wrong, but not everything? The book has a solid, if cliched, plot, but the writing is catastrophic: is that a C or a D? Can a great hero and interesting writing save an unlikeable heroine? And what if, God forbid, somebody kills a dog?
The AAR staff worked to define these elements, which I call dealbreakers. We generally agreed that dealbreakers (unlike pet peeves) must be big or repetitive, must be outliers from the general quality of the book, and are by definition personal and subjective. As Blythe wrote, “Something like ‘I can’t read books with violence against animals’ or ‘I simply won’t tolerate a book with adultery.’ The nature of the term implies that it’s something that drives you nuts but might not even bother someone else at all.”
The most common dealbreakers cited by AAR Reviewers fell into four categories: characters, writing, plot, and research.
Many reviewers listed abusive heroes as dealbreakers. Pat says, “If what he does should land him behind bars… I say put him away and don’t bother me with his story.” Rike hates the emotionally abusive hero “who constantly distrusts the heroine, and harasses her and accuses her of all sorts of wrongdoings because deep down, you know, he’s just so attracted to her…. Why should any woman with a grain of sense accept such a jerk, even in romanceland?” I agree, and add the hero who obsesses over the heroine’s fidelity. After all, if she slept with him, she must sleep with everybody! (The front desk is paging Clayton Westmoreland of Whitney, My Love…)
Yet everybody puts the line between “possessive” and “controlling” in a slightly different place, so one person’s dealbreaker is another’s sexy alpha. And Wendy once had a dealbreaker hero who wasn’t strong enough: “One of the worst books I’ve read was about the downtrodden wife of a powerful, evil nobleman falling in love with one of her servants. The hero was so helpless, bowing and scraping until it made me shudder.”
And then there’s the faithless hero. Lynn Spencer found Mary Balogh’s Dancing With Clara to be a dealbreaker because of the hero’s inability to promise to be faithful to the heroine. “I closed the book wondering when he was going to start cheating on poor Clara, and that just didn’t feel like enough of an HEA for me, even though they had gotten together at least for the time being.”
For heroines, the most-cited dealbreaker characteristic was stupidity. Pat wrote, “If she’s doing something completely stupid (from having unprotected sex with a stranger to stepping in a basket of rattlesnakes), she’s not the heroine for me.” Rike’s out if she encounters a pregnant historical heroine who refuses a marriage offer “because she loves