I started reading a historical romance the other day — great cover, interesting back-cover blurb, familiar author’s name. The opening scene was a nice one, setting up the backstory for the heroine. I was pretty captivated.
Until the next scene when we meet the “hero.” (In case the quotes aren’t warning enough, I use the word very, very loosely.) His behavior when he meets the heroine is so repulsive, so unheroic and so unforgivable that I put the book down and can’t make myself pick it up again.
I have a wild imagination — couldn’t have written 70 or so books if I didn’t — but I can’t imagine what that character could do to redeem himself in my eyes. And the heroine’s response to his behavior is so off the mark for me that, in the space of a few pages, I went from liking to her to thinking she was freaking nuts for not running screaming the other way.
Am I less forgiving than other readers? Maybe. After all, the author herself clearly had no problem envisioning her hero behaving this way and her heroine accepting it, and I’m guessing the editor didn’t, either. It also had a couple of good endorsements, so I’m assuming those authors read the book, too, and didn’t mind.
I don’t expect heroes to be perfect. I’ve written con men, drifters and thieves as heroes, but they all had a sense of honor, a line they wouldn’t cross. Even at their worst, they hold to that honor. Based on my introduction to this particular character, he wouldn’t know honor if it bit him on the ass. Remember the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Thanks to this hero, the book’s going on my got-better-things-to-do pile. Does he redeem himself? Don’t know. Don’t care.
I was thinking about this while walking last night. I had the iPod on and came to An Innocent Man by Billy Joel. That song resonates with me. The guy saying those lyrics — he’s prime hero material to me. If you’re not familiar with the song, check out the lyrics at the link below. You can listen to the song on this link, too.
Whaddaya think? Am I asking too much of this hero? Do characters ever do something at the start of a book that makes you toss it, or can you stick with them through anything to see how they turn out?