History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 May 2011

The Redemption of Antiheros

RIPE FOR PLEASURE (book one; The League of Second Sons)

by Isobel Carr
Available Now!

I’m going to be popping around the blogosphere all month with RIPE FOR PLEASURE. I did an interview on Risky Regencies last week that had some wonderful questions, and I’ve written blogs about dogs and food and clothing, topics that I don’t want to repeat here.

What I’d love to do today is talk about antiheroes. Specifically, I’m going to talk about the possibility of antiheroes as romantic heroes. I happen to love a good antihero (I’m totally team Solo!). I love their complexity. I love their depth. I love watching them grind and twist as their gut responses and their morals collide. I love discovering what motivates them, and where they draw the line. I love watching them grow.

When I was thinking about who my younger sons are, what drives them, what motivates them, I was also watching a lot of television that centers around antiheroes: Seth Bullock/Al Swearengen, Dexter Morgan, Raylan Givens/Boyd Crowder, Lucius Vorenus/Titus Pullo, Malcolm Reynolds/Jayne Cobb, Michael Westen/Sam Axe. These kind of characters abound at the moment and people love them. I find myself most strongly drawn to the ones that are just barely on the hero side of the line, but there’s a twinkle about Jayne Cobb and a secret depth to Al Swearengen that I can’t dismiss (for example, I was undone in season two of Deadwood when you discover just how attached to Jewel Al really is).

These men are complex, conflicted, driven, and often—let’s admit it—fucked up. Some are more salvageable than others. Some of them have the potential to step up and become actual heroes. And the romance writer in me can’t help but think the right girl might be a big part of that . . .

Clearly my predilection for this kind of entertainment leaked over into my series. Lord Leonidas Vaughn, younger son of a duke and hero of RIPE FOR PLEASURE certainly starts out in this vein. If the Thicky Prince and Bertie Wooster are “of the linage of Turnip”, then Leo (and many of the other League members) are “of the linage of Bullock” (funny how the farm references just seem to be ruling the day). Leo’s after a lost treasure. He knows where it might be, he knows that the person sitting on top of it is unaware of its existence, and he’s has no intention of sharing it. He’s not a bad man. He won’t hurt people to get what he wants. But he has no problem using them, lying to them, charming them, deceiving them (in other words, doing all the things younger siblings often do to get their way, at least in my experience as the eldest who was always on the receiving end of my siblings’ machinations).

Where it gets sticky is the redemption of all this bad boy behavior. How much groveling does he have to do? What lengths does he have to go to in order to make it right? It’s tricky. Will all readers buy into the redemption of an antihero? I don’t know. But two things make me believe they will. First, there has always been a willingness in large parts of the romance community to forgive a hero almost anything (even up to and including forced seduction/rape), and second, I bet that at least one of the boys on my list of antiheroes is the kind of scoundrel you’d forgive almost anything.

So what do you all think? Can such a thing as an antihero-hero exist?

Future Blogs:
May 4th: Romantic Times Blog (Mastiffs: history and talking about mine)
May 18th: Borders Blog (Hands-on Research: Lemon Cheesecakes)
May 26th: Unusual Historicals (Interview)


Blogger Victoria Janssen said...

I'll find out pretty soon! I pre-ordered this one!

6:27 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

So far I'm hearing from a lot of readers who clearly don't have a problem with Leo's "anthihero-hero" status, but at least one reviewer certainly did . . .

9:13 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Isobel, and it makes me even more eager to read "Ripe for Pleasure." I enjoy anti-heroes (I love stories about people turning their lives around), though I realize I don't tend to write them.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Meg McNulty said...

I love an antihero. Sheridan Drake in Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire is the perfect example of a lying, cheating, swindling thief who acts heroically despite his evil intentions. Sigh. Love them! Can't wait to read about Leo!

11:28 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Well, Tracy, your books are also part of what inspires me to push and write darker, more conflicted characters, so I guess I should add you to the list, LOL!

THE LEAGUE OF SECOND SONS contains a lot of characters that have issues, bad pasts, shit to live down or get over . . . I really think I’m doing something sort of unusual with these characters and this series (at least for my subgenre), but not all readers/reviewers seem to agree. I've seen one review that said same-old/same-old, and boy did I hate the hero. I was a bit perplexed by the response, since the reasons she disliked the hero were part of what I think are very different and rather edgy about the book. *shrug* I didn’t want to be an author behaving badly on the site, but I did want to discuss the issue, so I brought it over here to my own sand box.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Can't guarantee Leo will live up to Drake, but I hope you like him too.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I, of course, am all for anti-heroes and the heroines tough and smart enough to take them on. I loved Leo. And RIPE FOR PLEASURE.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Thanks, Pam (you write books that I think of as outside the box in the BEST way possible).

12:51 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Isobel, I'm honored :-). I love characters with baggage and pasts to live down and mine inevitably have lots of baggage. I think I tend give the more questionable actions to the heroines, though. That's definitely true of Mélanie/Suzanne and also of the heroine in the new secondary couple in the book I just finished. Thinking back to my earlier books, I think only a couple of the heroes could be called anti-heroes. I love reading/watching stories about anti-heroes though (Han Solo was one of my first movie crushes). But for me the be engaged by the character they need to (by the end of the story at least) care about something beyond themselves (and beyond their love interest). Rick in Casablanca being a classic example. If they're too self-centered, I not only find them unsympathetic, I tend to find them a bit dull.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isobel, I love antiheros and I totally bought the book because of that review (just got it today, haven't had a chance to read yet.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Oh, my heroines haven't been the nicest girls either (as you well know, Tracy, since you helped me plan a couple of them, LOL). I honestly thought I catch more crap for my unrepentant courtesan than my lying hero though.

@rosalux: I guess it's true what they say about there being no bad reviews, LOL!

5:35 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I know, it seems like usually heroes can get away with a lot more behavior of the "anti" sort than heroines :-).

I did a blog about anti-heroines a while ago, and one thing that was debated in the comments, and that I find interesting is what exactly makes an anti-hero (or heroine). Is it the behavior or the motives? For instance, Francis Crawford of Lymond does all sorts of seemingly horrible things, and yet he inevitably proves to have done so for the noblest of motives. Is he an anti-hero? Or is an anti-hero someone who acts out of selfish motives and doesn't consider anyone else. Both Han Solo and Rick Blaine claim to only be out for themselves fairly early in their respective stories. And yet neither of them does anything remotely approaching Lymond's actions. Not sure what I think myself, and I've heard the anti-hero definition used both ways.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I think there's a difference between the antihero and the antihero-hero. Raylan Givens (AHH) is trying to do the right thing, but he’s got anger issues and he’s willing to bend the “rules” to get things done. Boyd Crowder (AH) has principals and people he cares about, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, he likes to get drunk and blow shit up (and make a little money while he’s doing it).

Malcolm Renoylds (AHH) is an alienated man of honor just trying to get by. Jayne Cobb (AH) is a merc with occasional flashes of loyalty.

Lymond is an AHH.

When I think about antiheroines (and antiheroine-heroines), I have a couple of benchmark women: Lady Barbara from An Infamous Army and Damaris from Jo Beverley’s A Most Unsuitable Man. I really loathed Damaris in Winter Fire and was stunned when I saw she was the heroine of the next book. I simply couldn’t imagine how Damaris could be redeemed, but I’ll be damned if Beverley didn’t do just that.

Personally, I think antiheroine-heroines are harder to get away with simply because generally women are harder on other women than they are on men and for the most part, women are more forgiving of wrongs and slights by a loved one than men tend to be (when the hero grovels, we *get* why the heroine forgives him; the reverse isn’t always true; I know I’m prone to thinking Nope, she’s not good enough for you!).

8:25 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great distinction between antiheroes and antihero heroes. Then there's someone like Don Draper, who has principles of a sort and is remarkably loyal to some of the people in his life, but seems to have no concept of romantic fidelity (or no ability to be faithful). I actually think Don is antihero hero because he does have a moral center.

I agree that antiheroines are harder to get away with. Not only because people seem to be harder on female characters, but because society (historically and in many ways still today) is harder on women who transgress the rules. On the other hand, I think I tend to sometimes have a harder time forgiving heroes than heroines (perhaps because, in historical settings, the deck seems to be more stacked against the heroines so I find it easier to understand acting out). Barbara Childe is one of my favorite heroines. I haven't read A Most Unsuitable Man. I'll put it on my TBR list.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

You have to read Winter Fire first if you haven't already, because it sets up the hero and heroine of A Most Unsuitable Man.

And yeah, Don Draper is another one (see TV filled with them!). Almost everyone on Mad Men is an antihero/ine though. Joan. OMG, it's all about Joan for me (who was part of the inspiration for the heroine of Ripe for Pleasure actually).

1:11 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I haven't read Winter Fire either, so I'll put both TBR.

One of the things I love about Mad Men is how all the characters are flawed and yet all of them have sympathetic moments. It's such a fabulously nuanced show. Very cool Joan is part of the inspiration for your heroine. I'll definitely keep that in mind when I read Ripe for Pleasure.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I totally think Joan has a smart, worldly, modern-day courtesan vibe about her. And Christina Hendricks’s body is to DIE for!!! I was looking at the pics from the Costume Institute Benefit Gala on the Daily Mail, and all I could think was Yeah, I’d kill for curves like Christian Hendrick or Salma Hayek. They blow the lollypop heads out of the water!

2:02 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

And the Mad Men clothes are so fun!

4:50 PM  
Blogger happybkwrm said...

Hi, Tracy; Ms. Carr! I'm JMM!

Heroines definitely have it harder than the hero - I've seen heroines castigated (by the readers and other characters) for simply being practical enough not to want to marry the stableboy/gardener! (Who is secretly a Duke, of course)

So, how unrepentent is this heroine? I love courtesan/mistress heroines. Sleeping Beauty and Your Scandalous Ways are two of my favorites.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for posting, JMM! I'll let Isobel answer about her character as I haven't read the book yet, but in general she writes great (and quite unrepentant!) heroines.

12:34 AM  
Blogger happybkwrm said...

One thing I really enjoyed is that there was no "Deux Ex Machina" swooping in to take care of the villain so the hero and heroine could have everything all peachy-keen. The villain didn't reform so everything was sweetness and light. He had to be faced and fought. AND he was pretty realistic. Not a Evil SuperVillain.

I loved the fact that the heroine was practical; no tearful, "I'm all SOILED!" She did what she had to do; no shame for it.

I did like the hero; although he was out for himself, he didn't toss the heroine to the wolves.

11:04 AM  

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