One of the reasons I love Laura Kinsale’s romances so much is that she isn’t afraid to write damaged heroes and integrate their difficulties into the plot and the romance itself.
The most well-known of Kinsale’s damaged heroes among romance readers is undoubtedly Jervaulx in Flowers from the Storm, a Duke and mathematician who suffers a stroke. He spends the majority of the book having nearly unsurmountable difficulty in communicating with anyone, much less his heroine, Maddy; his relatives confine him to an asylum, and it’s only after some time that Maddy is able to help free him and regain control of his estate. Even at the end of the novel, though Jervaulx is doing better, he is not magically healed; the reader knows that he and Maddy will continue to struggle with the results of his stroke for the rest of their lives:
“Sometimes the losses caught him like an unexpected slap across the face—small things stinging as hard as the bigger ones.”
But if not for the stroke, Jervaulx and Maddy would never have been able to transcend their wildly different social statuses to be together.
S.T., hero of The Prince of Midnight, was famous for his derring-do as a highwayman before an explosion left him half-deaf and suffering badly from vertigo, which hampers his ability to ride. He’s incapacitated from seasickness every time he attempts to travel on a boat. But his worst enemy is his pride; after his injuries, he’s retreated both physically and emotionally. When the heroine Leigh, herself in total emotional retreat, asks him for help, he cannot admit to his difficulties. Even after she figures out something is wrong, he remains stubborn. They both must yield just a little before they can begin to meet on an emotional level. Because their barriers are both so high, each tiny movement past those barriers becomes heart-wrenching.
He tripped on something, and his grip on her nearly pulled them both over as he swayed, a motion out of all proportion to the stumble.
He swore. She set her feet, allowing him to steady himself against her.
He straightened and let go. “Sorry,” he said in a tight voice.
Leigh reached out and caught his shirt sleeve as he took a wavering step. Without speaking, she molded his fingers around her arm again: a silent offer of support.
He stood still. Abruptly, he sheathed his sword. “I had an accident,” he said. “At times my balance isn’t—overly reliable.” He kept his eyes fixed on the ground. “Today has been . . . difficult.”
“Lean on me.”
Finally, Seize the Fire’s Sheridan Drake was a captain in the navy and is considered a hero to everyone but himself, noting “It was bloody hell being a hero.” He’s especially intriguing because his behavior is difficult to parse at first; he wants to kill a fellow officer for endangering his life, then saves all aboard, including that officer. Kinsale has said his character is based loosely on George MacDonald Fraser’s scoundrel antihero Harry Flashman.
After Sheridan’s first meeting with the heroine, Olympia, he shamelessly flatters her, then steals a valuable necklace from her, hardly a promising beginning to their romance! Tension resulting from his several betrayals of her makes their very slowly developing romance all the more difficult.
Sheridan’s amusing roguishness and impetuous actions help to hide that he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, something that only comes to the surface as the book progresses. His PTSD strongly affects his decisions, and his treatment of Olympia as well.
“Princess,” he said quietly, “if I decide to kill myself, there are a thousand ways to do it on this ship…It’s not your fault.”…”I’m not in command here…God, I can’t explain it…sometimes it seems like I am…Sometimes it seems like I’m just…losing…my mind.”
Sheridan’s PTSD, however, in the end turns out to be an essential key to saving Olympia; after she undergoes a terrible experience, they are bonded in more ways than love. It’s not a perfectly happy ending, but it’s perfect for them.
And that’s what I like most about Kinsale’s damaged heroes. No simple facial scars or dashing limps for her characters! Their injuries and illnesses, rather than being merely cosmetic, mirror difficulties in the hero and heroine’s relationship, complicate the characterizations and plots, and heighten the romantic tension. The result is an utterly enthralling emotional rollercoaster ride for the reader.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.