I have a particular love for Anne Stuart’s brand of bad boy hero; he’s generally intelligent, sarcastic, witty, and not very moral, while being utterly gorgeous. Her signature hero type is present in both her historical romances and her contemporary ones, with slight differences related mostly to setting; it’s one of the reasons I enjoy her work in more than one sub-genre.
While reading her historical romance Devil’s Waltz, I realized one of the ways Stuart makes these over-the-top heroes work: humor. In particular, the hero’s sense of humor about himself and a heroine who can prick his vanity.
“…I expect all Christian needs is the love of a good woman.“
Annelise laughed. “I’m afraid Mr. Montcalm has availed himself of the love of a great many good women….”
“You’re quite dazzling in a tawdry, ne’er-do-well sort of way,” she continued…
She’d managed to silence him. He stared at her in astonishment. “Tawdry?“ he choked.
”And who says I won’t love and cherish the little baggage? Money makes me very affectionate.“
Stuart’s humor has two aspects, though; the first is witty banter, demonstrated above. The second is a sideways humor. Stuart’s fictional voice appreciates the more over-the-top aspects of the romance genre and is not afraid to emphasize them to humorous effect, if the reader is willing to share the joke.
Rakes are exceedingly common in Romance. Rarely, however, do they turn out to be truly bad in the end. Often, they’re barely bad at all. Stuart makes sure her rakes are Serious Rakes.
“Christian Montcalm is out of the question. His reputation is notorious, and he is no sort of match for an innocent young girl like yourself,“ she said. ”I know he’s a very handsome man—I’ve seen him. He’s also a shallow, degenerate wastrel, a gambler, a seducer, a charlatan, and if even half the stories that are spread about him are true then you’d be better off dead than married to such a depraved monster.“
His actions reinforce the heroine’s opinion, while showing that his reputation is not entirely a joke. Heroes might cheat at cards in romance novels, but generally they only do so if they must, to save their ancestral estate or a woman’s honor. A Stuart rake simply…cheats sometimes.
Christian…wasn’t about to point out to Crosby that not only was he absurdly lucky when it came to cards, he was also skilled and unscrupulous enough to do something about it if the cards misbehaved.
Despite his criminal leanings, the hero earns our respect with his wittiness and cool demeanor in a crisis.
’We’ll kill him, Smitty. Can’t you see he’s just trying to distract us? Prolong the inevitable?“
”That’s delay, not prolong,“ Montcalm corrected in a polite voice. “Assuming you mean the inevitable is my gruesome death at your hands, then I’d want to delay it, not make sure the experience lasts.”
As a vocabulary geek, I couldn’t help but applaud him after that! And adding in humor to such a serious situation—three men are trying to kill him, and Montcalm does in fact kill one of them—makes it more acceptable for us to revel in his badness, because cleverness, after all, is a good trait. The best villains are always the ones who are well-dressed, witty, and, err, misunderstood. Stuart’s heroes are the same.
The true villain of the story creates a dramatic contrast. Mr. Chippie at first seems to be a self-made man, a bit rough around the edges, but with a good heart as he tries to find a titled husband for his daughter. He’s later revealed to have made his money in the slave trade. On top of that, it turns out he doesn’t love his daughter, only money and status. In comparison, Montcalm is a paragon!
Stuart makes sure we know it’s all a bit of a joke. She adds in some meta-commentary as the heroine thinks about the Gothic novel she’s reading.
And as for the villains, it was easy enough to see that those disreputable characters were by far the most interesting aspect of the books. They were Machiavellian, monstrous, charming and evil, and it was with great satisfaction that Annelise read of their bloody demise. If only the same thing could happen to the real villain in her life.
Luckily for Annelise, one of her villains turns out to be her hero!
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.