As an avid romance reader, there are times when I come across a hero or heroine that I wish would be run over by a car or horse carriage (depending on the time period). I normally like this author, but in reading her books, I recently came across two of the most unsympathetic and insufferable characters I’ve had the displeasure to read about recently.
The Darkest Heart is an older novel by Brenda Joyce. I was mostly excited to read this book because it is the story of how the parents of a hero in one of my favorite historical romances, Shozkay Savage of The Fires of Paradise, fell in love. I recommend that book wholeheartedly, but The Darkest Heart is an altogether different case.
The Darkest Heart tells the story of Jack Savage and Candice Carter set to the backdrop of the western frontier. He’s a half Native-American, wandering loner, and she’s the blonde, blue-eyed spoiled beauty of her family. I’m going to put it out there now: I hated hated HATED Candice. She wasn’t much of a heroine, making so many too-stupid-to-live decisions on top of being selfish and immature in general. She was constantly lying to cover up her stupidity, while continuing to do ridiculous and impulsive things. The hero states at the end of the book that she had grown from being selfish and impulsive, but it wasn’t in any way that I saw. I kept reading this book thinking Jack deserved better than Candice. My palm itched to reach through my Kindle to smack her. That’s not a good sign for a romance book.
One of the main issues I had with her behavior I can’t reveal without spoiling something for those who haven’t read The Fires of Paradise already, but her ongoing ill treatment of another and Jack’s passive support due to Candice’s influence was not okay. I like my protagonists to be more mature emotionally and more considerate in spirit. I didn’t find Candice interesting as a character—certainly not one that men would fight over—nor generous. Her two traits seemed to be beauty and stubbornness. It was frustrating to have a central figure who was so unappealing. In the end, I was disappointed. I wanted to fall in love with Shozkay’s parents’ story. I wanted more, I was left wishing I’d never read The Darkest Heart because it left such a sour taste in my mouth. Still, as horrible as I find Candice, she’s got nothing on the supposed hero of The Promise.
Alexi de Warenne is the illegitimate son of Cliff de Warrene, the hero of another Joyce book, A Lady at Last. Raised by his father and accepted by his father’s family, he doesn’t grow up with the stigma of his birth and is afforded many opportunities in life. Elysse O’Neill is the child of the main protagonists of Joyce’s book The Prize. She and Alexi grew up together, due to their respective fathers being step-brothers and he played the role of her protector. As they mature, Elysse realizes her feelings for Alexi aren’t platonic, and she sets about flirting with an old buddy of his in order to make Alexi jealous and pay attention to her. Things do not go as planned and the end result is marriage between Alexi and Elysse. Due to his own issues regarding events leading to their marriage, Alexi runs off soon after the nuptials. He proceeds to spend the next six years away from his wife. Now what follows upon his return home is nothing short of baffling douchebaggery from Alexi.
Elysse spends much of her time with a male friend or her family. She’s no longer the spirited young girl who started the ball rolling of a tragic event. She’s matured and had the ability to reflect on her own mistakes quite well. Not that Alexi would notice this. Oh, no. He still blames her for her adolescent impulsiveness very harshly, harping on her behavior at every turn, whether true or imagined, calling her demeaning names when she spends time—mostly innocently—with a male friend, while he’s spent the past six years being unfaithful to her. This is the first romance book I can ever recall reading where I wanted the heroine not only to cheat on the hero but end up with a completely different character because the hero didn’t deserve her love for him. Alexi was awful. There was nothing I found redeeming about him. I found his hypocrisy, infidelities, and demeaning manner toward Elysse uncomfortable to read and constantly made me question why I should be rooting for an HEA between this fool and Elysse.
When the book ended, it was all I could do to not write a scathing review on Amazon that the book wasn’t a romance because that would require a modicum of love between the characters to show. All I could think was “Run, Elysse, run” when it came to Alexi. Worst of all, so many things that were wrong between them could have been cleared up with a fifteen-minute adult discussion. That the self-righteous jerk hero spent six years behaving like an entitled, hypocritical brat easily has him as one of my top five worst heroes ever.
Now that I’ve gotten out two of my worst protagonists ever, have any of you read a romance novel where you could not stand either the hero or heroine?
Miss_D has been reading romance books for over 25 years. A native Californian making her way in the Big Apple, she likes to spend her downtime relaxing in front of the TV, chatting with friends, sitting in Central Park and playing beach volleyball. Miss D can be reached via Twitter @bonobochick.