May 11 2012 1:00pm

No, Really...I’m Supposed to Root for That Character?!?: Unsympathetic Protagonists from Brenda Joyce

The Darkest Heart by Brenda JoyceAs 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.

The Promise by Brenda Joyce 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.

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1. KateNagy
Hee! Great topic. I found that The Vampire Diaries' Elena (book version; I've never seen the show) had no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, but all the boys loved her. Hmmm...

For Exhibit B, I offer you L.L. Foster's Servant trilogy -- I've only read one of the books because the heroine, Gabrielle, was so off-putting to me -- rude, coarse, mean, miserable, and just an all-around jerk. Yet everyone told her how wonderful and special she was. Special, maybe, but a jerk nevertheless.

Finally, there's my go-to Book To Complain About, Feehan's Dark Prince, which is a two-fer: spineless heroine meets overbearing alpha hero. Couldn't cope with either one of them.
2. Tammy J. Palmer
I don't have a specific heroine in mind, but I do get tired of the klutzy heroine who is constantly maiming the hero in some way. Ditto for the heroine's best friend/roommate being a supermodel type who walks around the house in a thong, making the heroine feel inferior. Who does that?
Vanessa Ouadi
3. Lafka
Funny coincidence, I just read a novella today (Second chances, by Kristie Leigh Maguire) and had myself thinking the exact same thing as you, Miss_D : why on earth would I want an happy ending between this hero and this heroine? O_o
The H basically dumped his 10-years-long-girlfriend because he finds her ordinary compared to the girl he just met in a bar, married the said girl, and then came back to the heroine after the bride dumped him 2 months later _ all the while being rude to nearly every one for his own stupidness. And the heroine is not much better, wanting the hero back (or not... or back... and so on for 75 pages) because every one in town has always expected them to get married (yes, she also mentions loving him, but quite frankly that's not the main element emphasised through the book).

It doesn't happen very often, but I really dislike romances where the heroine is being a huge pushover (I call them doormat heroines) and the hero is just a colossal A-hole.
Glass Slipper
4. GlassSlipper
I adore Kresley Cole's IAD series, but some of her heroines are absolute wretches! I'm specifically talking about Kaderin the Cold Hearted, Sabine, and Lucia the Huntress (I probably forgot someone.) I can't remember which one I loathed the most, but it was most likely Sabine. I just wanted to slap those women.

I also remember hating the heroine from The Prince of Midnight. What a cold fish. The hero was awesome! I felt so bad for him, that he was stuck with her on their journey. She was a shrew.

I remember not liking the bratty antics of the heroine in Honor's Splendor. I seem to remember her not liking how her husband's men ate at the table, so she went over and flipped the table while they were eating, and threw a hissy fit. She told them they wouldn't eat until they did it properly. She barely knew these people, because she had only recently moved in, so I thought that was very snotty of her.

It felt good to get that out! :D
5. Amanda Pizzo
The heroine I hate the most next to the whinny, low self esteem sniving Bella from Twilight is Nalini Singh's Talin, from "Mine to Possess". I ADORE Nalini Singh, she writes some of my favorite books, but I could NOT STAND Talin. She was always back anf forth, I love him, but I dont, He's just a friend, but I love him, but I dont deserve him, over and over again. She is disloyal, selfish, weak of character, and couldnt make up her damn mind if I was Talin I'd put myself out of my own misery. I wanted to reach through the pages and bitch slap her through the entire book. The only reason I even finished the book was for poor Clay, he didnt deserve such a whinny, sniveling bitchface of a heroine. He went to jail for her and she thanked him by having someone tell him she was dead, while he was still doing time. Mother trucker
Cristina P
6. krissapl
@Amanda: I respect your opinion, but maybe you shouldn't be so hateful of Talin... After all, when she had someone tell Clay she was dead, she was just a child. And I can understand her indecision. It's hard when she's so unsure of herself and wondering if Clay hates her.
It's very interesting how people respond so differently to the same character. I loved Mine to Possess. It's one of my favorites from Nalini and I reread it often. Maybe because I can relate to her feelings to some extent.
7. lenore_dreams
"Taking Shots" by Toni Aleo was AWFUL! AWWW-FUL!

Shea (the male supposed "hero")and Eli (the female damsel in supposed distress) started out cute. As the story went on, Eli became snively, whiny, crying over every damn thing that happened. Shea was defensive, always getting frustrated with Eli over anything she said or did. then one argument after another after another and Eli constantly pulling away and shea having to fight to get her back.

Also, Shea relies far, far too much on his sister to tell him what to do with his life. It's not advice, it's literally "should i date her? b/c if you say no, i won't." really? grow a pair.

Also, every other page was another "argument" between Shea and Eli. Seriously. I actually randomly skipped 50 pages ahead, read the first paragraph i came to and wooo, surprise! another argument!

Enough with the arguments! just too much. if i ever knew a couple that fought that much, i'd pray they broke up and found a good therapist to get better before they ever, EVER thought of getting involved with another person.

i was so disgusted, i stopped reading. i couldn't force myself through the far-too-many pages of that crap.

people are giving RAVE reviews at how great a "romance" Shea and Eli had. um. okay. they had hot sex...when they weren't arguing, crying, being angry at each other or when Eli wasn't trying to leave Shea and he wasn't trying to "win" her back.

romance? no thank you. V_V
Don't waste your money ladies!
Robbie Thornton
8. Button
The most unsympathetic hero I've came across is Rodrigo Ramirez in Diana Palmer's novel Fearless. He was in love with someone else and treated the heroine terribly throughout 95% of the book. He's arrogant and looks down on her because he believes her to be a poor cripple. She overhears him saying terrible, hurtful things about her. He marries and abandons her. He doesn't seem to think much of her at all until he learns shes a polished prosecutor for the DA. Then suddenly, she's good enough for him. Honestly, this book drove me crazy, not just because he was so rude, but because she took it, and took it, and took it. I was literally begging her (out loud even) to dump him. The HEA in that case was, for me more a "Happily for a couple of years till she's sick of him and runs for her life."

The heroine who put my teeth on edge was Pheobe in Reckless by Amanda Quick. This girl is more than Reckless, she's senseless. I like to call characters like her the "overly plucky" heroine. They have to be in the middle of every fray, no matter whose life they put in danger doing so. Now mind you, I normally like Amanda Quicks work, but this one missed the mark for me.
9. CrazyLady
I don't run into many protagonists that I can't stand, but I remember one from years ago who was simply too stupid to live. The heroine kidnapped the hero to stop his company from building the railroad through her community. When the hero tried to tell her that she was risking prison by kidnapping him, she was clueless. There were other things, but that was the one that stood out enough to remember for 15 years.
Tori Benson
What a great topic. I have ran into so many unlikable heroes and heroines that everyone else loves and I'm like, "WTH??"

Catherine Coulter's Devil Trilogy had 2 unlikeable heroes-and I use the term hero lightly. In both books the hero(es) kidnaps and rapes the heroine all the while claiming it's because they are so in love with them. What made book 2 funny is that the heroine is book 1's daughter so he gets brutal awakening when he realizes that what was done to his daughter is exactly what he did to his wife. It was epic. lol Especially when his wife tells him to basically shut it and get her daughter back.

Another book, can't remember title, is where the heroine kidnaps her ex, drugs him, then trys to extract his sperm so she can impregnant herself. When he comes to and confronts her, telling her that this is practically rape, she's all "boo hoo- but I just want a baby." He's angry for about 5 seconds then tells her that maybe they can try the old fashioned way. REALLY? The chick DRUGGED YOU, KIDNAPPED YOU, THEN WAS GOING TO RAPE YOU!! I was so angry I wanted to punch her and him in the face repeatedly.

Shelly Laurenston's Magnus Pack series has some of the most selfish unlikable heroines. With them it's all about , "them, them, them." I think shelly was going for strong and independant but it went way over into them being bitchy and nasty. And I don't understand it because in her other series, she has the balance perfect.
11. Miss_D
Button, I'm a fan of Diana Palmer's books & have been for many years but she can definitely sometimes cross that line where her heroes are unsympathetic/cruel in her attempt to show them as world-weary or distrusting. Then again, she can write her heroines just as eye-twitchingly irritating where their innocence/naïvité borders on pathetic or TSTL territory. =(

But back to Rodrigo... I agree that his behavior was pretty loathesome and I found it unforgivable considering it was seemingly based on snobbery from how it was written, which I don't think was the intent. I believe DP was going for showing readers Rodrigo fighting hard his feelings for Glory due to his broken heart re: Sarina as the root cause but he just came off as an entitled, arrogant unnecessarily cruel punk with no positive qualities other than being rich and multi-lingual. Rodrigo didn't bother me as much as Alexi in "The Promise" made me want him to suffer an agonizing death from a gut shot or small pox (I think he might be the worst "hero" ever I've ever read and Amazon comments seem to agree that he's pretty awful) and I think DP's got a few more "heroes" that are as bad as Rodrigo.

I think Garon Grier from DP's "Lawman" was just awful and actually worse than Rodrigo. I don't recall Garon even had a quarter of the excuse of a freshly broken heart like Rodrigo did with his craptacular behavior. I recall reading it wondering WTF was Garon's malfunction, especially considering the heroine's incredibly tragic past. Not a good sign. Matt Caldwell is another DP "hero" that needed a swift kick in the jewels, I thought, when I read his story though he wasn't quite as bad as Rodrigo or the even more dreadful Garon.
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