Amanda’s Monday post on heroes got me thinking about the appeal of the tortured hero. A dark hero can be a bit scary, and it’s been proven that fear triggers a lot of the same responses as sexual arousal. Edgy can be sexy. But how edgy is too edgy? Sometimes tortured hero stories are said to tap into the unhealthy hope some women have that they can change their abusive husbands. But I think that’s when the fantasy is taken too far.

A good tortured hero wants to be well, and gradually he allows the heroine to get close enough to help him. I think this is the real reason readers love tortured heroes. It’s exciting to identify with the heroines whose love has such power.

But what I really wanted to blog about today is tortured heroines.

Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Margot from PETALS IN THE STORM, by Mary Jo Putney. Gang-raped by a group of men who just killed her father—how much more tortured can you get? Of course, the hero, Rafe, is tortured too (Mary Jo Putney never lets any of her characters off lightly!) but in the end it’s his love that heals Margot.

Frances from ILLUSION, by Jean Ross Ewing (now writing as Julia Ross). While in India, her father is killed and she is taken captive and trained to serve as a concubine. She is drawn into intrigue with spy hero Nigel (also quite tortured), and has to rediscover her identity and her place in England again.

Melanthe from FOR MY LADY’S HEART, by Laura Kinsale. She cloaks herself in evil, as a way of protecting herself and those she cares for. The beauty of this story is how Ruck (one of Amanda’s favorite heroes, I noticed) loves her even before he learns the truth about her.

Stories like these help us imagine ourselves being loved and healed as these heroines are loved and healed.

I know they worked for other readers as well, since all these books have gotten some great reviews, along with 4-5 star customer reviews in places like However, some readers hated these books and complained they were not as good as others (the more hero-centered ones) by the same authors. Some explicitly said things like the heroines should get over themselves. One even wondered why Margot was hesitant about sex with Rafe.

I can only guess at the reasons. Maybe these readers don’t have the life experiences to relate to a tortured heroine. (But there’s nothing that awful in my past, either.) Or maybe the notion of needing healing is frightening?

Any other favorite heroines, tortured or otherwise?