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Tag Archives: tortured heroines

romeojulietThis is the advice Friar Lawrence gives Romeo and Juliet: “Therefore love moderately; long love doth so.”  It sounds kind of stingy, as if you have to dole out your love a little at a time or you’ll run out.

I guess his point really is that Romeo and Juliet’s level of drama is leading them into trouble. When writing romance, we want to tap into that sort of intensity. But just as the idea of reforming a rake is dangerously close to the unrealistic fantasies some women have of fixing an abusive lover, the idea of not being able to live without someone comes close to unhealthy obsession.

These tropes are edgy; maybe that’s why they’re so powerful.

So on one hand we have powerful emotion combined with the immature prefrontal cortex development of teenagers.  It’s great for tragedy, but not for the happy ending we want in a romance novel.

On the other hand, there are mature characters who could live without each other, if need be. Is there a loss of emotional intensity?

I don’t really think so. I think we can still feel the love, even while admiring the strength of characters who move on despite their heartache.

But sometimes there is a powerful need that makes it all work. Laura Kinsale creates characters so scarred that my fellow Kinsale fans and I joke they would need years of therapy in real life. It’s not weakness to need help healing from major trauma. So it’s intense and satisfying that the hero or heroine can help the other.

But to keep it from edging into codependency, I want to know that at some point, near the end of the story or at some point beyond, the wounded one will be strong, too. I want to know he or she would eventually live a happy life even if the other were killed in a carriage accident.

Although romance writers don’t do that at the end of the story, however much they might be tempted in the often-frustrating middle.

What do you think?


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?


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