Historical Romance Deal Breaker #12: Excessively Cruel Heroes/Heroines

This is the last of the series of what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. 

In my next post I plan to explore why it is that some of my favorite books are guilty of breaking some of my most heinous rules. Why can some authors get away with it and others not? The author in me wants to know!

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

As fond as I am of happy endings, they have to be convincing happy endings. And although it’s natural for couples to quarrel and subsequently reconcile, I agree with my friend, author Selene Grace Silver, that in cases where a couple has parted due to betrayal or excessive cruelty on the part of one or both, it’s difficult to believe that such a thing would not occur again. It would require a great deal of groveling on the part of the guilty party to satisfy me.

Do such things happen in real life? Of course. But even Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor couldn’t make it work the second time, no matter how much they loved each other. It would be nice if love were enough to ensure a happy ending, but alas, it is not. There has to be trust. And true forgiveness. And whatever separated them the first time needs to be dealt with, whether it be alcoholism or infidelity or out-of-control anger.

Some examples I’ve run into in historical novels:

  • A hero discovers on his wedding night that his wife is not a virgin and repudiates her publicly without allowing her a chance to explain. Hypocritical judge and jury.
  • A hero suspects his wife of sleeping with his best friend, so he divorces her and leaves her penniless. She is forced to marry the best friend to give her child  (the hero’s since she never did commit adultery) a home. Then the hero finds out the child is his and wants her back. (Shaking my head in disgust at this one.) Loser.
  • A husband who has been estranged from his wife decides she needs to give him an heir and forces her to live with him; however, she has to sleep in the nursery because he shares the master bedroom with his mistress. No kidding. Jerk.
What do you think? What examples have you found of excessively cruel heroines? I confess the more memorable ones for me involve cruel heroes.
*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.

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