Monday, November 30, 2009

The Overtortured Tortured Hero

I love a good tortured hero - I think anyone who visits here with any kind of regularity has been able to figure that out *g*. When I think back on my favourite books and what they might have in common, probably 90% of them feature a hero who has been tortured in one way or another:
  • Derek Craven - born of a prostitute, lived a horrid life including many nasty jobs; chimney sweep, resurectionist etc.
  • Gabriel St. Croix - sold to a Parisian brothel when he was just a young boy and used by both men and women.
  • Johnny Harris - sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit, raped while he was there and before that, beaten by his father and abandoned by his mother.
  • Lord Ian MacKenzie - delivered to an insane asylum when he was young and witnessed his father killing his mother, whereupon he underwent horrible abuses.
  • Conor's Way - watched his family starve to death in Ireland, he came to America and earned his way as a boxer until he was beaten nearly to death for not throwing a fight.
  • Branden Kel Paton who was painfully turned into half machine and forced to live his life watching his every thought and loving a woman from afar.
  • And many more.....
EEEK - I had to edit - I remembered another one *smacking my head that I forgot him*
  • Nicholas Kenleigh who was captured and tortured and left with terrible scars and a feeling of overwhelming guilt over surviving.
I could go on, but you get the picture. So I can't be accused of not liking this kind of hero. But even I, yes I, who loves this kind of hero, have my limits. I've started reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's revised and reissued futuristic series, and after a bit of a rocky start with the first one, and putting it down until the reading mojo came back, I've been enjoying it quite a bit. It's the first Kenyon I've read for a while - I gave up up for a couple of reasons. The first reason is I found way too much sequel bait in her books and the second - the Overtortured Tortured Hero. It got to the point in the Dark Hunter series where I just couldn't take any more reading of the overwhelmingly horrendous things she put her heroes through.

The book I'm reading now; Born of Night, I'm quite enjoying it and will have a review up once I'm done, but My Word, she's thrown everything in but the kitchen sink as far as torture is concerned. Here's just a sample of what she's put the poor guy through
  • He wore a leather mask for the first part of his life and he had worn it for so long, it grew into his skin and then it was ripped right off his face.
  • He had his finger nails ripped out and as if that weren't enough, they were then dipped in acid so they wouldn't grow back
  • His mother threw him away and he spent his formative years in an orphanage
  • He had to drink out of a toilet - because the people who looked after him considered him an animal
  • He was constantly beaten and had many a bone broken
  • He had to wear a 'collar' that could inflict and control pain
  • He was thrown into a cell when just a young lad with rapists and pedophiles

And those are just some of the things he's gone through!! When an author writes a hero this tortured, I can't help but think he'd more likely be a sociopathic criminal instead of just a poor misunderstood guy just looking for the right woman to make him a warm and cuddly teddy bear.

As I said, I think Sherrilyn Kenyon is the author who writes the most overtortured tortured heroes. I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Stacy of Stacy's Place on Earth did a recent review of Fantasy Lover and made this comment:

Having already read several books in this series, I've already noticed that Sherrilyn Kenyon tends to make her heroes really suffer. I mean REALLY. Just wait til Zarek, if you haven't read the books.

I couldn't agree more. Only for me, she goes overboard and makes them all too tortured.

But she's not the only author. I think part of the reason I haven't joined the JR Ward train is her overtortured tortured heroes. I read the first one and while Wrath was tortured in Dark Lover, it hadn't been ramped up that much. But then I read Lover Eternal and she did quite a number on poor Rhage. And reading about some of the other brothers, I could tell they were all candidates for the Overtortured Tortured Hero club.

I don't really mean to pick on these two authors, I've loved books by both of them, but they are such obvious examples. They seem to almost revel in The Overtorture.

What about anyone else? Are you a fan of the tortured hero like me? But do you feel a hero can be too tortured? Can you think of any other hero who could be classified as an Overtortured Tortured Hero? Is there an author who you think goes over the line?


Magdalen said...

I really do try to accept that fiction is fiction, and real life is real life. But as someone with some bad stuff in my childhood, I have a hard time with the abused-as-a-child backstory. And when it's at the level you're talking about -- I can't suspend my disbelief any more.

How does an author think a human being can endure torture like that and then be able to love and be loved? It shapes who we are, to be sure, but it comes with a heavy price tag. An author willing to put her hero through that has to work extra hard to convince me as a reader that the hero's capable of a romance, let alone ready for one.

Stacy~ said...

Hey Kristie, thanx for the shout-out :) I admit I'm a little torn on this issue. On the one hand yes, it makes for compelling drama and invests me more emotionally in the story. Plus, for a writer, I'm sure it's challenging and rewarding to push the envelope and take it to a level not often seen, especially in romances.

But on the other hand, like most people who read romances, I read for pleasure, for escape, and to be swept away by a strong, imaginative story. Reading extremely painful passages can leave me feeling numb, cold, and even bitter. Reading about torture, even in a work of fiction, can be hurtful. It takes me to a place I don't want to go. Everyone has their line in the sand, and we don't want it crossed. Maybe I'm soft but I just don't want to go there in a book I want to enjoy instead of cringe over.

~ames~ said...

What a picture!

I've never thought about it before but now that you mention it, I have to agree with you. Those two authors especially.

I have thought about it in regards to heroines though - Lora Leigh for example has the craziest suffering heroines. They always have some psycho after them and their innocence. LOL

The tortured hero thing really pops up in Fantasy.

Kristie (J) said...

Stacy: *g* It's not that I don't love a tortured hero - I really do. I think the hardest "torture" scene to read for me was at the beginning of Ride the Fire. But that became and still remains, one of my all time top favourite books. Of course having it happen at the beginning of the book so I can skip it on rereads and just focus on his inner and outer healing is a very good plot point I think. So I agree with you that it DOES make for compelling drama and I very easily become emotionally involved. But there are (just a few) authors who IMO take it a tad TOO far. I want to believe that the tortured hero can overcome and triumph what he has been dealt with but with those very few, it's just too much that I find it almost too hard to believe that the hero will come out alright in the end.

Magdalen: You hit the nail on the head! With the overwhelming amount of torture some authors put their heroes through, suspending belief that they can lead even somewhat normal lives adds that suspension of belief that really isn't necessary. I'm great at being able to buy into a lot of different things when reading romance but it becomes tougher when the author overtortures the hero and I'm left wishing the author hadn't gone quite so overboard 'cause then I'm also thinking 'how can this guy possibly be able to be a person who can love the heroine when he must be too damaged to achieve it. It adds an unnecessary layer.

Kristie (J) said...

Ames: ROTFL - you should have seen me trying to find a picture that would go with the post - and then I saw this one and thought - OK - that should work!
I haven't thought of it as much in relationship to the heroines for some reason - maybe because I am such a fan of tortured heroes *g*. And as odd as it sounds, if I find the heroine too tortured, I'll just stop reading the book.
There aren't too many authors that I could think of that take it to the extent of Kenyon and Ward. I was thinking of maybe Christine Feehan - but I haven't read enough of her books to really know if she overtortures her heroes or not.

Anonymous said...

I love a good tortured hero who is able to find love, but yeah, there does seem to be a lot of overtortured heroes. I admit that a lot of the heroes in my keepers should be VIP members of the Overtortured Tortured Hero Club.

While I do love them, to me it all depends on how the author handles the situation. I think that as long as I can honestly believe that the hero has overcome his past and has the ability to move on with the heroine at the end, it works. I can't really pinpoint the allure of a good tortured hero... All I know is that I love them to death, depending on how the author handles it all.

I'm an emotional reader so I guess it really depends on how I feel about the hero, which means there's no real facts or anything on what works and what doesn't for me... Such a difficult question. D:

Yikes at Born of Night. I suddenly remember why I've been holding out on reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's Acheron for so long. After hearing nothing else about the book except that it had massive amounts of Ash's abusive past, I was kinda (and still am) scared to read it.

Nicola O. said...

Anna Campbell does some SRSLY tortured heroes. This most recent one was pretty bad.

I do think it can go too far. And it's partly the suspension of disbelief problem, but I think it's also that the torture can start to feel sort of exploitative, like it's for a twisted titillation rather than anything... idk, real or necessary.

A couple of Marjorie Liu's recent heroines approached that line for me, in Fire King and Twilight Dance.

sula said...

interesting stuff, kristie. I have enjoyed some tortured hero books in the past (see BDB books exhibit A), but sometimes it just feel gratuitous and unnecessary. I can't bear to watch even minor scenes of torture on TV, I have to walk out of the room. And I can't really read about it either. I skim through any descriptions and skip to a happier place. So yeah...idk. I don't have to have all the gory details in order to feel empathy for the hero. Just a few references can be more powerful than a play-by-play, imo.

Lynne Connolly said...

I love this post. You got it right on the nail. When a hero (or heroine) is overtortured it makes me doubtful of the happy ending. Such agony isn't going to go away just with the love of a good woman (or man). Most need a long, maybe lifetime's counselling, too. And they will never be completely right.
Plus you have the "Oh, pulease, not more!" effect where more often is unneccessary and means less each time.

Hilcia said...

Great post, Kristie. I too love a tortured hero, but think some authors go overboard. They throw the kitchen sink in there, but not being enough, the toilet is thrown on top of that too. It makes it tough to buy that HEA at the end. It makes it tough to buy that the hero is able to love, never mind sane by the end of the book.
JRW's characters, Z & Phury are excellent examples.

Love that picture. :)

Kara said...

I love a tortured hero too...but I also agree with the fact that some of them can be over-tortured.

There are two more that come to mind...Christine Feehan's Jacques - he was tortured for years. And in her new book Burning Wild - he really is a over-tortured hero too. I would imagine with him - there would have been some psychological damage with the way he was raised.

BevBB said...

I tend to think Feehan's Carpathians come pre-tortured just by being who they are. ;)

But, yeah, otherwise, I think you nailed it, Kristie, and I think you also made me realize why I stopped reading the Kenyon books midstream and can't even bring myself to get interested in going back for the big pay-off of Ash's story. I, for one, don't do tortured heroes well at all. Give me well-adjusted any day of the week.

Somewhat tormented heroines, though? I'm there. Okay, I'm just odd that way. An anomally within romance readers. :D

Wendy said...

This was a really good post Kristie :)

I was a history major in college and it was those catastrophic moments in history (wars, famines, plagues etc.) that fascinated me the most. That people could go through such horrific events. Lose everything. Witness unspeakable things - and survive. And in some cases, go on to live happy, protective, fulfilling lives. It's the resiliency of the human spirit that fascinates. That with enough determination and drive people can overcome just about anything.

That being said, when an author heaps on the tragedy, it gets to be very overwhelming. My stock line to describe this in a review is "Hero/Heroine doesn't need a romance. They need a damn good therapist."

I was reading your description of the Kenyon hero - and holy crap! Yeah, that seems just a wee bit like going overboard O_o

Leslie said...

The totured hero makes for some interesting reading but at some point it gets too over the top and too repetitive. That's how it was for me with Kenyon's Acheron. It's like enough already. I get, he had it really, really, bad. Anything and everything was done to the guy and hey now he's okay because he has the love of his life. It's like the author is trying to top their last tortured hero.

And after reading what Kenyon puts the Born of the Night hero through I'm not sure I want to read it. Sounds too yucky!

Zeek said...

I still read every one of her Dark Hunters/Dream Hunter novels- and continue to like most of them- but even I have noticed this. (It really REALLY bugged me in Ash's book.)

The reason it bugs me is because instead of making them sympathetic it victimizes them and there's nothing I loathe more than a victim mentality. (i.e. the whole world's against me, boo hoo, nobody understands.)

And when this happens, I can't help thinking SHE'S got a victim mentality. (Yes, yes, we have to separate the artist from the art, but when it shows up like this all the time, it makes one wonder ...)

Keira of LoveRomancePassion said...

Until your post I would never guess a hero has been overtortured. Never have I come across in my normal readings of a hero who's been raped or was in a brothel other than as the client. I guess I must cease asking why when it comes to damaged heroes it's a physical challenge for a guy and an emotional (like rape) for the woman always. Sheese.

Amy said...

KristieJ, I finished up my review of BORN OF NIGHT the other night for RRT, and couldn't find it in me to describe - even a little - the torture that Nyk went through. It's horrendous! But I did find myself skimming here and there when she went into detail about it.

I'm seriously hoping that the next book in the series, which I have, is not a rinse and repeat of that.

Katie Mack said...

I like tortured heroes/heroines, but there is a limit. Luckily I don't often come across overtortured heroes -- probably because I read very few paranormals. I also can't speak to the specific books you mentioned, because I haven't read them, but what you've described does sound way over the top.

I've come across some overtortured heroines too, but I'm blanking on the books. One author that pops to mind immediately, but who I also haven't read, is Rosemary Rogers, who's earned a reputation for putting her heroines through sheer hell -- as in rapes, followed by gang rapes, followed by etc. etc. etc. -- which is why I've avoided her books.

As Nicola O said above, I think when an author goes overboard on the torture it becomes exploitative -- as in, the author is exploiting readers' emotions to make them invested in the story. (I don't know if that's what Nicola meant, but that's what I mean.) I'd much rather read a book that gets me emotionally engaged through the writing, than because I was overwhelmed with empathy due to the sheer amount of suffering the characters faced.

Tumperkin said...

Well said, Kristie. This makes me think of that rather troubling genre of 'horrible childhood' books (A Child Called It etc.) that really disturb me.

Jess said...

I've been on a realistic, contemporary hero kick, but I've got to say the tortured hero is my guilty pleasure. I love them when they're written just right, and when they're written way overboard (Zarek's book was so kindergarden compared to the several hundred pages of abuse Kenyon puts Ash though in his book).

So, as one damaged guy lover to another, can I ask you what books the heros you mentioned are from? :) I didn't recognize them and I'd love some new reading please!

Kristie (J) said...

Jess: here's a rundown of the books matching the heroes

Derek Craven *shiver* - Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

Gabriel St. Croix *dreamy sigh* Broken Wing by Judith James

Johnny Harris *oh mama!* One Summer by Karen Robards

Ian MacKenzie *swoon* - The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Conor Branigan *breathless sigh* - Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke

Branden Kel Paton *yummers* - Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair

And definitely not least!!
Nicholas Sinclair *all of the above* Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare.

They are all wonderfully done tortured heroes - and not an overtortured hero in the bunch.

Tumperkin: I read romance to make me feel good - not to cringe at the overdoing of torture the author puts the hero through.

Katie: They do seem to be in more abundance in paranormals, but I've read a few other genres that come close to the line of too much in other genres too. Thankfully it doesn't happen that often - but when it does, it crosses the line to uncomfortable to read.

Amy: I have a feeling there will be at least almost as much. It's Syn's book and even in Born of Ice, they got into his tortured past - and he wasn't even the main character. I started doing the review of BoI today and I'm finding it a bit difficult to do 'cause - well you'll see when I post it *g*

Keira: I hope having pointed it out to you now, you don't find yourself asking of every book with a tortured hero - 'is he an overtortured tortured hero??' But if you ever try Sherrilyn Kenyon - I think you will see what I mean. Now mind you - I really did like the first few books in the Dark Hunter series and if it were just the overtortured tortured hero syndrome, I would probably still be reading her - but it's that combined with other reasons why I stop reading the overtortured tortured hero books.

Kristie (J) said...

Zeek: I've never been tempted to read Ash's book. If it was just the (from here on in to be shortened to OT T H) I might have been - but as I said to Keira, it's always combined with something else and his case, I couldn't stand that stupid Simi person.

Leslie: They Do!!! Which is why when I let my favourite books of all time run through, a good majority of them contain tortured heroes. But on occasion - enough is enough already!!

"And in some cases, go on to live happy, protective, fulfilling lives. It's the resiliency of the human spirit that fascinates. That with enough determination and drive people can overcome just about anything."
Exactly!! That's what makes a tortured hero so great. And one of the reasons why Broken Wing worked so well for me. It took more then one attempt for Gabriel to get to that place of overcoming his past.
BUT in the case of the OT T H, I find it difficult to believe that the hero really can overcome his past with just the love a good woman.

Bev: I'll be honest and say I prefer the tortured hero over the normal guy any day. I started a book not long ago and the hero was an untortured hero and I found him kind of bland. But there is the opposite end of the spectrum and I don't like it either.
I was thinking the the Carpathian heroes, but I haven't really read any. I started one and read as far as when it was time to go night, night - or rather day, day and the hero covered them both in dirt. There's no way I found that the least bit palatable - even though the hero tried to do so well in explaining why there was a need to get dirt covered. And of course before I read the one and it didn't work at all, I'd already got hold of about 4 or 5 of the series *shaking head*

Kara: As I said to Bev, the Dark books aren't my thing and while I quite enjoyed Wild Rain, I heard enough negatives about Burning Wild not to really want to give it a try.
But judging from reviews I've read, I can see why she might be an author who risks doing the OT T H.

Hilcia: *chuckling* the picture is a good one for the post isn't it. And the guy was so kind to pose for me like that!!
No, no, I'm kidding - but it does almost fall into that 'picture says a thousand word' saying doesn't it??
And it does make it tougher to buy into the HEA at the end, so I think it's a needless thing to do - overtorture the poor dude.

Kristie (J) said...

Lynne: That's what Born of Ice was like. Just when I thought she had tortured the poor guy enough, another bomb would drop and his past became even more difficult. I'm a great suspender of disbelief - I even do it in real life - way to much - those bills really are real and really do have to get paid. But as much as I enjoyed Born of Ice - as you will see in the soon to be done review - it was more difficult then it needed to be to buy into the HEA

Sula: I remember when Brave Heart came out. I had a feeling things wouldn't be rosie at the end so I picked the book up and read the ending - to prepare myself. It was so horrendous it was over two years before I could watch the movie - and then it was on video and I could halt it - take a deep breath and continue watching it. And the movie ending wasn't nearly as bad as the description in the book!! That was awful!! They cut his heart out while he was still alive and then actually drew and quartered him!!
If I ever do get to reading the other BDB books I have, I'll have to read them in small doses *g*.

Anna: I'm very much an emotional reader too and oftentimes it's a thin line the author draws in the tortured hero department. Done right and they are incredible reads, but done a little too much and it takes a bit too much away from the story. All the heroes I quoted walked - but didn't cross the line as far as the 'tortured hero' went - thus the keeper status.

Robyn said...

Ooh Gabriel St. Croix & Kel my favorite tortured heroes! I just finished reading Broken Wing last week and it was fantastic!

Anonymous said...

I am a sucker for the tortured hero, as well.

I would like to add one to your list, Kristie, that popped into my head as I was reading your post and the comments. Although they may not fit into the physically tortured category.

It's been awhile since I read the book, but it had a tortured hero that I loved and that broke my heart - Brandon Carlyle from Katerine Sutcliffe's Darkling, I Listen. Then there is the hero from Bad Moon Rising.

Theresa has done some tortured heroes, also. I think of Last Summer, Cool Shade and Long Moon Night.

My heart ached for those heroes.

Penelope said...

Hi Kristie! This is a GREAT post. I totally agree with you...there is such a thing as over-tortured. I'm reading romance to make me a happy camper, and too many sordid details about certain subjects just squash the fun right out of the book! Not sure why certain authors feel compelled to over-torture their heroes, or compelled to torture their readers with the details! I also LOVE Derek Craven and Ian MacKenzie!

orannia said...

Magdalen put it perfectly: How does an author think a human being can endure torture like that and then be able to love and be loved?

Because all your experiences shape who you are...and the time it take to learn who you are...and what you can accept is immense. Even learning to accept such a basic thing as touch...

Very thought-provoking post Kristie - thank you! And out of interest, who is Johnny Harris please?

Anonymous said...

Tortured heroes are my FAVORITE kind. I'm actually reading a book right now by Heather Grothaus that has a tortured hero in it.

As for the Overtorured Tortured hero...I don't think there can be such a thing AS LONG AS the hero gets his HEA in the end.

I think that the whole purpose of an author writing a tortured hero is so that the reader becomes so engaged in trying to not only figure out how he made it through everything, but how in the hell he will ever find his HEA.

As a reader even if he's a big ass, you can't help but sympathize with him and essentially want nothing more than for him to finally be at peace.

It also makes you truly love and respect the heroine who is willing to look past everything that may be either physically or mentally wrong with the hero, so that he can finally find the love and happiness that he always deserved.

Yeah...Tortured heroes make for great stories :D

Kristie (J) said...

Orannia: Johnny Harris is the hero in One Summer by Karen Robards. He was the school bad boy who was sent to prison for murder he didn't commit. He had a major case of the hots for his English teacher Rachel Grant, the only person in the small town who didn't think he did it for a job for parole. He fits into many of my favourite kinds of heroes - bad boy, younger hero/older heroine, jailed for a crime he didn't commit and a troubled tortured childhood. There is also a mystery in the book that's not so great but for some reason, this is one of my favourite books.

Penelope: Both Derek and Ian are great heroes aren't they - tortured but not overly so. And with the Overtortured Tortured Hero, it's kind of like trying to slog through deep snow - you can do it, but the journey is just that much more difficult.

Anonymous: Those are some great examples - though the wire was thin with Brandon Carlyle. Ms. Sutcliffe tortured him pretty bad *g*. And Theresa Weir does EXCELLENT tortured heroes!! Hers often seem to have issues that are different then the normal kind!!

Robyn: Wasn't Broken Wing incredible???? Took me a long time to get past that book. I couldn't let it go until I'd read it 4 or 5 times in a row I was that taken with Gabriel. And Branden Kel Paten was just so yummy. Ms. Sinclair really made you 'feel' for him didn't she? I hope some day we see him again!!

nath said...

Great post, Kristie :D

I'm okay about tortured heroes. I'm not going out of my way though to read these books.

My problem with Sherrilyn Kenyon is that she writes overly tortured heroes and pouf, suddenly, they're okay once they fall in love. I mean, why write them tortured then?

orannia said...

Thank you Kristie! *makes note of title*

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Allison('s)Reads said...

Hi Kristie, I'm late to this post and I really enjoyed reading it. Now I'm all curious about which stories your listed tortured heroes are in. I recognize a few of the names, but I will have to research the rest. If you read this, maybe you could send me the titles if not too much trouble.... thanks! Allison (cadnac AT gmail DOT com)

Aleena said...

Hi Kristie. I like your blog and great post =)
i agree with you.. I love the tortured hero most of the times as well. It makes for an interesting read. It adds more emotion. But sometimes the author goes a little overboard with the torture. And reading romances is an escape from the real world. I read romances for pleasure, as many others do. And the author would have a hard time making me believe that someone who has been through so much is actually capable of loving someone else that much. And an even harder time believing that some woman was actually able to break through the barriers. I think the torture should be in moderation and not something that ends up making you miserable-Not something one looks for in a romance!

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