Love to Hate
I love romance books, it’s a genre I read almost exclusive, but if there is one major criticism I would level at it, it’s the dearth of really good bad guys. You know the ones I mean? The baddies that make your hands positively ache to reach through the pages of the book so you can have the satisfaction of throttling themselves. The baddies where you relish their vanquishing almost as much as you do the HEA.
Admittedly romance isn’t perhaps a genre of fiction that lends itself to the creation of a truly heinous, detestable characters. Having said that, PNR and Romantic Suspense would seem like the natural place for them. Sadly, we seem to be stuck with the half-hearted villains and mediocre henchmen used only as vehicles to further the romance between the hero and heroine, rather than as an interesting story point in themselves. Now, sometimes that’s fine, all I am truly after all invested in is whether our couple finally manage to put aside the inevitable bullshit and get to the i-love-yous. But, sometimes, sometimes the story and the talent of the author calls for more.
But what is it that I want from a bad guy? I’ve thought about this and all the bad guys that I love to hate and all the reasons why they have stuck in my mind, enmity still brewing in the back of my mind and I came up with a perfect example. I think that she is perhaps the most hated fictional character of my generation; Professor Umbridge, and for those of you who have lived under a rock for the past decade, she is a character from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Notice, I didn’t say Lord Voldemort, despite him being the big bad of the Potter series, when I think about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named it isn’t hatred I feel despite all the hateful things that he did. It’s Umbridge that gets my blood boiling and the red mist descending. And why is that? Umbridge’s crimes in relation to Voldemort’s are relatively minor; yet hers are the ones that enrage me. The reasons are purely selfish, I can relate and emphasise with the characters, I can almost feel their sense of powerlessness and frustration whenever Umbridge does something heinous. We’ve all had that teacher or boss that delights in being a petty bully, so when Umbridge unfairly gives out a detention to demonstrate the small amount of power she has over Harry and the gang, I know exactly how they are feeling about it. However, my experience with megalomaniacs intent on enslaving the world is relatively small, Voldemort may provoke my intellectual disgust, but he has never tugged at my emotions the way Umbridge’s petty small mindedness did.
Relating this back to romance think of the Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R.Ward, by now, you have probably realised that I love it, but that doesn’t mean that I think it’s perfect. If there is one glaring flaw in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series it is its decidedly boring bad guys; the lessers and the Omega. Again, the Omega belongs into the Voldemort category of enemy; too big, his evil is too encompassing it’s hard to comprehend and his ambitions of world dominion too intangible to provoke much emotion. As for the lessers, minions of the Omega, they are too faceless and without personality, it’s like hating a brick wall for blocking your shortcut, pointless and unproductive. But, there is one character I hate, one character that I long to humiliate, smash into smithereens, make him beg and plead for mercy…which I wouldn’t grant. Lash. The school yard tormentor. The bully. The guy who personally made characters I love go through hell. His big, malicious and selfish personality is the perfect target for my otherwise aimless malice. And I love it. I love that Ward has capitialised on her fans loathing of him and introduced him as something more than the school yard bully whilst keeping all that small minded pettiness and evils intact.
Because ultimately what is more satisfying than seeing the characters you love and have seen suffer smite down that evil mother fucker you hate? When Wrath and the gang bring Lash, the insufferable twat, to his knees my righteous satisfaction at his demise will be immense, akin to getting an unexpected, yet much anticipated HEA.
So authors, I implore you. Please, when you are writing your couple enemies don’t use some half hearted caricature of a villain. Put some thought into your bad guys, as readers we love to hate them almost as much as we love an HEA.
Annnnnd I will stop myself there, before I start waxing lyrical about my love of historical romance and fantasy as well; no one needs to know about my elf fantasies. As you can tell, I adore and day dream about most romance genres, and my three big loves are 1) reading about romance 2) writing about romance and 3) talking about romance with my gals. Which, is why I love Under the Covers so much, I get all my bookish needs satisfied and don’t get judged when I talk about my favourite characters like they are real people. Which they are right?