Romance Novels and the Tormented Brooding Hero by J. J. Sorel

Now, who doesn’t love a devilishly appealing leading man who comes across as a little cocky, conceited, and remote at times, only to have a beautiful, intelligent, feisty girl open him up as she would a handsome box of jewels?

A staple figure in historical romance novels, he’s that broody, rakish hero or anti-hero, who strikes an irresistibly handsome figure, especially around young, ripe maidens. Appearing arrogant and self-absorbed, he surveys his prey with a hint of a smirk.

This tall, dashing hero with the chiselled jawline either suffered a tortured past or made questionable choices along the way on his path to success. By the time the heroine meets him, he is well-endowed, not only naturally, but financially.

Mysterious and introspective, our hunky hero hides his tortured soul behind an acerbic wit and occasional, but well-timed, cheeky banter. Found lurking in shadowy corners, he runs his fingers through his windswept hair while stealing side-glances at that unique, rosy-cheeked, sassy beauty who has just swanned into the story.

And so there lies an archetypal figure of profound fascination. The romance novel would be bereft without him, as it would without a heroine looking for Mr. Right to rip at her heart and, dare I say, panties.

Here are a few of my favorite leading men.

When it comes to an icy heart, acerbic tongue and mystique one can’t go past the shadowy figure that is Rochester. It takes Jane Eyre’s sensitive heart and evolved intelligence to tame this once self-proclaimed hedonist, who wears gut-churning regret on his flouncy shirt sleeve. Struck by Jane’s pure heart and untainted spirit, a world-weary Rochester finds renewal through her company. Redemption, that once he viewed as undeserving and elusive, seems possible after he falls deeply in love with the ‘plain’ Jane Eyre.

Appearing cocky and conceited, Fitzwilliam Darcy, the leading man from Pride and Prejudice, had us feverishly flicking pages after he meets his match via the quick-witted, sharply-tongued Elizabeth Bennett. It is cheeky banter, a la regency-era style, which still carries into today’s romance novel and when done well has us eating out of its hands. Once again, it’s that intelligent and audacious pretty heroine, who not only arouses his jaded spirit but also manages to placate the inner rumblings of our conflicted hero.

None have come more tortured than Heathcliff, who possessed by a demon spirit burst into Wuthering Heights as a figure of pity. With Cathy, his half-sister’s doting friendship, their connection deepens into a form of co-dependency. Nature’s their witness, sweeping them along. Wild as the wind, the pair etch their eternal love onto the craggy-stoned moors. When Heathcliff’s unwavering loyalty to Cathy is betrayed by her impetuous decision to marry up a station, his inherent dark brooding nature is unleashed. With each page, Heathcliff’s seething bitterness grows in pungency. But then, in heart-wrenching moments of tenderness, his icy heart melts and we see a man who would lay down his soul for Cathy. Bent down on his knees, he professes undying love for his bedridden soul mate, for theirs is an eternal love, as steadfast as the winds that roar through the moors.

No discussion about brooding leading men would be complete without Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey. Like Heathcliff, this tortured soul’s start in life was dark and hidden, but through a bit of luck and hard work manages to become a billionaire. The fact that at 28 he can play Bach at midnight like a concert pianist, fly planes, and speaks fluent French leaves us all gasping for air. But all that incredulity is forgiven because it’s his richly complex, at times, dark and sardonic nature that draws us to him. That he falls deeply in love with the slightly awkward, intelligent and not-your-regular-babe, Anastasia, a woman he needs to possess and control, had us all drooling in our chardonnays.

To date, I’ve created three leading men. I will start with Bronson Lockhart from Take My Heart. Although it won’t be published until the end of this year, I’m currently chiselling out that story, therefore he’s fresh in my mind.

After being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, Bronson, a dark, stormy character whose penetrating gaze is both icy and sultry, is driven to take revenge on the person responsible. Apart from clearing his name, Bronson’s other mission is to find out who his real parents were. That’s where our heroine steps in. Ava is not only dating the guy that was responsible for Bronson’s incarceration but is employed by a wealthy loner who has a heart trapped in secrets, some of which relate back to Bronson. He seduces Ava, who’s not only captivated by Bronson’s exquisite masculine proportions but is also drawn to his sharp mind and mystery. Although he tries to quash his attraction, Bronson soon finds himself falling hard for the sassy spirited Ava. The pair is suddenly whirled into a thrilling adventure as Bronson unravels hidden secrets about his beginnings stored away in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, New York, guarded by Ava’s eccentric employer.

In Entrance, we meet Aidan Thornhill, whose former ‘wild ways’ causes the ex-soldier-turned-billionaire deep regret. Following him around like a pesky drunken relative, his past proves difficult to shake off. Thornhill wears his ‘most-sought-after bachelor’ moniker with a heavy heart. His past haunts him and he maintains a brooding presence in the first chapters. Secretive to a fault, in the earlier stages of the story, we know little about the handsome, imposing figure that is Aidan Thornhill. It’s when he falls madly in love with his newly appointed PA, that he slowly starts to open his heart for the first time ever. Not only struck by her beauty, but Clarissa’s intelligence and creative spirit draws this dark character into the light. Haunted by his time spent fighting for the Special Forces, and the ghosts that prey on him when he is alone, Thornhill paints at times a tortured figure. There’s only one that qualms his troubled soul and that’s the graceful, quirky and intelligent Clarissa. The self-confessed former sex-addict breaks every rule and after he discovers her inexperience instead of running he takes control. Loyal, intense and possessive by nature, Aidan’s appetite for Clarissa is insatiable. She becomes his driving force in a story where all his former misalliances do their utmost to drive a wedge between the lovers.

From the moment he steps into Bonnie’s bar, Curtis Drake, the hunky guitarist from The Importance of Being Wild appears cocky as he lingers before a picture of Marlon Brando— the king of brooding heroes. We quickly discover Curtis is not like that at all, but it’s Bonnie’s troubled perception that sees him that way. Being a little damaged, she assumes that all men are out to hurt her. And the fact that Curtis is drop-dead gorgeous feeds her suspicion further. Bonnie’s lack of trust and belief in him only strengthens Curtis’s resolve to prove himself. He goes out of his way to demonstrate that his staying power is not just in the bedroom, but in love as well. The problem is that he too is conflicted, for he carries the scar of a past choice which threatens to ruin his chances with Bonnie. When Bonnie’s vulnerability threatens to sabotage their relationship, Curtis must prove that he’s not a heartbreaker, but a dependable, loyal man who has fallen hard for feisty and slightly torn Bonnie.

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