I’ve been reading romance novels ever since I was eleven or twelve, maybe, sneaking around at home after grabbing something out of my mum’s collection. I was still in primary school, completely oblivious to matters of the heart, so every first meeting made me light up in anticipation, every accidental brushing of the hands captivated, every kiss thrilled like no other.
Over the years, this habit stayed. I’m twenty-three now and I still read romance novels when I want to relax, when I want to tune out the world, when I want to simply bury myself in a quick, easy read and let myself be effortlessly carried through the journey.
One of the things I noticed, however, is this: many (and I mean many) of the love interests are dark and brooding. Goodreads even has a shelf dedicated just for them.
These heroes almost always have some sort of a tragic secret, a troubled past. They’re confident, charismatic and typically conventionally successful with million-dollar companies and riches enough to buy the heroine out of debt. They don’t usually commit and therefore are ‘bad’ for the heroine, except of course, she is the elusive ‘exception’.
Take Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps not the most high quality of literature, but it certainly sells. He broods enough, apparently, that it warrants an entire book written entirely from his perspective.
The character he was based on—Edward Cullen from Twilight—also has his own unreleased version of the story, titled Midnight Sun. They’re not the only dark and brooding heroes out there: there’s Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Alex Markov from Kiss an Angel, Simon Basset from The Duke and I… the list goes on.
And these heroes brood; oh, these heroes brood like no other. And yet, they are some of the most popular love interests to ever grace the earth. Why is that?
My (admittedly uneducated) hypothesis is that a lot of women like reading about bad boys—flirting with them, dating them, marrying them saving them from their own ‘bad-boyitis’.
Many regency romance novels build on the theme that ‘reformed rakes make the best husband’. The line is even repeated from character to character, often as a reassurance, particularly when the hero in question is a dark, brooding man who is incredibly handsome, physically astute, and has magical prowess in bed. Later he meets the heroine, falls in love, and completely repents—all for her, his one true exception. It’s a fantasy in its own right!
Being an avid romance reader, I’ve read at least ten stories with a dark, brooding hero. These books sell. They’re fun. They’re so very often exhilarating, possibly because in real life, not so many of us are so willing to fall in love with someone so obviously bad for us. Of course, not so many men (or people in general) are as dark and brooding as these romance heroes often are.
So what are your thoughts on dark, brooding heroes? Love them or hate them? What do you think makes them so popular? Are there any books with dark, brooding heroes that you want to recommend in particular?