Tall, Dark and Dangerous: Olivia Drake Discusses The Historical Romance Hero

Olivia Drake, aka RITA-award winning author Barbara Dawson Smith, has had some time to think about historical romance heroes over her last 26 novels. In honor of her August release, Never Trust a Rogue, the author shares her wisdom about the five kinds of historical heroes and what readers (and heroines) can expect from each type of man.

Man of action, man of steel, master of his own destiny. All these descriptions fit the historical hero, a hard-edged, dominant male who is willing to take enormous risks to protect his property, his loved ones, and his beliefs. Besides being fierce and formidable, he is intelligent, loyal, and quick-witted. Readers can admire his boldness and bravery while living the fantasy of conquering the heart of a warrior prince. 

Consider the hero in The Scarlet Pimpernel. In his disguise as an aristocratic fop in revolution-torn Paris, Sir Percy is an object of ridicule. Little does the French government know, however, the Englishman pursues a daring secret mission: he endangers his life to rescue noble families from the guillotine. Only a true hero would sacrifice even the respect of the woman he loves in order to achieve his perilous goal. 

A mild-mannered man may make a good husband, but he isn’t the stuff of fantasy. He wouldn't defy the heroine. He wouldn't lose his temper. He would be sweet and understanding, in agreement with her at all times. In short, the conflict would fizzle, not sizzle. 

Powerful characters generate powerful drama. Keep in mind, though, "strong" doesn’t mean physical brutality. No self-respecting woman would fall in love with a man who abuses her. Thus, Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans can slit an enemy’s throat, but he treats his chosen mate, Cora, with esteem and tenderness. 

Often, the historical hero is a tormented man who has not reconciled himself to his need for love. His defenses are so great he cannot admit to such a vulnerability—not even to himself. He interprets his feelings for the heroine as mere physical lust. Over the course of the book, she teaches him that softness and strength can coexist. When he finally succumbs, his love for her is passionate and unwavering, for the mighty fall the hardest. 

Most heroes of historical romance fall into five basic categories: 

The Beast. This type of hero could also be called the loner, for a past tragedy makes him mistrust people. Be he ruthless lord or mercenary soldier, The Beast growls at the sight of women. Yet conversely, he is the most sensitive and vulnerable of all heroes because he must work harder to hide his pussycat heart behind the ferocious façade of a lion. An example is Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, who conceals a secret so hideous only a woman of extraordinary courage can guide him into the light of love. 

The Bad Boy. A hell-raiser and smooth-talking rogue, The Bad Boy has a shady past. He lives on the fringes of society, not necessarily by choice but because an illicit or immoral act has put him beyond the pale. Often he's a womanizer or a gambler and has a nefarious goal. He's part hero, part villain, yet in the end his true honor comes to the fore. An example is Thane Parker, the Earl of Mansfield, in Never Trust a Rogue by Olivia Drake.

The Knight in Shining Armor. He is the ultimate good guy, untarnished and honorable. He is a dragon-slayer, a doer of good deeds, and sometimes even (gasp!) a virgin. By the end of the book he must compromise his high ideals by learning to live in the real world, or face his dark side as did Jamie Fraser in Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Prig. This hero is strait-laced, reticent, and self-disciplined. A rigid code of behavior rules his life; he can be condescending and haughty. We usually encounter him in books set during the Regency or Victorian periods, pitted against an unconventional heroine who knocks him off his high horse. The perfect Prig is Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. 

The Charmer. Readers love this light-hearted romantic hero, the rake with the cocky grin and the penchant for teasing. He is a master of witty repartee, a man with a genius for both irking and enticing the heroine. Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind is a Charmer.

Although the historical hero will fit one of these five prototypes as his dominant nature, often he will exhibit secondary traits, too. For example, The Charmer may have a bit of The Bad Boy in him. Or The Prig can also be a Knight in Shining Armor.

So if all heroes can be pigeonholed, how does a writer make her hero stand out in the crowd? First, by giving him a profession or an ability that distinguishes him. Be he laird or lawyer, cardsharp or king, he uses his unique talents to carve out his own niche of power. 

Second, he must have a powerful goal. What does he want more than anything else in the world? And how does this single-minded desire throw him into conflict with the heroine? As he fights to attain his heart's desire, the heroine stands in his path because she is working to thwart him. 

Out of the clash of these two strong-willed, equally matched characters arises the magic of true love. For even as they battle, the hero discovers that his need to win the heroine's love is far more compelling than any material purpose. Though he becomes obsessed with her, he must resist her, for she represents the civilizing of him, the taming of the beast. His seduction of her is relentless and intense, sensual and spellbinding, the very essence of romance. 

And, in the end, the reader can close the book on a sigh of satisfaction. Once again, love has conquered all—even a tall, dark, and dangerous male. 

- Olivia Drake

So tell us, which type of historical hero do you find irresistible?