Michelle Levigne

A recovering Trekker and Cleveland Indians fan, Michelle Levigne works full-time as a freelance editor. Current projects include the upcoming print version of her SF series, “The Chorillan Cycle,” from OakTara, Arthurian fantasy, “The Zygradon Chronicles,” at Uncial Press, and the YA fantasy series “The Hunt,” at Writers Exchange, Australia. Heavy influences in her life include Bill Cosby, Isaac Airfreight, and Marvel Comics. Website: www.Mlevigne.com.

Burn by Linda Howard

Burn Me Once

Have you ever picked up a novel, and by the end of the prologue, opening, or first chapter, you heartily dislike, nay, even loathe the hero?

It can happen anywhere, with any genre.

For example, the Western in which the alleged hero shoots a stray dog and visits the local harlot before he rides out to the farm to propose to the sweet little gingham-clad heroine. When she gets grabbed by Evil Roy Slade in chapter two, you’re rooting for her to stay with the villain because the so-called hero doesn’t deserve her.

Get the picture? Heroes and heroines who aren’t heroic or worthy of our admiration and/or support.

In the opening gambit of Burn, we see Jenner on a cruise and miserable. Her best pal is being held hostage to force her to cooperate with some unscrupulous characters who have yet to reveal their nefarious mission. She has to play along when a drunk woman throws a hissy-fit, accusing Jenner of sleeping with her hunky companion, Cael, who subsequently attaches himself to Jenner. I’d avoid a guy like that. Who wants the baggage?

Jenner can’t avoid him—she’s forced to let him romance her. Supposedly everyone thinks it’s perfectly natural when Jenner leaves with this ice-hearted mastermind. Enter the alleged hero.

He brings her out on the deck where people can see them and forces her into a clinch, so everyone thinks it’s perfectly natural when Jenner takes him to her cabin. He sets up camp there during the entire cruise, keeping Jenner handcuffed to a chair or to him, except for bathroom breaks. Whenever they venture out of the cabin, he forces her to play at being infatuated new lovers.

Do you like this guy? I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, this supposed romance is the equivalent of those wretched novels that gave romances a bad name decades ago—the bodice rippers. The hero is the ultimate bad boy, and the heroine is the ultimate sweet, sheltered child on the brink of womanhood. He kidnaps/rapes/seduces/torments (pick several) said innocent virgin, and despite her horror at what he’s done, she falls in love with him by the end of the book.

Sorry, but if a guy started out on such rotten terms with me, nothing in the world could convince me to set up housekeeping with him.

I wanted the author to justify Cael’s actions, but he never proved worthy of the hero label. Technically he was a good guy, the head of a team of good guys—think Leverage, where the heroes use shady means for a just end.

But after backtracking seven years and seeing how Jenner went from meat packing plant worker to idle rich, seeing the type of

smart, savvy survivor she is, I couldn’t accept how she was treated. So why should she accept it?

If Cael had done his homework, he would have come clean with her from the beginning, asked for her cooperation in spying on the guy on the other side of the cabin wall, and explained that he was the ultimate bad boy, a traitor to the United States. Cael should have known she wouldn’t put up with being kept in the dark. He should have known she would fight him every way she could and make him utterly miserable, as long as she didn’t jeopardize her hostage friend.

He should have known. If he was as smart and perceptive as the author portrayed him.

I would have enjoyed a book in which Jenner was asked to cooperate, playing on her patriotism and her sense of justice—and spent the entire cruise digging for information and making Cael miserable with her questions and double-edge remarks. The scenes where she manipulated him in public under the guise of infatuation were priceless. They fit how she had been portrayed. I could have read a whole book of a battle of wits, where the two grudgingly admire each other the whole time. Not this sniping, bullying, and wanting to throw each other over the side of the ship.

Jenner’s physical attraction to Cael is understandable, but if I had all that frustration and worry for my friend bubbling under the surface, that attraction would have been pushed to the back burner. Maybe even off the stove entirely. Learning he had kept me hostage in the service of the country wouldn’t elevate him to hero status in my eyes. Every time the author turned up the sexual heat, it didn’t work for me. Can we say “gag me with an entire place setting”?

Then Jenner decides she is in love with Cael. Proof that hormones cause brain damage. She isn’t any smarter or stronger than the corseted heroine of a bodice ripper.

I didn’t like Cael from the first chapter, and there wasn’t enough motivation to want him to have a happily ever after. Sure, his ethic of “can’t seduce a hostage” was admirable . . . but not enough. He didn’t like Jenner any more than she liked him, and his physical attraction to her seemed to be the only reason for him not to toss her overboard.

I wouldn’t fall for a man like that, so it was hard for me to believe that feisty, smart, caring, loyal Jenner would fall for a scumdog hero.

Han Solo, yes. Cael, no. At least Han Solo grew and learned and changed.

Am I too picky? Is it wrong to expect my heroes to be heroic and admirable? Am I being too hard on my heroines who fall for such guys when they’ve proven they deserve so much better?