I recently read a book where the hero at times was a loathsome cruel bastard that treated the heroine in such an appalling way. He was a mean son of a bitch. Yet I was happy that they had their HEA, and more importantly for me, I actually believed in it.
The story in question is Lady Gallant by Susanne Robinson. It’s set during Queen Mary’s court, and it’s surrounded by court intrigue and spying — both which I’m not huge fans of. But I’d heard about the hero, Christian de Rivers, being talked about and since it’s not on the scale of Rosemary Rogers’ Stormfire, I was happy to give it a go since there was no testicle cutting, rape, or other scenarios that would make me go hide in a corner and weep.
There will be spoilers mentioned, so if you plan on reading the book in the future and don’t want to be spoiled, you haz been warned.
Throughout the course of the novel, Christian for the most part is not nice to the heroine. And when I say not nice, I really mean it. From their first meeting, he is cutting towards her, he calls her names, and he doesn’t hold back. He then finds an attraction towards her is forming, and he’s crude towards her in his sexual advances — but there is no forced seduction of rape. Nora is attracted to him, and slowly they form a sort of relationship where both seem to understand one another. They get married, but Christian believes that Nora betrayed him and his father, and he pretty much treats her like shit on their wedding night, and grinds her love and heart into dust, and then for good measure, stamps on it. And then even more horrible, he hatches a plan to cause Nora even more heartbreak by creating a situation where Nora catches him in bed with an ex-lover of his in graphic detail.
In that particular scene, it’s a little cloudy because whilst Christian is caught in bed in a very compromising situation, it never reveals if he had sexual intercourse. But as far as I’m concerned that’s a moot point.
Anyways, Nora sees this and your heart literally breaks for her. And even more horribly, Christian then strides up to Nora naked, thrusts against her and tells her he’ll go to bed with her if she reveals what she knows about the attack on his father. Nora runs off and just simply breaks down. Christian — from before — now becomes a completely broken man, and literally sobs at what he has become and done.
Christian is what he had become due to events when he was younger that shaped him to be what he had become today. Now reading what I’ve just written above, you may think how could you keep on reading the story with a hero like Christian.
My answer: I don’t know.
As I was reading it, I’m pretty sure my face was doing all sorts of frowns but I kept on reading because I wanted to know how on earth could they get their HEA after this. How can Nora forgive him. How can Christian atone for what he did?
And oh boy. Did Nora make him grovel. I think this book showcases some of the best grovelling in a romance book. Nora doesn’t give him an inch. She doesn’t suddenly forgive him. She makes him work, and oh boy does Christian suffer for it. And when Nora did forgive him, I believed in it and their HEA.
After finishing it, it still leaves me thinking how could I enjoy a book like that as a romance. But for me, I would say it’s definitely features a romance story, but not one that is happy roses. It’s raw, it’s ugly, but at the end, I found it believable.
And it got me thinking, how far does a hero have to go before he becomes truly irredeemable in your eyes? And what do you class as irredeemable?