Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bad Romance: The Terrible Tropes We Hate

by Kathy F. and Sara N.

A good romance: Wil and Felicia from The Guild
It's Valentine's Day. A day for romance, hearts, chocolates, and lines out the florist's door. Here at Stellar Four, we've read our share of romances, enjoyed the flirtatious banter between the hero and heroine, the smoldering passion, the inevitable happily ever after.

Today, though, is a day for the romances with the couples we love to hate, the tropes that make us gnash our teeth, the HEAs that make us want to throw the book at the wall (metaphorically for those with e-readers).

Note: If you haven't found your way over to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, do yourself a favor and check it out. At the very least, their glossary is a very fun resource.

Warning: Thar be spoilers ahead.

Kathy F.

Magical Wang/Vagina: Whereby the healing properties of sex with the right person cures characters of all multitude of issues

Example: After the Night by Linda Howard

This one pissed me off on many levels. You have the alpha man-whore male lead (NOT calling him a hero) who likes to call the female lead a slut, whore, tries to run her out of town because she is the daughter of his father's mistress. There is NEVER any decent groveling by the way. He just gets away with being an asshole. The female lead pissed me off for putting up with it.

But I have to say what bothered me more was what happened with our male lead's sister. Or rather what didn't happen. That girl needed years upon years of extensive therapy. She is just not right. Years of emotional and sexual abuse, her erratic and threatening behavior. And our "heroine's" great advice? Keep that shit a secret, sweetie.

Cause now that she's going to be marrying the sheriff (who actually is one of the two decent adult characters in the book), his magical wang will fix all that and she won't be crazy anymore.


Sara N. addendum: See above, and add the Duke of Slut. He's slept with so many women, and none of them meant a thing. Then he meets Her, his Perfect, Magical Soulmate.
Alpha-hole: While we cant deny the appeal of certain alpha male characters, there is a line, and when crossed, you quickly leap into doucheville.

Example: Keeper of the Heart, Book 2 in the Ly-San-Ter series by Johanna Lindsey

I actually read this when I was about 16 and haven't re-read it since, so if I'm remembering wrong, let me know. However, this one stuck with me and was the basis for one of the best relationship convos I ever had with my mother.

There are uber-alpha warriors, a young girl who is a gifted pilot (or gifted somewhat with electronics maybe?), and she is basically given to the warrior guy by her father. This uber-warrior is from a male-dominated society and any "disobedience" means corporal punishment.

Yep, this is a spanking Johanna Lindsay (way the hell before 50 Shades of anything).

So, I read this at 16 and get to the spanking. Oh, the shattered innocence!

Well, not really. See, even at 16, I realized that a guy who hits a woman because she disobeys him enough that she needs to be put in a healing pod, it doesn't matter if at the end "she likes it."

Nope. I don't have an issue with consensual BDSM. This was not it.

I'm pretty sure the female lead risks her life to save the day, succeeds with of course some rescuing, but her part was crucial. Leading to some more beatin' (which her mother agrees with WTF!). But they have that nifty healing thing, so no real harm, right?


I can kind of imagine my mom's thoughts when she found out I read this book. Probably along the lines of "Fuck me, I do not want to have this conversation today, why did she have to read that book?" To her credit though, we had a really meaningful conversation about how in the real world, you don't have a happily ever after with guys who treat you like that. You stay away from them.

Sara N.

The Big Mis

Oh, the big misunderstanding. Our sweet heroine overhears a jackhole comment that the hero makes to a buddy that could lead her to believe that he's pursuing her for less-than-noble reasons. Instead of asking him about it or trying to learn the context, our too-stupid-to-live romance novel heroine hardens her heart, stiffens her spine, and freezes him out — sometimes for years and years. Naturally, she eventually learns that she's misjudged him, and they reconcile, but not before they've wasted all that time apart when they could've been happily coupled if they'd just, you know, talked about it.

Please. Adults sit down and hash things out. Adults say, "Ummmm, did you just say you married me for my money? WTF, mate?" Adults give their partners a change to explain, then they weigh the evidence and make up their minds. Children overhear something damning, quiver their lower lips and bolt for parts unknown, vowing never to return.

This seems to be a hallmark in historical romances, especially. Is this an authorial attempt to be historically accurate in a time when women had less agency and less freedom? Maybe, but they instead come off as irrational, reactionary idiots. "How could he? I thought he loved me, but it's all a lie! I must leave this house — nay, flee this country! I shall live a solitary life abroad and never open my heart to love again!" Stuff your martyrdom, lady, and have a freaking conversation with your spouse before flouncing out forever.

I can think of countless historical romance examples, but one paranormal romance also springs to mind: Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. I'm sorry to say it, too, because Carriger's a favorite of this blog. But I couldn't get past how the Big Mis affected the central relationship of the series, weakening the connection between the leads and wasting a silly amount of time that could've been happily spent together. It's a silly plot trope that's frustratingly easy to overcome for characters who behave like actual people and not huffy drama queens.


Dear historical romance novel heroine: Seriously, how are you still alive? You go rushing off to rescue your sister, who's been captured by villains. You have no weapon, no plan and no backup. Yet despite all of the requests from law enforcement to just stay put and let the well-armed and highly trained individuals take care of the hostage situation, you insist on donning trousers, sneaking out through your balcony window, and pursing the villains on your own.

Behold the opposite of TSTL: Pam from True Blood
Why do you do this? Don't you know that you, too, will be captured and then become a second idiot who must be rescued? Does your innate feistiness make it hard for logical thoughts to reach your brain?  Don't you know that in any setting other than the one in which your magical hoohaw has cured the Duke of Slut of his lifetime of loneliness, you'd probably be shot in the head and dumped in the Thames by the bad guys for poking your nose in where it doesn't belong? This happens again and again in Regency-set novels, especially. And it is maddening.

I'm not saying that the little ladies should always wait to be rescued. That's why I read urban fantasy and the like; these books have plenty of capable women who can rescues themselves, their sisters, and the hero. But daaaaang, Regency ladies. Your papa's one-shot pistol will not rescue you from a gang of marauders who have you hogtied in an abandoned, burning warehouse. I just ... gah.

Excuse me. I have to take to my fainting couch with my smelling salts.
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