I don’t quite know what it is about the tortured hero that makes ladies go weak in the knees. What I do know, however, is that women love reading about them in popular writing. It might be the instinct to nurture or mother the poor guy, or just a way of humanizing an otherwise macho man, the typical alpha hero of most successful novels.
I’m diving right into my favorite tortured heroes in the last few years. And I urge you to read their stories, for compelling and sensitive storytelling. I’m going to try and keep the spoilers to a minimum.
1. Jamie Fraser (Outlander) by Diana Gabaldon: Jamie Fraser or James MacKenzie Fraser is the male protagonist in the Outlander series written by author Diana Gabaldon. The series contains a total of eight books so far and follows the story of Jamie and his wife, Claire. Claire Randall nee Beauchamp is a WWII nurse who somehow travels back in time and meets Fraser, an 18th century Scotsman. They face the intricacies of fate and its cruel sense of humor multiple times in this detailed and rich story.
As a historical series, the Outlander books place our favorite couple in a number of political events that tore through Europe in the 1700s. Read this book for its excellent storytelling and the depth of love that Jamie has for Claire. The sacrifices he makes in order to ensure her safety, go above and beyond the call of duty. And it is these burdens he bears willingly that make him a tortured hero. Outlander is also a TV series now. Watch it on STARZ every Saturday at 9:00 pm. It has covered two books already in 29 episodes. You can watch them on Netflix. Happy reading and happy viewing
2. Acheron (Acheron, Dark-Hunter Series)by Sherrilyn Kenyon: Usually, I would not include Acheron on my reading list. Not because he is a badly written hero, but because he is hard to read. The Dark-Hunter series by author Sherrilyn Kenyon is a huge collection of 30+ books. And the Dark-Hunter universe she has created has a number of other spin-off series like the Chronicles of Nick. The elaborate setting in which her stories are based can be safely called a mythology junkie’s ultimate delight. She weaves stories around extinct religious traditions, pantheons of the great ancient civilizations and brings them all to life in the 21st century. Acheron is at the center of that universe.
He is a primal God who has been around for 11,000 years. And while his powers as the final fate of all existence are formidable, he carries deep psychological wounds born out of the extensive abuse he was subjected to as a young boy. Gods also fall, and when they do, the universe comes crashing down in a deluge of destruction’s tears. To know what this cryptic little sentence means, read Acheron. His story is a heartbreaking journey of abuse, betrayal, sacrifice, rebirth, redemption and hope. Comic relief is provided by Acheron’s pet demon (yep, you heard that right), Simi.
If you like Acheron’s story, you can go on to read his brother’s book as well, Styxx. Another book with an equally hard-hitting narrative, but no less gripping or poignant. May I warn you, keep tissues and pick-me-ups ready. Also, a trigger warning for graphic sexual content.
3. Severus Snape (Harry Potter series) by J.K. Rowling: This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Anyone who has read Harry Potter carefully knows that Snape has done a lot of questionable things, but he is redeemed by his love for a certain redhead. Author J.K. Rowling did not divulge the man’s actual loyalties right till the last book. However, she dropped a number of hints throughout the series to try and give us a glimpse into the man’s tragic life. One of the major hints came in book no. 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. By a little magical accident, Harry ends up viewing some of Snape’s worst memories in which a young Snape is publicly humiliated by Potter’s father and his friends. In another incident, Harry manages to glimpse a memory in Snape’s own mind where a teenage Snape is weeping while two adults are arguing in a violent manner.
Needless to say that these things tell us about why Snape is an anti-social, mean bastard to his students. They also tell us that he is a lonely, guarded and hurting man underneath the sarcasm and the biting remarks. In the seventh book, the man dies at Voldemort’s hands, but not before giving Harry access to his own memories, revealing the very best of himself; things that he had tried so hard to hide through his lonely and dangerous years as a spy. Snape is a shining example of people who readily walk barefoot on glowing coals for the sake of love. Snape was played by the talented Alan Rickman in all the 8 movies. He passed away in January 2016 after a very private battle with cancer. R.I.P Alan Rickman. We miss you.
4. Clayton Holland (Always to Remember) by Lorraine Heath: Lorraine Heath is an established romance novel author. And the covers on her books are often misleading. Because while most romance novels are airheaded, shallow and full of steamy scenes, Heath’s novels are deep, layered, well-researched and emotional.
Clayton Holland is a conscientious objector to the civil war. However, as he comes from the Texas town of Cedar Grove, he is considered a coward by his own people. At 25, he has graying hair at his temples and there are crow’s feet on the corners of his eyes. Holland, who returns home 5 years after the war (having spent time in prison for refusing to fight and then helping out the community’s physician with caring for the wounded) is shunned by people. He endures nasty looks in church, is unable to get credit at the local grocery and finds it hard to feed his younger brothers who are aged 10 and don’t quite understand why their elder brother is hated so much. Holland’s sharpest critic is his slain best friend’s wife, Meg, who sees him as a constant reminder of her husband’s untimely death. She knows Clayton is a talented sculptor and she commissions him to build a monument to commemorate the martyrs of Cedar Grove. While she hopes to torment him about his cowardice, he surprises her with his devotion and reverence for the task.
She doesn’t understand why he is so dedicated without being remorseful. And the town hates him more than ever, so much so that they end up viciously attacking him as a group in order to maim him permanently. This is a story worth reading for his masterful narrative and the ideological themes that are extremely relevant to our current climate. without ever being preachy, this short novel makes you think and cry for Holland and everything he suffers in order to hold on to his beliefs. And before you ask me, here is a little taste of the story. Being willing to die for your beliefs isn’t the same as being ready to kill for them.
5. Gabriel (Broken Wing) by Judith James: Last but not the least on my list is Broken Wing, by author Judith James. This book has also been lumped with romance novels by most other critics. But like Always to Remember, Broken wing is far too complex and serious to be placed in the same category as Mills & Boons.
Gabriel is a male prostitute who was sold into the profession as a young boy. His difficult childhood has turned him into a man resigned to his fate, even though he hasn’t quite lost his humanity and the need to care for others. His tenderness for children and his love for his lady speak volumes about the man he is. But the psychological damage runs deep and he is a vulnerable man because of his pain and low self-worth.
Read this book for its expression and for its bravery in exploring a difficult theme. While many books on this list deal with male rape, Broken Wing accounts for the emotional scars in a much more detailed way than the other books.
That’s all for now. I’ll be back with more lists and reading options. You tell me which one is your favorite among these titles and others that are not mentioned here. Waiting to hear from you !