Monday, March 7, 2011

Mad Hero Week: The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I've encountered all sorts of heroes over the years: Keeper Shelf Heroes--the ones I would like to marry myself, along with the ones who, while not being someone I'd want to go grocery shopping with, are just perfect for their particular heroine. Then there's your average likable hero and his counter-part average tortured hero, both of whom make for good reading. Average heroes also have sexy cousins, Good for a Long Weekend Alpha Heroes. Of course, there are stacks of Did Not Finish Heroes, the ones so unsympathetic, unlikeable, or just poorly drawn that books hit walls long before HEA. And then are heroes who are quite simply . . . crazy. Insane. Mad. A hare beyond unstable. A modern psychologist's mortgage payment worth of DSM-IV diagnoses waiting to happen. And most of these heroes end up hitting my wall, but there are the rare few crazy heroes who are also absolutely, 100% keeper shelf heroes. And I'm going to spend this week looking at some of my favorites, ending with my pick of the week, a new hero who will never leave my keeper shelf. Do you have a favorite "mad" hero?

Let's start with The Serpent Prince which exemplifies many of the themes common to successful Mad Heroes.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simon, Viscount Iddesleigh is little bit . . .crazy. Unstable. In the 1760s, he gets the luxury of being labeled an eccentric Rakehell, but if you transplanted him to 2011, he'd make a team of psychologists (and lawyers!) very happy. But this is an Elizabeth Hoyt book, so instead of being insufferable and a recipe for a DNF wall-banging mess, this ends up being a haunting character study underscored derby the joining of two soul mates.

Simon kept reminding me of Prince Poppycock from America's Got Talent (Fall 2010)--dripping Georgian splendor with an assumed character serving as a facade for a deeply insecure young man. Simon hides behind his wigs and lavishly embroidered coats and frivolous shoes, all the while nursing a deep hurt that he simply won't (or can't) allow to heal. However, luckily for Simon, Lucy meets him when he is without a shred of his usual armor--in fact he is naked, unconscious, and in a country village far from his London existence. Here, he is free to be Simon, just Simon, a fact that both makes him extremely uncomfortable and also frees him to connect with Lucy.

Lucy is also having trouble being herself, but for her it lies in being confined to a village too small for her dreams. With Simon, she can be herself, freed from the role of near-spinster being courted by a too-dull-for-words vicar. Beyond her dissatisfaction with what appears to be her fate, Lucy is a blessedly normal soul with deep loyalty and intrinsic inner strength. This seems to be a common thread among heroines who must find a believable HEA with a slightly-off-kilter hero--she is strong enough to deal with his issues and isn't saddled with many of her own.

In a nice twist for the usual reformed Rakehell plot, Simon falls in love with Lucy very quickly. He doesn't fight his emotions (after all, this is man ruled by his strong emotions), but he does fight against acting upon them as he doesn't want to burden Lucy with his blackened soul. Simon believes that his actions in seeking revenge for his brother's murder have damned him, yet he feels powerless to alter his course. His revenge is tearing him apart, and is indeed endangering his soul, if not his chances of eternal salvation.

Luckily, this dark soul casts Lucy as his angel--another theme common to mad heroes. He falls in love with an idealized version of Lucy, one who is pure and perfect. She makes him strive to be a better man, even though he must struggle against his demons to do so. At times Simon revels in his identity as a tainted Rakehell seducing an innocent angel, and at others, he takes Lucy's forgiveness for granted, because, of course, his angel will always forgive him. What happens when his angel reveals herself to be a woman with a stricter moral code than his own, one who refuses to believe that Simon has no choice but to follow his demons to hell, now that is the real story and one more than worth reading.

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