Historical Hunks

Greetings all, and thanks for putting up with a month’s absence as I went on my honeymoon. In keeping with the theme of honeymoon bliss, this week’s blog post will center around favorite heroes of romantic fiction: the men I fell in love with on the page long before I ever met my husband.

If, like me, you are a woman whose heart goes pitter-pat for a man in chain mail, you are sadly out of luck in the 21st century. We resort to books instead to satisfy our craving for warriors. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites:

1. Aragorn, from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Long before Viggo Mortensen brought him to life, I fell in love with Aragorn. He swung a sword, he knew poetry, and he helped save the world. What’s not to love?

2. Robert the Bruce, from Nigel Tranter’s trilogy of Scotland. William Wallace was the hero in Mel Gibson’s version, but Scotland’s most famous hero king springs to vibrant life in this trilogy. The writing is chewy, but Robert the Bruce is a hunk for the ages. Whether politicking with the highland clans, grieving for his much-loved wife who was held captive in England for eight years, or braining a hated enemy in single combat right before the battle of Bannockburn (true), this King was everything a King should be.

3. Ralf Isambard, from Edith Pargeter’s Heaven Tree trilogy. A more obscure and less sympathetic hero, but a fascinating one. Isambard is a medieval warlord in Pargeter’s tale of the Middle Ages: charismatic, handsome, and deadly. I hated him for three hundred pages when he executed his best friend on a point of honor and then had his adored mistress thrown into a river for falling in love with someone else–but the next three hundred pages slowly redeemed him as grief and guilt turned him from an amoral game-player to a man of grace. What’s more appealing than a redeemed devil?

4. Rhett Butler, from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.� Just to prove that I don’t only go for men with swords. Rhett’s charm, dash, and devotion to his lady won me over along with every other woman in America the moment I read Gone With The Wind.

5. Mr. Rochester, from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Some might choose Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, but I found him a boor and a bore. Mr. Rochester has it all, the original brooding hero after which all other heroes must brood inadequately. His verbal duels with Jane prove once and for all that intelligent conversation is the best aphrodisiac: the two trade more sex in a few pages of wordplay than in all the grunting and sweating of today’s R-rated movies.

6. Derfel Cadarn, from Bernard Cornwell’s Arthur trilogy. Another sword swinger; a blond Saxon warrior who is King Arthur’s most feared champion, but on his off days loves nothing so much as to pile his little girls into his war shield and take them sledding. Cornwell coined the phrase lord of war, and this man defines it to the life.

7. Xavier March, from Robert Harris’s Fatherland. Perhaps it’s a stretch to call this book historical fiction; what it really is is alternate historical fiction. Xavier March is a German detective in the early sixties . . . in a Berlin where Hitler won World War II. Surrounded by a world filled with Nazi horrors (mostly designed by Albert Speer) March is a grim investigator beside whom all the CSI actors fall short, as he methodically goes about uncovering the biggest horror of all–the truth of the Final Solution.

8. Sam Damon, from Anton Myrer’s Once An Eagle. Another historical fiction that might be called borderline, but it does begin about a hundred years back, so close enough. Sam is an idealistic boy who joins the army in World War I, wins the Medal of Honor and a battlefield commission, and ends his career as a retired general and military observer in Vietnam. Sam is perhaps the most palpably saintly hero in fiction, but one who somehow manages not to be a bloodless prig or a cardboard white-hat.

9. Emperor Claudius, from Robert Graves’s I, Claudius. Just to prove that not all heroic men are men of action. Claudius won my heart even before I saw the TV series: a man who overcame a stammer, a limp, and a scornful family to become a fiercely intelligent scholar and one of Rome’s shrewdest Emperors.

10. Arius, from Kate Quinn’s Mistress of Rome. Another hero from ancient Rome, and yes, I am going to put in one of my own characters. What else is a blog for? Arius is a gladiator in first-century Rome, filled with violence and pain and passion. My husband, after reading Arius’s story, accuses me teasingly of liking my men “large, hard, and hurting” and I can’t say he’s wrong. If I ever met Arius off the page, I would follow him into the sunset in a heartbeat. My husband would just have to understand.

11. A man of both fierce intelligence and fierce strength, who can swing a sword like a samurai and wield a pistol like a sharpshooter, who can come up with a line of poetry or a cutting riposte at a second’s notice. Fortunately he’s neither fictional nor historical. He’s the man I married.

12. Your choice. What historical fiction heroes do you swoon over?

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