I wasn’t entirely in the mood to do this 26-Week Book Challenge post today, due to my husband getting me addicted to Plants vs. Zombies over the weekend. Must defend my brains! But then I saw the subject, and figured it ought to be nice and ranty.
Why, do you ask? Because this week’s subject is my least favourite plot device used by way too many books I enjoyed otherwise. This has got to be the most specific (or at least the longest) challenge in this series, but I also find it the most interesting, especially since I actually have several things I want to list on this subject.
I have already had my rant about love triangles and how much I hate them, so I won’t waste too many more words on that. What I hate just as much as love triangles, though, is virgin heroines in romance novels.
Actually, I should probably quantify that. I hate virgin heroines in romance novels where there is absolutely no truly plausible reason for them being virgins. As soon as the female protagonist utters words along the lines of ‘it just never happened’ or ‘I never wanted to with anyone else’, my eyes start rolling like the spin cycle on a washing machine. Right, love, so what you’re telling me is that you’ve got the hots for this guy so much that you’re happy to let him rip your clothes off and have you on the stairs (since you never made it to the bedroom), even though you’ve only known him a few weeks, but you’ve never even remotely felt like doing a horizontal jig with anyone else? Puh-lease.
I’ve harped on about this many times before, but I like my books (and especially my romance) to be believable. In a contemporary romance there have to be really, really, really good reasons for the heroine to be a virgin and still be believable. This was one of the reasons why I disliked Fifty Shades of Grey so much, because Anastasia is exactly like I described above, and I really don’t buy it that a pretty twenty-whateverthefuckshewasagain (twenty-two? Don’t remember, don’t particularly care) student has never even been interested in boys, never mind got naked with one. Oh, and has never masturbated in her life, which is even more unbelievable. (And funnily enough, the description above is not actually for Anastasia Steele. It’s for the main character in the book pictured. She’s even called Anastasia as well. Clearly girls called Anastasia are destined to save themselves for Mr Right.)
Let me reiterate the caveat of believability. Virgin heroines in regency romances I’m perfectly fine with, because those were different times with different mores. Nineteen-year-old virgin heroines I can just about stomach if they’re from a posh family and have been quite sheltered. Virgin heroines because the writer wanted to demonstrate just how pure and innocent the heroine is, and how special the hero that he can coax that special gift from her – blargh. Hand me the puke bucket, please. The contemporary reality is that most of us lose our virginity anywhere between sixteen and eighteen with one of our random boyfriends, and that it was an all-round disappointment. (Or was that just me?) If that’s not romantic, well, you’re not writing the book about the heroine when she was seventeen and trying to figure it all out. You’re writing it when she meets Mr Right and everything is wonderful and amazing and much, much better than that awkward first time.
So, with that said, let’s move on to my runner-up pet peeve, which is characters being forced into doing things they don’t really want to do by a set of really convoluted circumstances. The absolute king of such contrivances is Piers Anthony, and nowhere is this more apparent than in book six of his Incarnations of Immortality series (pictured here).
Let me say beforehand that I absolutely loved this series when I first read it. I read the first chapter of On a Pale Horse, and could not put it down after that. When I read it again, however, I was beginning to feel really uncomfortable about all the various things that several characters end up doing/being forced into, to the point that I’m not sure whether I’ll ever touch a Piers Anthony book again. I have no inherent objections to a character being railroaded up to a certain point, but in For Love of Evil the main character is a good man who, through increasingly convoluted circumstances, ends up not just being the head of the Spanish Inquisition, but eventually becomes the Devil himself. Piers Anthony really likes taking any and every choice away from his characters so that there is only one way left open to them, and it grates on me. Especially because it’s a theme that runs throughout so many of his books/series. The Tarot books? Pretty sure there was something like that in there. Bio of a Space Tyrant? Absolutely – just as badly as in For Love of Evil. The Blue Adept series? I’m sure I remember something like that in there as well.
You can argue that by forcing characters into circumstances like that you allow them to show their strength in the way they deal with that lack of choice, but it just sets my teeth on edge to see characters have literally no choice at all but the one path they really don’t want to take, because it’s so rare that people really don’t have any choice at all about anything, ever.
Right, that’s my rant for the week. Anything that gets your goat? Let me know in the comments!