Vikings and pirates and bad boys – oh my!

I first started reading romance when I paid a visit to a local used bookstore and picked up a bunch of cheap paperbacks. I’d not read romance prior to that as my tastes were generally straight fiction or horror. But for some reason a used Johanna Lindsey caught my eye and from the moment I started reading it at home I was hooked.

Fires of WinterMs. Lindsey spins a good yarn, but thinking about her books got me thinking about bad boys. Why do we like them? What’s the appeal? And just how bad is truly bad? Several of Johanna Lindsey’s bad boy heroes were either Vikings or pirates. WTF? Vikings and pirates? For real? Because Vikings and pirates were actually bad. As in “I’m gonna kill your entire family, rape you at will, then throw you to my fellow raiders for their sexual entertainment” bad. In Fires of Winter, this actually happens. Heroine’s entire family gets killed by Vikings and she gets raped by her would-be husband, whom she eventually grows to love. I’m not making a statement about the book but rather posing some musings about bad boys and how we define them.

Nowadays we seem to prefer redeeming qualities in our bad boys even if said qualities are not immediately obvious to anyone except our heroine. So superficial “bad” things such as (gasp!) tattoos, or motorcycles, having ‘tude, or an inability to hold down a job are really just fine. Our bad boy can be huge and muscle bound and shave his head but he’s definitely into the heroine, and since we picture ourselves as that heroine, it’s cool that the bad boy is into us! There’s something appealing about the forbidden, which is part of the bad boy allure. We wouldn’t necessarily spend time in prison, or get fired from our jobs for not showing up, or stay out too late drinking and stirring up trouble (not super serious trouble, of course), but it’s hot if our bad boy does. Especially since he was probably in prison because he was wrongly convicted, got fired because he’s an artist and, well, Corporate America just isn’t his bag, and is drinking too much because he’s obsessed with us. Er, I mean obsessed with the heroine. Oh, and did I mention that our bad boy likes having lots of sex? Maybe even in illicit places (public park, in a closet at a party)? Yeah, he’s into sex with the heroine, really into sex with her, which makes her (us) feel pretty darn bad as well.

Some bad boys in today’s romance are actually bad, but I don’t see the romanticism of Vikings and pirates like we used to see in the ‘80s. Today’s bad boys are brooding, and reckless, and might even be vampires or shapeshifters or wolves, but they’re not bad bad. Are they?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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