Just Not My Type

gypsyheiress Do you ever find certain types of characters difficult to like? I wouldn’t say that any particular type of hero or heroine is completely a “no go” for me. I firmly believe that, in the hands of a good author, just about anything can be made to work. However, when I come across certain character types on a book blurb, the description is not going to have me clamoring to pick up the book – often because it’s something I’ve seen handled less than skillfully way too many times before.

Pirates definitely fall into that category for me. I don’t know if it’s my background of having studied European and Middle Eastern history, but nothing I know about pirates makes them terribly romantic to me. Most historical accounts I have read make them sound uneducated and brutal, and conditions onboard ship sound filthy and unappealing. While I will admit that Jennifer Ashley’s pirates worked for me, the first pirate hero I remember encountering came in Joanna Lindsey’s somewhat infamous A Pirate’s Love. If you look up “rapey ‘hero’” in the dictionary, you just might find an image of Tristan there.

Other pirate/privateer novels I read over the years tended to have similar issues. However, even among the ones that didn’t feature rapist “heroes,” I just couldn’t move beyond the difficult life of a pirate to see the story as particularly romantic. Various authors, including Meagan McKinney, wrote pirates or privateers that one could consider dashing, but Jennifer Ashley was the first author I found who managed to humanize that sort of hero and make him truly appealing.

On the heroine side, while I haven’t found too many in recent novels, I used to run across gypsy heroines in older books and I have to admit that they have yet to work for me. As any of us who cut their teeth on Barbara Cartland novels knows, Cartland had a huge interest in gypsy culture that extended to founding several gypsy camps in England. This interest seems to have extended to a hugely romanticized view of gypsies in her novels.

In Gypsy Magic, Bewitched, and other novels, Cartland featured gypsy characters in her stories. On the one hand, she does write sympathetically of them, which is probably somewhat of an advance given that she wrote many of these books in the 1960s and 1970s. However, her vision of gypsy culture seemed to play up the mysticism of it and to make them seem exotic and “Other” and ways that often make me uncomfortable as a reader. I also encountered a gypsy heroine in Deborah Martin/Sabrina Jeffries By Love Unveiled As one can tell from my AAR review, it’s pretty obvious that one didn’t work for me either. To be fair, the half-gypsy heroine in this book is not portrayed as an exotic curiosity. Some of my issues with that book stemmed instead from the fact that the author created a half-gypsy heroine whose backstory sounded downright unbelievable. Oh, and of course our gypsy lady is a healer, so maybe I take back a little of what I said on stereotyping. Unfortunately, the book was just not written well enough to make one want to believe in Marianne.

Convinced that someone out there could make a gypsy plot work, I recently read Laura London’s The Gypsy Heiress. After all, this is Laura London, author of the much-loved The Windflower, and whose writing is praised to the skies by many longtime romance readers. I have to say that The Gypsy Heiress just must not be her book. The heroine, Liza, grew up as a gypsy and now finds herself in English society. However, as a character, she’s terribly frustrating. At times she sounds like a walking textbook of gypsy lore while at others she starts lapsing into gypsy superstition in ways that feel somewhat contrived. So, I still haven’t found that winner of a gypsy book. If you know any candidates, just let me know in the comments. I know there must be at least 1 good gypsy book out there; I just haven’t found it yet.

From chatting with readers online or at conference, I get the feeling that most of us have certain types of characters that just don’t appeal to us. I’ve heard many complaints about virgin widows, I know more than a few readers who eschew books with special ops heroes, and so on. What about you? Are there any character types that you find difficult to love or that you dread seeing in a book’s description?

– Lynn Spencer

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26 Responses to Just Not My Type

  1. Maria M. says:


    What about the half gipsy hero of Mary Jo Putney’s Thunder and Roses? He visits the gypsies with his new wife, but admits he wouldn’t want to live with them always.

  2. leslie says:

    No pirates for either, actually I usually stay away from any kind of shipboard romance.

  3. maggie b. says:

    My favorite gypsy books are Sally Gardners The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade. The characters call themselves Romany, though, not gypsies.
    A lovely romance is told in the two books.

    Maisie Dobbs has Romany roots. Not much discussed in the books but it hovers in the background.

    I can’t say I have read any good pirate books but of course I have seen a good romantic pirate move (The Princess Bride). This has convinced me that pirates can be done right, I just have to find the book.

  4. CarolineAAR says:

    Con artists and thieves, unless the author makes it crystal clear that the con artists only con evil people and the thieves are somehow righting a wrong, like an inheritance or ill-gotten gains. Otherwise I’m not ok with the criminality. Just because someone has a necklace and you don’t doesn’t give you the right to steal it. There needs to be another reason.

  5. Robin says:

    Lisa Kleypas wrote a couple of historicals with Gypsy heroes—I think it was the Merridew series. I am not wild about pirates either–I generally avoid active duty soldier heroes in any book. I don’t mind reading about a soldier hero who is out of the army or navy or whatever– but if they are still serving–icks-nay on the ook-bay.

    • Ash says:

      Robin: Lisa Kleypas wrote a couple of historicals with Gypsy heroes—I think it was the Merridew series. .

      I could be wrong but i think it was the “Hathaway” series

  6. Karen says:

    I’m not crazy about gypsies either. Also don’t like spies but love Joanna Bourne’s books. And I’m over highwaymen too! I steer clear of any books with these type of heroes.

  7. 1literalredhead says:

    Michelle Beattie wrote a “pirate” series, published by Berkley, and I believe she is working on a fourth book. Each hero/heroine assumes the role of Captain Sam Steele. The individual stories are a fun, summer read.

    • AAR Lynn says:

      I have heard those were fun reads, and I think Blythe here liked them, too. I actually have the first book from that series, so I really should pick it up sometime.

  8. Dagmar says:

    I’m pretty flexible as far as the hero, though I really don’t like heroes who have no friends. To me, there’s something wrong with someone who has no friends. They seem to glom onto the heroine and that’s just weird – I want a hero who has a life.

    I’m more picky with heroines. I won’t read books where the heroine is a reporter. Cause you know there’s going to be a situation where she absolutely has to do something the hero doesn’t want her to do so that she can get her story, or find out the truth.

    Also, save me from heroines that are described as “free spirited”. It’s usually just an excuse for the heroine to do something stupid.

  9. Sparrow says:

    I would like to add my two cents on the Sheik trope. While I loved the E M Hull classic The Sheik. This type of hero never works for me anywhere else.

    I have recently read a chick lit book by a young Saudi Arabian author called Girls of Riyadh and all I could think of was that a Victorian heroine lead a less restricted life, and had a better chance of forging her own happiness.

  10. Blackjack1 says:

    I do like the gypsy characterization of Nicholas Brisbane in Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series. It’s crucial to his characterization and role as a private inquiry agent that he remain half in his rarified world of white aristocracy, but always half out of it as well in order to have a bifurcated view of society. Brisbane is “Other” in many ways but his otherness sharpens his skills and keeps him more neutral and objective in his investigations. He also has access to interesting gypsian traits and skills that become important in his investigations.

    I have types I don’t particularly like and I would probably put “pirate fiction” right up there as well, but whenever these discussions arise I always fall back on the notion that in the right hands, any author can sell me on something that I typically would avoid.

    • Lourdes says:

      I agree that “in the right hands, any author can sell me on something that I typically would avoid”. For example, Liz Carlyle’s virgin widow in “A Woman of Virtue”.

  11. Ash says:

    I steer clear of pirates too unless its Captain Jack Sparrow.
    not a big fan of Gypsies either although I have read and liked a few on occasion such as “Thunder and Roses”

    I generally dont like religious overtones in my books so I steer clear of books where there is an emphasis on H or h belonging to particular sect such as being a quaker or a methodist etc, If its just background trivia and doesn’t play a big part in the actual story I am okay with it.

    With the exception of Long’s “What I Did For a Duke” I have never really liked May December romances.
    During my tender impressionable years as a new romance reader I encountered a few books where the hero would consistently refer to the heroine with a nicknames along the lines of “Little One” whilst simultaneously envisioning bedroom activities. It’s one thing if the hero falls in love with a younger woman who he believes is mature and his intellectual equal but their insistence at seeing them as a child sort of ratcheted up the ick factor for me and turned me off such books for the most part.

  12. Joane says:

    I don’t like old skool heroes that are abusive and hit the girl or rape her.
    I agree with many of you: pirates and other criminals are difficutl heroes.
    Apart from that, there are a couple of heroes that I’m not very fond of.
    The first one has already be mentioned here: sheikhs. I just don’t like those desert heroes, not even the E. M. Hull, who is one of those that rapes the heroine.
    The second one it is a very personal dislike. I’m not very fond of British soldiers that fought in the Peninsula during the Napoleonic wars. They acted just like any occupation army, more or less the same as the French had done before them. So I usually have problems suspending disbelief and considering them as ‘heroes’. But I know, it’s something very personal, indeed.
    About gypsies: I really don’t dislike them, because they are fairy-tale gypsies, not at all like the real Roma people. But in that case is not the character what I dislike, but the author who doesn’t care about real gypsiesand their culture.

  13. Eliza says:

    I tend to run in the other direction most of the time when I see a pirate book, too–and stories set mostly at sea aren’t generally for me either. I’m also definitely no fan of shieks. I generally don’t pick up books with ditzy or flighty heroines if I can help it. Naive, innocent or inexperienced? Yes. Just plain stupid? No thanks.

    Though I haven’t read about all that many gypsy characters other than in Kleypas books and a couple of others, the Roms do interest me.

  14. AARJenna says:

    I’m not a huge fan of “billionaire” heroes. Or rather, heroes who are defined by the fact that they are wealthy business magnates. And while this may deviate from the topic, I haven’t been able to find a “were” creature that I can buy into. I can never manage to forget that a good portion of time, these changelings are actually animals.

  15. HaleyAAR says:

    I’m one of the people that can go for the pirate romances. It really is like reading an alternate history type of book than anything based on real piracy. Lets face it, real pirates weren’t sexy. The STDs and poor hygiene is a big no. I enjoyed Johanna Lindsey’s pirate type book that fit into the Mallory series. I forget the title but the Georgie dressed as a boy to sail on James ship. A Pirates Love was too rapey for me.
    I haven’t read any gypsy romances but I’d be willing to try one.
    I think I’m most likely to be turned away by contemporary romances featuring cops. I don’t know why but I have zero interest in reading about a cop/suspect or cop/detective pair falling in love on a stake out.

  16. erika says:

    I’m more picky about heroines. If one is a courtesan, promiscuous, lived with a man not the hero I’m not gonna buy that book. Just recently I’ve become more suspect of the word feisty in describing the historical heroine because that means they are gonna be more modern than historical which is a turnoff for me.

    • Lourdes says:

      I realize I’m in the minority, but I feel the same way about heroines. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my heroines to have a certain degree of innocence; they don’t have to be virgins, but they don’t do casual sex nor do they take intimacy lightly.

      • Paola says:

        Me, too and that’s why I don’t read many contemporaries.
        About gypsies, I read The Virgin and the Gypsy, a novella by D. H. Lawrence, many years ago. I only recall that I liked it, but I’m not sure now if it wasn’t a stereotypical portrait of gypsy.

  17. Melinda says:

    Am I the only Marsha Canham fan here? Lovelovelove her pirates and highwaymen – male and female. She writes like its an old action adventure movie. Sure, real pirates and other criminals aren’t sexy, and real Regency peers likely had bad teeth and smelled bad too, and how many of those regency peers were 6’2″ with broad shoulders and 6 pack abs? Just because it isn’t reality doesn’t mean a great author can’t make it work in fiction! Something that’s *really* not my type in reality – bikers and biker chicks – I’m eating up with a big ol’ spoon when Kirsten Ashley writes them. Cowboys? In reality, no thanks ; in fiction, bring ‘em on! I guess I’m a hypocrite. :)

  18. Suzanna says:

    If the cover mentions red-headed spitfires, it goes back on the shelf – it’s usually shorthand for TSTL, along with running away disguised as a boy. Baby books. Highwaymen (muggers in historical costumes). Most thieves, even with a Noble Cause. Most pirates (with an honourable exception for Marsha Canham, who does swashbuckling like no-one else).
    Martyred daughters sacrificing themselves for the good of their selfish families (I’d love to read one about a daughter who gets tough and tells the family that it’s their own fault that they gambled away the family fortune and she’s not going to rescue them).
    And in modern romances, know-all patriarchal fathers who interfere in their children’s lives because they’re convinced that Daddy Knows Best.

    With regard to The Sheik, I’m reminded of Rachel Anderson’s comment (in The Purple Heart Throbs, an excellent book) that it’s the most immoral of all the romances, not just because it presents a distorted relationship as love, but because “of the totally unprincipled precept that the reward of rapists is a lovely English heiress with a look of misty yearning in her eyes”.

  19. Ducky says:

    I don’t like “heroes” who rape and are abusive.

    I did like one pirate romance, THE WINDFLOWER by Laura London – even though it seemed hardly realistic.

  20. Corinna says:

    The Powerful Businessman. Yuck. There’s no other guy I’d less like to read about. I just don’t find that ‘type’ either sexy or appealing in any way.

  21. Alison Heyd says:

    As the mother of three daughters, I have oceans of trouble with a man in his thirties going after a teen-aged girl, such as so many of Diana Palmer’s protagonists. It really doesn’t matter to me that she is a girl who has had to take responsibility for her life in her teens, she’s still too young for a man twice her age! I find that to be a huge yuck factor, as I put myself in the position of mentally telling him to find someone in his own age bracket.

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