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It's All About the Antagonist

Have you ever read a novel in which the very twisted villain played a prominent role and thought, "I can't put this book down!  Does that make me weird?" I can honestly say I've been there more times than I can count! Villains, for me, are what give a story its excitement. I imagine I'm not alone in this thinking. Stories thrive on conflict, and without conflict, our stories would fall flat. Villains are a great tool for writers, as they can serve to develop both internal and external conflict for the hero and heroine. They may also serve to embellish elements which might not have occurred to you, for instance, humor.

It's been a while since I've enjoyed a good historic romance, so I picked up a title I've been meaning to get to for some time, What Happens in London by Julia Quinn. The book got off to a bit of a rough start for me, but I never put a book down once I start reading and so I pressed on. I am so glad I did! Though I found the hero, Harry, a translator for the war office, and heroine, Lady Olivia, to be a bit dry during the initial pages, that all changed for me when the couple attended a ball, at which villain Prince Alexei enters the story. This infamous Russian Prince, believed to be a threat by those Harry reports to, jump-starts the relationship between this unlikely couple by creating a triangle, as the prince becomes both a threat and a challenge to Harry, who is slowly becoming aware of his own feelings for Lady Olivia. I'm big on dialogue and the witty banter between these 2 men had me laughing out loud. Particularly memorable times were when Prince Alexei was having difficulty with his English, or attempting to take advantage of his bilingualism, unbeknownst to the fact that Harry speaks a number of different languages, including that of the prince's origin.

Perhaps a little less surprising, but equally important, is the fact that villains can increase the level of imminent danger in a story. This increases suspense and in turn, may intensify matters between the hero and heroine by raising the stakes. Take Theodore Glenn in Allison Brennan's Killing Fear, for example. Glenn, a murdering psychopath, vows revenge against the dancer whose testimony put him behind bars, heroine Robin McKenna. Putting Robin in danger as this crazed villain escapes from prison, Ms. Brennan creates a sense of fear and urgency, which deepens the feelings already blossoming between Robin and hero Detective Will Hooper. You can just imagine how quickly a romance blossoms between these mutually-attracted characters, as they fear for Robin's life. Danger creates a sense of fear, urgency and passion which emanates heat from the pages. Love-making is so much sexier, when a character's life is at stake!

This may sound a bit strange, but on occasion I'll read a story and actually find myself routing for the villain. That's not to say that I think the bad guys should win or that I want to see evil triumph over good, because assuredly, I don't. But sometimes villains can be so charming, I'll find myself falling for them instead of the hero. Villains can be as suave, handsome and seductive as any hero worth his salt but with a darker edge that is essentially "forbidden," sometimes in an alluring way. As both a reader and an author, I admit to taking the more-than occasional guilty pleasure from this strange fantasy which is no doubt at least partially responsible for why I've sought to reform so many former villains in my stories - perhaps I seek to justify my own quirkiness. Or maybe I'm just dead-set on a happily-ever after for every character.

Great villains are a surefire recipe for suspense and excitement in a story. They're not essential to creating conflict but they can certainly help, creating an element of suspense which is certain to jump-start both suspense and romance alike. I'm addicted to great villains and I'm constantly on the hunt for more. If you're like me, you aren't "weird" because you love the villain. You're simply brave enough to admit that characters with a darker edge sometimes have more fun!

My Review of What Happens in London by Julia Quinn:

Reading the first few chapters of Julia Quinn's What Happens in London, I was on the fence. The prologue drags on and reading about a young man taking care of his drunken father began to wear on me after a while. But this story really takes off when adult Harry Valentine, who has become aware that his neighbor Olivia Bevelstoke is spying on him, finds himself right smack in the middle of a heated triangle between this mysterious lady and a Russian prince, whom the war office believes to be a criminal. Harry, a translator for the war office, is told that both Lady Olivia and Prince Alexei are persons of interest. The trouble with Lady Olivia, aside from her surprising fascination with peering in at Harry through her neighboring window, is that he is already falling for her. Not everything may be as it appears in this story, which had me couched for hours as I laughed aloud at the winter banter between Sir Harry, Prince Alexei, Alexei's manservant Vladimir and Harry's cousin Sebastian. Though the beginning and the ending left a bit to be desired, the middle made for one of the best stories I've read all year. As they say, great characters do make for a great story!       



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