One of my favorite tropes is that of the "tortured hero." As much as I enjoy the classic tales of the noble knight saving the woman in distress, I absolutely adore it when the roles are reversed and the woman saves the man for a change. It's so amazing when romance heroes are allowed to be vulnerable.
Here are some of my top tortured heroes and their romances with the women who love them. Given the subject matter, some of these have triggers. I try to bring up some of the main ones without big spoilers.
This is a surprisingly dark Gothic romance. I like it a lot, but it's definitely one that will not appeal to everyone because it has non-con and because the hero has a background of sexual abuse. The heroine comes to the hero's property, answering an ad to restore his traumatized brother's ability to speak. Once there, she finds out more about the history between the two brothers, and the way they were abused by their old governess whose presence still haunts the halls. I loved the no-nonsense heroine and the way she tried to instill the hero's self-worth and help him find salvation, but I think the story begs the question as to whether everything can be forgiven and if all hurts really do have cures.
This story is kind of a gem because it features a hero with bipolar disorder and I thought the author did a really good job showing the hero, Jonas, at his highs and lows while also weaving a really rich tapestry of the time period. The hero is an artist and the heroine, Imogene, is the daughter of one of his patrons. He's basically forced to teach her against his will because of politics, which initially makes him hate and resent her, but her hero worship eventually ends up winning him over. I liked this book because the heroine doesn't "cure" him; she just accepts him as he is, while trying to be a supportive and mediating influence, and I kind of liked that.
THE LILY BRAND is a book that's been on my radar for a while but I only read it recently. The hero is an English soldier (caught during the Napoleonic wars, I believe) who is bought by the heroine's truly evil stepmother, Camille. Camille is a sadist and a psychopath, who has a harem of male slaves, and she wants the heroine, Lillian, to become her acolyte. Troy, the hero, is to be her plaything. It ends up becoming a really intense and angsty romance because the heroine does torture him to keep up appearances before freeing him, but when they meet again, the hero doesn't trust her and their relationship is rocky and fraught with all kinds of obstacles.
There's a reason SEVEN DAYS IN JUNE is all over Bookstagram. This book has so many of my favorite tropes in it: dual timeline, second chance, teen whirlwind romance, hurt/comfort, writers as characters, and probably more that I'm forgetting. I guess this one is sort of cheating since both the hero and the heroine are tortured-- both come from problematic backgrounds and the hero skirts the edges of crime-- but they find comfort and solace in each other and their relationship builds off that. Love it. Also, the heroine has chronic pain (severe migraines) and it's portrayed really, really realistically.
Even though the cover is a little cheesy, this book is SO good. The hero, a slave called Wolf, is one of the few remaining survivors from a planet that was the victim of targeted genocide. The heroine, Shaylah, is a war hero from the same army that decimated his people (although she did not personally participate in that battle). She is obviously horrified but also very attracted to Wolf, even though she doesn't want to be because of the differences in their station. That doesn't stop her from taking advantage of him in what is dub-con at best, and rape at worst. The book fully addresses it, though, tackling the hypocrisy of people who justify war crimes and claim sanctimoniousness while doing nothing, and she really, really, really has to grovel to right her wrongs against Wolf. Ultimately, this ends up being kind of a reverse bodice-ripper, with a heroine who saves the hero when things get tough and really has to work hard to prove herself worthy of him. It's angsty and surprisingly compelling.
Genre: Romantic suspense/erotica
This is another romance that isn't for everyone but I really liked it. The hero and heroine end up in a sadomasochistic relationship, both of them enthusiastically consenting. The hero, however, is tortured because his father was a serial killer and he worries that his tastes for dark things are a sign of worse things to come. The heroine is a grounding influence, and their relationship becomes profoundly emotional as they spend more and more time together, and the hero defends her from an unknown threat. I loved Ranay and Charlie so much and their story was the perfect blend of sex, action, and suspense.
DUKE OF SIN is one of my favorite romances of all time and also made an appearance on my villain list. But he also has an incredibly dark back story filled with abuse that has shaped him into the cold and unfeeling person he is now. The heroine ends up being really good for him, not putting up with his shit but also demonstrating tenderness when he needs it and their relationship had me figuratively biting my nails, screaming "JUST KISS" in my head multiple times. So, so good.
This romance really ended up surprising me because it's so dark. The heroine, Lilith, is an erotic, avant-garde artist who ends up being sent to an estate to do a commission to clear a debt for her father. While there, she sees a beautiful man named Finn, who at a glance seems to be the lady of the manor's lover. But it's soon clear that the truth is much more sinister than that. It's a very dark story, filled with sexual and physical abuse, substance abuse, and all other sorts of abuse. Reading it put me in a gloomy frame of mind but if you come in emotionally girded, it's a powerful, haunting story with an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance that blossoms in adversity.
The only angsty vampire romance I'll allow. The hero, Ian, is a vampire who was turned after physical and sexual abuse sustained from an evil female vampire who then left him for dead. He's horribly depressed and hates his life. The heroine, Beth, is the daughter of an Egyptologist who recently passed, forcing her to return home. They meet on a ship and end up becoming friends of a sort, although the heroine soon begins to suspect something isn't right. I just loved the angst, the gloomy hero, and the heroine's quick wit. The heroine is also half-Egyptian and the author does a pretty decent job talking about how the heroine often feels like an outsider, never British or Egyptian but something in between. This status actually ends up letting her relate to the hero even more, who also feels terribly alone.
Got a book that fits this list? Totally blown away by one of these premises?
⬇️ Tell me about it in the comments below ⬇️