Publishers Weekly sent out a typical mailing last week, this one with the subject line “The Fall’s Most Anticipated Novel is Almost Here . . .” As it turns out, this “most anticipated novel” is speculative. The promotion is for Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, due to release late in September.
The PW’s starred review said this story “has all the right elements to keep readers enthralled: a cunning leader with a plan for every occasion, nigh-impossible odds, an entertainingly combative team of skilled misfits, a twisty plot, and a nerve-wracking cliffhanger.”
And yet, it’s apparent it doesn’t have a hero. One librarian said this in her review: “Bardugo will have you rooting for the ‘bad’ guys and staying up reading way past your bedtime.” These “bad guys, descirbed as “six dangerous outcasts,” are
* A convict with a thirst for revenge
* A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
* A runaway with a privileged past
* A spy known as the Wraith
* A Hartrender using her magic to survive the slums
* A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
I’m reminded of other stories with “outlaw” heroes: Robin Hood, for example, or more recently a TV program called Leverage in which a group of con artists worked cons to bring justice for needy clients. Or what about White Collar, a TV program in which the main character is a criminal serving the remainder of his sentence by using his felonious talents to help the FBI.
Clearly there is some history in which flawed characters, as opposed to characters with flaws, surface as the individuals readers cheer for. We want to see justice win, even if those dispensing it are disreputable and use unsavory, even illegal, tactics.
In fact, we accept great flaws in our heroes, too. We don’t want our phones bugged, but if Jim Rockford or Thomas Magnum bugs the bad guy, illegal though it may be, we are happy if the tactic works. We don’t believe in torture, but when Jack Bauer tortures a terrorist to find out where the bomb is, we’re glad he’s on the side of right, doing what needs to be done to save the country.
Since there’s some history in fiction for such flawed heroes and even antiheroes, are we seeing a new trend or simply more of the same in books like Six Of Crows? In other words, are our choices now between bad guys and really bad guys?
I guess what I’m asking is this: have our tastes in fiction moved past the good guy? Is there no interest in a character who wants to be heroic and works to be heroic and succeeds at being heroic? Must all our heroes be reluctant or all our protagonists be “bad guys”? Have we come to an end of good guy heroes?
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. We have placed such an emphasis on realism in fiction, and when we look around or look inside, we only see flawed people who don’t consider themselves heroes even when they do something heroic. They aren’t actually out to save the world. There are no actual Superman and Spiderman. The heroes of real life found themselves thrust into the role because of their circumstances, not because of their own choosing. And when the circumstances change, they are happy to return to regular life without the demand of saving other people from evil.
Given that our stories, even our speculative stories, are required to contain a measure of realism, is the truly good hero of old, passé? Will readers care for a hero who isn’t dark or who doesn’t have a “bad guy” tag, who isn’t fighting his inner vampire, who might just as well destroy the earth as save it?
Or is this merely a current trend that will one day soon fade away in light of a newer and “fresher” approach?