We’ve talked Alphas. We’ve talked Betas. We’ve talked Warriors. Now I’m going to tell you about my favorite type of hero: The Tortured Hero. He’s the one who’s been to hell and back and has the blisters, burns, and a pocket full of ashes to show for it. In all my reading, I’ve never met anyone more scarred and tormented than Zarek, from Sherrilyn Kenyon’s DANCE WITH THE DEVIL.
Zarek started out in life as no child should--as the illegitimate whipping boy for his half-brothers in Greco-Rome. He was abused and tormented, both emotionally and physically, by his family and all around him. Constantly lashed, beaten and half-blinded for the things his malicious brothers deliberately did, he was also forced to eat dog feces and clean cesspits and--at the end of his horrid, degrading life--blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. By the time he was stoned to death, he was so physically maimed and deformed from the harsh abuse heaped on him, that he couldn’t raise his arms to shield himself. If anyone deserved a second chance at life and happiness, it was Zarek. He got the life part, but unfortunately, not the happiness.
While he may be physically transformed, Zarek is still as mentally and emotionally scarred as he was the day he became an immortal Dark-Hunter. Having known neither happiness nor kindness in either life, pissing people off is the only thing that gives him pleasure (his words, not mine). He figures if no one can love him, he’s going to make damn sure they all have a good reason to hate him. He lashes out at everyone, more a cornered, rabid animal than a man. He’s antisocial, combative, and borderline psychotic. If he wasn’t immortal, he’d be suicidal. Well, in some ways perhaps he is. He has a tendency to bring trouble on himself, to deliberately do things to cause people to hate him, probably because it’s the only type of human interaction he’s ever known. So what’s not to like about him?
To be honest, not much. Or so you’d think from the glimpses you get of his character in Kenyon’s earlier Dark-Hunter novels. In those, you wonder if there is anything even remotely redeemable about him. Turns out, there is. Banished to the remote wilds of Alaska for his anti-social behavior, he spends his time alone in his isolated cabin carving intricate works of art out of wood that he gives away to be auctioned to help the poor. He gives up his wood stove (his only source of heat) to a wild mink that decided it was a good place to have her pups. He looks out for a single mom and her daughter in the nearest town, clears the snow from the elderly’s walkways and carves elaborate ice sculptures in the dead of night for the townsfolk to enjoy. But don’t tell anyone. He doesn’t want anyone to know he has a nice side. Come to think of it, I don’t think he realizes he does. At least not until a blind nymph who can see beyond the tormented darkness to the tender man within comes along and falls in love with Zarek, just like I did. Tortured heroes…no one deserves to be loved more than they do.