Green Rider – a sub plot called Romance

So on the recommendation of a good friend I started this new series. There are four published books and since the first one came out in 1998 I was reasonably sure that it was a completed series.

Ahahahaha! Ha.

Halfway into Green Rider by Kristen Britain (the first book in the series) I thought to look up the author’s blog. Turns out the fourth book which came out in 2011 ends on a cliffhanger (thank you goodreads reviewers, really) and the author still doesn’t know how many books this series has left in it!! Gah!

As if I didn’t already have Megan Whalen Turner to alternately curse and adore. As if the rest of the world didn’t have G.R.R. Martin!

But let’s forget that for a moment. I’ll come back and discuss the book once I’m done but in the meanwhile I came across something funny on the author’s website. To the most frequently asked question from her readers she says:

Will Karigan and King Zachary ever get together?

Believe it or not, I get this question often enough that it deserves its own topic. It still surprises me how taken with this romantic subplot many readers have become. I want to say to them, in defensive reflex, but- but there’s other “stuff” worthy of notice in them thar books, too! In any case, I’m endlessly pleased people like what they’re reading, whether it’s the romantic subplot, or some other element of the story.

As for the question, even if I knew the ultimate answer, I would not tell a single reader, not even my editor! It would constitute a rather hefty spoiler, don’t you think? And if you haven’t noticed, I rather enjoy torturing my characters as well as my readers.

King Zachary (a character I’ve yet to meet) is apparently posed to be Karigan’s (our young and courageous heroine) love interest.

I sympathize with the mild irritation the author seems to feel at having the focus shifted from Karigan’s adventuring (and I’m told she is everything the term ‘epic hero’ promises) to Karigan’s love life, but I found the way she used the word ‘sub-plot’ mildly annoying myself.

In Codex Alera by Jim Butcher we followed young Tavi through his years of learning and growing and watched him defeat formidable enemies with no magic to aid him, only his keen mind and the help of good friends. In all this we wondered repeatedly if Tavi and Kitai would end up together and when this happy moment would come about. Our hope for Tavi’s love life didn’t detract from our interest in his growth as a hero. It was the very setting and the obstacles he had to surmount that drew us to the series. Kitai and Tavi by themselves would have had little or no impact on us. At the end of the day we remember Codex Alera for Tavi’s heroism, not his romantic life. And we remember Kitai not just as Tavi’s romantic interest but as a strong warrior who often acted as the voice of reason and wisdom when Tavi was left floundering.

Now I don’t know King Zachary, but what with him being a king and all, I’m expecting that the guy has something to recommend himself outside his presence as Karigan’s stud muffin.

Do male authors do this? Deliberately point out that the readers’ curiosity about the lead pairing is surprising because after all it is a sub plot. I’m wondering if Ms Britain feels the need to point out that she isn’t writing a romance fantasy because in publishing history high fantasy offerings by female authors have been dismissed easily and repeatedly and every time such offerings had a female lead or a strong romantic thread through the story, the love angle was held up as proof that women could only ever write mush.

Never mind that men have been writing romances since minstrels and bards wandered the lands.

But whatever the reasoning, and however justified, it irks me that the author would ignore her own carefully laid out crumbs for future character development. I’m fresh from reading the first half of the book and there was a scene early on where Karigan gets to “see” moments from her past, present and future. One of the moments was this (Spoiler, people!):

A tall man with almond-shaped brown eyes gazed at her sadly. She couldn’t make out his surroundings, but she had an impression of a room of stone walls like a keep or a prison.
Kari, the man said, I need you. I need you here. Please don’t accept that mission. It’s dangerous and I can’t bear the thought of losing you.
This man needed her? Who was he that he should speak to her so?

I might have to eat my words after I finish the book, but my first guess on reading this was that this is a potential love interest. And if King Zachary is the guy everyone’s asking about then chances are we have a round peg for the round hole. My experience is that authors don’t introduce characters like this – showing us that they would be important to our heroine at a later point – unless that character is meant to be a vital part of the developing story arc. The author made our interest in their relationship inevitable when she gave us that scene.

One of the reasons a strong emotional attachment is often important in a hero’s life is that they are often left standing alone, defending what they believe is right and true. Allies turn enemies, friends turn uncertain, families turn skeptical and disappointed. In those times the hero has one other person who looks at them with unfailing faith. Sometimes this individual is a romantic interest and sometimes he is Dumbledore. =) No, but seriously, it doesn’t have to be a love interest. Frodo had Sam and no one can deny that Sam’s faith and loyalty was what finally got Frodo to Mount Doom. But Aragorn had Arwen, whose presence in his heart and memories got him through his worst moments.

What I’m saying is that a hero isn’t defined by the person he/she ends up falling in love with, but in fiction (as in real life) they affect character growth, development of the hero’s perspective of life and should not be dismissed as a sub plot.

Relationships – romantic and otherwise – round off a story. Unless we are ready to dismiss every great friendship that gave our heroes heart and courage (and the readers, banter), every master-apprentice relationship that gave them family that understands and encourages them, every hero-nemesis connection that gave us our greatest literary chemistry…we shouldn’t look down on ‘romantic sub plots’.

Note: If you’re writing a James Bond novel and the love interest is the flavour of the week instead of someone the hero has deep feelings for then I understand the dismissal of romance as an important element of/integral to the story.

But if you’re going to make King Zachary someone who matters to Karigan then he’s going to matter to your readers. A hero doesn’t struggle and triumph in a vacuum. The people in their lives matter. It is they who complicate a hero’s life, force them to make choices that define them forever, and push them to defeat impossible odds.

It’s the relationships that draw us, Ms Britain, and you must know this because you have made this one interesting enough for us to hope they don’t end up star-crossed.

And that’s all for this post.


One comment

  1. Absolutely agree. I really enjoy this series, and love Karigan as a character, but this whole Karigan and Zachary thing is a major flaw in the story.

    For one, they barely have any time with each other, and yet they’re unmistakably in love – which is just nonsensical, unless there’s some kind of “soul mate” situation going on there. It smacks of little girl dreaming of the prince to love her fantasy that an otherwise intelligent author knows is impossible, but indulges anyway.

    It’s an emotional rollercoaster for readers, on par with introducing main characters, only to kill them off. Eventually it gets too much for readers to put up with, and we stop bothering.

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