Secondary characters have a tough time of it in romance. You want them to be interesting, surprising, well developed, but at the same time you don’t want them taking up too much page-space at the expense of the two (or more, if it’s that kind of story) people whose romance it is. That constraint makes a vivid supporting character all the more impressive to me, and here are a few who particularly impressed this year.
Confession: Any year there’s a book with Adrian in it, I can guarantee you this list will start with Adrian. In Forbidden Rose he’s a surly young teenager, unpredictable, unaccountable, dark-witted, and you can absolutely understand both why Doyle was willing to take a chance on him and why Carruthers would like to wring his neck. Speaking of…
Carruthers, Head of Section for France
The Forbidden Rose, Joanna Bourne
I’d wondered about her ever since she was first mentioned in The Spymaster’s Lady, and she didn’t disappoint. Competent women in romance kind of make me go weak in the knees, and competent, no-nonsense, unsentimental women in positions of authority, removed from the romantic drama, are like salt on a chocolate-covered caramel; the piquancy you maybe didn’t realize you needed to go with that sweetness.
Jean-Paul, operative for La Fleche
The Forbidden Rose, Joanna Bourne
Three cheers for a heroine’s former lover who’s now happily in love with someone else! I really enjoyed the depiction of a man and woman with a history, a strong mutual regard, and a shared commitment to a higher purpose – and no lingering attraction or jealousy or anything of that sort. It was a refreshingly grown-up kind of relationship.
But it wasn’t all Joanna Bourne! Here are a couple more who stayed with me after I’d put down their books:
Cheerfully unembarrassed by her Cockney accent, overlarge pearls, or the source of her husband’s fortune – a brewery – she also has a sincere appreciation for fine art and Byron’s poetry. And her level-headed affection for her daughter was one of the sweetest things in Romance this year.
Check out her comeback when Penny, panicking as she tries to explain her impulsive acceptance of Lord Bedlow’s unexpected marriage proposal, lashes out:
“You seemed to like him well enough when you met him. You introduced us to him. You looked him up in Debrett’s the moment we arrived home. What was your purpose, if not exactly what has transpired?”
“I meant you to know him a bit longer first! You needn’t make me out to be some kind of heartless schemer. Why shouldn’t you marry a man with a university education? A man who’s seen something of the world? Who’ll take you to Venice?”
Seriously, Penny! Why shouldn’t you? (She totally won me over with that argument.)
A small-time grifter with the looks and poise of Grace Kelly, Vanessa dumped her kids with their grandmother and disappeared, but has cast her long shadow over them all the way into adulthood. She’s one of those awful characters who has just enough self-awareness (not to mention style) to keep you from writing her off completely.
Here she’s just apologized to good-boy eldest son Carter for an ethical compromise she drew him into years ago:
He felt fire burning through his veins, incinerating every logical thing he might say. Sorry? he thought. She was sorry?
“What about dropping us off with Margot?” His voice burned, rising up through his throat from some unknown furnace in his gut.
She shook her head. “Nope. That was the right thing to do. I’m a pretty crap mother.” She watched him as he stood there, running hot and cold, feeling like his head might explode. “You guys turned out better without me.”
She’s constantly saying maddening stuff like that, getting up Carter’s (and our) hopes that she might be redeemable and then letting us down again. You want to slap her, and at the same time you keep hoping she’ll show up in another scene.
Okay, that’s a plenty long post on supporting characters! Stay tuned to hear about some of my favorite leading characters from 2010!