I love a good villain. I mean, Maleficent is my favorite Disney character, so I appreciate how truly amazing a well-done villain can be. I even have moods where I want nothing more than a two-dimensional, mustache-twirling, melodramatic villain to add a dose of over-the-top crazy to my reading. But here's the thing: not every book needs a villain. And, in particular, not every romance
book needs a villain. Let's face it: feelings are messy, and relationships are hard enough without always having to contend with a creepy cousin who wants to steal your inheritance, or a shady man of business who is embezzling from your company, or a deranged ex who wants to kill you and/or your new lover. Sometimes an external villain is just too much and feels like a shortcut around the hero and heroine dealing with the real
obstacles to their Happily Ever Afters.
Recently, though, I was fortunate enough to read two lovely novels that don't play up external villains but instead focus on the hero and heroine working through their own, internal obstacles on the road to love.
The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville features a character who has the potential to become a villain — and he is an eensy bit of one — but, since he is never a physical threat to the hero or heroine, he avoids true villain status. Instead, the villain here is debt, an enemy that most of us have tussled with. Caro's deceased husband left her saddled with debt, and Thomas needs to marry Caro's cousin Anne for her fortune, to save his estate. In the end, of course, the two find a way to be together, but it's pretty clear that money will always be an issue for them.
In When the Duchess Said Yes by Isabella Bradford, what stands in the way of the protagonists' happiness isn't money but rather the youthfulness and idealism of the heroine and the jaded cynicism of the hero. Lizzie believes that love is forever, while Hawke is convinced that love will always fade and that he and Lizzie will eventually pursue separate lives. Watching these two work through their issues — well, mostly they're Hawke's issues — is lovely and heartbreaking and makes the HEA feel more well-earned than any kidnapping or murder attempt ever could.
Love is hard. Stuff gets in the way. Feelings get hurt and hearts get broken. Sometimes, the obstacles to true love are the everyday things we all deal with. In the hands of a skilled writer, there's no need for an external villain when the characters' inner demons can be just as difficult to vanquish.