Let’s Hear it For Reluctant Heroes


I’ve alwaGail Martin picys been a bit mistrustful of people who are in too much of a rush to be heroes.  They’re a bit like Major Glory in Justice Friends, or Mighty Mouse, with his “Here I come to save the day!”  When someone wants to be a hero too much, it makes me wonder if he’s the arsonist setting the fires so he can help put them out.  Hey, I’m cynical.

Don’t get me wrong—I believe in heroes.  Maybe more so than is currently fashionable.   I think there are plenty of real heroes—first responders, military folks and their families, national guard, hospital personnel and plain-old-regular-Joes and Janes who see a bad situation and take responsibility to do what they can to fix it.  They show us the best that humanity can be.  And yes, by self-selecting those careers and training for them, they have “volunteered” to be heroes, in a certain sense.  But real heroes don’t make sure they get their close-ups. They aren’t in it for the glory, and often, they’re the ones slipping away when the news crews show up.

We’ve seen the dark side of wanna-be heroes with trigger-happy cops and neighborhood watch patrols, cases of mistaken identity and bad assumptions, and the deadly effects of people who have watched a few too many Clint Eastwood movies. (“Do you feel lucky, punk?  Well, do ya?”)

Which is why as an author, I tend to favor reluctant heroes.  These are men and women who look around hoping there’s someone else to do what needs to be done, only to realize that it’s up to them.  They have a hard choice to make, and they make it, stepping in to take action when they’d rather be anywhere else.

In my first novel, The Summoner, Tris Drayke was happy being the second son of the king.  He had no desire to take the throne, and looked forwaMartin_WarOfShadows-TPrd to escaping the politics of court for a country home.  But when his father, the king, is murdered and his half-brother seizes the throne, Tris comes to realize that he’s in a unique position to save the kingdom.  He doesn’t yet possess the skills, or the allies, but he makes the choice to do what he can.

Jonmarc Vahanian, a smuggler with a shadowy history, is doubtful.  “I’ve known a lot of heroes,” he says.  “Buried them myself.” He’s learned the hard way that heroism has a cost, and it’s going to take a lot to get him to stick his neck out again.

In Ice Forged, the first book in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, Blaine McFadden didn’t plan to become a hero when he kills the man who dishonored his sister, their father.  Blaine expects to die for his crime, until the king commutes his sentence to exile in a harsh arctic prison colony.  He survives the brutal prison and makes a life for himself as a colonist, only to discover, when war and magic-gone-wrong destroy his homeland, that he might be the only one who can put things right.  He’s got a hard choice to make.

I find ambivalence a logical response in situations like these.  Tris, Jonmarc and Blaine have all carved out a little place for themselves where they can exist in peace.  They’re not looking for the spotlight. For each of them, playing a hero once before got them badly burned.  They know it’s going to cost them more than they want to pay.  That’s what makes it mean so much more when they choose to serve.



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