Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Smoldering Hot Royal Guard

I'm taking a break from my epic attempt to read/catch up on THE WHEEL OF TIME to visit my comfy, cuddly world of YA fantasy by knocking out three books written by some remarkably talented ladies. One is a debut (THRONE OF GLASS), one is book one of a new series (FALLING KINGDOMS) and the other is the final installment of a popular series(THE CRIMSON CROWN). It's also a run on reading some epic fantasy in the vein of what I write. Now, I'm not going to do full blown reviews. I don't like doing book reviews for an assortment of reasons I won't list here, but as I'm about a quarter of the way through the second book of my read (FALLING KINGDOMS) and I've noticed something that all three have. It's sort of a trope, I guess, though I can't be completely sure. I'm calling it (and I'm sure that TV Tropes already has an entry, but I'm sticking with mine for now) the smoldering hot royal guard. And I kind of like it.

Now, the term smoldering comes from the movie TANGLED, a vastly underrated Disney Princess movie. Now I know there are plenty of folks out there that will get their claws sharpened over the Disney Princesses but I for one love them if for no other reason my daughter's love of them. (In particular, Belle from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, who was really the first of the "new generation" of Disney princesses...anyway I digress.) TANGLED is a fun, adventurous, epic level romp that joyfully plays with the tropes of both Disney Princesses and the fantasy adventure genre and I don't think it gets the credit it deserves for being a good film. Anyway, there's a hilarious scene where Flynn Rider is held captive by Rapunzel and he tries to "seduce" her with his good looks, especially with his signature move, the "Smolder."

Now it's played off hilariously and full of winks and nods. Now, Flynn Rider is decidedly NOT the Smoldering All American Boy that I'm talking about. He's really Han Solo Lite...I mean he's even got the vest...but that's a blog post for a different time. I just wanted to sort of put that picture in your head...okay, maybe not that picture but something like it.

Anyway, if you look the word smolder up in the dictionary, it means "to burn sluggishly without flame with much smoke." And metaphorically speaking it fits this trope to a t...especially three characters from the respective books that are it.

In fantasy, royal guards are a dime a dozen. They are engrained into the psyche of fantasy writers. We usually just call them The Royal Guard, though sometimes we'll come up with something clever like the Kingsguard or in real life the Secret Service or something like that. Anyway, they are as much a part of the fantasy genre as the faceless mooks, the Dark Lord or the Action Princess. And I've noticed that in all of the above books/series, there is a royal guard that is smolderingly hot. I wish I could explain it better, but I think it makes sense if you think about it.

Now, let me say again I love this trope. This isn't a criticism, it's more of an analysis than anything else. All three characters have similar traits, attributes that connect them. Generally speaking, the royal guard just isn't any mook guard. He's usually a commander or captain or something like that. He can be a noble but he's not always a noble, it almost depends on what's convenient to the writer at the time. All three are inconvenienced in some way by the female protagonist of the story. Usually this involves their being assigned to the princess's detail. There is an immediate attraction between them and an equal amount of revulsion that eventually turns to respect and a deeper attraction. There is always a wall between the two and that just adds to the smoldering. See the royal guard can never be ravingly angry ever because guards are always under control (part of the trope!) so there's always a smoldering anger underneath as the guard does his job. It's all part of the tension. To make matters worse, the guard either is close friends with the king/duke/prince/love interest of the female protagonist OR despises the love interest/betrothed of the female protagonist. (I'm resisting calling her a princess because that is not always the case.)We can kind of understand why they always seem angry. But it's not just the tension from the romance, it's the very tension that have in their relationship with the nobility around them. It's tenuous. They aren't the same as the people around them and, on some level, that annoys them too, even if they are in enough control to not allow it to be on the surface.

Storywise, the same things happen to all of these characters. The long gazes at one another when they wonder "What if...", the almost cliched "Ditching the Bodyguard" and the "bodyguard shows up in the nick of time" all play out. But like with all tropes, it's not that you use them, it's how you use them. And all of these writers use them and use them well.It adds depth to a story and raises the tension. We all love the TEAM: ROYAL GUARD/TEAM HANDSOME PRINCE arguments in our work.

There is something appealing about the idea of a charge falling for/ being attracted to their body guard. The trope extends beyond the fantasy world. The movie THE BODYGUARD comes to mind almost instantly. It goes further back, Lancelot (in some ways) and Guenevere had a similar situation.

In THRONE OF GLASS, Choal is the Crown Prince's best friend and really could be the archetype of this trope. He seems angry all the time and it works. (Look, I have a thing for angry characters, okay.) FALLING KINGDOMS has Theon. (Which I have a hard time with only because Theon Greyjoy is a sniveling little s**t and this Theon isn't.) And CRIMSON CROWN has Amon. These guys are great characters that define this trope. I'm sure there are others that I haven't experienced and it makes me want to experiment with the character type in my own work. I like the conflict they feel: between their own feelings, their sense of duty and their loyalty to their friend, though that may not always be the case.

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