Here are my favorite heroes in no particular order, since I really could spend way too much time trying to parse the differences.
Percy (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
Robin Hood (Disney fox version or Errol Flynn only. Costner: gack.)
Will Scarlet (various print versions of Robin Hood and ballads)
Dread Pirate Roberts/Wesley from The Princess Bride
Athos from The Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan from Ten Years Later
Captain Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean; The Curse of the Black Pearl"
Tyrone Powers' pirate in "The Black Swan"
S.T. Maitland from Laura Kinsale's The Prince of Midnight. (He gets wa-a-ay too prideful towards the climax and almost takes himself off my list. But overall, he's pretty yummy.)
Strong, handsome, smart, principled, lithe, athletic, and brave. Dual identities a must. (With the exception of pirates and Robin Hood) Must have either a fast ship or a fast horse. (With the exception of Robin Hood. OK. Maybe he needs his own category.) Must have the ability to completely confound and bedazzle his enemies using his language as his primary weapon. Must be paired with a strong, witty, fiery heroine who could be portrayed on screen by either Maureen O'Hara or Olivia DeHavilland. (Keira Knightley was cute in "Pirates" but cute don't cut it.)
Why I love them:
Dialogue, barbs, dialogue, wit, dialogue, and athletic grace.
The blood rushes to my head and my heart beats faster when:
They spar with the heroine; "The Black Swan"
Tyrone Powers: You can lower your pistols.
Maureen O'Hara: I don't have any pistols.
Tyrone Powers: Your eyes. I've looked into pistol
barrels that are warmer.
They spar with the villain; "Robin Hood"
Basil Rathbone, who has Errol at the point of his sword;
Do you know any prayers?
Errol Flynn: I'll say one for you.
They spar verbally with the villain while pretending to be a simpering fool;
Percy: "A duel? .... Odd's fish! You are a bloodthirsty
young ruffian. Do you want me to make a hole in a
law-abiding man?... As for me, sir, I never fight duels,"
he added, as he placidly sat down and stretched his
long, lazy legs out before him. "Demmed uncomfortable things,
duels, ain't they, Tony?"
And this last bit, the simpering dual identity, is critical. I like the vigilante-Batman, but Bruce Wayne is too butch to fit in this category. Not every hero (as in Robin Hood) needs to wear a mask, but there has to be that false innocence to every character of this type. "What me? Raid a castle? Oh, how you do go on." (Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.)
So now that we have a sense of what's thrilling about this type of character, let's move on to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. Yeah, it will only take a second.
If you pretend that The Scarlet Pimpernel was real (bestill my heart), then the premise of The Pink Carnation is that there is still one member of the merry band of floral spies whose secret identity has never been revealed, even into the present day. A Harvard Ph.D. candidate travels to England attempting to unmask him. (Yeah, him.)
Now take a look at the Bee-YOOO-tiful cover of this book.
I'm reading the book and thinking, "Him? The Carnation's a guy?"
Talk about a cover killing the plot twist. Can anyone look at that image and think that The Pink Carnation's male? So that "mystery" which the heroine struggles with for most of the book is killed before I've cracked the spine.
(Aside: This was why The DaVinci Code was so freaking frustrating for me to read. I'm screaming at the characters, "NEWTON'S TOMB!! NEWTON'S TOMB!!" But the Harvard-educated fucking symbol fucking experts can't remember that NEWTON'S TOMB has angels pointing at spheres. Ahem. Sorry.)
OK, so at least give me a hero who swashbuckles! Nope, not here.
OK, so at least give me some kicking dialogue! Nope, not here.
Oka-a-a-ay. So at least give me a great plot with an intriguing adventure. (Diamond earrings which need to be smuggled into France as a message from one spy to another? A letter written in code? A daring rescue of a foppish aristocrat?) Eh, nope. (Yeah, so there was one rescue of a guy in prison, but it happened OFF-STAGE!!!!!! ::Deep breath::)
Instead it's a McNaught/Garwood-like romance with a funny but foolish heroine (she doesn't eat the shrubbery, but she does wax on about how boring sheep are), and an attractive hero who courts her. I've read this before, and I like this kind of book. In fact, it was well done for that Avon Historical genre. But where's Percy? Where's the snap?
And, last Most Annoying Thing About This Book.
No, that's not me quoting "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." That's what every single character, whether in present day, or in Regency England, or in Napoleonic France, says at some point in this novel. Argh? Urgh? I'll go with "La!" or "Odd's Fish!" anyday, thank you very much.
Quickest review possible: I liked The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and I'll probably read The Masque of the Black Tulip, but I was disappointed with it. Too fluffy. Not crisp.
Have an overwhelming desire now to go curl up in front of my "Captian Blood" DVD. Or maybe "Sea Hawk." Or maybe....
Yeah, except that when I dive into an adventure movie on the Thursday morning of a School Board Meeting, I have to suppress the urge, for an entire evening, to leap onto the dias, whip a freshly sharpened pencil from my briefcase and exclaim, "Are you with me boys? All those who are ready to die for love of country and raises for teachers, follow me!" Rather unprofessional, that.