Last week I participated in my monthly Golden Heart blog party with the theme “favorite holiday books”. But instead of talking about A Christmas Carol or The Polar Express, I made a case for the books of Autumn. Not necessarily stories that take place in the Fall, but those that evoke the emotions of this season. Stories — and emotions — told around a campfire. Stories — and emotions — passed down from one generation to the next.
Autumn is a complicated season with edgier feelings. There are a lot of events and holidays (back-t0-school, Homecoming, Halloween, All Souls Day, Thanksgiving, etc.) that fight for dominance over the encroaching Christmas season. (Although I adore Christmas, I like my holidays contained to the month in which they occur.)
Night steals hours from the day. The air cools and sharpens. The west winds (at least here in Virginia) carry the scents of crisp apples, cinnamon-flavored cider, and pumpkin pie. The harvest comes in and fields lie fallow.
The veil between life and death thins.
The possibility of redemption can only be taken on faith because the guiding lights of this world have dimmed.
And Autumn books carry these feelings regardless of when or where they take place. These books offer triumph over desolation, perseverance in the face of death, faith over fear, and remind us that death is not the end.
But why does the “season” of a book matter?
At one time or another, we’ll all identify with the season that closes in on us, steals our daylight, and leaves us in despair for spring. And our reading choices give us a healthy way to work through these emotions.
But where does a book get its emotion from?
There are many elements in a novel that carry the emotion including setting, dialog, and plot. Yet, for me, emotion is all about character. While an overall book can have a “fall feel”, certain characters personify these emotional elements.
So, for my debut post on the Sisters of Suspense blog, I’d like to share share some of my favorite characters that embody the characteristics of Fall.
Click here to read more at Sisters of Suspense or click continue to read here.
First up is Juliet Capulet.
Yes, Juliet from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.
Within the last decade this play — and Juliet in particular — has taken a lot of heat. Romeo’s fickle heart, Juliet’s supposed passiveness, and the ever-annoying problem in YA literature of Insta-Love. But despite the fact the play is a tragedy and I’m a HEA kind of writer, I’ve always loved this story.
I’ve always loved Juliet. And I always feel closer to her in the Fall.
Regardless of what the critics say, Juliet is Romeo’s equal in every scene. During their “First Meet”, she highjacks his sonnet and forces him to share his lines. A situation unheard of in Shakespeare’s previous works. Juliet then meets his sassy measure, beat for beat. Later that night, she demands he either show her a ring or get off her balcony. She even kills herself like a man with a knife, while Romeo takes the feminine way out.
And one of the earlier works that Shakespeare based his version of the play on was titled Giulietta and Romeo by Luigi da Porto.
Juliet was named first because she was the protagonist.
But why is she a Fall character? Juliet is a young woman who knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to make a decision and follow through. Even if that choice leads to death. Juliet, in the space of a few days, feels every emotion in the heightened way that only teenagers can feel. But it’s her desperateness to eke out every ounce of love and happiness and grief and despair that gives this story its “fall feel”.
From the very first time she speaks, with such intensity, you know the story won’t end well. Like trees burning with bright reds, purples, oranges, Juliet’s teenage yearning for her lover heightens every physical sensation. And we all know that that kind of emotion, if not reigned in, can lead to tragedy.
This YA book, which carries the same name as the heroine, was written by Gwen Bristow in 1959. It was — and is — one of my all-time favorite stories. Despite being over fifty years old, this heroine could take on Katniss Everdeen and win.
Celia Garth is a dressmaker in Charleston, SC during the Revolutionary War, yet more independent and educated than the other apprentices. And like all teenagers everywhere, Celia yearns for more excitement and love than a war-torn city can offer. So she finds the colonial resistance and convinces General Francis Marion to let her join his elaborate spy network. During the day Celia makes dresses for the wealthy British women while at night she smuggles messages to the General known as the Swamp Fox.
Of course, while she’s making decisions that threaten her life, and those of the other spies, she falls in love — and marries — the teenage rebel leader of General Marion’s spy network.
As Celia’s desperate days turn to dark nights, and victory seems slim, she risks everything — including swinging from the gallows as a traitor — to be with her lover. A story of illicit young love and adventure, Celia is a heroine who embodies the notion that a life lived authentically is worth the risks.
The next character on the list is a twofer. The Creature and Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Is there any character ever written who has suffered, and survived, like Mary Shelley’s monster? Whenever I read this book, I am overwhelmed with the conflicting emotions of pity and horror for this character who “appeared” in this world without guidance, help, or love. A character whose physical features were so gruesome that he was both feared and shunned, and then forced to become the monster they all believed him to be.
Then there’s the madness of Dr. Victor Frankenstein as he works in his lab while the day shifts into night. The man who loved and hated everything and then decided to play God.
The conflict between these two characters can only be read in front of a fire, wrapped in a wool blanket, and drinking hot cider. With the house security system alarmed, of course.
This is a complete and total redemption story. And if you haven’t read the YA Embrace series by Jessica Shirvington, run out and read it. Now!
The five-book series chronicles the life of Violet Eden, a daughter of one of heaven’s angels, who is asked to join the fight in searching for demons who roam the earth. Of course the deadliest of them all is an ex-angel named Phoenix.
The same Phoenix who Violet kisses in the forest.
The epitome of the tall, dark and handsome bad boy with supernatural powers, he’s sexy, sassy, and completely in love with the Violet (a sassy, kick-butt heroine herself) even while trying to thwart her.
But what makes Phoenix worthy of being a Fall character is the sacrifice he makes at the end of the series. If you don’t weep while reading these books, we just can’t be friends. 🙂
In the Gods of Midnight series by Deidre Knight, about Spartan warriors given immortality in order to protect the world from demons, King Leonidas must lead his men through the travails of war and love. Throughout the series, King Leonidas sacrifices himself to protect everyone he loves — over and over again — while at the same time being given the task to believe in something bigger than he is, something he can’t see.
And that something is the One True God.
While this pagan leader, who’s only ever known warfare and brutality, struggles with this concept of faith, he also falls in love with the one woman he can’t have.
King Leonidas’s story, told throughout the four books in the series, is all about loss, lack of hope, blind faith, and the desperate wish for redemption. Four serious emotions experienced most keenly in Autumn.
Suzanne Brockmann’s Gone Too Far is still one of my favorite books in her popular Troubleshooters series. Not just because the hero, Sam Starrett, has such a huge character arc (drawn out over many books in the series), but because of the heroine Alyssa Locke.
Behind Sam’s constant drama and alpha-hero plotlines, Alyssa stands by Sam as a pillar of strength, perseverance, and truth. She does this even though she knows there’s very little chance of her and Sam ever finding a HEA.
In some ways, Alyssa reminds me of Juliet. Firm in her beliefs about who she is and what she wants, Alyssa is unwilling to compromise. If the hero can’t get himself together, he’s not worthy of her love even if this stance leaves Alyssa alone and brokenhearted.
But just as we face the dying days of Fall and know that this darkness isn’t all there is, Alyssa has faith that the risks of losing Sam are worth the chance of finding her ever-after love.
No, not Bella Swan. But Bella, the other vampire. The beautiful heroine in JR Ward’s Lover Awakened. This is a dark book. The hero, Zsadist, is a former blood-slave vampire who has struggled to become a full-fledged member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood in spite of the life-long abuse he’s suffered.
Z is the protagonist with a huge arc that started in the previous two books.
You could even say that the themes of this book make it an Autumn book.
But, for me, the heroine Bella is the shining light in the book’s darkness, like the will-o’-the-wisp flickering over fog-soaked moors on All Hallows Eve.
Bella, like Alyssa Locke and Juliet, chooses to believe in something she can’t see, to believe that love will conquer.
But Bella also takes it one step further. She chooses to love a tortured man who may never be capable of loving anyone ever.
With no hope of winning her heart’s prize, Bella closes her eyes, throws herself into Fate’s arms, and has faith that her lover will be there to catch her.
In the middle-grade book The Iron Peacock by Mary Stetson Clarke, Joanna Sprague suffers a huge blow on her way to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her father dies during the voyage, leaving her penniless. Since teenage girls had few options in the seventeenth century, the ship’s Captain sells her as a bond servant to a family in the colony.
But Joanna wasn’t the only captive aboard the ship. A group of young men, all Scottish prisoners of war from the Battle of Culloden, are also being sold into bondage.
Life in the colony is much harder than Joanna could ever have imagined, with starvation, dangerous weather, and constant warfare stalking her on every page. But Joanna chooses to build a life for herself and the young Scottish prisoner she’s fallen in love with.
Joanna’s decision to protect the people she loves, even though she will never be anything more than a bond servant, shows the kind of courage you find in the dark days of Autumn: the strength to go on for others even though you have no chance to save yourself.
Although Heathcliff, the alpha hero of all alpha heroes in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, fits in with the premise of this blog post, I’ve chosen Catherine Earnshaw.
Catherine is not a nice person. She’s selfish, she teases and taunts the men in her life, and she’s haunted by every decision she makes and doesn’t make.
Catherine is an absolute mess of a heroine.
Catherine isn’t even worthy of the hero and he’s not the nicest person either!
So why did I choose Catherine? Because she’s not perfect. Because she’s not honorable or worthy or even likable. Because she fights — and loses — a battle in the darkest parts of her soul.
Catherine lives in the bleak Yorkshire moors, isolated from polite society, neglected by her father and allowed to run wild with Heathcliff, the foundling boy her father has brought home from Liverpool. She’s a mass of teenage emotions — impatience, recklessness, and desire — trying to be the lady of the manor while fighting her own wild nature.
Her emotions are too big for even the sprawling Yorkshire moors to contain. And, unfortunately for her and Heathcliff, she is unable to reconcile her passionate love for Heathcliff and her need for societal acceptance.
Since both needs are equal in force and strength, there’s no way for her story to end well.
Yet, despite the fact she’s not the most sympathetic heroine, we stand by her side and experience her pain. With Catherine, we feel the truest kind of lost-love agony.
Then, from the bleakest depths of Catherine and Heathcliff’s hearts, comes another love story — one that leaves us with the hope that in spite of the couple’s tragic past, the future of their children will heal all wounds.
That, like Fall, darkness is always followed by the light.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the list and now I’d love to hear from you. What characters evoke the emotions of your favorite holidays? I’d love to know!
All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2015.