Monday, February 14, 2011

Male on Monday: The Enduring Appeal of the Mystery Man!

It's Valentine's Day and Harlequin Historicals author Carol Townend joins us for a mysterious post about those faceless heroes that are so popular right now!

The name Valentine comes from the Latin valens meaning strong, worthy or powerful. As we probably all know, Saint Valentine’s Day is on February 14, but the saint himself is something of a mystery man. Nothing much is known about him except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia near Rome on February 14. Wikipedia tells us that the feast celebrated on February 14th might even commemorate more than one saint of the same name.

The mystery aspect of St Valentine might explain why his day is the day chosen for lovers. Mystery is a vital ingredient in romance. In former times, it was said that the first person of the opposite sex a person saw on St Valentine’s Day must be their Valentine. (This sounds rather random, but people were apparently allowed to keep their eyes firmly shut until the right person came along! Hmm...)

Today, hopeful lovers send each other cards, roses and/or chocolates. Traditionally the card is left unsigned – this is surely to maintain that delicious air of mystery and ensure the recipient is kept in a state of uncertainty about who exactly is attempting to court them. This ambiguity seems to be vital to romance. Or is it?

Many romance covers show heroes and heroines whose features are obscured, perhaps so readers can imagine the character of their dreams. The face of the hero on my latest cover is partly obscured. Like Valentine, he looks strong and powerful and, because his features are obscured, I like to this he has that air of mystery about him.

Do you like covers like these? Or do you prefer to see covers showing more of the hero’s features? And do you think the actual story is stronger when the hero maintains an air of mystery throughout? Or should it be the heroine who keeps something back?

Carol Townend writes medieval romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Her latest title, Bound to the Barbarian is set in eleventh century Byzantium. It is a stand-alone novel, the first in a mini-series called Palace Brides.

Out of her depth and into his arms…

Sold into slavery, maidservant Katerina promised one day to repay the Princess who rescued her. Now that time has come, and Katerina must convince commanding warrior Ashfirth Saxon that she is her royal mistress.

Spending balmy days and long sultry nights with this man make Katerina’s task increasingly impossible. How long will she be able to keep up her deception? And how long before she finds herself willingly bedded by this proud barbarian?

Bound to the Barbarian is released by Mills & Boon on February 4th 2011. For more about Carol and her writing, please visit her blogsite:


  1. I prefer covers that show men in their ruggedness - makes me pick up a book! :)

  2. Generally I prefer a whole face or a profile. In these "mystery man" covers they always leave off the eyes -- and the eyes are all important, to me. Of course if the guy in question doesn't resonate with my idea of the hero -- and I don't like what I see in his eyes -- I won't be picking up the book! But, no, I'm not a fan of half-faces on covers.

  3. Hi Tara,
    I know what you mean about ruggedness - it certainly looks good on a man!

    And Anne,
    I do agree about the eyes being most important. My DH never quite gets this, he is always wondering why the eye colour of the hero is so important in a romance novel. Duh! Still the DH has a little romance in him, there's a gorgeous bunch of red roses in the hall this morning!!

  4. Argh! My webhost seems to have gremlins, so if you need to look at my website it's best to do so at:

  5. I'm with Anne - I need to see the guy's eyes along with his face and/or profile on a cover. IT's important to me for some reason.

    And sigh - now I reveal my extreme nerdish roots. I was taught in CCD that Valentine was a Catholic Martyr jailed for performing Christian wedding ceremonies at a time when Christianity wasn't allowed. Legend has it lovers would leave notes of support near his cell.

  6. Hi Barbara,
    I am sure you are right about Valentine, but I heard there was more than one Valentine...which makes you wonder about the others. Does anyone know about them?

  7. I am not fond of covers like this. It always makes me think of bad photographs where someone's head is chopped off. I don't mind an air of mystery in the story but not when it seems too contrived.

  8. Hi Kaelee, I know what you mean. It's one thing to give a man an air of mystery, and quite another to rob him of all individuality!

    Came across this this morning, it's about St Valentine's Day in France. (18th century) Groups of unmarried people would meet in houses that faced each other (men in one, women in the other). Then the women would call out the names of the men with whom they wanted to 'couple'. If the men rejected the women who chose them, the jilted women would gather round a bonfire, and jeer and shout insults & burn pictures/keepsakes of the men who turned them down. This got so rowdy that the French authorities banned it in 1776. I don't recall hearing about this tradition before! It sounds a bit harsh.