I recently finished the second book in Michael R. Hick's IN HER NAME series, CONFEDERATION, and as expected, I loved it. It was better than the first and it did deliver on the promise it made in the first few pages. But over the course of reading the story, it transformed into something more than just a good read. I became deeply and sympathetically connected to the hero, Reza Gard.
I even tweeted that I hadn't found such a compelling hero since Sgt. Terry Myell, who is the hero of one of my favorite SFR novels of all time, Sandra McDonald's THE OUTBACK STARS and sequels THE STARS DOWN UNDER and THE STARS BLUE YONDER.
But these heroes are two very different people.
But when Terry becomes caught up in the deadly conspiracy that haunts the woman he loves -- facing the same fate that destroyed her last vessel along with most of its crew -- he proves he is anything but an ordinary soldier.
Reza Gard is a very different hero. Kidnapped by an alien culture that is systematically wiping out the human race, he's been transformed into something that may be more than human. He is, in fact, the only human being that has ever survived at the hands of the deadly Kreelan and his sudden appearance in a remote human outpost is something no one--including Reza--can explain. To those in power, this presents a dilemma. Reza Gard is either an unique opportunity who should be protected or a dangerous enigma who must be destroyed.
At the heart of Reza's dilemma is a profound contradiction--in his heart he will always love and serve the Kreelan Empire, but he refuses to take part in killing his own kind--and this contradiction has banished him forever from the home--and the one--he loves.
But being the product of two civilizations who are on a collision course ultimately will require him to make an impossible choice.
So these two extraordinary characters got me pondering....what makes up a great hero? Why did these two stand out in my mind moreso than the heroes of other stories I've read? What did they have in common that hooked me? What was it at the very core of their characters that spoke to me? This is what I came up with.
A Great Hero Must...
Neither of the referenced heroes are perfect. Terry is a down-on-his-luck grunt who is sometimes a little too accepting of his fate. Reza can be stubborn and uncooperative to a fault. Yet at the heart of each of these men is a strong sense of honor and duty, a loyalty to certain principles that define their lives. I think this applies to any hero, no matter his vocation. Even thieves and pirates live by a code of honor.
Go Above and Beyond (But Never Walk with a Swagger)
A great hero always rises to a challenge but he doesn't see it as an act of heroism. He simply does what needs to be done, no matter the personal cost. He never boasts about what a great job he did, and never gets cocky about how well he performed his duty.
A great hero must be tempered by personal loss and trial by fire. He must maintain. He must survive. He must overcome disappointment, despair and hopelessness and dig deep for courage even when he's left twisting in the wind. He may be tempted to give up or give in, he may even spend a few moments standing on that proverbial narrow ledge. But he will not jump.
Have Something He Desperately Wants But Can't Have
A hero must strive. He must always stretch for that golden ring that he knows is just out of his reach, and endlessly stagger through the burning sands toward the cool oasis only to have it disappear before his eyes. How he deals with his inner and/or out struggle is what defines his true quality and makes him worth cheering for.
Not everyone is going to agree with my list of qualities and that's totally okay. Characters are not one size fits all. Different heroes appeal--or don't appeal--to those mystical elements that strike a chord in each of us.
So now it's your turn. Tell me what makes a compelling hero in your universe? Who is your favorite hero (or heroes) in fiction?