PC: Fabrice Nerfin
Carrying on talking about good men, it's my turn today. I've posted a little about my NaNo novel, The Icarus Aftermath, and there will be more posts coming next week + for a while. (I love this book so much, you guys.)
The Sunfire family in The Icarus Aftermath is six men and three girls, most of whom you meet in the first novel. That's 2/3 men, and one of my favorite things about writing this novel was getting to take guys from a variety of backgrounds and personalities and show the one thing that unites them: a burning love for their family.
On the surface, most of the Sunfires seem to fit into one bad boy trope or another—and all of them like leather jackets. (Look, leather jackets are just great, okay?) But there is far more to these guys than what you initially see.
Impulsive, easily annoyed, bossy, he’s definitely an aggressive alpha male. He’s been protecting people from an early age, stepping between his jealous father and his cousin. And when he finally decided to do something permanent about that situation, his answer was to run away and join in the guerrilla war against the olympians. (Brilliant, right? HA.) He’s most well known for leaping first and thinking on the way down, something that drives his rebellion generals and strategists insane.
He’s not easy to work with, he’s not always easy to get along with once you get past the charming surface, and he’s irritatingly right about a lot of things.
And yet every single one of his pilots would follow him through hell and back and turn right around and do it again. His family is the first to point out his flaws but also the first to fight you if you dare speak out against him. And his death rips a hole not just in his family and his girlfriend but in every single one of the people who knew him—even the ones who didn’t like him.
Because Icarus cares. He didn’t ask to be a leader, but when it came, he stepped up and took it on. He didn’t set out to build a family of orphans and rejects, but when that chance came, he grabbed it with both hands and said ‘why the heck not, let’s do this’.
He’s widely thought of as one of the best heroes of the rebellion AND A GOOD MAN AT THE SAME TIME. He’s the furthest thing from a pushover, and he manages to be a mostly alpha male without being a jerk at the same time.
Now the oldest of the Sunfires, it’s his job to look after them all, and Talos is not prepared for it. He was bullied as a child by the very people who should have protected him and looked out for him. He grew up unloved by almost everyone, abandoned more than once, and just plain angry.
He couldn’t even break out of the bullying until Icarus said ‘hey, let’s run away.’ And while running away and going on a two-person war against corrupt empires is fun, it’s not exactly the best way to learn anger management, you know what I mean? And it didn’t help that of the two of them: him and Icarus, he’s the responsible one. He’s the one who makes plans, who reminds Icarus that some things can’t be solved by leaping first.
If Icarus was the dad of the Sunfires, Talos was the mom in many ways. He looks out for them, he keeps Icarus level, and he keeps the others level too. He knows better than most what each sibling needs to feel loved or to help keep their tempers under control.
In many ways, Talos is primed to be the grumpy jerk who goes around snapping orders and gets nasty when they aren’t obeyed.
And that’s absolutely not who he is.
Because he knows that everything in life is a choice. And he could choose to give in to the anger. He could choose to be the bitter jerk, but he chose differently. He still battles his anger almost every day. When Icarus falls, he wants to destroy Krete, and he means literally destroy it: the entire planet.
But he doesn’t. And it has nothing to do with being a coward or a wimp or preferring to sit and brood in anger. No. He chooses to control his feelings and make a sensible, responsible choice. It isn’t easy. But the good choices rarely are, and that’s why they’re worth making.
He’s not always a hero. But he’s a good man.
He’s been handed literally everything to turn him into a brooding, bitter, victimizing whiner. Half-olympian, his mother treated him like trash, and he was extremely isolated as a child. He’s a textbook case for ‘hurt boy who became a whiny victim who broods and pouts and needs anger management.’
As a half-olympian, he’s more powerful than most people. He can use persuasion on others, he can hear better than the average human/alien, and he is slightly stronger than the average human. He’s volatile, he doesn’t play well with others, he hates being treated like a kid, and he’s a BRAT sometimes. He messes with people just because he likes it, he taunts people, he thinks his family is better than most of the galaxy, and he’s a bit of a snob when it comes to who he likes and doesn’t like.
He’s the perfect setup for a manipulative little jerk.
And only two things kept him from going there. The Sunfires, and himself. The Sunfires pulled him out, they gave him a home and family, but all of it would have been utterly worthless without his own burning desire to be a better person. He’s worked to get to where he is, to be able to stand on his own two feet and look his General in the eye with a clear conscience.
Sure, it annoys and sometimes hurts him when people dismiss him as a kid even though he isn’t. Yes, he wants revenge on anyone who touches what he loves. And, oh, the temptation is definitely there to just manipulate the people around him to get what he wants.
But he won’t do that. And not because he’s a wimp or a pushover. No, it’s because long ago he chose to be responsible for himself and his actions, he chose to fight for self control, and he chose to be a good person, no matter what that took.
He isn’t a Sunfire, but he plays a major role in the book. He’s got all the hallmarks of a really annoying bad boy. Dark, tall, swaggering, arrogant, ladies' man, and he couldn’t care less if he starts conflict. Talos doesn’t like working with him, Mikon doesn’t really like working with him, and for a while, it seems like the only people who do like him are the ladies.
But as you get to know Xuthos, you find out that he isn’t your typical bad boy. He’s smart, he’s hugely capable, and the General assigned him to work with Talos because she knew he would balance the Sunfire out. And sure, he’s got a typical slightly traumatic past, but he’s no victim, and he doesn’t need saving from himself because HE’S taken responsibility FOR HIMSELF. Including when it comes to the girl he starts falling for—the girl who isn’t an option. He doesn’t whine or get fussy or huffy when she turns him down. He accepts it, he manages to not be bitter about the rejection, and he's even honest about the fact that next to Icarus, he’s not much of a catch.
At one point, Koralia tells him ‘you have one tiny spot of nobility in your heart and I managed to touch it.’ And it’s true.
On the surface, he seems like an aggressive alpha male abusive bad boy type. Is he a frustrating, aggravating man who could behave better at least some of the time? Yes, he is. But deep down, he’s trying really hard to be a good man.
In real life, good men aren’t only wimpy pushovers or aggressive bad-boy borderline-abusive jerks. They can have as wide a range of personalities as good women, with backstories as varied and complex as anyone.
Not all heroes are good men. Not all good men are heroes. And true good men don't fit either the aggressive alpha male trope OR the wimpy pushover trope because both are unhealthy. Realistic, three-dimensional good men in fiction do exist…and they’re worth writing and reading about.
And I’ll take a good man over a hero any day.