I Like Alpha Heros, or Doing It Carolyn Style

So, I’m reading this book. It’s historical romance. It’s trade, and I tend to dislike the size, but I can deal with that. Someone recommended it to me, and I’ve been trying hard to like the book.

Bear with me while I work my way around to the point of the post and its title.

The beginning felt . . . scattered to me. I liked the hero well enough and was prepared to soon love him. But boy, there was a LOT of set up and stuff that didn’t seem to be moving the plot along — it was, in fact, backstory, really.

In which Carolyn Does Not Like the Heroine Very much

Then the heroine was introduced. A VERY young widow and extremely beautiful and, well, she’s just so self-centered. Hmm. But even that I was prepared to be okay with as long as there were signs that she would grow out of the self-centeredness. She chose her best friend and companion for the apparently sole purpose of never being upstaged and always having a crony to do her bidding. I confess I thought it odd that a widow, however young, would have an unmarried young lady (younger than her) as a crony. That hardly seemed appropriate to the spirit of the Regency era, but OK. The widow has a rival. A young, unmarried, beautiful rival with whom she has a history as they were rivals as young girls. And this widow, who is rich rich rich is actually engaging in a battle for social supremacy with the rival. What? They’re no longer in the same social sphere of influence. The rival, in my opinion, has every reason in the world to want — in fact NEED — to marry. That’s the reality of the Regency. Women were to get married. Being unmarried has consequences and many of them are unpleasant.

I could not help thinking that this made the heroine more than self-centered. It made her juvenile and, well, kind of mean and petty.

And then the rivals have a face down in which the heroine comes out the victor and she is a bitch about it. She’s mean and horrible and GLAD she took down this woman a peg or two. In public.

Well. Okay. I admit that in high school I was not one of the popular girls. In fact, I was one of the girls to whom the popular girls were mean — to prove that they could be. So in stories, I tend not to like heroines who are mean popular girls. Popular girls, sure! I can like them just fine. But mean and popular? Nope. Who likes a mean heroine, popular girl or not?

Anyhow, as you can see, I have some issues with this book. But the hero seemed pretty good. I liked him a lot. He was fairly alpha.

And then.

And then. . . .

Dun dun dun!!!!

I just read a scene in which the hero is completely and utterly emasculated. He’s supposed to be super duper bad ass at what he does, but NO ONE who works with him believes this to be the case anymore. They obviously see him as paranoid and foolish and he basically gets canned from his job in front of everyone and he just stammers and can’t answer questions and in the face of his admittedly poor evidence for his suspicions he can only say . . . nothing coherent.

And wow. Right there I said to myself, Carolyn, I do not wish to read a book where the hero looks foolish because he is, in fact, acting like a fucking idiot! I’m sorry. My prejudice is out there flapping in the wind. In my romances, I want a strong, capable man who is recognized as such by at least most of the men around him. Getting fired for being more or less the incompetent jerk who sits three cubes down from you at the day job is not what I want my hero to be.

Doing it Carolyn Style

In this story, Carolyn style, the hero might get fired from his job, but it’s because the person doing the firing knows the hero is a threat. The hero, in the Carolyn version, would never be stupid enough to take flimsy evidence to someone he does not know for a fact can be counted on to support him. Why? Because he is not only aware of himself, but aware of the qualities of the people close to him. He’s a good judge of character. Not a cretin who doesn’t know he’s in political trouble at the office.


Historical Accuracy

Also, there were a lot of strange little things that didn’t quite fit. Imprecision of language, which as you know drives me absolutely batty and lots of things that seemed so historically inaccurate or implausible that I kept thinking, hmmmm. Like the widow with a bosom companion who is her factotum but who is young and unmarried and marriageable. What parent would allow their unmarried daughter to spend unlimited and unsupervised time with a widow — going anywhere and everywhere the widow does? Why isn’t the widow thinking about her (supposed) friend, who, socially and culturally, needs a husband?

Like the upper class character described as lacking a healthy tan. WTF?? This is ENGLAND where it rains a lot and where people do not have tans. It’s the Regency period, 150 years before healthy and tan were ever used in the same sentence describing a white character. And you’ll note, too, that a mere 30 years after people started talking about healthy tan white people, we’re now realizing the white people who go out and get all tanned often get cancer and eventually look years older than they really are. So, yeah.

Like the amazing amount of detail about a certain English department of government when I have never ever in all the research I’ve done, seen, read or heard talked about ever heard anything like amazing detail about this department. If amazing detail existed I honestly think I would have found at least some of it. The author is freaking making it up which wouldn’t bother me except . . . well all the rest of her work so far is sloppy and imprecise and socially and culturally just WRONG and all I can do is refer you to xkcd and this comic:

Anyway. I’ve realized that I need my romances to have an Alpha hero. I know it’s shallow of me. I know it! But I’m not really sorry. I just hadn’t realized how strongly I felt until the author castrated her hero before my horrified eyes.


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7 Responses to “I Like Alpha Heros, or Doing It Carolyn Style”

  1. Lorelie says:

    Every time I read about a tanned Regency character, I’m reminded of P&P. 🙂

    Anyway, I like an Alpha hero as well as the next girl, but I like a well done Beta, too. And incompetence is not a Beta trait either, at least in my view.

  2. Carolyn says:


    Do you have any example of books with Beta heroes? Because I would love to read a couple just to see what happens to my built in Alpha-o-meter.

  3. ranearia says:

    Never been fond of the Alpha Heroes, the ones whom act like cavemen and make the female lead’s life hell. Gamma heroes (a cross between Alpha and Beta)and Beta are my fave type of hero lead. Carla Kelly has some of the best Beta and Gamma heroes

    • Carolyn Jewel says:

      I would argue that the “caveman” hero isn’t a true Alpha. A hero who acts like that isn’t an Alpha, he’s a asshole and the result of an author going off the deep end. Honestly, I think there are some authors out there who don’t do subtlety or who may be quite deliberately, writing the caveman hero. I’m with you, don’t care for the caveman hero much.

  4. Mitzi H. says:

    I’m with you….Alpha’s are my favorites too.

  5. Rosie Nguy says:

    I think I know which book you are talking about. I’ve been on the fence about whether or not I wanted to read it because on the one hand, it’s been getting a lot of gushing reviews, while on the other hand, I knew straight off just from the summary I would not like the heroine (and liking or at least understanding the justifications for the heroine’s actions are essential to me enjoying any book). I tend to like beta heroes now, but that might be partially because there are so many badly written alphas out there, and they do dominate the genre. The Wives of Bowie Stone by Maggie Osborne, Veils of Silk by Mary Jo Putney, and What a Scoundrel Wants by Carrie Lofty have excellent beta heroes, and I especially love Bowie and Will. They are strong and competent but not flashy and are self-aware and perceptive enough to know their own weaknesses and connect deeply with their heroines.

  6. Dishonor says:

    I think I may know what book you’re talking about, but I really adored it. The character development (if we’re thinking about the same book) is truly lovely, and I have a very soft spot for Beta heroes.