In Defense Of (Some) Romantic Heroes

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I'm not saying some of them aren't gross — but there are great ones out there, oh yes indeed.


As a counterpoint to weekend writer MorningGloria's post on the problems with the romance genre — particularly in that the heroes were a bit too aggressive — I'll make an attempt to defend it. Point/counterpoint, etc.

I'm the last person to claim that the romantic universe is populated exclusively with sensitive, caring new men who are a little too good to be true (that's what Catherine Anderson's novels are for) — hell's bells, I devoted a series of posts to documenting the antics of some of the worst offenses of the retro breed, 1980s varietal. But at the same time, the romance universe — especially the modern romance universe — is not a monolithic place. It's full of good writing, good heroines — and some very good heroes, too.

Anyone who's interested in the subject of romance — academically or, um, otherwise — needs to read Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Reading Romance Novels. Yes, it's by the authors of the estimable, awesome website of the same name and it's fascinating. Basically, they explain that while bodice-ripping of the classic, rapey viking style did it for some people at a certain time in the early days of the genre, contemporary tastes have changed a lot — and romance, one of the most necessarily dynamic of genres — has changed with them.

I don't just mean that the hero of the latest Eloisa James historical is based on House, M.D. (although he is) or that sex scenes these days are way less purple, and exponentially hotter than they were 20 years ago (although they are.) Rather, the good ones — and there are a lot of good ones — are nuanced, intelligent and widely divergent. I hesitate to make generalizations about heroes today — that was one of my biggest peeves with that asinine USA Today piece — but the truth is, if you can generalize about today's romantic hero, he's kind, he's honorable, he respects the heroine's independence and intelligence, and he always, always goes down on her.


There are a lot of things that bug me about modern romance novels — stupid anachronisms in historicals, friggin' bizarre outfits in contemporaries, 50+ pages of gratuitous kidnapping plots and random villains, Big Misunderstandings — but forced sex is no longer the issue it was. Simply put, it's not a part of the mainstream romance landscape anymore — because that's not what most women want.


Back to those great heroes. I have my favorites, but I'm actually more interested in yours. Since I started highlighting the ludicrous "heroes" of 80s romances, people have been asking for a counterpoint: the best heroes — and heroines — in the genre. So submit your nominations and we'll start redressing the balance. And just saying, Zachary Bronson will be on that list.

Earlier: Romance Novelists Uncover What Women Really Want



As a writer of historical romance, I fall firmly in the "Yay, romance!" camp.

The romance novel hero may, in fact, begin the novel as an overbearing blowhard or a commitmentphobe. He may suffer from a fear of emotional intimacy. He might be a philanderer, or maybe he hasn't touched a woman since Helga the barmaid broke his heart when he was 16. He has mother issues, or father issues, or sibling issues, money problems, responsibilities he desperately wants to (but can't quite) take care of. He is well intentioned but misguided. He's carrying the world on his shoulders, and sinking under the weight. He compensates by overblowing his strongest character trait.

The romance heroine has her own issues. Like the hero, she is struggling to find her way in the world. She's developed coping mechanisms that have served her well in the past, but just aren't cutting it anymore.

The arc of a romance novel follows the hero and heroine as they come together as a couple, of course, but each must grow as an individual for the relationship to survive. By the end, the overbearing hero has learned to step back. The philanderer is a one-woman man, and the guy with daddy issues has either made peace with his parent or learned to let go and create the family dynamic he never had.

At its essence, the romance novel is a study of balance. Harmony must be achieved within each lead character as well as within the couple. The romance hero and heroine are just the latest embodiment of the timeless metaphor of yin and yang, god and goddess, light and dark, winter and spring.

Also, hot sex is hot.