Last Sunday I wrote about my theory that Alpha Male heroes work best in sub-genres like paranormal romance, historicals, or romantic suspense, the idea being that extreme manifestations of dominant behavior are fun to read about in worlds where such behavior is not only expected, but necessary. In a setting that’s closer to real life, like contemporary romance, the reader’s tolerance for macho chest-beating is much, much lower.
In last week’s discussion, regular 8 Ladies visitor Rachel Beecroft said “the other BIG reason I love Alpha men is because it generally takes an Alpha woman to tame them (at least in the stories I like – I can’t be bothered with Alpha man being tamed by ‘little me’ heroine). Yes! Exactly what Rachel said, and we agreed we’d follow up today with a discussion of our favorite Alpha heroines.
I’ve been pondering mine all week, and chewing on another comment, made by Michaeline about Jessica and Dain in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels: “I’d argue that Jess is something else. She’s a loner, while being an alpha kind of implies that there’s a pack following you. She defers to her Grandmother. She doesn’t have a gaggle of girlfriends. But Dain? Definitely got a gaggle of boys hanging on his every exploit. He’s really quite Alpha, as I think of Alpha.”
That gave me a brain-worm, because while I could see where Micki was coming from, the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sure I agreed with her. Which means that my definition of Alpha isn’t the same as hers.
I took the obvious course of action and asked Mr. Google. He wasn’t particularly helpful, but he did offer a few limited dictionary definitions (‘the dominant male animal in a particular group or a man tending to assume a dominant or domineering position in social or professional situations’) along with page after page of Urban This and Lads’ That about how to achieve said dominant or domineering social position and have first pick of all the hot girls. Sigh.
In the end, I decided to write my own definition and offer it up for discussion. For me, there are three elements to Alpha-ship:
Dominance. The man or woman must be the most powerful character in their environment or sphere of influence. They must enforce this dominance, be strong enough to defend it, and willing to defeat any and all challengers.
Leadership. The Alpha character must set the rules of behavior in their environment or sphere of influence and must enforce those rules.
Protection. By assuming the position of dominant leader of the group, the Alpha also assumes the obligation of protecting the weaker members (which by definition is all other members) against all external threats.
Emphasizing the protective aspect may be where I differ from Micki, but I think it’s an important part of what distinguishes an alpha heroine from a strong one.
The brain worm is still wriggling, so I picked some authors from last week’s post about Alpha heroes and took a closer look at a heroine or two.
I’d say most of Loretta Chase’s heroines are Alpha, which is why I love them so much. What about Lydia Grenville from The Last Hellion? She’s clever, outspoken, fiercely independent, works as a journalist, and crusades against innocent girls being trafficked into prostitution. She dominates her world by sheer force of personality and protects the vulnerable with no help except an oversized dog and the noble but dispreputable hero. Or Marcelline from Silk is For Seduction, a talented and ambitious dressmaker who wants to be undisputed top dog among London’s premiere modistes, and who is leader, driver and protector of her family (her sisters and daughter). I’d even argue for Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels (sorry, Micki) – she comes to Paris to rescue her hapless younger brother, and even his servants have no doubt she’ll do it. Then she turns her sights on Dain, and finally his son.
Magical urban fantasy is great territory for Alpha heroines. Kate Daniels (Kate Daniels series) has powerful secrets, scary fighting skills, and was brought up to help no-one and rely on nobody, but she sets about building, leading and protecting her own small community (a dog, a street urchin, a semi-outcast from the Shapeshifter pack). And there’s Nevada Baylor, heroine of the new Hidden Legacy series. After her father’s death, Nevada takes over the family’s private investigation firm. Her family is wonderful, more hilarious and dysfunctional than Stephanie Plum’s, she’s indebted to a large, powerful organization which makes her take on a case she can never win, but she leads and protects and fights for her family with everything she’s got, which turns out to be more than she realized.
I’m voting for Deb Grantham, of Faro’s Daughter. She runs a gaming hell and undoubtedly rules the roost, juggling financial difficulties and wealthy admirers while trying to keep her hapless aunt and impetuous brother from ruin. Or The Grand Sophy, who adopts and reorganizes and rules her aunt’s entire household from the moment she arrives in London? Or Frederica?
I also found some excellent, strong heroines who don’t fit my Alpha criteria but still pack enough punch to make a lasting HEA for themselves with an Alpha hero. Mary Challoner, from my all-time fave Heyer Devil’s Cub, is a dominant personality but she is not a leader, nor will she become one. Many of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ heroines are powerful loners who find their place in the hero’s community (Kiss an Angel, Nobody’s Baby But Mine). Elizabeth Lowell’s Hope and Faith Donovan (Jade Island, Midnight in Ruby Bayou) are strong-minded women fighting to make themselves heard in a family of powerful, dominant men. I’d even say Lizzy Bennet is a determined, independent woman who finds her place at the side of Alpha Darcy.
As long as the hero and heroine are both strong enough to sustain a powerful struggle for a whole book or series, and community is an important element of the story, I don’t think the book has to be an Alphabattle to make it to my keeper shelf. I’m not sure. Maybe next week I’ll look at that shelf in more detail.
Do you agree with my definition of what makes an Alpha?
How Alpha are your favorite heroines?