Jayne Ann Krentz is wrong. I say this with trembling and trepidation but with unwavering conviction. After all, JAK is a goddess, a legendary defender of romance fiction, an author I’ve been reading for decades. And I’m just one among countless wannabes. Nevertheless, Ms. Krentz was wrong when she said, "No one wants to read about a beta hero." I am one, and I love reading about beta heroes. Furthermore, I know I’m not alone.
When I look back at the beta heroes I have known and loved, I realize that they are more than personal favorites. They are the heroes in some of the classic texts of our genre. Take Mr. Knightly in Jane Austen’s Emma—definitely a beta. Austen calls him a “sensible man,” sensibility being a quality she herself valued highly. Knightly is kind and compassionate and capable of great romantic love. He sees Emma’s faults clearly and loves her anyway.
Many of Georgette Heyer’s heroes are true alphas. Some would argue that heroes like the Duke of Avon (These Old Shades), the Marquis of Alverstoke (Frederica), and Lord Damorel (Venetia) define the generic conventions of the alpha hero. But Heyer herself divided her heroes into two types: Mark I (the alphas) and Mark II (the betas). Some of my favorite Heyer heroes--Hugo Darracott (The Unknown Ajax), Freddy Standen (Cotillion), and Gervase Frant, Earl of St. Erth (The Quiet Gentleman)—are betas all, practical, honorable, and capable of abiding friendship with a woman.
Connie Brockway’s As You Desire and Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton rank high on many lists of all-time favorite romances; both feature beta heroes. Brockway’s Harry Braxton, best friend and protector of his long-time love, was an RT KISS-award winner, and affable charmer Colin Bridgerton and his beloved Penelope are on All About Romance’s most recent Top Ten Couples list. Clearly many readers appreciate the hotness factor possessed by a good beta. Even JAK herself must love a least one beta hero: Harry Stratton Trevelyan, scientist/philosopher hero of her popular Absolutely, Positively.
Examine almost any successful series, and you will find a beta in the mix. Murphy Muldoon, hero of the concluding book on Nora Roberts’s popular Born in trilogy, is an Irish farmer with a poet’s soul. Lord Robert Andreville, hero of Mary Jo Putney’s Angel Rogue (Fallen Angels), is a spy with a truly tortured past, but the charming Robin is also a beta, who uses humor and friendship to win his love. Another of my favorite betas is Ewan Poley, Earl of Ardmore, the hero of Eloisa James’s Kiss Me, Annabel (Essex Sister #2). This handsome Scot heats up the pages of a courtship journey book, but his kindness, sense of humor, and religious convictions mark him as beta hero.
The most recent beta hero to claim my heart is Sir Tobias Aldridge, hero of A Lady of Persuasion, the third book in Tessa Dare’s debut trilogy. Toby serves to demonstrate what a beta hero is, what he is not, and what endears beta heroes to many readers.
Betas are kind and decent.
We meet Toby in Goddess of the Hunt and watch the heroine of that book realize that her feelings for Toby were merely infatuation. In Surrender of a Siren, we learn that Sophia has jilted Toby. Early in A Lady of Persuasion, we discover that Toby, at some cost to his own reputation, has protected the jilt Sophia from becoming fodder for gossip. His doing so allows Sophia and Gray to return triumphantly to London. When Lucy is in labor and Jeremy is near mad with fear, it is Toby who talks until he’s hoarse to distract Jeremy; it is Toby who reminds him that Lucy knows her husband and loves him anyway.
Betas have a sense of honor.
Alphas do not have a monopoly on honor. Toby’s honor is the foundation of his devotion to family and friends. Even his mistakes are linked to his sense of honor. He is wrong to lie to Bel about his campaign, but he instinctively understands that he must find his own purpose in life, not have it handed to him by his wife.
Betas often have a highly developed sense of humor and often use a light touch to diffuse a tense moment.
Toby understands Gray’s concern for Bel and deals with big-brother-in-protective-mode with grace and humor. His offer of a brotherly hug left me laughing out loud. His playful teasing of Bel helps her to learn the need for balancing solemnity with a glad heart.
Betas are problem-solvers.
They lack the alphas’ need to control the lives of their pack, but when presented with a problem, they can come up with a solution, often an ingenious one. When Gray, a classic alpha, is confronted with Jeremy’s fears for Lucy, he is helpless. Joss, caught in memories of his own loss, only increases the fear. It is Toby who spends hours talking of “mundane, everyday concerns that he hoped would serve as a reminder that beyond this day, beyond Lucy’s labor, mundane, everyday life would continue.”
Betas are not wimps.
Toby has ample physical courage. He is not intimidated by Gray. When Bel is in danger from runaway horses, Toby risks his own life to save her. He faces a man with a loaded gun with fortitude and finesse.
Betas are not inferior lovers.
Scene after scene in A Lady of Persuasion reveals Toby as a tender, passionate lover who satisfies his beloved in every way. He also expresses his love in words and in meaningful ways such as the honey-sweetened ice cream.
Finally, betas are not out to save the world; their focus is on home and heart.
Toward the end of ALOP, when Toby announces that he will become an MP, a position in which he will serve “with honor,” just as he will manage his estate responsibly, he says to Bel, “But my highest goal, my true reason for living, is right here in my arms. It’s you, darling. It’s us.” A few paragraphs later he adds, “I intend to be, above everything, a devoted husband. . . . And a doting father.” Bel knows she’s the “luckiest woman alive.” So does the beta-loving reader.
What about you? Are you a beta lover? If not, why not? If so, who are your favorite betas?