Paranormal Romance Books & the Alpha Male
A quick search in Google or in the Pinterest search engine and it’s easy to see how popular searches for alpha males and man candy are… but why do we like paranormal romance series that contain alpha male characters? And how do we, as twenty-first century female readers, balance our love of alpha males with our place within a modern society that values gender equality?
As an educated, professional woman I almost feel the need to apologise for my love of romance books and my enjoyment of a paranormal romance novel that contains an alpha male. On one hand, feminism suggests the romance genre isn’t progressive and I shouldn’t want to read about women falling in love with strong men. But the other half of me, the half that has made a million decisions about work, motherhood and home simply longs to switch off, sink into a bubble bath and abdicate responsibility for an hour so I can enjoy the latest book boyfriend I’m dating.
But should I feel guilty about this?
I’ve decided – No.
The Romance genre – and arguably the Paranormal Romance genre in particular – tends to be the less respected limb of the literary tree.
Are Romance novels any less worthy than a Horror or Science Fiction novel? Certainly, these genres seem to be held in higher regard than Romance books.
One reason this might be the case is because the publishing world is dominated by men despite the fact that there are many studies that show that women buy and read far more books than men do. There are, of course, hugely successful female writers (I’m sure we’ve all heard of E.L. James!), but despite these successes, the gender gap remains pronounced.
A survey from a publishing house after an open submissions call showed that 83% of Horror submissions were made by male authors compared to 17% female submissions. For Science Fiction it was 78% male: 22% female.
In contrast, the authors and consumers of Romance are largely female.
To read more about the gender gap in the literary world click here
It has long been an argument that women’s fiction, women’s art, is valued less by society because it has been created by, for and about women; in a patriarchal society that values patriarchal ideology it is too easy to criticise women’s art as being of less quality, or as being less valid than male created art because it is the domain of women.
So, with this in mind, perhaps we should be celebrating this female driven genre rather than viewing romance books and the alpha male as a guilty pleasure.
Besides, romance novels (like society) have developed. Once upon a time, the alpha males within romance books tended to be a main course of attractive man candy with a side of chauvinism; too often the romance’s happily ever after came through abusive scenes that would send any sensible twenty-first century heroine in search of a restraining order. These alpha males were often constructed through the billionaire trope, and the hero’s domineering and often alarming behaviour would be forgiven by the heroin (and by extension the reader) because of the thickness of his wallet, his good looks and some minor trauma in his childhood.
Thankfully, romance novels have progressed. While the alpha male protagonist remains a Byronic figure and is still sometimes all things moody, domineering and borderline aggressive, he now tends to be balanced in two ways: Firstly, he has empathy. He wants commitment and love. Secondly, his personality is countered by a strong female heroine who choses love not because she needs a man, or because she’s forced into dependence, but because she wants him.
Within romance novels, even the presentation of sex has changed. The ‘bodice ripping’ domination of the heroine with ambiguous consent has been replaced with scenes of a self-possessed adult woman enjoying consensual sex – liberating scenes, rather than oppressive.
Arguably, the best of the alpha male architypes can be found within paranormal romance books. Billionaire Boss tropes might not strictly be the realm (forgive the pun) of paranormal romance novels but the strong, masculine, take-charge male is at the heart of many paranormal stories. Add in the fantasy and paranormal tropes of werewolves, vampires and demons and you have alpha males made in heaven – or hell, depending…
When creating the protagonists of my fantasy paranormal romance series, I was very aware of the pros and cons of the alpha male trope. The male leads in the Other Realm fall under this character type but I’d like to think I’ve moved with the times.
Shapeshifters are hugely popular in paranormal romance series, and they feature in some of my books too: wolf shifters, panther shifters, even eagles and hawks. The inclusion of animalistic qualities and transformation emphasise the instinctual element of masculinity and make the alpha male, well, literally alpha – the head of his pack.
There is something sexy about a shapeshifting alpha male and arguably, freeing. If a hero (or heroine) is subject to his or her need to shapeshift then they are strongly in touch with the more elemental, animalistic side of their personality. This can add an extra level of heat and produce quite a steamy romance novel!
While shapeshifters ramp up the heat of an adult paranormal romance book, that sexiness is delivered more through actions and charisma than by looks and money. Heroes are usually handsome, but their magnetism comes through power – and that doesn’t necessarily equate to power through wealth, but from power through position. The alpha male in paranormal romance is a leader and a warrior; he is confident; he is physically (yes, we know we want the muscles) and mentally strong. That strength is attractive, the fact he leads others is attractive – but in a paranormal romance novel he is motivated by factors such as survival, a just war and protecting his community, all far more heroic qualities than monetary business concerns of the billionaire boss.
The alpha male hero is also protective but again, I try and temper this in my fantasy paranormal romance series. The hero is protective out of love, loyalty and desire –not because he’s driven to control the heroine. My alpha male characters might be steamy romance shape-shifters but they value female strength, they aren’t afraid of it! When he falls in love with the heroine, he falls… and we aren’t talking light, affectionate love, we’re talking deep, unequivocal, consuming, pass-ion-ate love. The twenty-first century alpha male shows emotion and longs for commitment, rather than the old-fashioned hero who would fear the ‘feminine weakness’ these two aspects might bring.
In the books of my paranormal romance series that are based in the human world, I also create more progressive alpha male heroes. I’m writing book eight at the moment, and within this story Maxen is an alpha male worthy of any contemporary romance series. He loves motorbikes, heavy metal and ladies; he’s good looking and has a hot swimmer’s body. But when it comes to his relationship with his arranged, fated wife, Maxen falls hard; he uses contraception without request; and he asks verbally for consent. What’s more, Maxen manages to make all of these things sexy.
Yes, Maxen is rich but wealth is a practical plot choice rather than a device for him to wield to ensnare the heroine. With money comes the removal of every day concerns that would bog down the narrative. A man trying to romance a woman might struggle to hit the right note with my readers if he’s preoccupied with how to pay his British Gas bill rather than with the heroine’s charms. (And let’s face it, one of the reasons we read romance is to escape everyday pressures and disappointments, and having money in a story helps achieve this.)
In short, Maxen is a modern alpha male.
And isn’t that what the twenty-first century woman wants in her romance hero? It’s not so much ‘out with the old and in with the new’ but more a combination of the better elements of both.
In writing this blog, I’ve been struck by the fact that women shouldn’t apologise for their desire to read about alpha males, just as they shouldn’t apologise for loving to read romance books. A modern woman, secure in who and what she is, isn’t afraid of masculinity, she loves every muscled inch of it. And because she now sees her femininity as a source of strength, rather than as something that needs to be banished, she expects to see elements of both traditional gender stereotypes within her alpha hero. Feminine traits of compassion, empathy and love don’t weaken an alpha male, they make him sexy as hell and that’s why paranormal romance novels are some of the best books to read!
To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.