The 1-2-3s of Romance Heroes

Now for my breakdown of the guys for romantic book trilogies.

Book 1: Alpha Male aka “The Head Honcho” – Usually in romance trilogies, the first hero is the one of the highest social rank (alpha male of the pack, king/prince/duke/earl, oldest son, leader of whatever group the trilogy heroes are a part of, etc.).  He’s the opposite of the more docile heroine he’ll be wooing – more domineering, inflated sense of his rank and never hesitant to put anyone in their place.

Book 2: Beta Male aka “The Second in Command” – This hero is usually the Head Honcho’s wingman or best friend.  He’s often also the “good guy” in the trio or the one most honor bound and solemn as a monk.  Well, I guess it does take a lot of patience to wear heroine #2 down.

Book 3: Omega Male aka “The Rebel Without a Cause” – The last story often involves the most rebellious, least mature of the trio.  Often, he’s the one getting into bad scrapes but he manages to handle himself quite well until heroine gets involved.  He is also a thwarted lover, of either one of the previous heroines or another girl from his adolescence or some years before the stories take place. Where he goes, trouble is likely to follow.

The 1-2-3s of Romance Heroines

I’ve started noticing a pattern when it comes to romance trilogy heroines, linked by male leads.

Book 1: The Outsider aka “Alice in Wonderland” – Heroine is brand new to the fold, be it a clan, coven, pack, planet, dimension, etc.  She doesn’t know the workings of the world she’s gotten into, so many of her pitfalls come from her lack of knowledge, and a majority of her role is uncovering the hero’s realm.  This heroine is more naive and docile.

Book 2: The Insider aka “The Warrior Princess” – This book’s heroine is often someone who is already part of the hero’s world, understands it but in some way has rejected it or doesn’t fit into it.  Out of the three heroines, she’s often the most independent minded.  She belongs to their world but isn’t necessary connected to the three main men until something happens to throw her into their path.  This heroine often has an axe to grind and will fight the hero of this novel more than if they were in Book 1.

Book 3: The Outlier aka “The Girl Next Door” – Often the last heroine and hero are people who were lingering around in the first and second books, that you thought would hook up then but ended up with their own stories.  Usually she’s connected to a large aspect of the previous novels – either as a sibling to one of the male leads or tied into a  overarching plot or continuing subplot device in the series. The heroine for Book 3 is well acquainted with the world she’s in (can be either an insider or outsider), but doesn’t feel like she belongs because of something in the past.  Book 3 heroines skew more toward knowing what they want but not how to get it.

When It’s Done Right

Here is a rare gem indeed – I’m going to rant about a historical romance done right.

The characters are multi-dimensional, humanistic rather than characteristic, and there’s a level of genuine drama, not melodrama lingering between them.  Connie Brockway has been on my radar since last year, but I hadn’t touched her McClairen family series until now.

The trilogy is formulated around the three Merrick silbings, whose tragic family history haunts them and their truly villainous father Lord Carr is at the heart of it.  This hearkens back to my theory that a hero is only as good as his/her villain, and Lord Carr is the exact scheming, mad and cunning evil genius that keeps the heroes on their toes.  He isn’t the usual caricature Jafar villain of historical romances, he’s actually got his hands all over the pot and proves difficult for his children and their respective spouses to combat.  His greedy motivations and deft ability to play the role of wolf in sheep’s clothing puts him in a league above 98% of the other historical villains I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of those).

The stories unfold like a chess match.  It is a true battle of wits in order to survive, and the Merrick children pull it off in such a smart and heart-felt way.  Though they love, Brockway makes it natural and subtle rather than large pronouncements and obnoxious repeats of how in love they are.  No crying around virginity being the exaltation of being, though there are female virgins.  And Brockway knows how to conduct romantic tension like it’s the New York Philharmonic. She takes time to develop the plot and the romance together, rather than tacking on a plot to the romantic plot.

Elements of foreshadowing and Gothic flair add to this series.  The conclusion is befitting, though rushed it works.  While there are some weak points, I find that this has to be one of the best romances I’ve come across and it deserves way more credit than it has.

Historical Romance Cliches 101

Usually, I prefer fantasy or sci-fi novels, but for the last couple of months I’ve been on a historical romance kick.  Georgette Heyer is by far the reigning queen of the genre, and also the foundation for most of the writers that come later, so her stuff might seem cliche when it was kind of like the grandmother.

Anyway, I’ve decided to list some of the cliches I use to screen what I’m in the mood to read:

1) Married by force — The hero and heroine are forced to get married because of extenuating circumstances (betrothals, monetary situations, alliances, revenge, social faux pas).  Usually, this is really common but if the author does it right, it’s a pretty fun read.

2) Kids the hero doesn’t know about — While highly realistic that most heroes who sleep around will have kids, how they’re handled in story can make or break it.  One cliche I really really hate is when the heroine shows up with his baby and acts like its hers, when it’s not.  a) What kind of jackass is he that he doesn’t remember who he slept with? b) How pathetic is she to try something that ridiculous?  I’m not a fan of hearing that they conceive kids after only one encounter.  Really?

Why are Historical Romances written today so bland?

Historical romances have to be one of the most cliche and white bread variety of all fiction genres.  Historical romance writers play it safe, the characters are always virtuous to some end.  But novels printed in bygone eras weren’t all Jane Eyre and Jane Austen.  Georgette Heyer played close to the vest in her imitation of Austen’s novels, but she was from a conservative era as well.  For some reason, the media likes to paint the past as this idyllic and overly intelligent time bygone.

Guess what?  People don’t change that much and they’re as fun and flawed and ferocious as they’ve ever been.

So here are some literary novels that will knock your socks off and have yet to be banned from the public:

1) Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (1722) – Prostitution, incest, illegitimate children galore can be found in one of the earliest English novels.

2) Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) by Choderlos de Laclos (1782) – Better known to Gen Y as Cruel Intentions and Gen X as Dangerous Liasions, two former lovers plot the downfall of innocent misses.

3) The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1380s) – Though this isn’t a novel, it is a collection of some of the bawdiest tales to grace English ears.  Chaucer is considered by many to be the Father of English Literature, all thanks to a sex-starved college student and a dangerous old cougar.

Top 5 Overused Names in Historical Romance Novels

While reading several Regency novels, I’ve noticed a certain pattern to the names of characters.


  1. Lily/Lillian – I’ve actually lost count how many times I’ve seen this name come up.  Somehow, every Lily is a naive hoyden on the run from someone.  As someone who used to find it adorable, I could do without seeing it in a Regency story ever again.
  2. Isabella/Isabel/Isabelle/Belle/Bella – This name was gaining popularity even before the Twilight books came out, but can just one of them not be clumsy?
  3. Molly – The favored name of chambermaids and street rats.
  4. Grace – Too often used as the joke, “Grace/Your Grace”
  5. Charity, Chasity, Patience, Passion, Prudence – I know virtue names were a thing at one point, but sometimes they come off far too Mary Sue in trying to make the character from the actual virtue.

Names that get a pass because they’re historically accurate in their usage: Jane, Elizabeth, Anne, Joan, Mary, Marie, Julia, Emma, Lydia, Sophia, Kate, Catherine, Charlotte.  Overall, the overuse of female names happens less often than it does with male names.


  1. Sebastian – The arrogant noble guy who always ends doing the right thing, in spite of himself.  Self-righteous to the bone.
  2. Jack – The ideal name for the rogue, misunderstood younger son of some nobleman.  Also known as “the black sheep” of the family.
  3. Rafe – Pretty much the self-made man with an ignoble yet slightly noble background.
  4. Tristan – This is one of my favorite male names and I’ve used it in Regency, but I’m a little weary of seeing it now. Often he’s the good, not twisted hero with more whimsy in his character than most other heroes.
  5. Gabriel – This name often emphasizes the avenging angelic nature of the hero.

Names that get a pass because they’re historically accurate in their proliferate usage: Edward, Henry, Richard, Michael, John.

It’s not the common usage of names that’s obnoxious (in real life it happens all the time), it’s that the names have become stock characters.

Character Descriptions that Need to be Dropped Like a Bad Habit

1) Stop describing the hero as a Greek statue or Adonis

2) Stop describing the hero as a cat or cat-like, which includes but isn’t limited to lynxes, lions, tigers or leopards

3) Stop describing the heroine as a kitten or mouse or mousy

4) Stop writing that the hero “would never force himself on a woman”

5) No more flaming red hair, there are far too many characters that remind me of Little Orphan Annie all grown up

6) I know even when you’re in love in real life, it’s easy to drop the “perfect” word around a lot, but it gets old fast on paper

The Next Big Thing

When I was at NYC Comic Con last October, most of the science fiction and fantasy titles announced involved shifters.  A few years before that, vampires were a bigger deal due to the Twilight craze (I think Team Jacob spurred the shifter trend) which has been winding its way back down.

I think I was lucky to spend my childhood in the late 90s, when it was a bigger, darker scene for sci-fi and fantasy.  The teen horror, sci-fi, and fantasy realms were run by R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Tamora Pierce, K.A. Applegate and quite a few other awesome people I can’t recall at the moment.  Nickelodeon aired “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” while Disney Channel had “So Weird.”  Dark stories for teens like The Hunger Games weren’t as uncommon, they were actually closer to the norm for children’s books at the time.

The first time I picked up on SFF trends, it was when Buffy hit the scene.  Suddenly, it was vampires everywhere.  It was at the tail end of that when Harry Potter became popular.  There was also a bit of alien/space opera still lingering from The X-Files and Firefly.  The witch trend was next, which had Harry Potter and Charmed and some other book series I can’t quite recall.  During college I kind of lost track of most media, but I think the it was the Twilight vampire bandwagon again, then followed by few fey stories were big those years.  Shifters/paranormal romance have now overtaken the scene but I feel like that’s winding down.

While I was meandering around the Regency era (I usually didn’t care for historical romance before), I started noticing that more historical paranormal and steampunk novels have been coming out.  Then looking at the Nebula Awards Nominees, there were more than two entries that fall into that category.  For an obscure sub-genre like historical paranormal to have that many entrants is peculiar.  I think that will be the next genre to get major print, especially after Supernatural’s Wild West episode airs, that might just be it’s shotgun to the race.

A Smart Girl’s Avon Romance

Ransom My Heart by Mia Thermopolis/Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot, writer of The Princess Diaries Series, The Mediator Series, 1-800-WHERE-R-U series, All-American Girl Series, along with other chick-lit classics, returns to her historical romance roots in her standalone novel Ransom My Heart. The author of the book is listed as The Princess Diaries narrator, Mia Thermopolis and the proceeds are going to Greenpeace.

I have been a fan of Meg Cabot since my high school days — I was a big fan of The Mediator Series which she originally wrote under the name Jenny Carroll. The show Medium takes a lot of cues from The Mediator and 1-800-WHERE-R-U became the Liftime TV series Missing. The Princess Diaries is undoubtedly one of my favorite series, and I was excited to read Mia’s novel.

Meg’s characters usually have such heart and charm and cheekiness, it’s terribly easy to fall for them. However, Finnula isn’t quite as endearing a heroine as Mia or Sam or Suze. Finnula came off as the cliche tomboy turned damsel; her antics with her bow and arrow were more cartoonish than they should have been. While readers knew what Finnula did, it was difficult to figure out what was going on in her head except when she was about to jump Hugo’s bones. Finnula did have a lot of Robin Hood/goddess of the hunt Artemis-Diana cues, which were clever if you know your Greek myths.

For her knight Hugo, Meg decided to make him closer to reality than the idealized archetype of a returning Crusade soldier. He’s far from the ideal lover – promiscuous, flawed, manipulative, morally ambiguous. I also didn’t cringe when she shifted to his perspective, it didn’t sound too feminine, which a lot of writers tend to do. Kudos to Meg for doing her homework so thoroughly on this historical period. She also writes the love scenes quite well — vivid but not too-detailed. I hadn’t expected an adult novel to be tied to The Princess Diaries, nor read her adult books so I was pleasantly surprised that she wrote love scenes… Honestly, it didn’t bother me but maybe it wasn’t the best idea to tie something that sexually graphic to a teen series that was not graphic or gave the implication that it would be.

In a cliche story like this, there needed to be much more character development overall and a tighter story plot. I felt like it was mostly bouts of lust between the two lovers, rather than a multi-faceted relationship. While all the characters had very interesting back-stories, their current ones lacked any luster. Another thing that bothered me was that characters were inconsistent, which probably stems from the lack of development. Then the epilogue seemed out of place, and it could have just ended with the last chapter.

This was not Meg Cabot’s best work. I didn’t even feel like Mia would write something like this based on her character, this sounds more like it’s Tina’s forte. While easily fun for a light read (or to maintain your status of reading all things Mia), I’d say it’s easily what it is — a very typical Avon romance novel. I was expecting a bit more from the author, but some days you win some, other days you lose some. I’d say that my book choices are progressively getting better, so I’ll count this as a win.

Image Credit to: Avon Romance Blog