the Black Dagger Brotherhood books have gotten me thinking a lot about alpha heroes – and what kinds of heroines they need to keep them readable.
Just to get this out of the way first: Alphas feel a little bit illicit…but we all love them, right?
I read Kresley Cole and J R Ward close together, and they both write men who are compelled by their animal nature to be possessive and protective to an astounding degree. The different heroines they give these heroes makes for some interesting comparison.
For almost all the Brotherhood books to date, Ward’s heroines wait bravely at home while their men go and fight. They worry. To the point where they annoy. But it also worries me that they don’t seem to have power over their own lives.
I don’t mean that they aren’t “strong women” in their characterisation. But when they act against what their men want, they tend to get into trouble. As Ward has written them, they aren’t in a position to make the right choices for themselves.
The one standout divergence is the heroine of the latest Brotherhood novel, Xhex. She not only frees herself and fights alongside the men, she also forces her lover to stay home and wait for her while she’s fighting. He is now the one at home, eaten away by worry.
In Ward’s novels it is the heroes who stick in your mind. They are the main characters, their relationships to each other are of the most interest in the books, and their women are given meaning by being important to them. It’s not that I don’t like the heroines (ok, sometimes I don’t), but I don’t think Ward gives them parity with their alpha males.
That contrasts heavily with Cole’s heroines, who stand beside the heroes as memorable – and very often steal the show. They are strong and they make decisions for themselves. Though they have alphas going after them in a single-minded way, they have the power in their own lives.
There’s a scene that shows this to perfection:
Two valkyrie heroines from previous novels have turned outside their brother-in-law Conrad’s house to find out why their husbands have gone missing. He and his woman are watching them out the window. One of them wants to kill Conrad for information, but the other punches her to stop her from making that mistake.
“Wait a second.” Myst narrowed her gaze. “What in the hell are we doing? We’re Valkyrie – we take what we want.”
“What do you mean?” Kaderin asked.
“Kristoff won’t let our men go? Then Kristoff needs to be taught a lesson. I say we capture the whole bloody castle.”
There was a dangerous light to Kaderin’s eyes. “Fucking A.”
“Go get them girls,” Conrad muttered.
“Those small women couldn’t really start a war?”
“They might be small, but either one of them could lift a train.” His tone absent, he said, “Kristoff’s sitting across the world – with no idea that hell has just been unleashed against him.”
The difference here is that Ward has said her heroines are strong, but she hasn’t given their choices any power. Cole gives her heroines real, operational intelligence, so that their decisions weigh in equally to their males’.