May 23 2011 2:15pm

I Heart Betas!: Beta Heroes in Romance

Born in Shame by Nora RobertsQuickly now, name your top five heroes from romance novels. I'll wait.

Now think about the heroes you’ve named and tally those who are audacious alphas or tormented loners. I suspect that most of the heroes who made your lists fall into these categories.

But there are some among us, and I am of this company, whose hearts belong to the beta hero. Betas may lack the boldness of the alphas and the angst of the loners, but they have their own charm. And they are certainly not the wimps and bores some readers believe them to be.

I could wax enthusiastically through a dissertation length paean to betas, singing of the wonders of Hartley Wade, the hero in my favorite Mary Balogh book, Lord Carew’s Bride; Colin Bridgerton, the holder of Penelope Featherington’s heart in Julia Quinn’s ever popular Romancing Mr. Bridgerton; Murphy Muldoon, the Irish Renaissance man in Nora Roberts’s Born in Shame; C. L. Sturgis of Jennifer Crusie’s Tell Me Lies, who proves bad boys can grow up to be beta heroes; or any one of the other thirty or so heroes on my list of betas I have loved.

As You Desire by Connie BrockwayBut in the interests of your time and my one-fingered keyboard skills, I’ll limit my praise to my top three, the very best betas.

1. Harry Braxton, beta hero extraordinaire of As You Desire by Connie Brockway:

He’s smart, strong, and adventurous. He has a sense of honor and a sense of humor. And he’s gorgeous. His lips—sigh!

Harry’s lips, thought Desdemona, looked like they could read Braille.

Most important, he loves Desdemona with a tenacity that will not be defeated, and he delights in her intelligence. He tells her of his love in some of the most romantic words I’ve ever read:

And how can one single image describe you? You are a country, a country of unexplored sensation and whim, veiled in dawn, shining, shedding light…And your body… it is the Nile itself…Your are my country, Desdemona…My Egypt. My hot, harrowing desert and my cool, verdant Nile, infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining.

2. Will Parker, the foundling with a troubled past and a longing heart in Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer:

He’s an ex-con who is at the point of starvation when he answers a newspaper ad for a husband and eventually finds the home and family that he never thought would be his. Between his introduction and the HEA, he learns to be a husband, a father, and a friend. He becomes a decorated war hero and a murder suspect. And finally he becomes whole with a place to belong in a community, in a family, and in the arms of his heroine.

Lizzy, Will thought. Lizzy P. 'You n me gonna be buddies, darlin'. He stretched one hand to Elly's hair, and circled Donald Wade's rump with his free arm and touched Thomas's leg, on the far side of Elly. And he smiled at Lizzy P. and thought, Heaven's got nothin' on being the husband of Eleanor Dinsmore.

3. Quinn Hunter, former rock star, dedicated physician, writer of poems, songs, and fiction, and hero of Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel:

Quinn Hunter is really two heroes. He’s the blond Ivy Leaguer, a child of privilege, who meets Danny French at Princeton and with him forms Dodd Hall, a folk rock group that soon soars to the top of the '70s music world. Sixteen years later, Quinn is a dedicated physician for whom music remains a passion. He’s good-looking, intelligent, compelling, and good with kids—and he writes stories for The New Yorker. Small wonder that Krissa French, the cinnamon-haired girl of his songs, falls in love with him in both incarnations, a love that is richly returned.

It was as though he were looking through her, beyond her, into a luminous dream, a shimmering, otherworldly ideal of womanhood, a Platonic vision of all that the feminine ought to be.

Then she smiled. The mist dissolved, and she was something far more precious than any of Plato’s ideals. She was herself . . . and he loved her.

Absolutely, Positively by Jayne Ann KrentzJayne Ann Krentz was wrong. I say this with trembling and trepidation but with unwavering conviction. After all, Krentz is a goddess, a legendary defender of romance fiction, an author I’ve been reading for decades. Nevertheless, she was wrong when she said, “No one wants to read about a beta hero.” I do. As a matter of fact, one of the beta heroes I keep reading about again and again is Harry Stratton Trevelyan in Absolutely, Positively by none other than Jayne Ann Krentz. Evidently even writers who have sworn allegiance to alphas can be seduced into creating a heart-stealing beta. You think I could persuade Ms. Krentz to wear one of my I <3 Betas! buttons?

Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.

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Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
I hear you! For your consideration I have two heroes who make me sigh and are perfect beta hotties:

- Carter Maguire from "Vision in White" by Nora Roberts. He's a smart profesor with glasses.
- Jared Chilhurst from Amanda Quick's Deception. Undercover Earl and tutor extraordinaire. Ms. Krentz sure knows how to write them.
Donna Cummings
2. Donna Cummings
Awww, I love these guys already! I agree that betas are not wimps or bores. They definitely have their own charm, and they're a lot less work than taming alphas, right? :) So we can mix and match. Alpha, alpha, beta. Alpha. Beta. LOL
3. Janga
Great additions to the list, bungluna! I think I need to reread Deception. I know beta lovers can always count on Nora to have at least one beta hero in her series. I loved Carter Maguire, and Murphy Muldoon from the Born in series is another favorite.
4. Terri Osburn
Janga - You know I share your love of the Beta heroes. *sigh* You've chosen wonderful examples and you're right, there are so many more. Thank you for being a defending of the Beta and keeping the banner waving. (I'm going to need one of those buttons.)
5. Janga
Donna, my one alpha hero is definitely the hero I've struggled with most. And I agree about the mix of heroes. One of the perks of being a romance reader is that we can enjoy all flavors in our heroes.
6. Janga
Thanks, Terri, and thanks too for being a beta defender. I have your name on one of those buttons. :)
Miranda Neville
7. Miranda Neville
Lovely post, Janga. I love betas. Having said that, I'd love to see a blog post/discussion about what defines a beta. An alpha à la Stephanie Laurens is easy, but there's a lot of gray area in between a Cynster and a Marquess of Carew (love that book, too). Actually, I'd put Colin Bridgerton somewhere in the middle. Just because a guy has intellectual or artistic interests and pursuits, it doesn't make him a beta. Historically some of the most brilliant creative people have been towering alphas.

My all time favorite beta may be Freddie Standen in Heyer's Cotillion.
Janet Webb
8. JanetW
JanetNorCal Janet Webb @ @heroesnhearts Francis (JoBev), Gerald (MaBa), Freddy (GeoHey), Jess (PamMor) ... and Mr. Wild at Heart (PatGaf) ... wonderful post! Above is what I tweeted. You have me adding names to my not inconsiderable list of I must read list! I do agree w/Miranda that there needs to be something in the middle because these betas often have a backbone of steel. Let's not forget the hero of Neville's The Dangerous Viscount -- a beta who transforms himself into a force to be reckoned with. I also like Christy, the vicar of Patricia Gaffney's To Love and To Cherish. Blanking out a bit on titles but in the Chesapeake Bay series, the 2nd brother, the taciturn loner, he's a beta that I think is more so than the beta mentioned in the Island trilogy ... Editing w/apologies: I need to read more carefully. Yes, Carter is the perfect beta & so lovely too :)
Manda Collins
9. mandacollins
Janga, you know I am a huge fan of the beta hero! Among my favorites are Francis, Lord Middlethorpe of Jo Beverley's FORBIDDEN, Nev from Rose Lerner's IN FOR A PENNY, Harry Pye from Elizabeth Hoyt's THE LEOPARD PRINCE, Alex from Jennifer Crusie's ANYONE BUT YOU, Elec from Erin McCarthy's FLAT OUT SEXY...I could go on and on.

And you're so right about Nora and her tendency to give us at least one beta per trilogy. It's one of the things I love about her:)
Miranda Neville
10. Miranda Neville
I love Harry Pye (my favorite Elizabeth Hoyt), Manda, but I wouldn't call him a beta.
Manda Collins
11. mandacollins
It's been a while since I read it, Miranda so you are probably correct. I think I might be thinking of him as compared with the other two heroes of that trilogy. Ah well. I still love him no matter what greek letter we use to classify him!

And, hooray for another fan of THE LEOPARD PRINCE. We are a rare breed.
Miranda Neville
12. Miranda Neville
That's what I was getting at in my earlier post, Manda. Just because a guy isn't a modesty-challenged duke, doesn't make him a beta. Actually, I thought Sebastian in The Dangerous Viscount was an alpha, even though he was a bespectacled, virgin book collector: he is the leader of the bibliophile pack. Yet everyone calls him a beta. Definitions may vary!
13. Janga
Miranda, I wrote a long post in response to your comments, but it seems to have disaapeared. I don't think I can repeat all I said in the original, but essentially I agreed about the delightful Frederick Standen and the amorphousness of "beta hero." I believe the beta hero is distinguished by his being centered in a macrocosm with no pressure to assert leadership. Betas also express tenderness more easily and often seem to accept women as friends more easily. But I recognize that other readers may define betas differently.

I added that defining "alpha" can also present difficulties since some readers label as alphas tortured loners whom I find totally lacking in an alpha's essential leadership qualties. Maybe alpha, beta, gamma is too restrictive for today's romance hero. I called the hero of Mary Jo Putney's recent release, Nowhere Near Respectable, a beta hero, and MJP said she thought of him as a Warrior Poet. I like that image--part knight, part troubadour.
14. Janga
Janet, thanks for adding Pam Morsi's Jess to the list, a wondeful hero. another beta I love is Cam from Red's Hot Honky-Tonk Bar, a more recent Morsi.
15. Janga
Jo Bev's Francis definitely deserves a place on the list, Manda. And Rose Lerner's Nev is a beta more readers should meet. I've never read Erin McCarthy, but if she created one of your favorite beta heroes, perhaps I should try her books.
16. J Perry Stone
Harry Braxton is a beta? But I adore him. I always thought of myself as more of an alpha gal. Hmmmm. Maybe I do love betas because if betas are saying stuff like this:

You are a country, a country of unexplored sensation and whim, veiled in dawn, shining, shedding light…And your body… it is the Nile itself…Your are my country, Desdemona…My Egypt. My hot, harrowing desert and my cool, verdant Nile, infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining.

... then maybe I'll reconsider. And take a cold shower.
17. Santa
Francis is one of my favorite heroes of all time! I do have to add Madeline Hunter's Julien from 'The Romantic'. The beta hero to me is the quiet one who bids his time but once he give reign to his feelings...hmmm. I think the adage 'Still waters run deep.' applies here and deliciously so.

Great blog, Janga! Lovely to see you here, my dear!
18. Janga
J, Harry's definiely a beta. Now multiply his appeal many times and imagine what wonders the Romance world would be missing without beta heroes.
Miranda Neville
19. Miranda Neville
I called the hero of Mary Jo Putney's recent release, Nowhere NearRespectable, a beta hero, and MJP said she thought of him as a WarriorPoet. I like that image--part knight, part troubadour.

Oh, I love that, Janga. I guess writers don't always think in alpha-beta terms. I know I don't - I see my characters as individuals. I understand why readers like to make the distinction. In fact the fun of reading includes figuring out things about characters that the writer may have never considered. A whole lot of lit. criticism consists of doing that very thing.
Louise Partain
20. Louise321
So I just lost a whole big blog on my favorite betas! Bummer!
Speaking of betas, what is it with that name? I had a "beta" aka Siamese fighting fish for a pet LOL. All it took was a glimpse of itself in a mirror and that thing was loaded for bear.

So what's the difference between an alpha and a beta man? Most of the ones I see listed here would merely be well-balanced between sensitivity and aggression. Frances Middlethorpe, Freddie Stanton
yeah I agree with, but Harry Braxton? Scarred inwardly and outwardly but a beta? I can't quite go there. Now if you wanted to go for intelligent but thick-headed makes a beta, maybe, but you'd have to make Desdemona a beta heroine too since she is yeah scarred inwardly if not outwardly, uber intelligent but definitely thick headed.

Colin Bridgerton? Didn't he say somewhere that he just had never had anything to test him before or was that his brother, Gregory? (I can never keep all those Bridgerton men straight. *G* I sound like I just stepped out of one of her books.) Does that make him a beta?

Actually "A Precious Jewel" by Mary Balogh is discussed elsewhere in these pages and Balogh said she was writing a HEA for a beta hero when she wrote that book. More on the par with Fredrick Stanton, I think. And a personal favorite H&H by G Heyer in Friday's Child (Sherry Sheringham and Hero Wantage) are both betas. She is a hapless innocent who is so-o-o-o clueless and he is a generous and similarly clueless put upon gentleman who hasn't the first thought or care of how to guide her through the pitfalls of society. Beta squared.
21. Irisheyes
Wonderful blog, as always, Janga. I never realized how attractive betas were until you turned me on to some of the best! I love their quiet strength and courage, especially in the face of their heroine's chaos or trauma. When I think of a beta I think of calm, comfort, peace and steadfast devotion.

ITA with Julian from MH's The Romantic one of my favorites by her, Santa!

One of my favorite betas is Philemon from Carla Kelly's The Surgeon's Lady.
22. etv13
Louise321's mention of Sherry from Friday's Child makes me wonder how many "betas" are really just young? Sherry is clueless because he's young (24, as I recall) and inexperienced, but he is a very wealthy aristocrat, and if he hadn't happened upon Hero on his way back to London, and we'd come upon him a few years later in his life, he might have grown into being an alpha.

Freddie Standen, on the other hand, is not clueless. To the contrary, one of the things Kitty values about him is that he knows how to "help one out of a social fix." He understands and fits into the social world he lives in very well. I also think it's really clever of Heyer that when she first introduces him, along with telling us about his "slightly vacuous" countenance, she also tells us that he's a good dancer, a good driver (without being flashy), and he "rode well to hounds." I.e., he's graceful and athletic; he can control his own body, and horses, too. She also tells us he had the foresight to realize his uncle wasn't going to feed him properly, so he arranges to eat at the inn, foreshadowing his later realization about the special license. Sounds like hero material to me. I'd take him over Jack Westruther (or Sherry) any day.
Louise Partain
23. Louise321
Actually etv13, Sherry does have elements of aristocratic arrogance and carelessness that might have made him an alpha if Hero had not left him and forced him to face his (dare I say it) emotions.
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