Apr 12 2015 2:00pm

Short, Dark, and Handsome: Average Height Heroes in Romance Novels from Balogh, Bujold, and More!

Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro“Tall, Dark and Handsome.”

What a cliché! How boring to always have the same old, same old in our novels and films. How do you recognize the hero? He’s the tall one! The villain or comic relief? Short. Only in Austen Powers films do we find the hero and villain to be physical equals, and who wouldn’t rather watch the more interesting Dr. Evil, anyway?

I know, I know, study after study shows taller men get paid more, have a better chance of being elected president (at least in the 21st century—let’s hear it for James Madison!) and in romance novels definitely have a better shot at getting the girl.  

Open your minds to a new definition of hero! After all, Tom Cruise and Daniel Radcliffe didn’t get to the top of the film food chain standing on the shoulders of giants. They showed that men who don’t shop in the Big & Tall department can still win the day and the girl, lead the Mission Impossible team, and even defeat He Who Must Not Be Named (who was pretty tall, I might add).

In real life, Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated combat soldiers of WWII was 5’5”. He also parlayed his fame into a modest career as a Hollywood star, and got the girl in the movies too.

So where’s the love for the other guys, the ones who try harder because they know they’re competing with Mr. “Oh, let me get that down from the top shelf for you” over there?

It’s time we as romance authors and readers showed some appreciation for the heroes who are shorter than average. Here then is a highly subjective (as usual) take on the compact models rather than the stretch limos, the 5K instead of the marathon, in other words, the fun-sized heroes from books and a film or two:

The Duke's Wager by Edith LaytonThe Comte de Saint-Germain from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hôtel Transylvania. St. Germain is described as slight of build, shorter than average, though we know from later books set in earlier times that the vampire was once considered taller than average. No matter, he’s still hot enough to have women high and low falling into his dark embrace.

Speaking of dark embraces, we have James Thomas, Duke of Torquay in Edith Layton’s classic The Duke’s Wager. Torquay is “Of medium height and slender as a boy…” yet he carries enough presence to intimidate much larger men.  Another duke who doesn’t have a lot of stature or presence (but he’s trying) is Gilly, the Duke of Sale from The Foundling by Georgette Heyer. Gilly is “…slightly built, and of rather less than medium height.” Neither his lack of height or physical prowess (or overprotective servants) stops Gilly from having his own adventures, taking charge of his life, and finding his own true love.

Another character from romance novels who’s not overly tall is Cyn Malloren from My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley. Cyn’s shorter than the heroine and is better able to pass himself off as a woman, while she disguises herself as a man. Mary Balogh is another author of historicals who’s not afraid to write shorter heroes and has done so a number of times, and Rose Lerner’s recent Regency era romance, True Pretenses, features shorter hero Ash Cohen.

The Love Charm by Pamela MorsiWe move across the Atlantic to Louisiana for Pamela Morsi’s The Love Charm. Aida Gaudet is the most beautiful woman on the Vermillion River, and ordinary Armand Sonnier is in love with her. Armand’s so short Aida can see the top of his head when they dance together, but boy howdy, can he dance! It’s a charming and different love story, and a pleasant departure from the same-old, same-old

In the realm of fantasy there are a number of shorter than average heroes, and mention must be made of Lord Tyrion as played by the talented Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones on HBO. The TV-Tyrion is a dwarf, despised by his father and most of humanity, yet he is shown exhibiting heroic qualities of leadership, responsibility, morality, and love. Contrast him with his tall, handsome brother Jaime—you know, the one who’s sleeping with his sister and tosses small children out of towers. One hopes for a happy ending for Tyrion, but we all know how that ends up in the GoT universe!

Finally, we come to science fiction, and I’ve saved my favorite short hero for last. Anyone who’s read my recommendations in the past knows who it is—Miles Naismith Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar books. Miles’ father Aral is described on first sighting by Cordelia Naismith as “barely taller than herself, but stocky and powerful.” Miles should have been tall, but his bones were stunted by exposure to toxins in utero, and he’s described in The Warrior’s Apprentice as just under five feet, with a head too large for his frame.

Nothing stops the “malignant little dwarf” as one of his enemies sneers at him. He not only commands a crack (sort of) mercenary troop, he’s a special investigator for Emperor Gregor and he gets the girl—quite a few of them, most substantially taller than him, until he settles down with his one true love.

The romance genre is full of opportunities to push boundaries and explore interesting love pairings. We’ve got werewolves, Doms, cowboys, and SEALs, so let’s keep our minds and hearts open, and not be blinded by the height. Who else deserves a place in the short hero “Best of” list?


Learn more about or order a copy of the books mentioned in this post:

Hôtel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro  
The Duke’s Wager by Edith Layton  
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer  
My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverly  
True Pretenses by Rose Lerner  
The Love Charm by Pamela Morsi  
The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold  







Darlene Marshall writes historical romance about pirates, privateers, smugglers and the occasional possum. The Pirate’s Secret Baby is available now in print and all ebook formats, and she’s hard at work on her next novel. You can contact her and read excerpts and reviews at

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. TanyaLK
Oh, I'm so glad you wrote about this! I was just thinking about height in romance books the other day and how shorter men can be just as sexy. I'll have to read some of your recs-thanks!
2. Yuri
Robin from Heyer's 'The Masqueraders' was short and slight - enough to masquerade as a girl. But he's bold and daring and an expert fencer and very much the romantic hero for his lady.
Darlene Marshall
3. DarleneMarshall
@Yuri--Thanks for reminding me of Robin! He's a great addition to the list, and I'm certain there are tons more out there.
4. Yuri
Btw I love Miles Vorkosigan too so thank-you for mentioning him!

But also in science fiction, Er Thom from my other favorite series, the Liaden books (Local Custom), is short and slight like most Liadens and is a wonderful romantic hero.
5. little Alex
Thank you for mentioning Miles Vorkosigan.

Don't forget Lord John Grey from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series... He's short (about five six) and slight, too, and far too pretty for his comfort. Or maybe not the Outlander series, since he isn't the hero in that one, though he's very much the protagonist in his own series. He also happens to be gay, so maybe he doesn't count for this list...
6. JacquiC
I think maybe David, the drummer from Nalini Singh's Rock series, should be on this list. If I am remembering correctly, he is described as being a couple of inches shorter than the heroine.
7. excessivelyperky
And I would like to recommend Locke Lamora, from THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA (and various sequels) by Scott Lynch. Miles Vorkosigan meets Loki, if you ask me. Squirrely guy, fights way out of his weight...and wins.
Darlene Marshall
8. DarleneMarshall
@JacquiC That one's on my TBR list, so thanks for the heads up. My list was short (heh) on contemporaries, so I appreciate your comments.

@excessivelyperky Oh yeah, The Lies of Locke Lamora is wonderful! I'm always metaphorically shoving copies into peoples' hands.
9. willaful
I loved that the hero of Susan Napier's Savage Courtship is not only shorter than the heroine, but also wears glasses.
10. Jennifer R
Almost all of the Liadens from the Liaden Universe are short (I think Shan is taller than the rest?), so there's more examples.
11. AD55
I have two favorites: Adrian (Hawker), the hero of Joanna Bourne's The Black Hawk and stealer of scenes in her 4 other novels, and Kit, the hero of Mary Balogh's A Summer to Remember.
Jennifer Proffitt
12. JenniferProffitt
I immediately think of Vincent from Mary Balogh's The Arrangement, who on multiple occassions, is described as slight and shorter than average!
13. DianeN
One of my favorite contemporary short heroes is Suzanne Brockmann's Mark "Jenk" Jenkins, who gets his HEA in Into the Storm. He's a SEAL, of course, and I've read that smaller, more slender guys actually have a better chance of surviving SEAL training than tall musclebound types. Food for thought!
14. Janga
One of my favorite Mary Jo Putney heroes--another Robin--Robin Andreville of Angel Rogue is "no more than average height, slightly built and brightly blond."
Darlene Marshall
15. DarleneMarshall
Thanks, all! You're adding some great recommendations here. Keep it up and pretty soon we'll have so many books we'll need to stand on a step-stool to reach the top shelves.
Post a comment