Jaycee Jarvis: In Defense of Beta Heroes

I’m a huge fan of beta heroes both as a reader and a writer, so I wanted to explore how beta heroes play out in fantasy romance and romantic fantasy, and make a few reading recommendations along the way.

Beta heroes are generally defined as softer, emotionally intelligent people who are willing to take directions and listen to advice, both from their romantic partner and from other characters in the book. They are in direct contrast to the ever popular, take-charge, domineering alpha heroes. Because alphas are often larger than life, it is easy for beta heroes to get dismissed as weak or–worse yet–boring, when in fact being willing to do the emotional labor in a relationship and truly listen to their partners can be incredibly sexy.

Radiance by Grace Draven is a good example of an incredibly hot, slow-burn relationship that builds over time. Brishen and Ildiko are wed in a largely symbolic marriage to unite their two very different people—in a plot that seamlessly crosses Beauty and the Beast with a marriage of convenience. This set-up lends itself to a beta hero, as Brishen is willing to do his duty—however distasteful–and make the best of it rather than resenting the circumstances. They quickly learn to be honest with each other and frank about their cultural (and indeed species) differences. Brishen wins his bride over with his humor, kindness, and respect—all hallmarks of a great beta hero. As this excerpt shows, the agency of the heroine is often underscored in stories with beta heroes, which is one of the things I like about them most.

The laughter faded but their smiles remained. Brishen’s thinned a little. “What do you want to do, Ildiko?”

He had asked a question Ildiko thought she’d never hear in her lifetime. No one ever asked her what she wanted; they only told her what she was to do and say. For a moment she was struck dumb. He waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts.

Radiance by Grace Draven

Because beta heroes generally value compassion over status or control, there are some traits or stereotypes that are often paired with beta heroes. They are often written as scholars or geniuses rather than soldiers or commanders. This association with being quiet or nerdy is a natural fit, which is part of what makes Jadrek from Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey a quintessential beta hero.

As a scholar who relies on his knowledge and book learning to help Tarma and Kethry, Jadrek often underestimates himself and lacks confidence with women, showing the very sweetest side of a beta hero. Oathbreakers is a romantic fantasy with an epic fantasy storyline, so the love story between Kethry and Jadrek is an important subplot, not the main focus of the novel. Because of this, the relationship development happens more as part of the other action, yet the romance still gets me in the feels every time—especially when Kethry finally admits her growing attraction…

“It’s you I admire, Jadrek; the mind, the person. You’re something special—something those pretty bodies downstairs aren’t, and probably never will be.”

Very hesitantly, he leaned forward and kissed her. She returned the kiss as passionately as she dared, and suddenly he responded by embracing her and prolonging the kiss until she was breathless.

When they broke apart, his gray eyes were dark with confusion. “Kethry—”

“There are more comfortable places to be doing this,” she said, very softly. “Over there, for one.” She nodded at the curtained bed, half-hidden in the shadows.

He blushed. He blushed even harder when she led him there by the hand, and all but pushed him down onto it. “I—” he stammered, looking past her. “Kethry, I’m not—very experienced at this sort of—”

“You were doing just fine a moment ago,” she interrupted…

Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey

While sexual inexperience is often found in beta heroes, it is not a necessary trait. Harlan, from Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy, is more sexually experienced than Ursula, the heroine of this fantasy romance. Harlan also breaks the beta mold in other ways, as a skilled swordsman and the leader of his own band of mercenaries. He is confident and assured of himself, yet he has no trouble deferring to Ursula, letting her take the lead in many milestones in their relationship, and stepping back when she takes charge–an important mindset for a man who wants to partner with a powerful ruler. Because Ursula is so emotionally cut off and determined to stand alone, Harlan’s compassion and tenderness are exactly what she needs—even if she can’t admit it to herself at first. He is the perfect foil for her harrowing emotional journey. Harlan himself puts it best—

“There is no shame in feeling emotion. It doesn’t make you weak. Strength is in bearing our wounds, living through them, and carrying forward regardless—not in pretending they never existed.”

The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

Beta heroes can add emotional depth and texture to books already filled with wonder and magic. Do you have any favorites for me to add to my TBR pile? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Jaycee Jarvis has been an avid romance reader since devouring all the Sweet Dreams books her middle school library had to offer. Also a fantasy fan from an early age, she often wished those wondrous stories had just a bit more kissing. Now she writes stories with a romantic heart set against a magical backdrop, creating the kind of book she most likes to read.

When not lost in worlds of her own creation, she resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children and a menagerie of pets.

Learn more about her around the web:

She enjoys writing beta heroes as much as she loves reading about them. Her latest book, Deadly Courtship, features an empath who isn’t afraid to bare his heart.

In a world rife with elemental magic, can a bard with a knack for predicting the future help a warrior face her painful past?

Han-Triguard Magdalena turned her back on her heritage and her family in order to pursue life as a Hand, honor bound to serve as a Protector in the tropical market town of Trimble. She never regrets putting duty first until a string of brutal murders changes everything.

Her former lover, the attractive musician Jasper, stands accused. Madi knows the gentle empath could never kill anyone, but her word alone is not enough to protect him. Even worse, one of the other victims is a member of her old clan, for whom justice is entirely out of reach.

As Madi begins to question the demands of her work, Jasper asks her to give safe haven to his brother’s orphans. With the children, Jasper has the family he’s always wanted, a dream Madi has never shared. Living in close quarters, their attraction combusts while Madi is beset by unwanted tenderness for the children. When a new threat looms, Madi vows to protect their future, make peace with her past, and maybe find a love worth fighting for.

If only she can stop the killer in time…

Available on Amazon and through KindleUnlimited:

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