The Alpha-Hole Hero. Hot or Not?

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A few weeks ago I reviewed Sweetened with a Kiss by Lexxie Callahan and in the review I referred to the hero as an ‘alpha-hole.’ To me, an alpha-hole hero is one that is very alpha and also an asshole. It’s his way or no way (of course the heroine always gets her way at the end) This hero goes above and beyond being arrogant and possessive. I feel an alpha-hole hero can be a believable romantic hero as long as there is proper redemption on his part. To me, an alpha-hole is not necessary a negative thing. The ultimate alpha-hole hero in my eyes is Barrons, and he just happens to be my favorite hero ever.

Penny Watson, a good online friend of mine disagreed with me. After we went back and forth a bit in the comments, she posted this:

I actually think this brings up a more important topic in the romance genre, which is what constitutes a “hero”…I think an asshole is an asshole, not a hero. A real asshole may not have redeeming qualities, and may not be heroic in any way. I also don’t think Barrons is an alphahole. He is alpha. Plenty of heroes are “possessive, cranky, controlling”…they can be jerks. Alpha all the way. Not necessarily alphaholes.

I think the we disagree on the term. I don’t see it as benign, or as the equivalent of alpha. I think some folks see jerk=alphahole, which could probably apply to most romance heroes.

For me, one huge difference is motivation. An asshole’s motivation is always about HIM. Not anyone else, and certainly not the heroine. An alpha may act controlling and overbearing, but he is thinking about others’ safety and well-being, even if it’s misguided.

So I asked some authors and bloggers for their opinions on the subject. Here is what I received:

Tori: An alpha hero is dominant, demanding, and overly protective. As is the alpha hole hero. The similarities end there because often the alpha hero will acknowledge the heroine’s ability to live her own life and make her own choices while an alpha hole hero will bowl right over her, often using anger and or sex to make his point and get her to bend to his will and admit that he knows best. An alpha hole hero has a bad habit of underestimating his heroine and treating her like a child. An alpha hero wants to protect his lover but knows trying to control her will often cause her to leave him. An alpha hole hero wants to make the heroine completely dependent on him. Her submission to his authority is his ultimate goal. His need for complete control makes her less human and more a possession. An alpha hero is proud that his heroine is strong and independent (even if he complains about it.) He doesn’t want to raise a child…he wants a woman. Virtue becomes a holy grail an alpha hole hero. His woman should be a nun in public and a whore in bed. Any deviation can bring a heap of slut shaming on the heroine. An alpha hero is often proud that this lovely sexy lady is on his arm and while all men may want her, he is the one taking her home to bed. Can an alpha hole hero become an alpha hero? Sure he can, but it requires some heavy duty compromise, groveling, and usually the heroine has to leave the hero to get him to realize that if he doesn’t change, she may never come back.

Author Stephanie Julian: An alpha hero’s most important quality is confidence. He believes he knows exactly what he’s doing and if you don’t agree with him, well, you’re wrong. The difference between an alpha-hole and a regular ole alpha is their temperament. An alpha-hole is a prick and he doesn’t care what others think about him. An alpha knows what he wants and goes after it but he knows the limits. Alpha holes have no limits. But that’s also what makes their eventual downfall to love so much sweeter. They fall so hard and when they grovel, you totally believe they would only do it for this one woman. The best alpha-hole heroes I have ever read have been in Jane Porter’s Harlequin Presents. They could be such huge dicks and sometimes you wanted to throw the book at the wall but when they fall, you can’t wait for them to get the girl. I tend to write a lot of alphas because I think they just have so much farther to fall and their journeys are so much more interesting. Also, the women they choose have to be that much stronger to handle them. Their heroines are no meek mice. Since I write a lot of alphas, the one I’m writing at the moment is always my favorite. In NO RESERVATIONS (releasing Sept. 3), Tyler is a quiet alpha and those are always the ones you have to watch. When they start to lose it, they tend to implode. At this very moment, though, I’m writing Greg’s story. You’ll meet Greg in NO RESERVATIONS and he’s one of the best alphas to write: a verbal one. He tells it like it is, doesn’t care if you’re offended or scandalized and laughs off any attempt to shut him up.

Marquetta from Love to Read For Fun: I am a huge fan of the alpha-hole and one of the biggest alpha-hole heroes out there is Jericho Barrons from KMM’s Fever series and I absolutely love him. Jericho is unapologetic. He does what he wants. And he’s sexy as hell. He doesn’t let Mac wallow in grief or stay the pampered pink princess. In his alpha-holish ways, he gives Mac the power to find her sister’s killer and become a stronger person.

I think many women like bossy, kinda douchey guys because we feel like we can tame them. Boys behaving badly has a certain appeal. I loved Tangled by Emma Chase because the hero in the story was an unapologetic asshole. He slept around, didn’t treat women that well — they were just notches on his bedpost. He called his sister "Bitch" but absolutely loved his niece. He was a contradiction. He was brought to his knees when he fell in love and became a simpering, whiny idiot. I think there needs to be a balance where the alpha-hole hero isn’t a jerk who is a misogynist. There has to be some depth to him.

An alpha hero is a strong man who is somewhat bossy and take charge but knows his limit. The alpha-hole hero takes it all another level. The alpha-hole hero is the boy at the playground who pushes you off the swing, laughs at you but then gives you his popsicle later.

Jess from Happily Ever After-Reads: For me, an alpha-hero is that man I love from page 1 until the end. He’s take-charge, charming, sweet, lovable, just that guy that makes me sigh with his actions and words. Whereas an alpha-hole hero is that man I want to knee in the balls at the start of the book but end up wanting to have his babies by the end. But, there needs to be so much more to an alpha-hole hero than him just acting like an ass, whether it’s to the heroine, or other supporting characters, I need to at some point see the man behind the actions. For example, “Charming” Mickey O’Connor (I’ve been on a Maiden Lane series kick, so he instantly came to mind) acts like an alpha-hole early on because he makes the heroine do things that he didn’t need to, but he did simply because he had the power over her and could. He has moments where I wanted to smack him for the things he said and did to the heroine, but his true self is not the alpha-hole he projects and that’s what makes him and his relationship with the heroine believable. I have to see another side to an alpha-hole to make it work for me. He doesn’t need to do a complete 180 turn by books end, but he needs to have more layers to him than just being a jerk and it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a strong heroine to help balance out the story.

One alpha-hole that I couldn’t stand was Aubry from As You Wish. He was ass to everyone, not only the heroine but the kicker was how he acted towards his daughter. He came off so badly early in the story, it ended up being such a turn off I stopped reading and didn’t want to see this alpha-hole get an HEA.

I love a great alpha-hole but for it to work for me, I need to see some other sides to the hero and he needs to have a strong heroine to play off of to make their HEA work.

Amy from Fiction Vixen: I fell in love with the alpha-hole hero from the queen who writes them, Kristen Ashley.  She really coined the term alpha-hole in my opinion with the majority of her heroes exhibiting the dominant, sexy, stubborn, crass caveman type qualities.

A lot of alpha-holes have unique idiosyncrasies, how they walk, what they wear, a certain routine, how they act and react.  They tend to be more observant to their women with regard to their clothing or lack of, sexuality and overall demeanor. They are possessive but not in a creepy, crazy way.  They also exhibit unexpected moments of sweetness when you least expect it.  The alpha-hole is known to verbally screw up at any given moment because they have no filter.  Many times what spews from their mouth causes a major catastrophe and results in a hurtful, emotional blow to their woman that takes a ton of groveling and apologizing to ever hope of making it out of the dog house.  The best quality an author can establish for an alpha-hole is a balance of the alpha demeanor and the raw emotion.  The best alpha-holes live hard and feel deep.  They expose raw emotion, demonstrating love and loyalty to their women and that’s what makes their characters desirable, especially when they are acting like a total ass. 

Some of my least favorite alpha-holes are those that exhibit the cold, impassive demeanor and are usually paired with doormat or to stupid to live heroines.  These alpha-holes tend to only want ownership and possession with their women and lack emotion or intimacy.  No compromise, it’s their way or the highway.  As a result, there is no balance and no emotional growth from either character which makes for a disappointing story. 

Jennifer from Romance Novel News:  To me, an alpha hero is a take charge man, someone who knows exactly what he wants and goes after it. He is unapologetic about his life, his life choices and the way he conducts himself. I believe that such a hero crosses the line into alphahole territory when he can’t compromise and pushes his own agenda without regard to how it affects others, especially his heroine. When an alpha overlooks a heroine’s opinion and does something that he believes is for the best, he becomes alpaholic. Both types of heroes are overprotective and both will have trouble allowing a heroine to make her own choices. The alphahole, however, will try and impose his will on the heroine. Said alphahole has to have a moment where he understands how his behavior hurts his lady love for me to find him romantic. Granted, I have a high threshhold for alphaholes, and it doesn’t always take much for me to believe that he loves his heroine more than he loves himself.

My favorite alphahole hero has to be Knight from Kristen Ashley’s Knight.This guy is an alphahole extraordinaire, a man who knows what he wants, does exactly what he wants when he wants and demands that Anya fit into his life – and well, he’s unsavory. However, Anya is the most important thing to him. He doesn’t expect to fall in love, in fact probably has no desire to do so, but even his alphaholishness is no match for the woman who captures him body and soul. On the other hand, I found Deuce from Madeline Sheehan’s Undeniable to be a douchebag hero who wanted Eva more as a trophy than as a woman he loved. I found his behavior repugnant and felt that the way the humiliated the heroine made him unredeemable.

Author Jennifer Lyon: I see alpha men as figuring out how to gain the power they need to achieve the goals they’ve set out. I also love it if they are very protective of those they care about.

Alpha holes are a little too focused on their own goals, and don’t understand the true meaning of negotiation or compromise. It’s a really fine line that’s different for each reader.

To make any hero come to life on the pages and hook me, it’s all about showing readers what drives him. Usually his deepest fear is the most powerful influence on his decisions. In my latest trilogy, The Plus One Chronicles, Sloane Michaels is extremely goal driven. He doesn’t have relationships with women, he has plus-one deals. That makes him seem emotionally cold, goal driven and a bit of an alpha hole. Then Sloane comes across Kat Thayne, a beautiful baker with physical and emotional scars, and suddenly we’re seeing that Sloane has a deep protective streak. So how is it that a man who structures his world to avoid getting emotionally involved with a woman has this extreme protective streak? That’s what makes a hero interesting—and uncovering the answer to that question creates a bond between Sloane and reader (as well as Kat). As Sloane’s darkest secrets and fears are revealed, readers are draw into his emotional journey, rooting for him and Kat to get their happy ending.

The alpha holes that can’t be redeemed for me are the ones that cross the emotionally or physically abusive line. There was an author I loved who wrote a paranormal book where the hero tortured the heroine for answers. The motivation was there but I didn’t care. That hero could never be redeemed in my eyes.

 

Do you believe an alpha-hole hero can work as a romantic interest, or are they just plain asses?

Who are some of your favorite and least favorite?

 

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t tend to use the term alpha-hole much, but I generally reserve it for a hero or protagonist that ultimately didn’t work for me; one that starts out unlikeable and doesn’t turn the corner. However, I love an alpha hero –see also, my blog title :-) — and I think I have a higher tolerance than many readers for a high-handed, pushy hero.

    There are lines though. Sometimes they get crossed, and then I don’t like the book. A jackass protagonist can be redeemed, but a poorly done character arc where the jerk just turns around and whips off his rubber jackass mask like a Scooby-Doo villain is not going to get a good reaction from me. If that’s the story — the redemption of a jackass hero – then I want to see the progression and I want to feel the pain and joy along the way and believe it when he comes through the other side. THAT’s a story.

    Sometimes I *think* the line has been crossed, and then the author still turns it around. I’m terrible at retrieving such things out of my memory, but Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell comes to mind. I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to like that hero at all, but she redeemed him in my eyes.

    • Mandi says

      Interesting – so you name the truly asshole hero that isn’t redeemed the alphahole, and the others alphas.

      In the romance genre we always try to label things. New Adult, Young Adult, Erotic vs Erotica, Alphahole vs alpha. But everyone varies so much with their definitions and limits…

  2. says

    This was a great post! After reading everyone’s thoughts it seems like Alphas are the good boys and Alpha-holes are the bad boys? KA got mentioned a few times, so I’ll use her example I guess. It seems like Hank Nightengale would be a Alpha, while Tack from Motorcycle Man would be an Alpha-hole, maybe? I tend to reserve alpha-hole for the unforgivables, and Barrons and Tack are totally fine in my mind. I mark the line between the alpha and alpha-hole at the point where the “hero” in question doesn’t listen to the heroine at all, or attempts to change something integral to her sense of self (without a really good reason—Barrons has that), or generally makes her absolutely miserable in such a way that I can’t forgive even if she does. I tend to put those really up-tight heroes who shame the heroine in this category, unless they change their behavior FAST—which is why I really liked what Tori had to say. It immediately brought to mind The Wolf and the Dove which I read after someone online recced it for those wanting Medieval historicals. I mean, Wulfgar is probably the the biggest asshole I’ve ever read, if my memory serves correctly. I might have blocked out a significant portion of it.

    • Mandi says

      Yes, I agree with the Hank/Tack separation. Tack steamrolls Red…and whoa. She stands up to him, but she is his possession. 100%. But the way he becomes devoted to her as well…brings him around to a romantic hero

  3. Amanda says

    I love the Alpha heroes and I can handle Alpha-hole heroes if they to show redemption and don’t cross certain lines. I can’t really say what those lines are, they are different in each book, but if a hero does something that I can’t forgive or get past than that guy is no longer the romantic hero I wanted him to be. Also if the heroine continues to consistently forgive the seemingly unforgivable she becomes a victim. Basically to pull an Alpha-hole off there needs to be balance

    • Mandi says

      Those lines vary with each reader (and with each author). KMM can drag me through an entire series with an alpha hole hero, and I’ll still stick with it because I KNOW she will make it worth it in the end. Other authors- Not so much trust

  4. Sylvia says

    Great post!

    If written well, I love me some alpha-hole!
    I do need some insight in the alpha-hole’s psyche but I don’t nescasarily have to agree with his motivations.
    To quote Jennifer:

    “Granted, I have a high threshhold for alphaholes, and it doesn’t always take much for me to believe that he loves his heroine more than he loves himself.”

    Maybe one of the reasons I like an alpha-hole is because I enjoy being indignant on the heroines behalf?
    Plus it’s fiction yall. In real life I would scream for a restraining order ;-)

    In my opinion Kresley Cole writes some great alpha-holes. Lachlain MacRieve comes to mind.

    • Mandi says

      “I do need some insight in the alpha-hole’s psyche but I don’t necessarily have to agree with his motivations”

      I like that. And yes, it’s fun to be indignant on the heroine’s behalf. LOL

      Cole DOES write some good alphaholes. And they have always come around for me.

  5. says

    ooooooh, fantastic discussion!! I enjoy the alpha-hole, in very specific cases. Kresley Cole can write them superbly, as can Karen Moning, and Kristen Ashley. I like their brand of alpha-hole, and it definitely feels taboo to be so enamored by these guys with behaviors that there’s no way in hell I’d actually tolerate in real life. But it IS a fine line — that review you mentioned above, when you mentioned specific cases of the guy controlling her finances, I can’t be down with that. I think some authors can do it, and do it well.

  6. Tina B says

    I like that term! And, yes, I am a fan of the alpha-hole. ;)
    I agree with you, Mandi. As long as they redeem themselves, I am okay with it.
    Some of my favorites are Deuce from Madeline Sheehan’s Undeniable series and Caleb from CJ Roberts’ The Dark Duet series. I am sure if I think about it, I can come up with more of them. Lol.

  7. says

    Though there are variations among this group’s definitions of alpha versus alpha-hole heroes, I’m feeling in agreement with much of what’s been said. The line I can’t cross with heroes is one others have mentioned: verbal/physically abusive, slut-shaming, and outright narcissism where the universe must bend to his will and people–the heroine in particular–are less indept beings in his mind and more possessions or tools to help him achieve his goals.

    Maya Banks is an iffy read for me for this reason. Also, I admit to only managing to finish one Cole book b/c her men are too much for me. And then there’s Christine Feehan. I started reading vampires and PNR because of her. Some of her Carpathian heroes are perfect examples of the alpha-hole who is redeemed, but others are just…not.

    But this begs a question: how does our acceptance of alphaholic behavior shift depending on the genre? What we accept in fantasy or PNR (where there are soulmates or lifemates and instanta-bonding) we would label creepy stalker in a contemporary.

    And speaking of contemporaries. I was up until 2 am last night reading Kate Hewitt’s An Inheritance of Shame (harlequin presents), and okay first love to her people’s reactions/reviews of this. It’s angsty and intense, second chances, kind of story. But really it’s a treatise on the nature of love. Angelo could be labeled an alpha-hole at the beginning, but maybe he falls more under the “damaged” hero category. I felt shades of Jennifer Lyon’s hero Shane–who I love–in this guy.

    • Mandi says

      Maya Banks’s heroes rarely work for me (at least in her erotics..historicals I can do). They cross a line and it is too much for me. When I read Rush, I DNF’d after the hero did some terrible things.

      I think I would let more go in a PNR. Not just insta-bonding but the immortals who have lived for thousands of years…they get a pass from me on their cavemen behavior.

      Will def check out Inheritance of Shame – I like those type of HP. And Shane is my fav Lyons hero :)

  8. Glittergirl says

    I really didn’t think about alpha-holes as a term until I read Maya Banks Fever. I won the book and was thrilled. I ALWAYS finish a book. I almost didn’t finish that book. I thought boy she’s going to have to work hard to get me to like Jace. She didn’t. The end of the book didn’t change my opinion of Jace one bit. He was an ass-hole in the beginning of the book and still was at the end. His feelings for Ash didn’t change him one whit. That’s my definition of of Alpha-hole. I didn’t pay for or read the rest of the series. I don’t want to read about a-holes, there’s too many awesome real heroes to read about to waste my time on the nonredeemable cast as a “good-guy”.

  9. PCc says

    I love alpha- holes in paranormal romance but can’t deal with them in contemporary romance. I adore Jericho barons, he is the Best hero ever. I think because paranormal romance is not set in the real world I can give some bad behaviours more leeway. The one hero I cannot understand peeps loving is Caleb from Captive. Yes he changes and yes he had a bad past but the things he does are too too horrifying for me to do anything other than hate him.

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