Feehan’s Super Alphas Make Me Uncomfortable
A little over a year ago, I had never read a romance novel. Now, I find myself reviewing them. I have a strange fascination with the genre, even though I don’t particularly like reading it in my free time. The romance genre gets a bad rap, yet its readers are dedicated. They read dozens of books a year, continually spend money on new books, and read them any way they can — print, digital, audio, it doesn’t matter. I’ve enjoyed reviewing romance novels and researching them. I want to be helpful. I want to write reviews that are accurate and would be a good service to romance readers. But there’s a troubling trope that I’m confused by — the Super Alpha.
I encountered my first Super Alpha in a Christine Feehan novel. I had read Alpha novels before, as it’s a common archetype in paranormal romance (what I tend to get assigned). But this was something entirely different. The male protagonist wasn’t an alpha, he was gross. In this specific book, he encounters a woman (a virgin, of course), who has had no contact with the outside world. Of course his first response is WE MUST MARRY AND WE WILL HAVE SEX (but only when you’re read which better be soon). He controls her wardrobe, her life, everything about her.
It made me uncomfortable. The previous novels I had read for review were nothing like this. There were alphas, sure, but the relationship had some give. The women were still themselves, and though the alpha was controlling in the bedroom he was never controlling of the woman’s life. I wasn’t familiar with Feehan at all, but a quick search made it clear that this Super Alpha trope was her thing. She’s a successful romance writer, and has many paranormal series focused on rough Alphas. “There must be an audience for this,” I thought. “Otherwise why would she keep writing Super Alphas?” Just like everyone has their own kink, I figured every romance reader has their own preference.
When I got assigned another Feehan book to read, I knew what I was getting in to. Somehow, this new book made me feel even more uncomfortable. The male protagonist in this one was completely over the top. He would get angry, even violent, if another man even touched his woman (who he, by the way, pronounced “his” even before he spoke to her). It was out of control, and it made me question again who is into this type of book.
This time around, I read some reviews of Feehan’s other novels outside of the series I was reviewing. I saw many fans leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads saying they liked her other books, but an equal amount saying that they were no longer reading Feehan’s novels. Many reviewers said that they didn’t like the male lead, or that they were dropping the series because the writing was bad. But it was reviews like this that really made me think that my feelings about Feehan’s books were justified:
First let me say, I have all of the books in this series, and all in the other series as well. That said, this author is no longer on the top of my “must have” books. Lately, her books are getting darker and darker and her heroes more abusive and controlling. The use of repetition to pad the word count is becoming boring. The vulgar and abusive sex scenes are becoming distasteful. Don’t misunderstand…I like sex. I even enjoy reading about occasional “rough” sex. Violence doesn’t even bother me much, as long as it isn’t sadistic, and happens to the bad guys…the more I read about Cayenne, the more I wished she had bonded with a real man, not a controlling jerk who would probably keep her a victim the rest of her life. I actually had to scan through the sex scenes in the latter part of the book, as reading them just pissed me off! — R. Putnam on Amazon
If fans of the series were bothered by this behavior, why was Feehan still writing these Super Alphas? Why was she still creating new series with this same trope? And why were editors and publishers in the romance genre continuing to publish them?
I don’t want to “romance shame” anyone who likes these books. As I said in the beginning, I don’t consider myself a romance reader, more like a romance academic or romance fan. But I honestly want to know who likes the Super Alpha. I’m sure this character is in other romance novels that I haven’t seen/read, and it must be there for a reason. I just haven’t figured it out yet.