I don't normally consider myself a fan of the Alpha hero. You know, those brooding, controlling, nasty tempered, He-Man types so common in romance novels. Mostly I find myself rolling my eyes at their antics, or occasionally wishing that the heroine would get smart, bash them over the head with a lamp, and run like hell.
But every once in a while I come across a fabulous Alpha, and when I do he's unforgettable. Recently I've been obsessed with two exceptional Alphas: Nicholas Brisbane from Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series, and Jericho Barrons from Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. (And the book I'm reading right now, Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong, has a character who shares at least one or two significant traits with these guys, but it's too soon to tell if he really falls into this category.) I'm trying to figure out what it is about these two guys that makes them so fascinating.
The thing that stands out the most for both of these characters is that they are men of mystery. Who they are, where they come from, even what they are in the case of Barrons, is a great big question mark. (This part is definitely true for Armstrong's Jack, at least so far.) Beyond the personal mystery, their motives are often hidden. We can speculate on why they do what they do, but it's rarely immediately clear. And they like to work behind the scenes, sometimes lying, sometimes just not telling their female partner (who in both cases also happens to be the narrator) what they're doing.
Another classic Alpha characteristic that they both possess is that they're powerful. Barrons is perhaps more classically powerful- he's rich, he's feared, he has magical power of (again) mysterious origin, and he has inside knowledge that the narrator lacks. Brisbane is powerful, but not in the way the typical historical Alpha is. He's not titled or rich. He's not well connected, at least not the kind of connections that most people would want to acknowledge. As a private inquiry agent he knows a lot of things that other people don't want getting around, so that does give him a certain amount of power. But his power really comes from his intelligence and charisma. It's clear that he's not the kind of man you mess with. He also has something else going for him, which I won't name here in case anyone reading this hasn't read the series. I don't want to spoil it. (And seriously, if you haven't read Silent in the Grave, go do it now! I'll wait.)
(Good, wasn't it? Chocolate and Amazon gift cards both make nice thank you gifts. ;P )
It's probably really not fair to try to analyze Jack at this point, since I'm less than half way through the book. But he's a hitman, which is power on a whole different level than Brisbane and Barrons. If a hunter, a predator isn't Alpha, I don't know what is. But he seems to work very hard to keep all of that suppressed and low key, so he doesn't come across as a classic Alpha at all in that respect. (Again, we're getting all our information on Jack from a female partner who is also the narrator. I'm beginning to suspect that Nadia is a slightly unreliable narrator, not because she's purposefully hiding something, but because it's starting to look like she has a big ol' honking blind spot when it comes to Jack. Which is slightly weird considering she's also a hitman, his protege, and claims not to trust him completely. Not bad writing weird, just human nature weird.)
Brisbane and Barrons also have that classic Alpha need for control, although they display it in different ways. Brisbane has something in his personal life that he tries desperately, and not always successfully, to control, which I think makes control everywhere else even more important to him. He fears for Julia's safety at various times, and he tries to protect her by controlling her involvement with the case. (Doesn't always work.) He never comes across as being arbitrary, though. He has specific reasons for not wanting her to take certain actions, and he's usually pretty upfront about them. (He's less upfront with her in Silent in the Sanctuary, but again he has very specific, non-arbitrary reasons for keeping information from her.)
Barrons is much more irritating with his need for control. He doesn't want to share information with Mac- he wants her to just shut up and do what she's told. And then he treats her like an idiot for putting herself in dangerous situations that she could have avoided if she'd known what she was getting into. If I were Mac I'd have taken my pretty little foot in my pretty little gold sandal and kicked him in his not so little shins. This stupid refusal to share information (Mac does it, too- you're fighting faeries but when the grim reaper starts appearing to you, you decide it's just a hallucination and don't tell anyone? Stupid.) (Sorry, that was a bit of a spoiler, but jeeze. The Stupid, she has it.) Um, I think I was in the middle of a sentence there before I got off track. Anyway, his need to control her actions (and yet allow her to wander free and unguarded and get into all kinds of trouble during the day- what's up with that?) (OK, I'll stop now.) and control the flow of information is really boneheaded. His control is also a major benefit to Mac later in the story. Humina humina! But mostly it's annoying and unnecessary. His complete refusal to reveal anything about himself is fairly intriguing, though.
Jack's need to control appears to be completely turned inward, at least so far. And as a hitman there's a lot to control. He's constantly monitoring and adjusting his personal appearance, accent, and body language to blend in and hide. Unlike the typical Alpha, it's really important that he not stand out in a crowd. He's acted as a mentor to Nadia for quite a while, but he treats her as another professional and doesn't try to control her actions. Unlike the female leads/narrators in the other books, Nadia has a strong sense of caution as she moves through her very dangerous world, so he doesn't need to be looking out for a blundering partner. Unlike the other two men, Jack would never partner up with someone who might flail around and make the kind of mistakes Mac, or even sometimes Julia, make. But he also doesn't seem to be withholding the kind of information that Nadia needs, either. So far he has controlled her access into the wider community of hitmen (which is more than fine with Nadia) and her access to information about him. I think (and again, I'm less than half way through the book, so I could be way off here) that he controlled that information at first as a safety measure, and Nadia has respected that so much that she doesn't even ask. Now he'd like to be able to share more with her and doesn't quite know where to start.
All three possess very specialized skills. That's maybe not the first trait you'd think of in an Alpha, but it stands to reason that if they're running the show then they're the best. Barrons has major magical skills and serious knowledge of the supernatural world. Brisbane is a phenomenal detective and has something else that gives him an edge. Jack can kill you a dozen different ways, and you'll never see it coming.
So, if I want to take these guys and use them as a template for creating my own fascinating Alpha, then I want a man who is mysterious (the more mysterious the better- I think that's why I like Barrons, major flaws and all- I want to be there when we finally learn all about him), powerful, intelligent, controlled and skilled. And eventually I want him to turn all that mystery, power, intelligence, control, and skill on me. Er, I mean my heroine!
After all this blah, blah, blah it seems like all I've done is define your run of the mill Alpha. But it's really how those characteristics were expressed that made these guys so unforgettable. How the author breathed life into them. Which is, of course, the hard part. Now that I have the general shape of the character, I'm going to have to start figuring out who this Alpha-shaped guy is and placing him in a story.
But not tonight- I'm tired.