the ask@AAR: Does anyone still love bad boys?

AAR typically gets its review books from two places: Edelweiss and Netgalley. I love pursuing these lists. I see upcoming books that mystify me–The Ten Best Kentucky Derbys! How to Date A Foreigner!–as well as those I wouldn’t read unless bribed.

Most books I just glance and the cover, title, and genre and don’t bother to read the blurb. But those I think AAR’s reviewers and readers might enjoy, I delve further.

Doing this, over the past ten years, has been an interesting way to study romance and and women’s fiction in traditional publishing. Ten years ago, the words patriarchy, toxic, and were virtually nonexistent in the blurbs companies used to describe their books. Heroines were beautiful, innocent, and flame-haired. Heroes were mighty, notorious, and devastatingly seductive.

Things have changed. And that’s good, don’t get me wrong.

Over the past decade, romance has become wonderfully more diverse. There are love stories featuring people of all colors, sexual preferences, shapes, and personalities. Heroines have become powerhouses, women in charge of their fates and lives. Heroes have become… what?

Nice, for sure. The number of beta heroes has soared, especially in traditionally published m/f romance. In the past week, I’ve seen blurbs for upcoming romance novels featuring, to name a few, a sweet firefighter who reads romance novels, another who loves lambs and radical politics, and a shy, virginal duke who loves a putative courtesan.

Again, great! I’m all for diversity in leads.

But, I do sorta miss bad boys. (They abound in self-pubbed contemporary romance but are thin on the ground in, let’s say, traditionally published new historicals.) There’s something–FOR ME, YMMV and that’s fine–about a dark hero who is redeemed. The Bastiens, the Bens, the Jameses, and their ilk are out of vogue. It’s hard to imagine a major publisher championing a book like Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold or Tracy Anne Warren’s My Fair Mistress. I suspect those heroes would be too toxic, to use a word I see all the time in publishing, for most publishers to take a risk on.

Is it just me? Does anyone else occasionally jones for a dark lord or a seducer? Is there still room in traditionally published romance for a bad boy (or man) hero?

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