It’s not surprising that most of these heroes are your favorites as most of them have longevity. Longevity not only creates an honored space for them in the hearts of long-time readers, but perhaps also gives them the jump over other heroes for newer readers when receiving recommendations.
For instance, Roarke, from J.D. Robb’s In Death series, won as Best Hero four times and earned honorable mention in that category three times throughout the history of our annual reader poll. And though many readers do not classify Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series as romances, it nonetheless scored highly in each of our three Top 100 Romances poll – the first book in the series landed in the 7th slot in our most recent poll…in the 2000 poll it was our reader’s second favorite romance, second only to Lord of Scoundrels, which earned top slot in both the 2004 and 2000 poll. Dreaming of You landed in the sixth position in both of those polls as well, and remains the favorite Kleypas for many readers. As for Darcy, his appeal has lasted nearly 200 years, and with every new movie or mini-series – diving into the lake at Pemberley or not – it continues to grow. Rupert Carsington won as Best Hero in the annual reader poll for 2005 releases. Ditto for Harry Braxton as regards 1997 releases. Though Paradise was published well before AAR’s existence, it too remains a favorite book for readers. And while Rothgar’s romance wasn’t told until 2000, readers developed strong feelings for him throughout many of the Malloren books.
The biggest surprise is the appearance of Zsadist on this list; the Black Dagger Brotherhood series is quite new. That said, however, when during our polls earlier in the year for Favorite Books by Favorite Authors, J.D. Ward had the highest voter “turnout” of any author.
Let’s look at some of these men in a different way. Several of them – including Sebastian, Derek Craven, Harry Braxton, and Zsadist – were damaged goods and believed themselves to be unworthy of love. Sebastian viewed himself as useless and ugly. Derek, who was born in a ditch, grew up in a world that had nothing to do with love, so how could he understand it? Harry, with his inability to read, feared giving himself up to his heroine. And tortured, sexually abused, and destroyed Zsadist never knew love, and could not understand it when it came to him. Romance readers love the man who believes himself unlovable – we want to see him discover that he can and is able to love.
Two of Loretta Chase’s heroes appear on our list – Sebastian and Rupert Carsington. Like Zsadist, Rupert is a new hero for us, yet his charm and wit and love of life definitely made an impression. The two are entirely opposite, yet both made the list. And while Roarke may have had as hard-scrabble a life as Derek Craven – or perhaps an even harder start – among those reasons we love him are his sense of humor and his tenderness.
Let’s look at the ballots themselves. Many ballots were filled out along author lines. Not every ballot was filled out in its entirety; in some instances a ballot ranked only three or four heroes, and each was written by the same author. Do readers love all of these heroes, or is it the voice of the author that makes them so appealing?
Not only that, there were ballots that came in for heroes whose books have yet to be written! J.R. Ward’s brotherhood had votes for Phury and Vishcious and although they play strong parts in the three books in print, their love stories have yet to be told. Jules from Suzanne Brockmann’sTroubleshooter series was also mentioned and again his book has not been written!
Then there were the recurring heroes from Charlaine Harris’Sookie Stackhouse books and from the Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop. Also, Jocelyn from the Kushiel trilogy by Jacqueline Carey was mentioned a few times. Obviously romantic heroes aren’t only found in romance books!
There were even multiple votes for Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which, like P&P, is classic fiction – and unlike P&P, does not have an HEA. Not everyone considers the book a romance, but it appears in the results of two of our three Top 100 Romance polls. AAR’s Kate Cuthbert argues: “GWTWis a romance novel, I don’t care what any one else says – there’s hope in the end! You know they’re going to get together just ten pages more down the track…and he’s the ultimate southern gentleman, so smooth, slightly rakish, but always there for a lady in need.”
Readers voted for 485 different heroines, representing every genre in romance. While virtually all voters filled in the heroes and couples section of every ballot, about 10 percent of the voters left the heroine’s section blank. For many readers it really is the hero who makes the book, and not the heroine.
Positions two through ten shifted almost constantly during the two-week voting period, with some heroines moving up into the top ten, and others moving down. However, after just a few ballots, one heroine moved into, and held firmly onto, the top position. Yes, J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas, from the In Death series, easily held off all the other heroines to lock down the number one slot.
The top ten heroines are an interesting mix of women. One is from a work of classic fiction that many of us nonetheless consider a romance novel (albeit not a genre one). Another five of the top ten slots are filled by heroines from historical romances. Two – Penelope Featherington at number two and Min Dobbs at number ten – have been variously described as plump or overweight, defying the traditional stereotype of a romance heroine. Interestingly, two of the top ten heroines – Desdemona Carlisle and Daphne Pembroke – found their hero in Egypt.
Seven of the top ten heroines’ heroes appeared in the top ten heroes list, but with the exception of Eve and Roarke, all of the other pairs appeared in different positions. For example, while Jaime is in second place among heroes, Claire ended up in fifth place among heroines. Does this mean readers like Claire slightly less, or that there are other heroines they like better?
Three of the top ten heroines’ heroes failed to land in the top ten. While Penelope Featherington, Best Heroine in our annual reader poll for 2002 releases, earned the third slot here, poor Colin – among the most popular Bridgertons – didn’t make it into the top ten. Nor did he win or earn honorable mention in that same annual poll, although he and Penelope were that year’s Best Couple. Similarly, Min Dobbs landed in the top ten here and was your Best Heroine for 2004 releases. Yet while she and Cal were your Best Couple for that year, Cal was not your Best Hero (although he did earn honorable mention). More to the point, though – he didn’t make the cut here. Neither did Wyatt Bloodsworth, yet Blair Mallory won as your Best Heroine for 2005 releases and made our top ten list here.
Top Ten Couples
Eve & Roarke
In Death series (1995 – current)
Claire & Jamie
Outlander series (1991 – current)
Jessica & Sebastian
Lord of Scoundrels (1995)
Sara & Derek
Dreaming of You (1994)
Desdemona & Harry
As You Desire (1997)
Elizabeth & Darcy
Pride & Prejudice (1813)
Daphne & Rupert
Mr. Impossible (2005)
Penelope & Colin
Romancing Mister Bridgerton (2002)
Meredith & Matthew
Minerva & Cal
Bet Me (2004)
Not surprisingly, of the 500+ couples receiving votes, eight of the Top Ten Heroes and nine of the Top Ten Heroines appear on the Top Ten Couples list. Those that did not are Zsadist, Rothgar, and Blair – along with their mates. Once voting began, it became quite clear that Eve and Roarke were going to top the poll easily, which they did. Outlander’s Claire and Jamie finished 85 points behind, but only 31 points ahead of Jessica and Sebastian from Lord of Scoundrels.
Curious about where Sam and Alyssa, that hugely popular couple from Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series, finished? They could [only] manage an 18th place finish, which is a good showing, but quite a comedown for the duo voted Best Couple in our annual reader polls for both 2001 and 2003 releases.
Something that stood out about most of the Top Ten Couples. Not only did they become lovers, they were also best friends. Okay, Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels may have shot Sebastian but most would say he deserved it, and good for her! All the same, these couples didn’t go through the “I love you! I hate you!” behavior that sometimes plague romances. How can readers not want to spend time with these couples who treat each other with respect and honor? Not only are these couples good friends and lovers to each other, they have also made friends out of their readers, and have touched our hearts.
We invite you to consider these questions and post about these poll results:
Who are you surprised to see in the top ten lists?
Who are you surprised didn’t make the top ten lists?
What is it about these heroines that lands them in the top ten?
Characters from seven of the Top Ten Comfort Read books contained Favorite Heroes, Heroines and/or Couples – does this surprise you?
Have you read most of the books containing the “favorite” characters?
Lee Brewer, LinnieGayl, and Cindy Smith
Post to the Let’s Talk Romance Novels Forum
Compare these results to the 2009 Mini-Poll for Favorite Heroes, Heroines and Couples