I’ve just finished reading …. er …. and re-reading Cole’s paranormal A HUNGER LIKE NO OTHER. And wow! was I hooked! It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. From the backcover blurb:

After enduring years of torture from the vampire horde, Lachlain MacRieve, leader of the Lykae Clan, is enraged to find the predestined mate he’s waiting millennia for is a vampire. Or partly one. This Emmaline is a small, ethereal half Valkyrie/half vampire who somehow begins to soothe the fury burning within him.

I have to admit, at first I thought “Oh gosh, not another vampire book!” But this, my dears, turned out to be a terrific vampire book, with a well-developed mythology. AND a dark, tortured werewolf hero! And a wee heroine, who’s so far led an extremely sheltered life among her Valkyrie aunts (lots of shrieks and lightning) and who — despite being part vampire — is almost afraid of her own shadow. When the half-crazed wolfie pounces, her worst nightmare seems to become true, yet in the course of the novel she comes to realize that she might be a bit on the small side, but is definitely not quite as helpless as everybody thought her to be.

Emma is an extremely likable heroine, with a strong sense of family, several hung-ups and a craving for modern technology. She LUUUVES her iPod and LUUUVES the xbox and is rather put out when she misses her aunties’ xbox evening. (Isn’t this delicious? Valkyries having an xbox evening!)

What also struck me about this book is how wonderfully brutish the hero is. Why, he’s even worse than the romance heroes of old who generally behaved like cavemen! Now, this seems to tie in with a discussion about the erotic and political correctness at SmartBitches which was sparked by one of Laura Kinsale’s post on her message board:

Kinsale argues that readers have become self-conscious about their own erotic fantasies, and the genre itself has been divided into two camps: the “safe Regency settings” that provide emotional depth, while “the erotic drive has been channeled over to vampire and fantasy books where realism is a non-issue” . . .

There’s definitely more than just a bit of truth to this: traditionally, the male is seen as the Other in romance, the great enigma the heroine (and often the reader!) of the older romances couldn’t figure out until the very end of the story, when he was pushed to explain himself. Take Laurie McBain’s DEVIL’S DESIRE: Alex behaves like a real jerk for the most part of the story, is totally callous to the heroine, enjoy intimidating her (also in a sexual way), but it’s exactly this bully alpha hero which makes this such a great story. In DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN Robyn Donald explains the appeal of this overbearing alpha male thus:

The strong domineering hero of the romance novel has long been the subject of criticism. What critics don’t realize is that it is the hero’s task in the book to present a suitable challenge to the heroine. His strength is a measure of her power. For it is she who must conquer him.

Every good romance heroine must have a hero who is worthy of her. And in most cases he is a mean, moody, magnificent creature with a curling lip and mocking eyes and and arrogant air of self-assurance — until he meets the heroine.

Today the most alpha alpha heroes can indeed be found in paranormals. As it is nicely set apart from reality, the heroes can behave as badly as their authors like. That they are vampire, werewolfie or what not only emphasizes their Otherness. So, in a way, the heroes of old live on in them. And perhaps that’s the reason why paranormals are so hot right now …