For many of we romance fiction fans, the hearty strains of  "Be our guest!" and "Put our service to the test!" would have been more meaningful - and ever so slightly raucous and ribald - had the damn beast never turned back into pretty, prissy, princely form, and instead remained big, bad, overbearing and, mmmm, beastly.

Yes, lots of romance fans unabashedly, one might say, dig a disgruntled-with-the-world hero with what most around him consider an "ugly" or frightening countenance.  Socially, he's gotta be ill at ease or, preferably, unacceptable.  And rounding out his bearing, the best beastly hero boasts mutilated, messed-up, or, again, preferably, one or more altogether-missing body parts due to military service.


Oh, but not that body part, which the Gods of Romance Novelists and Readers, as the ditty says, hath blessed beast "with most ample a share" and the will to use it amply. Because at the heart of every beastly hero beats the, well, heart of a human needing love and intimate connection.

This beastly hero construct works remarkable well within the historical romance and Sir Alistair Munroe of Elizabeth Hoyt's "To Beguile a Beast  " is the kind of grumpy, yet sweet and very sexy beast we love.  A naturalist, Monroe was taken captive and tortured during the French and Indian War, then returned to Scotland to hide away where his burned, mutilated face - missing an eye! - won't frighten children and missish chits.  It takes the earnest, yet lusty love of a courtesan hiding her beloved children from her keeper, their father, to get Munroe to believe, not that he has a future, but that he may be able to give her a future and love.

The future doesn't always look bleak to the human beast, yet those around him often remind him it is because his behavior is wildly different from "the norm."  Take the case of a gorgeous guy with loads of dough and what we'd diagnose as Asperger's Syndrome, most assuredly "The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie  ."  In this very erotic and compelling read, Jennifer Ashley brings us a hero who's been institutionalized because of his "unnatural" intelligence and intense focus.  Even those who love him fear the ‘beastly' side of him, and protect him from himself at all cost.

Who saves this beast?  A woman of great intelligence and practicality, who realizes that  this ‘beast' is a genius who can be taught just about anything -- and who always believes that - despite what he repeats verbatim -  he's as capable of intense feeling as he is of brilliant intellectual skill.

But we know great heroines tend to behave practically. So when the chick's the beast, how's that wash? Take the case of "One with the Shadows'" Kate Malone.  Susan Squires' heroine was scarred when her pimp knifed her face to keep her from leaving his ‘protection.'  Instead of hiding away, she creates an alluring persona to beguile European aristocracy, earning their trust as a great oracle then fleecing them.  Strong and enterprising, sure. Yet, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll tell you it takes the world-weary vampire who posed for Buonarroti's David to be the guy man enough to overcome Kate's cynicism -- her "beast on the inside" -- and to open her heart to loving herself.

In her funny and fascinating Barnes & Noble Review column, "The Wild Kingdom," Eloisa James this week writes, "the key to the classic Beauty and Beast story is that the Beast needs Beauty more than she needs him."

Yet our hero or heroine doesn't just save the beast, I think - or get "saved right back" a la "Pretty Woman," a type of psycho-social beauty/beast story.  No, the beast's forever lover enters the HEA  with the gift of intelligent empathy that humans use when they look inside an individual and give them a chance to reach back in humanity; we turn away after the "other" decides "beastly" on the inside is really where they're happiest.

What do you dig about a truly beastly hero?  What makes the beastly hero so sexy? Who are your faves and what are your fave beastly hero books?  Why do you think the beastly hero works - or doesn't work - in the contemporary romance? 

Check out Eloisa James' take on paranormal beastly heroes who aren't obviously sexy like vamps and stuff and whom one might call, um, biologically challenged...

Message Edited by Michelle_Buonfiglio on 05-17-2009 09:50 PM
by amyskf on ‎05-05-2009 01:34 PM

My children cried when Beast transformed into the Prince at the end of Disney's Beauty and the Beast--even their child brains got the allure of the beast.


What I truly love about a beastly hero is their soft spot...okay, maybe not. Im love the dichotomy of their inner thoughts and their actions, he feels more intense emotions for her so he treats her with even more abruptness. I love a beast once he's finally in the bedroom.


Elizabeth Hoyt's The (Leopard? Raven?) Prince was an excellent beast--if only I could remember names...he hires the heroine to be a sort of secretary. He is short on manners and gruff. He also is not the handsomest lord on the block--but she appreciates everything about him. My memory fails, and I can't do the story justice.



by MalePerspectiveGuy on ‎05-05-2009 01:43 PM

Shrek!  My favorite beast hero!  He has a high level of self-awareness, and appreciates how it works for him and against him.


Others who could fit into this include the elephant man, Forrest Gump and Phantom of the Opera.


Interesting post today.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎05-05-2009 02:21 PM

Hi Michelle, great article.

Hmmm beastly fellows and why they work in romance. Well strictly speaking from my point of view I like the beastly heros because they're not perfect. Damaged and yet savable and all they need is that one special someone who can figure that out. And from the female perspective, who better to understand not wanting to be loved for beauty only. I think they can work in contemporary romance even though it's much easier to put out an eye when you're carrying around a claymore. As far my favorite, there's too many to mention and I couldn't choose which of my children I like best either.

by Author PortiaDaCosta on ‎05-05-2009 02:48 PM

I wonder if the appeal of the 'beast' hero, or the wounded hero, is that because they've suffered they can empathise with the heroine's issues better... even if it's just in a subconscious way.


I certainly love reading and writing about 'damaged' heroes.


And yes, I was a bit disappointed at the end in Beauty and the Beast. The Beast was far more interesting than the pretty prince. Although I suppose he still had his beastly side's insights...

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-05-2009 03:04 PM
Shana Abe's The Treasure Keeper features a beast who is also, in some respects, dead.  Talk about a conflicted romance!
by Author VanessaKelly on ‎05-05-2009 07:54 PM
I think my favorite beastly hero is Dain from Lord of Scoundrels.  His beastliness is the result of his self-loathing and guilt.  He also believes he's physically hideous, and when Jessica tells him that he's magnificent, it knocks him back on his heels.  I love how vulnerable he is, and how afraid he is that Jessica will leave him. 
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio ‎05-05-2009 08:13 PM - edited ‎05-06-2009 07:47 PM

Hi, Amy:  You're right, it's Hoyt's "The Raven Prince," you're thinking of, and, unfortunately de Raaf didn't make the edit of this piece.  He wasn't good looking. He wasn't all that nice.  He was, however, amply enthusiastic and dirty and 'redeemable to a point," which made him all the more interesting, the beast the author dares not geld, as I tend to think of a hero the author dares to leave a bit rough/raw.  And I, like you, dig the beast who becomes more beastly as the heroine draws nearer emotionally. Tho some readers find that miserable.  I totally go for the bastardly beastly hero.  Perhaps that's a post for another day...

Cool, MPG, that's true! Shrek can be fairly introspective and likes to play up his Ogre-liness for all it's worth. But he accepts the loneliness is the lesser evil when balanced against, well, losing his life.  And Shrek's squeeze is a good example of a beastly heroine, no?  Forrest Gump definitely skews beastly in the same sense as Lord Ian. John Merrick (sp?) kinda gets tossed in both categories.  And I know many, many women who wish the Phantom woulda scored Christine.  You might want to check out a fab erotic treatment of that story by Collette Gale, "Phantom," in which the masqued man gets his due.


dhaupt, it's much easier to put out an eye when you're carrying around a claymore?  I couldna' stoop laffin at this, lass!  But your idea about women empathizing because of the 'beauty' issue is marvelous, and a tack I'd never taken in mulling this over. 


In terms of contemps, I've kinda been thinking we don't see tons of mutilated beast romance heroes of late because of the current climate of war.  It seems far removed, somehow, when we  think of hand-to-hand combat centuries ago.  But contemporaries using the beast hero might put too realistic a face, as it were, on the reality so many of our servicemen and women and families deal with. Perhaps it would seem disrespectful, rather than celebrating one's overcoming odds and society to make one's own happiness.   I'm aware of lots of PTSD issues in contemps, which also can be used similarly to the Lord Ian sitch.Perhaps someone else is aware of the disfigured hero in current contemporaries.  I'm not coming up with any.


becke! I'm laughing because the logical question I want to ask is: Is he dead? Or mostly dead?  Indeed, I'm too much influenced by "Princess Bride."

Message Edited by Michelle_Buonfiglio on 05-06-2009 07:47 PM
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎05-05-2009 08:18 PM
Oh, Vanessa, I just was thinking of that scene today, how Dain's world is set akilter when she speaks in a way that lets him know she's jealous of how she believes other women must go crazy over him!  As you say, he's worked hard to become the beast English society -- including his father -- painted him.  I love how he remains a bit beastly in truth, yet also plays at being beastly for tender effect as his trust in Jess' love grows.  I'm sighing just thinking about him and his big body and bigger Uosignuolo nose.  I may have mentioned that I like Italian heroes.
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-06-2009 10:33 AM

Michelle -- Oh no, I'm not giving it away.  You have to read it for yourself!  And although I read the series pretty much inside out and backwards, I recommend others start at book one.  This is the order (and there are more books to come):


The Smoke Thief

The Dream Thief

Queen of Dragons

The Treasure Keeper


All perfectly wonderful books!  And I second Eloisa's vote for Virginia Kantra's selkies (similar to seals) -- more great books! 

by Author MonicaBurns on ‎05-06-2009 12:53 PM

I love Beauty and Beast stories. It makes the love story so more poignant because it's a statement that deep, abiding love isn't superficial and doesn't require beauty for it to be sustained. In truth, I love stories where it's the heroine who's "ugly" or "less than" in the eyes of society when the hero is the Beauty. Jane Eyre is like that. Jane is plain and generally unattractive to most people, she's far from well-connected or anything else.


I think too that the Beauty/Beast scenario is popular because most people find something wrong with their looks. I've even heard beautiful women like Christie Brinkley and Jane Seymour say there's something wrong with their nose or their eyes. People want to be loved for who they are and not what they look like, and B/B romances address that issue well.


And I love Dain from LS too. But I love Phantom better. *big grin*

by Mandacoll on ‎05-06-2009 01:52 PM

Michelle, have you been spying on my reading list again? Heh. I have just finished both To Beguile a Beast and The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie and both are fabulous!  


Hmm on the beast in comtemps. There is an amputee hero in JoAnn Ross's latest, Shattered, but he's kind of superman-esque since his prosthesis is pretty freakin' awesome. And he certainly hasn't withdrawn from society or anything like that. There do seem to be a lot of PTSD cases cropping up in romance fiction lately. 


I suspect part of the reason there are so few true beast figures in contemps is that plastic surgery has made the kinds of injuries that we see in historicals much less devastating than they seemed to be in the past. I guess this is where the literal beasts of paranormal and fantasy romance come in.  


Mariah Stewart's new Mercy Street series features a recurring character, a millionaire whose wife and child disappeared never to be heard from again, who has withdrawn from society and become a recluse. I suspect we are going to see some romance between him and his assistant sometime in the future, but in the meantime, he does seem to have the whole "locked myself in my castle and I'm not gonna come out 'til my true love saves me" thing going on.


And count me in with the lovers of Dain. Sigh. Best. Beastly. Hero. Ever. 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-06-2009 07:06 PM
I loved Mercy Street and just got Cry Mercy in the mail yesterday.  I can hardly wait to read it!
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎05-06-2009 07:56 PM

Nice, becke. Really nice.  Kantra's really done well w/her selkies;very cool departure from her great rom suspenses.  do you remember the Xtina Dodd from back in the day w/the hero who also was a selkie? 

Looks like Dain from "Lord of Scoundrels" is our big ol beastly winner.  And the plain hn stories are great, because I don't know a whole lotta chicks who actually dig the way they look.  I'm trying to remember, however, if I know of any plain hn books in which the hero's not so hot himself and the hn still thinks she's hit the jackpot.  Does it work as well in that case, if the hero's not the Roque of the Century or the Greates Rake Ever, etc.?  And, um, shawkah on the you/Phantom thing. :smileyhappy:



by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎05-06-2009 08:12 PM

I'm feelin as though I'm in good company now, MandaI know that you, like I, are interested in heroes and hns w/disabilitiesAnd something that didn't make the cut in this piece is a theory I heard from a pal who's a disabilities advocate about why folks react to folks w/disabilities in ways they do. He said it often comes down to fear of being in the place of the person w/the disabilitySome of us then kind of overdose on the empathy thing and turn away (the 'quickly averted eyes thing), while others of us overdose on a sort of condescension, and figuratively or literally turn our backsIt all comes from the same placeI think Ashley really got this right in Lord Ian, because she doesn't have all of society vilifying Ian, nor does she have everyone who loves him looking at him with mild  exasperation, like he's just a really clever and misunderstood guy. (Whose literal use of language makes for some really sexy pillow talk).


Great point on the plastic surgery thingVery practical.   And I've got a tick for you in the Dain column.

by on ‎05-06-2009 09:21 PM

In a nutshell:  My feelings on the B/B scenario is. 


Women want to save, nurture, change, whomever.  Man=/beast, the unloved, the poor me...can't be saved. 


Woman says...I want to dig deep into the souls of man, to change them into something lovable =  Something acceptable =  Something readable. The challenge is the optimum goal.  Falling in love with the saved, reclaimed victim.= challenge -  he sees just like me =  I got what I wanted. =  mission accomplished = cynical point of view, or truth?

by Author EloisaJames on ‎05-07-2009 08:12 AM

Hi Michelle!


I just love this point:  "the beast's forever lover enters the HEA  with the gift of intelligent empathy that humans use when they look inside an individual and give them a chance to reach back in humanity; we turn away after the "other" decides "beastly" on the inside is really where they're happiest."


Of course, you are so right!  And so well put.  I want to second your hurrah for the Hoyt and Ashley books -- both of them were amazing.  in both cases, it was my first novel of theirs, and I hit the bookstores for their whole backlist!  (Which I am saving for the beach this summer...oh, the glory)



by Moderator Melanie_Murray on ‎05-07-2009 09:05 PM


When I read your blog, I immediately thought of Edward from The Raven Prince. And now I'm reading the first of the Virginia Kantra's Children of the Sea (thanks to Eloisa's description and Becke's gushing) and the hero of Sea Witch is a bit wounded - he's got post-traumatic stress syndrome from his time in Iraq. Another wounded beast I loved was Phillip in Julia Quinn's To Sir Phillip,  with Love. HIs wounds were internal, and he was certainly beastly.


The one element about Beasts I love is the lonely castle, the impenetrable fortress that the heroine inevitably spruces up and enlivens. Ah, the metaphors!

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-07-2009 11:41 PM
Gushing??  Moi?
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎05-08-2009 08:37 AM

yes. we all were shocked by your behavior, becke.

Melanie, de Raaf marks for me the return of the one of the unashamedly bastardly heroes, at least one that was generally embraced.  mmm, he was just so dirty and in many ways appealingly unappealing.  I chose to go w/Hoyt's newest, rather than de Raaf, but it was a tough choice, especially when I've never gotten that brothel scene out of my mind...  And I've got to re-read Sir Phillip; he was the widower who got pummelled when the Bridgerton boys showed up? Or am I confused.  Excellent point about the castle! And when it's a medieval and she starts sweeping up and tossing herbs around the rushes?  Next thing you know, the toothless, smelly villeins and knight alike are taking her side when the beast gets all beastly.  Really good point on the literal, rather than just figurative castle. :smileyhappy:


Eloisa, just remember to slather on the 'screen, cause you're not gonna wanna leave your beach chair.  Hoyt's second Prince novel has a really interesting Common Man hero and his journey is unusual and surprizing. My friend JulieinOhio adores Ashley's paranormals ( Allyson Jaymes) as well. 


Well, KathyS, not so cynical, and probably too close to the truth in real life for chicks who think they've got a 'diamond in the rough' and can 'change him.'  The great romance, for me, has a hero who decides he wants to change -- a lot like real life -- when he realizes he's probably gonna lose what he's got.  tough to find guys in real life or fantasy who are nurtured to be introspective.  Doesn't mean they dislike it, just not many got the 'larnin'.'

by on ‎05-08-2009 10:15 AM

Fantasy is a strange have to write/read it close enough to real life, without the nuts and bolts of the lightbulb getting in the way of the, as you say, "larnin".  Allowing the character, either male, or female, to "want" to change, without it looking like any 'real' work was done.   I wonder at some of those books I'd read.  I wonder if they were so badly written that it became 'superficial fantasy' (made that up) - Is it cut out the chase, or cut to the chase -?


Ahhhhhh, My Romance! - TWANG!  "ZING - Goes the strings of my heart!" 

I'm not poking fun.  I just love to sing about IT!  That's my 'real' fantasy!


- picture Wisteria Lane, and me walking down the middle of the street, singing to myself. "......can this be love?" 

"I hear music and there's no one there, I smell blossoms and the trees are bare....I wonder why, I wonder why.......?"   [[not a pretty sight]]

[now, I need coffee...before my brain rambles too far into the RED  zone]

by Author Jessa_Slade on ‎05-12-2009 02:32 PM
It might not be PC, but I think part of the allure of the beast hero is not so much taming the beast but leashing that power for yourself.  I love stories where the shadow side is not klieg-lighted out of existence but integrated into the whole.
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-13-2009 12:47 AM
Jessa!  Great to see you here!
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎05-13-2009 09:21 AM
Yes, Jessa, perhaps put in a more base way, I prefer the beast not be gelded.  It's not my fave end product when the rough n raw hero becomes the heroine's new best girlfriend (with benefits).  I'm glad to see you here, too. 
About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.