Stock siblings in romance

Have you ever noticed that in romance series featuring male siblings, you can often find the same character types? This seems true regardless of subgenre. This isn’t a comment about quality, by the way. Sometimes, these characters are done really well, so that they stand out regardless of how similar they are “on paper” to others in the genre (they’re not really “stock” characters at all), but other times, they read like the author is following romance writing by the numbers.

In contemporary, I am just finishing up Susan Mallery’s Irresistable, which features a hero, Walker, who is dark and mysterious, has a lot of inner demons, and can’t trust himself to bond with women or children. He has an (I think) older brother, Cal, who is serious and hard working and carries the family’s name on his shoulders (in Delicious), and another brother, Reid, a retired major league pitcher who is a footloose womanizer, determined never to settle down (Sizzling). Kathleen O’Reilly’s Sexy O’Sullivans series gives us the hardworking, responsible eldest (Gabe, in Shaken and Stirred), the middle brother with tragedy in his past who cannot bond (Daniel, in Sex, Straight Up, a book that was so much better than its title, BTW), and the footloose, womanizing, never get married youngest (Sean, in Nightcap). Then you have Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Bonner brothers, and while the brothers’ places in the family tree don’t mimic the structure outlined above, you have the same three basic characters: Cal, the pro quarterback, never-gonna-settle-down womanizer (Nobody’s Baby But Mine), Ethan, the serious one (his is the secondary romance in the next book), and Gabe, the dark tortured soul with a tragic past (Dream a Little Dream). (How about Nora Roberts’ Quinn brothers? Haven’t read this series…)

In historicals, you have Loretta Chase’s Carsington series, about three brothers. Benedict (Mr. Perfect), who is the eldest, is the uptight, responsible one. Alastair (Miss Wonderful), who is a war veteran, carries dark demons and fears he may never be able to have a normal relationship, while Rupert (Mr. Impossible) is the youngest: goofy and womanizing and determined never to settle down. How about Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton’s? I am pretty sure you can find all three characters there (although they may not all be Bridgertons).

How about those paranormal series with more than 3 “brothers”? Well, J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood’s first three books feature the eldest, Wrath (Dark Lover), the responsible, serious one; and Rhage (Lover Eternal) the irrepressible playboy with hidden depths, and Zadist (Lover Awakened), the tortured one who will never bond. Lara Adrian has two of these in the first four books of her vamp series, Midnight Breed (Lucan, the responsible leader of the first book and Rio, the tortured soul with a tragic past, in the 4th). Carpathians don’t seem to have a sense of humor (I’ve only read three of these — I could have completely missed the Jack Black of Carpathia) so I don’t thing Feehan’s Dark series fits either.

Moving away from siblings altogether, Kresley Cole’s heroes don’t really fit these types, although arguably… Lachlain in the first book is the responsible leader, and Bowen in a later book is the dark tortured hero with a past who has sworn never to love again (don’t ask me which is which. Oh, what the hell, I’ll give it a go: I believe the first is A Hunger Like No Other, and the second is Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night) . Maybe we could call Cade in Dark Desires After Dusk the playboy type with hidden depths (certainly it is his plan to love and leave em), but he’s a rage demon and that’s stretching it. (Which circle of hell is it that you are bound and tortured until you get all of the titles of Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series right, and in order?)

That’s all I can think of for now, but as I’ve only been reading romances for less than 2 years, it seems like a lot.

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Published in: on August 13, 2008 at 11:02 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Huh… never realized it, but now come to think of it… you’re right!!!
    Nora Roberts’ Quinn brothers fit the pattern in reverse, though they’re not blood brothers: the eldest Cam is the irrepressible , footloose playboy, Ethan, quiet, morose, never-to-bond because of guilt weighing him down, and Phillip, responsible,hard working. And her new Sign of Seven trilogy is doing the same, though they’re really bonded childhood friends : Caleb,responsible, rooted business owner; Fox, hippie lawyer with tragedy in his past, and Gage (his book’s coming soon), wandering, gambling bad boy.
    This is like a game….

  2. Thanks for confirming that about the Quinns. I’ve heard it’s one of her best series, so I plan to get to it eventually.

    I guess if you don’t want to make siblings indistinguishable, these types are a good way to differentiate them.

    Thank you for commenting!

  3. Hmmm. I wonder if the pattern holds if they’re mixed gender siblings? I’m going to have to look at Elizabeth Lowell’s older series… I’ve been working through them steadily.

  4. Historical series featuring siblings often have more than three brothers, but with some of the same character types. I think the popularity of the so-called Alpha Male type, and the Rake type, in historicals might have something to do with it.

    For example, in Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series, the pattern holds true. Aidan in SLIGHTLY MARRIED is a loyal, steady army officer; Rannulf is the womanizer in SLIGHTLY WICKED; Alleyne in SLIGHTLY SINFUL is a former dashing rake who has to overcome amnesia, making him a bit of a combo character; and Wulfric in SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS is the dark, forbidding, isolated oldest brother. That series also features a couple of their sisters as heroines of their own books; still pondering if they fit a pattern as well.

  5. There are common family patterns that have been observed and studied–particularly in dysfunctional families–and a lot of these fit in with those well-known patterns. For example, the oldest character being the responsible savior type and the youngest being the family clown.

    I’m rather fond of series which feature a “good” brother and a “bad” brother, because it’s so much fun to see the good brother go bad and vice versa.

  6. JC – I never thought about mixed gender siblings. Maybe a closer analysis of the Bridgertons is in order.

    Victoria — undoubtedly, you are right that these types are popular with heroes regardless of whether they are brothers of heroes, and I think that must account for a lot of what I have observed. I had completely forgotten about the Balogh books.

    Willaful — I also agree with you that there are family dynamics at work. Here’s something on birth order that supports your theory.


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