Time was when the Romance section of the bookstore was a safe and cozy retreat from all things unfrivolous. Sure, there might be an occasional gothic or mystery romance with a terrifying moment, but one could basically rely on the fact that any book you took off the shelves would be sugar and like, like standing in the confectionary section of a bakery.
First, came the statistic that more Romance books sell than any other single genre (approx. 34% of books sold.) Then, came the statistic that Romance readers are the only people who come in the bookstore who browse other genres. Mystery readers only go to the mystery section. Fantasy readers only go to the fantasy section. But Romance readers will pick up books from other genres.
Then came the idea of paranormal romances. They had had these for years, but they were usually bad. Romance writers were not necessarily good at writing space opera or making up a fantasy world. The stories might appeal to Romance readers, but they did not appeal to the readers of the alternate genre.
Until someone came up with the idea of having genre writers write romances.
Suddenly, there came a paranormal romance explosion.
Where there used to only roses and Almack’s, suddenly there was elves, demons, werewolves, Greek Gods, vampires, and, yes, even robots. (Robots yearning for human love!) About the same time, another brand of book appeared as well, a more erotic type of novel that previously probably would have gone in literature, with more encounters and not necessarily a happy ending.
This was mildly disturbing, but it was all still pretty and pastel, and one still got pretty much the same fare.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not objecting to supernatural romances. In fact, I think they are almost inevitable. Romance, as a written genre, relies on two things that are hard to find in the modern age:
1) Taboos to break (such as “no daughter of mine will ever speak to a McCormmack” or “No unmarried woman must ever appear outside without her lady’s maid”)
2) Imbalance of power (the man is usually a lord or a pirate or a Viking, while the girl is a slender maid – though with an adventurous heart – who lives at home pining freedom and love.)
Well, let me tell you, it is HARD to find those things in the modern age! We have very few taboos, and our men and women are basically equal. It’s a dry desert out there for Romance writers, let me tell you. True there are contemporary romances, but they never seem, to me at least, to have the sparkle of their historical cousins.
Enter the paranormal man! He’s dark; he’s powerful; he’s sexy; and he has taboos and inequality of power galore! He’s so powerful, he could kill you with a kiss – if he doesn’t hold himself back, and as to taboos…well, he’s supernatural! The author can invent as many as she likes: can’t face the sunlight, can’t come out on the full moon, can’t talk to mortals, can’t this, can’t that, and can’t the other!
Well, all this is very well and good, so far…then, the vampires took over.
One day, it was demons, elves, gods, and vampires. The next day, it was nearly all vampires. Every third book on the shelf seemed to be a romance between a vampire and a mortal woman.
Now, what’s wrong with this, you ask? Well, putting the fact that I really hate vampires aside, I’m as aware as the next gal of the appear…who could watch the old version of Vampire Hunter D and not swoon at the scene where the main-character girl comes out of the shower and hugs him, and D has to hold back his fangs? Now, that, Ladies, is romance at its finest!
Except…that, suddenly, every third book in the Romance section has the world Death, Dead, or Dying in the title.
So, I’m going along looking at Simply Love and No Man’s Mistress (which just so happen to be titles by my favorite Romance writer) and the next thing I know, it’s as if I’ve been catapulted into the hardest-core section of Mystery mixed with the darker side of Fantasy. Completely gone are all hints of hearts and roses…in fact, it is as if I have stepped from Romance into Horror.
The result being that I went home without a book.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the horror/romance crossover genre. As I said above, it’s not hard to see what the appeal is. In fact, the problem – in my mind – with most horror novels is that nothing changes for the better. If it’s a romance, you can be pretty sure that by the end, the horrible monster will be changed for the better. I’m all about that! It’s right up my alley.*
I just wish they would shelve them somewhere else. Give the books with DEATH in the title their own shelf at the end of Romance, just like the series get their own shelf at the end of SF/Fantasy.
Kind of runes one’s appetite for flowers and chocolate to find blood dripping on them.
* See post below.