Paranormal Romance – Hearts On Fire

At lunchtime one day last week I walked into the small bookstore in the mall near where I work. I usually head straight for the Art section because they occasionally have discounted books on watercolour and pastel technique.

I’m in there often enough to notice that the bookshelves and signs for one section were altered. Side by side with the Romance bookcase, full of the romance novels one would expect, was a new category, Paranormal Romance. I asked one of the women running the store about this as she put some new paperbacks on the shelves.

dark_melody.jpg“It’s very hot now,” she said. “Witches, vampires, all that. So much new stuff coming in we had to make space for them.”

This made me curious, for the first time in my life, about the romance novel genre. I’m sure you know the kind of paperback novels I’m talking here: there’s usually a hunk of a guy and a lovely woman with a beatific expression on her face embracing in some manner on a cover decorated with a lot of pink behind the flowery typography.

I plow through a lot of thrillers and sci-fi novels sometimes, and when I take them to a second-hand paperback bookstore to trade them in, the sight of all those discarded romance paperback novels taking up valuable shelf-space that rightly belongs to the genres I’m interested in is quite annoying.

cinderella.jpgIt turns out that as much as half of all mass-market paperbacks are of this genre.

But the idea of the sudden proliferation of a sub-genre called paranormal romance intrigues me, probably more because of paranormal than romance, I must confess as a philistine male. Growing up reading a lot of science fiction, especially in the old days of Analog science fiction magazine when it was going through that large format period, I was fascinated by the paranormal often featured in the stories: telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation.

But for the paranormal romance, there are many sub-genres: ghosts, demons, ESP, faith healer, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, superheroes, witches, even time travel.

As a casual part-time cultural observer, I wonder why the bodice-rippers are changing form like this right now.

What kind of novel is this “paranormal romance” anyway? They have names like: A Kiss of Shadows or A Taste of Darkness. All written by women of course (or men using a woman’s nom de plume). They are also called ‘supernatural romance’ and this perhaps gives a better clue than ‘paranormal’ about the subject matter.

They are considered ‘darker’. This makes sense especially since a lot of it seems to involve being locked in a loving embrace with vampires or practising warlocks.

In a typical romance novel, the woman must be instantly sexually attracted to the hero, even if she despises him and everything he stands for, such as sucking blood from people. This instant sexual attraction is the best way to tell that he is the love of her life.

Here’s a paranormal romance as described on one site:

After 400 years as a vampire, Gerard Pasquale wants only to be left alone to shadow the midnight streets of turn-of-the-century New Orleans . . . until blackmail binds him to a mortal bride who throws his dark world into an upheaval.

A review lauds it this way:

“An extraordinary, suspenseful tale of love that will last longer than a lifetime. Ms. Gideon once again displays her awesome talents in bringing a handsome but deadly predator out of the night and into your hearts. A definite keeper!” – New Age Bookshelf

And here are a few words from the work itself:

She was quite beautiful in repose.

From where he stood beside her bed, Gerard admitted that much to himself. He hadn’t dared come so close to her before tending to his appetite. Just her presence beneath the same roof, let alone the temptation of her in the same room, had been almost too much for him earlier.

karynatall-copy.jpgThe allure of these books for many women is obvious while still remaining something of a puzzlement for me. I think part of it must be that ordinary men almost always disappoint, the more you know them, as romantic ideals.

The ideal romantic novel hero is at least slightly tortured and mysterious, dangerous and sexy. The heroine’s love saves him and overcomes all difficulty. Here is a good example of the latter: Predator’s Salvation by Gracie C. McKeever (it received 4.5 Kisses from Two Lips Reviews, by the way).

The supernatural setting allows the romance writer, I surmise, to ramp up this dangerous aspect of the hero many fold and create that much more romantic tension. The excitement of giving your love to a ghost from the 17th century is certainly more exhilarating than meeting Joe at the pub for a brew and watching the football game with him.

But why now? Why is this form of romantic longing so prevalent and becoming more so, apparently, especially in this exaggerated form? Although, much as I enjoy poking fun at it, a genre based on love does have something going for it. I like this thoughtful quote from romance novel author Jayne Ann Krentz:

Popular fiction (romance included) has kept its position on the bestseller lists because it is the medium society uses to affirm its most basic values – its core values, its survival values. These are values which transcend contemporary trends and politics and psychological theory. Popular fiction keeps alive the ancient heroic virtues — honor, courage and determination. All of these qualities are crucial to the romance novel, just as they are in the other popular fiction genres. In addition, however, the romance novel celebrates many of what have long been considered “feminine” values: those values associated with nurturing, optimism, family ties and monogamous relationships that are strong enough to form the cornerstone of a family.

I think she has something there, although she may not be as sensitive to the ridiculous aspects of the genre as I am.

It’s interesting that part of the debate about the worth of this genre revolves around whether it reinforces stereotypes of women’s roles or whether it is more about women’s independence as they overcome adversity. One literary scholar, Pamela Regis, says these books are about “overcoming cultural barriers and reforming society through love.”

One can only be in favour of that. Werewolves need to be loved too.


Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Writing

4 Comments on “Paranormal Romance – Hearts On Fire”

  1. Eliza D Says:

    Fencer, I used to be really into romances, and felt guilty about them. Anyway, will comment more later. I just want to tell you that I’ve awarded you the Thinking Blogger Award…so check out my latest post, huh?

  2. fencer Says:

    Hey, Eliza,

    Thanks a lot for your inclusion of me in the award.

    Also interested in your thoughts about romance novels… you would have good insight into what they mean for women. You write well about these issues…


  3. Hi, Fencer,

    There’s another aspect to the appeal of PNR – the lure of power. In today’s world, many feel powerless, without the ability to shape events or to foresee and control their own destinies. In PNR, the hero, the heroine or both will often have extraordinary powers they use to influence the world and their own fates. This provides a level of wish fulfillment that is quite separate from the love relationship.


  4. fencer Says:

    Hi Lisabet,

    Thanks for stopping by…

    I hadn’t really thought about that, but the way you put it makes that aspect quite clear.

    But is that fantasy power aspect different do you think than in the more straightforward fantasy novel that might also incorporate having special and strong influence on the affairs of the world?

    It’s more about the fantasy power of love in these romance novels, do you think? (I haven’t read any to really know, I admit.)


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