Shakespeare claims it’s April, psychologists say it’s December. But I think July is the cruellest month. It’s hot; it’s grossly humid; I never manage to swing a proper holiday. This year I have the added irritant of lacking air-conditioning both at home and at work. Argh.
Thus, July find me as grumpy as a grated badger. Which makes this the perfect time for the annual roundup of things that annoy me in the Romance genre. As usual, this list is personal, highly biased, and about trends rather than specific books.
That sounds misleading. In fact, I love me a good urban fantasy. I’m dancing with impatience for the new Jim Butcher novel (note to other anxious readers: it’s due at the end of the month). Adding a fantasy element to the here-and-now allows mythology and action to play off one another in unusual and exciting ways.
But Urban Fantasy is just that: a Fantasy set in a city. An Urban Fantastic Romance is more likely called a Paranormal, and I’m having some trouble with them at the moment. Specifically, with the sameness of them. That’s a strange thing to say about a genre that relies on the appeal of a specific formula, I know. But it’s not the sameness of content that bugs me; its the sameness of ornament. The iconclastic characters. The hunter vs hunted society. The noir-like idea that the city is teetering on the edge of barbarism, and the heroine (or sometimes hero) is holding back the growing darkness with everything she’s (or he’s) got.
As a Fantasy, that’s a decent starting place. But since a Romance is actually about the developing relationship between the two main characters, the Paranormal trappings usually become just that: trappings. When the archetypes of Urban Fantasy become boxes to check off, their power is seriously diluted. While saving the world, you can have a romance in the spare moments around the edges of the action. The converse rarely rings true.
One last whinge: why is it that only the dark magics seem to get any page time? After all, unless physics has gone entirely off-line, for every action there will be an equal and opposite reaction. If demons and the Dark Sidhe and goblins are all real, so too must be angels and guardian dragons and unicorns.
Years ago I complained about Scottish Romances just hitting the marks of plaid, heather, and brogue. If you substitute corset, goggles and gears, and the exact same thing can be said today about Steampunk Romances. Steampunk is an aesthetic. A cool aesthetic, sure, and one that offers lots of intriguing possibilities. But it’s not a plot.
To be fair, this one isn’t really about the Romance genre, as the shambling undead don’t easily lend themselves to Romance, what with the stench, and the bits falling off, and the eating of brains and such. Of course there are a few Zombie-Romance anthologies: they just prove Rule 34A*. But this particular peeve is about the rising subgenre that plonk zombies into the middle of public domain stories. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies started the parade. Fine. The first one’s always different. But by this point, Austen has been most distressingly be-monstered. Along with Shakespeare; Twain; Tolstoy; and Alcott. Not to mention actual historical figures; several kings and queens, and even children’s primers like Dick and Jane. And then there are the original zombie stories, the wars, the apocalypses, the survivors, and so on…
As a bookseller, I implore you: Enough with the zombies already! Please, just stop.
Supernatural Boyfriend of the Week
This isn’t an actual subgenre, but an admittedly-snide label I apply to a certain class of Young Adult Romances. You can guess what kind, right? Yeah, it’s the kind in which a girl meets a strange and wonderful new boy, who turns out to be a vampire/ werewolf/ fae/ angel/ merman/ demon/ magic user/ dead/ etc. Again, as a basis for a story, it’s a fairly solid platform. But the execution is often annoying. Especially when, in book two, another wonderful boy shows up, who is a shapechanger/ shaman/ wizard/ necromancer/ hunter of the first boy’s kind/ etc.
I want to emphasize that my carping does not mean I dislike YA, or YA Romances. Nothing could be further from the truth. In recent years, most of the books I’ve loved best have been YA, and many of those contain wonderful romances. It’s the after-school-special feeling of SBoTW stories that bugs me. This type of story usually substitutes melodrama for emotion, and that just makes me tired. I want to tell the characters to grow up. To think for ten minutes, instead of emoting. And while they’re at it, to get off my damn lawn!
*Rule 34A: If it exists, there will also be a Romance about it.
Chris Szego is grumpy. Obviously.