Reflections on Romance

I love many romances, I do, honestly.  But sometimes I’m disappointed by the genre restrictions. 

I was reading an enjoyable romance by an author I love, and the heroine was forced to choose between two men (granted, not my favorite trope at all, because you know what I’d say:  let Guinevere have both King Arthur and Sir Lancelot!)  But this wasn’t an erotic romance, so I knew she was going to choose one or the other.  I suspected something a little odd was going on, and then one particular event ruined the “reveal” for me entirely.  The surprise twist of the book was no longer a twist — it couldn’t be.  Because it was a mainstream romance.

What was the big event that spoiled the twist?  She had sex with someone other than the “hero” of the book listed in the blurb, quite late in the book.

Now how many books have we read where the hero is in bed with some skanky mistress?  Scads.  But we rarely see a HEROINE of a romance involved with anyone but the hero–because to allow her to be with someone else implies that she’s a slut.  That she DID have sex with the other man told me immediately that the “two men” thing was a complete and utter sham.  He had to be the same man, and yes, he was (although it was complicated).  I’m not naming the book so I don’t spoil it for anyone, and I still enjoyed the book.  I mean, she did get both heroes, then.  In a way. 

But it made me think about romance in general and the double standard.  I’m not saying I want skanky heroine sluts running around by any means, but sometimes, the restrictions of our genre chafe.

Come on, haven’t we moved beyond the following “choices” for a heroine?

  • virgin pure as snow
  • previous experience but they were all terrible, unsatisfying lovers and only the hero can teach her how wonderful a “real” man can be in bed. 
  • skank!

Of course I also read about a review of Victoria Dahl’s A Little Bit Wild today where the reviewer couldn’t get over the heroine’s “morals of a gnat.”  Errrr, I didn’t know that gnats were so permiscuious?  But the point:  the heroine (in a historical, no less) had had sex with other men, and that was just unforgivable.  Worse, she likes sex.  How terrible! *boggles* 

I guess that’s why I’m so intrigued by Victoria’s heroines.  They’re typically brash and unashamed with their own sexuality.  They’re subversive, really, compared to the rest of the heroines I’ve been reading lately.

That’s one of the things I really wanted to play with in the new world I’m building.  Subversive heroines.  Role reversals.  Taking beloved romance tropes and totally turning them on their heads, but still pulling off “romance.”  We’ll see if I succeeded…or failed utterly!

Sometimes I love that I can trust everything to work out in the end when reading a romance.  No matter how terrible things get, in the end, I know they’re going to be happy.  Nobody too crucial is going to die.  Nobody’s going to make a permanent wrong decision that costs them someone they love.  Happy happy happy!  But sometimes, that safety net reads more like a lie and a cheat than forever.

What subversive heroines have you enjoyed?

14 thoughts on “Reflections on Romance

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  2. You know I love your heroines and I’m all about Guinevere getting Arthur and Lancelot as well. ;) I also read that review about Victoria Dahl’s A Little Bit Wild and made sure I had that one preordered. I do. :grin:

    There was a book that came out last summer that I wanted to read but I knew I’d hate it because the heroine had to choose between her husband who had been missing for years because of the war (this was a contemporary romance so I guess the Gulf War?) and his best friend who she eventually married. I might have some of the details wrong but the gist was that she was going to have to choose and because this was a mainstream romance, she did. I can’t read that. I just can’t.

    There are basically two tropes that I just can’t read and enjoy and that’s one of them. In my mind, the point to my reading romance novels is for escape and a HEA. If you’ve had to choose between two great people, then that’s too much like real life and not an escape. But that could just be me. ;)

  3. Honestly? Shannari. My experience has been that romances from traditional publishers have a very limited view of what a heroine can and can’t do and with whom. Because this formula is so predictable, I really don’t read as much romance as I used to.

  4. Agree about Shannari and yes I often feel like that too. Why aren’t the woman allowed to do that. I really enjoyed Grace the heroine in Stranger by Megan Hart. Her relationship to these gigoloes is based on another internal conflict but it was refreshing to read about something like that. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about Mrs. Hart’s books- her heroines mostly know what they want and how to take it. And they do it.

    Great post hon.

  5. Sharon, you sound like me — I bought Victoria’s book BECAUSE of the heroine! Oh, man, that Gulf War story sounds miserable. I wouldn’t be able to read it either. There was a movie recently with Toby McGuire that had a similar premise.

  6. Hugs, Krista, that’s such a wonderful compliment! Romance can be predictable, but wow, when an author gets it RIGHT, it’s soooo good, even when I know everything’s going to end up happy.

  7. Susi, I’ve heard such good things about Megan Hart — I just haven’t had time to pick up one. Which of hers did you like the best?

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  9. I don’t know that I would label any heroines “subversive”. I just don’t know that I think that way when I’m reading, and to label them after the fact would be more biased by what other people say than what I, personally, feel… :razz: Oh well.

    And I suspect I know what book you were reading. If so, I knew something was up too, but didn’t end up caring because I loved the way it worked anyway.

  10. The best s hard to say. At the moment my favorite is Naked(Release August 1st)) but you have to read Tempted before to get everything what makes this book so special to me.
    From her other books I really loved Dirty. But it’s hard to say cuz I love all her books so in my eyes you can’t change the wrong one. Highly recommend her books.

  11. Can I just tell you how sick I am of this “heroine must be a virgin, or must have hated sex prior to meeting the hero” nonsense? I rarely pre-order anything, but the synopsis for the Victoria Dahl book sounded so good that I immediately ordered it.

    One of my favorite series was the Riley Jensen werewolf series and there were tons of reviews commenting about the gratuitous sex (at least in the early books – later on it settles down), but you know what, she’s a werewolf, for pete’s sake, why should she have to follow human moral rules?

    Another one that I’ve enjoyed is Yasmine Galenorn’s Sisters of the Moon series. The sisters are half-fae, so they weren’t raised with monogamy as a goal, and their outlook on sex is just so matter of fact and refreshing. I’m just hoping that the sexual freedom in UF eventually spills over into conventional romance.

  12. Nicole, you would be right about the book, I’m sure. I still enjoyed it, honestly. It just made me think. Would she have made the same choices if it wasn’t a romance?

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