Saturday, June 30, 2012

Romance in Genre Fiction

Romance? Bleurgh.

I've recently been rather irritated by two books because of how they've approached romance. One is from the genre publisher and the other is from a specialist press that only sells books relating to a number of game settings, and both were largely marketed as Strong Female Character Who Is A Warrior Goes To War And Kills Stuff type books. One is marketed as YA, the other as an 'adult' (i.e. non-YA) read, and within 100 pages of either I was tempted to throw them across the room as they both shoved forced romance plotlines down my throat.

Let me say this straight away - I HATE it when a book is marketed as something it isn't. I have been screwed over numerous times by publishers misrepresenting their books as fantasy (or, more rarely, sci-fi) when in fact they're basically romance novels set in fantasy settings - see the marketing for contemporary urban fantasy and paranormal romance as a prominent example. I also HATE badly written romance - there is a borderline-YA trilogy by an Australian author with a female protagonist that had two very strong entries before the third turned on the romance tap and became a 600 page tome of a terrible love story that made no sense (to me, I hasten to add) whatsoever.

A non-genre romance story that I loved.
I don't dislike romance stories - some of my favourite books are actually feature romance in a big way - but I cannot stand forced or bad romances, and there's many of both in mainstream genre fiction. I don't believe that women are the sole reason for bad romance, although I must concede the point that the majority of books I've read with romance I didn't like were written by women, but maybe it's disproportionate due to the way the market stands. Most books are written with male protagonists, whereas I seek out books with female protagonists and these often have female authors.

In the two books I referred to at the start, there is a protagonist who is shown to be somewhat detached emotionally, and also a more than capable fighter. They get thrills - guilty or otherwise - from violence, where they truly become themselves. They then meet a mysterious man who manages to somehow break down those walls just by existing, giving the protagonist strange feelings that they never really had before (or rarely so), and they know then and there that this person is someone that they wish to be with. Someone pass me a bucket, please.

Maybe if this was one book, it'd be a stroke of bad luck. But it seems to me that I find this situation time after time after time. The specifics sometimes change - the woman might not be a fighter, but she will still be considered 'strong' in some manner, yet she will invariably tremble at the knees as soon as she catches sight of Convenient Romance Male #1 - but it still annoys me massively.

Sarah Beauhall. Lesbian, lover, ass-kicker.
As I've said above, I don't dislike the idea of romance in books. Sexual tension can be a great thing - Sam Sykes used it well in Tome of the Undergates, and I'm sure Ari Marmell had some going in The Goblin Corps (of all books!) - or you can do what John Pitts did with his Sarah Beauhall books and have the romance already exist. But these things were never coming up page after page. They had their place in the story, and they were never forgotten, but they didn't crop up in inopportune moments. If your character is in a sort of duel for dominance, they're not going to be thinking "Phwoar he's a bit of alright, innhe? Love to give 'im a bit of an 'ow's yer father if I'm honest", they're going to be wholly focused on the fight at hand.

So, what I want is this - I want authors to stop writing terrible romance in the first place. If it's meant to be, it will work. Don't force a romance arc. Ever. I want publishers and their marketing departments to stop disguising romance-centric stories as anything but that - it's almost like a betrayal of trust. You want my money, right? Well, represent a series accurately and if I'm interested I'll bite - if I buy a book and it turns out to not be what's on the cover, chances are I won't continue with that series or I'll buy the following ones used, and who benefits from that?

Romance done right can be beautiful, but done badly it can turn a great book into something absolutely terrible.

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