I grew up reading romances novels that had a predictable formula. I knew the heroine would be pure of heart, and as beautiful as an angel. In fact, they were so bloody perfect that sometimes you wanted to gag. The heroes were hot Knights in Shining Armor. The sort of perfection we all dreamt of; a man who would risk his life for his soul-mate, and would never even think about cheating. Ahhh, true love! And you better believe that the ending would have a perfect happily ever after. Thank you Julie Garwood!
Those were the romance novels of the 80s and 90s. The romance novels I devoured as a teen and young adult. In the past decade or so paranormal took over the historical romance market. With the surge of paranormal, those sweet pure-of-heart heroines morphed into a darker heroine who could kick ass as well as any man. I thought that was a drastic change.
But my friends, times are a-changing again, partly because of erotic romance, with not just one hero, but two, three, hell, even four. Bondage has always been around, but it wasn’t until that little ole book called Fifty Shades (you might have heard of it?) that erotic really took off into the mainstream. Dying to know what Fifty Shades was all about, I decided to give it a go. I made it to the part where our hero wants the heroine to sign a contract and that’s when I said, “Oh hell no. I don’t think so. No man is telling me what to do.”
Of course, my curiosity is still strong and I just may have to go back to the book. But still, given the popularity of these kickass heroines in the past few years, I was surprised that a book which has a submissive heroine is so praised. Perhaps those domineering males and quivering females from the 70’s and 80’s (Bodice Rippers anyone?) never really went out of style; they’ve merely been repackaged into something new.
Romance isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Step aside Young Adult books, there’s a new genre in town and she’s not afraid to go where Young Adult dared not tread…the bedroom. New Adult books usually involve college-aged kids and they…gasp, actually do it! Okay, so the sex scenes aren’t as detailed as in romance novels, but it’s still there in all its naked glory. I haven’t read many New Adult books but the ones I have purchased seem to have a common theme: a hero who is dark, brooding, tortured and rather commanding.
Sound familiar? Are we back to Bodice Rippers again?! I’m not so sure. A friend of mine decided to write a New Adult book and gathered some data for research. Here’s what she found: one book had a tortured hero who spent his time fighting… a lot, and they weren’t exactly fair fights. At one point he actually kicked someone in the back. Kicked a man in the back?! That’s not very Knight in Shining Armor.
But I’m just getting started. There were multiple books in which the hero or heroine cheated. What? Wow. Yeah, that would never happen in your stereotypical romance novel. And these tortured males take things to a new level. What many young readers consider controlling and loving, many others have considered mentally abusive.
For most readers Romance novels have always been that great escape. But perhaps we don’t want to escape anymore. Are we looking for more realistic reads? And if we are, what does that say about society when our idea of realism is fighting and cheating? Maybe we are merely redefining what a romance novel is, or should these books be placed in a different category altogether?
Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about these new fighting, cheating, and mentally abusive characters. I try very hard no to judge (can’t you tell by my very non-judgmental blog??) because it always seems to come back and bite me on the ass. But whether you enjoy these more “realistic” romances or not, one thing is clear, romance (whether it’s New Adult, Erotic, or just plain ole romance) is definitely becoming more mainstream, which one could say is a benefit to us all.