It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone who’s been in a bookshop to know that there’s been a explosion of supernatural romance in recent years. Also known as ‘dark romance’ this emerging genre has seen red and black (with a smattering of white or silver) covers taking over bookshelves. Often there’s a moody boy (some of Twilight, and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy) or a pale girl (see Lauren Kate’s Fallen series or the Cast’s House of Night, or even Lee Weatherly’s Angel), or a single object looking sinister in the centre of the page (see Vampire Academy, Twilight, Vampire Beach and countless others).
Inside the pages, stereotypes often further abound. One member of the relationship with be a vampire, werewolf, angel or some form of the undead/mythical. At least one of the fated relationship is irritatingly, unavailably beautiful – Edward, Sienna, Daniel – and one is generally a bit of an outsider – Bella, Luce, Willow. Sometimes they may combine in one (Looking at you, Edward), but generally the rule is that the protagonist only truly feel comfortable with their supernatural partner, and realise that’s all they’ve been wanting. But this is generally fraught with danger for the couple (Bella and Edward, Rose and Dimitri, Luce and Daniel, Willow and Alex, Grace and Sam, Jason and Sienna, Phoenix and Darina- actually I think that’s nearly every supernatural romance I’ve read – (yes, I’ll put a key at the bottom). Generally though, after a life threatening situation and family and friends who just don’t understand, the pair end up. Sometimes human becomes non human. In one, the non human became human. It happens.
Now I realise the above seems overtly cynical, and like a typical 22 year old who’s SO over Harry Potter, Twilight, Narnia etc. I even wrote a whole 20,000 word thesis on the dangers of dark romance for young girls.
But actually, I quite like some of it. Not all, and there are some I just like bits here and there. But I think it’s important to consider that a lot of it works because a lot of adolescents do feel that genuine isolation, and some this leads to negative comparisons of the self with others. Dark Romance therefore gives a happier outlet for these feelings, adding an element of fantasy that makes being a teenager a bit more special. The idea of a supernatural partner filled with devotion isn’t an unattractive prospect, after all. But, as I detail in my thesis and won’t go into now, there are parts that aren’t helpful, and can heighten feelings of worthlessness and encourage self deprecation.
This stated however, I briefly want to mention a few supernatural romances that I think actually have some merit, or at least, that I have enjoyed and have not made me want to throw things.
1. Lee Weatherly’s Angel. This series hasn’t even released its second book yet but I think it’s a good one. Willow has always been able to sense people’s future’s, and knows her father was a bit mysterious, but hasn’t bothered otherwise. Alex is an angel killer, as angels feed off the life essence of people, gradually driving them insane. Asked to kill Willow for a reason he doesn’t understand, the two end up on the run together.
It’s a bit different to some of the others, and the two have to change and adapt around one another. I like books where both characters have to compromise and learn. I’m looking forward to the next one and think the premise of angels as soul destroying beings from another dimension is interesting.
2. Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy. Rose is a dhampir – half vampire, half human, with the best traits of both, which means her life has been about training to be a guardian to her best friend Lissa, a mortal vampire princess. The six book series follows Rose’s attempts to come to terms with her dictated future, and what it requires her to give up, including the love of her life, Dimitri, who happens to be her teacher.
Despite the awful title, and some weaknesses, I really like this series and will probably read the spin off. I didn’t like how blood drinking was associated with sex and thus was seen as a taboo and dirty. But I liked how Rose was the least perfect heroine I’ve ever read, and yet still somehow admirable. She has to control her rage and yet simultaneously work out if she can accept a prescribed life. It’s got some proper character development, but I still wouldn’t recommend it to younger girls.
3. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls. Grace was attacked by wolves as a child, yet has always felt a strange draw to them, dreaming of the woods. In particular she is attached a blue grey wolf with yellow eyes. When a local boy is killed by wolves, the town goes out with guns and Grace comes home to find a seriously wounded boy with yellow eyes lying on her porch. Sam is only human when it’s warm, and this is his last year of changing. It’s already September.
In all honesty, whilst all three books are out (and I own them all) I’ve only read the first one, Shiver. Several times. Because I love it. This is the first supernatural romance I’ve read and adored the language used. Initially I was put off by the yellow eye thing. I’m bored of boys with entrancing, trippy coloured eyes. But actually, it works in context and I adored the character of Sam. I only read the book for a job interview but I got rather hooked. Grace is a gutsy, independent girl who is aware of the strangeness of her life but makes the best of it. And it’s beautifully written.
So these are my favourites. When I finish Linger and Forever there’ll probably be another post. But I just wanted to stick up for paranormal romance, even though I might tear it apart with my next breath.