For a romance novel to be rich and full, one of the usual requirements is that the heroine possess believable faults and, in some cases, many faults. Idiosyncrasies, difficult backstories, fears, dysfunctional families all help to fill-in the person the heroine is at the beginning of a story. Faults, yes, but rarely does a heroine seduce then suck the souls of the men she meets. That’s just not something a “normal” heroine does. Then again, a succubus is not a “normal” heroine and Succubus Blues is not the usual romance.
HelenKay: In this second book in the series that started with Kitty and the Midnight Hour and is already slated to run for two more adventures in 2007, Vaughn proves one thing: politics can suck the life out of anything and anyone.
HelenKay: With so many paranomal offerings following the lives (or undead lives, as the case may be) of vampires, witches, werewolves and other nightstalking creatures, a reader can find anything from funny to horror on the shelves. Paranormal reads of the vampire variety range from the more harsh, like Kassandra Sims’ The Midnight Work, to light and charming, like Kerrelyn Sparks’ How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire. Recent witch/Wicca stories tend to fall more on the humorous side, but the not-so-funny are available, too. If the quest then is to find something new, to set one paranomal apart from the one read before, what happens if an author combines funny with serious and vampires with witches? Tate Hallaway provides the answer in Tall, Dark & Dead. She even throws in the Goddess of Evil, and witch hunters who get their orders straight from the Vatican.
Of all the interesting paradoxes that exist in genre romance the oddest, or most absurd perhaps, is that paranormal romance has taken the creatures of the night and turned them into heroes and heroines. To be fair, the vampires, witches, and werewolves that once played the roles of monsters have undergone an image makeover that left them not so monstrous, but rather, toothless, without much power, and neutered. It’s understandable really: a hero viewing a heroine as a tasty meal—and not the sexual kind—isn’t too sexy, or a good basis for a love story. Unfortunately, some important elements of these other beings have been lost to the image overhaul. For example, what’s exciting and compelling about werewolves is the classic man against beast conflict which leads so eloquently to man against man conflict. But, in the toothless version that is so often presented in paranormal romance, werewolves are shape-shifters not enslaved to the full moon, not possessed to bite and kill people, and therefore not in danger of being killed themselves. Not only does this watered down version lack inherent conflict, by taking away the gruesome, helpless aspect of lycanthropy the compelling reason for it to exist in a story is also removed. What’s left is a man or woman who can shift into an animal. What is the purpose of that?
**Today we are deviating from our usual current release schedule to review our January contest winner’s choice, Every Which Way But Dead.
Romance, for all the suppleness it possesses as a genre, rigidly adheres to certain axioms: the heroine must be likeable (the most limited definition possible for this), the story must center on the emerging romance, the ending must satisfy. These elements, while enjoyable time and again, do limit possibilities. They are the creative equivalent of a coloring book versus the wide open space of a blank canvas. This is never more apparent than when another genre of fiction plays around with the elements most traditionally associated with romance, but doesn’t then bother with those axioms. Such is the case with Kim Harrison’s three-books-and-counting Rachel Morgan series. Like any good romance, Harrison’s story is tightly focused on the heroine, but with the freedom found outside the genre—in this case fantasy—Harrison doesn’t waste a single word on making Rachel saccharin likeable, when gritty and downright dirty make for better conflict. There is a romance with a male character who is just that, a male character, not a hero. It’s long in coming and spicy while only accounting for a portion of the overall story, and it isn’t sugar-coated with hard to ground concepts like destiny. The romance never feels buried behind other plot points, but rather blends nicely with the underlying theme of Rachel learning not everything is black and white. Why then do so few offerings in genre romance accomplish all that?