Posts tagged paranormal romance.

Written-By-Numbers Drinking Game: Paranormal Romance

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With yet more deja-vu assaulting us, it’s time for another Written-by-Numbers drinking game!

And this week, it’s for Paranormal Romance. Grab your bottles, folks and prepare the stomach pumps (we are not responsible for any alcohol poisoning that may develop - in extreme cases you may want to drink non-alcoholic beverages or American beer))

The Protagonist +1 drink if

    Protagonist is sexually inexperienced
        +1 drink if actually a virgin
        +1 drink if previous romantic interests were terrible

    Protagonist is conventionally attractive but considers herself ugly
        +1 drink if she considers herself “fat” which actually means “has curves and big breasts”
        +1 drink for every conventionally attractive feature she finds hideous
        +1 drink if she feels the need to describe herself at length

    Protagonist believes she will die an old maid surrounded by cats
        +1 drink if she’s under 40
        empty the glass if she’s under 30
        empty the bottle if she’s under 25

    Protagonist has a pointless/unfulfilled life
        +1 drink for miserable relationships
        +1 drink for lonely
        +1 drink for dead end job
        +1 drink for no job

The Love Interest +1 drink if

    Even if thousands of year old, he will adhere to modern beauty standards and have perfect teeth

    Has a ridiculously huge penis
        +1 drink if the actual measurements are described
        finish the damn glass for a hyperbolic description (“size of a baby’s arm” “couldn’t wrap fist around it”)
        finish the damn glass if virginal heroine has no problem with this

    Is a supernatural creature that mystically “bonds” with their mate
        +1 drink if said bond makes him obsessive
        +1 drink if said bond makes him jealous
        Finish the damn glass if said bond makes him violent

    Is a supernatural creature that could hurt or kill his lover
        +1 drink if she doesn’t even pause to think about it
        finish the damn glass if he’s ESPECIALLY dangerous to her

    Has a terrible tragic, horrendous past
        +1 drink murdered family
        +1 drink betrayed
        +1 drink enslaved
        +1 drink tortured
        +1 drink raped
        All of the above: Finish the bottle.
        Finish the glass if tragic past means he can’t trust or love ever again
        Refill the glass and empty again if tragic past means he tries to drive the Protagonist away and treats her like shit
        Empty bottle if the magical healing vagina cures centuries of torture.

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More Romance Tropes We’d Like to See Buried

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that we have a problem with a lot of traditional romance tropes which appear in Urban Fantasy and, most certainly, in Paranormal Romance.  Indeed, we’ve spoken before on the Paranormal Romance: Engorged, Throbbing and Fainting, Oh My! and the more serious Abuse as True Love in Paranormal Romance.

But there are simply so many that we simply have to have another bite at this; Romance Tropes we can’t stand - it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Love at First Sight/I’ll die for you… uh what’s your name again?

It’s that age-old trope, eyes meet through a crowded room, she suddenly sees this awesome, hot, gorgeous, wonderful etc etc etc (usually the books will have several paragraphs of superlatives at this point) man ever and love is formed. Before they know the slightest thing about each other… before they even know each other’s names, it’s now True Love Forever.

Sometimes there’s a woo-woo reason for it - imprinting, bonding, the ardeur, fated magical destiny of One True Boning - but these 2 perfect strangers are now totally and utterly in love. We have endearments before they can barely even know each other’s actual names. Literally in Turned, when she’s already sad that her deep, abiding true love isn’t returned within… 2 hours of meeting? Maybe less? Aside from the conflation of lust and love that these stories inevitably bring, they also carry with them that fraught message of “love justifies anything.” And that applies doubly for sacrifice.

Abandoning their homes? Their families? Their principles? Their humanity? All for a guy they just met - that’s ok, it’s True Love! Not some very very silly person (nearly inevitably the heroine) throwing everything aside, giving up everything, even risking their lives for a man they have barely bet. The majority of the women in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series throw their entire lives away for men they’ve just met (of course, they have little in the way of lives before their menfolk arrive), the Psy women in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series leave their entire society to live as outcasts. Sherrilyn Kenyon has the Dark Hunters’ love interests endure torture to free them from Artemis and has one Dream Hunter’s love interest risk losing her soul in Hades for the sake of a man she hadn’t even known for 2 weeks (if that). And how long did Bella know Edward in Twilight before she was willing to risk her life around him, despite his warnings? But the prize goes to Turned, Caitlin abandons her family and Caleb actually gives up millennia of loyalty and tradition for her. They haven’t even known each other for a day!

At worst, this sends a truly awful message about recklessness and the value of these people’s (usually women’s) lives before their love interest arrives. At best it’s simply sloppy writing, the author desperately trying to move the story forward and using the hook of “true love”, no matter how fresh forged, to drag the plot onwards when any sensible protagonist would slam things into reverse. Love is used as an excuse for common sense to take a holiday; the heart turns on, the brain turns off.

‘Tis a Pity He’s an Arsehole

So, our heroine (and it’s nearly always the heroine putting up with a hero’s arseholery and of course it’s an opposite sex couple - yay heteronormativity) sees the object of her desire, with his sculpted muscles, his piercing eyes, his mouth set into an appropriately brooding pout - until he opens his mouth and speaks! Alas, he’s an arsehole and treats her like dirt. Ah well, hon, plenty of fish in the sea - go find a guy who can keep a civil tongue in his head. Right?

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Steam & Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape Book 1 in the Gaslight Chronicles

Sir Merrick Hadrian is A Knight of the Order of the Round Table. His job is to use magic and steam technology to hunt down evil, whether it be human or supernatural.  One night on the trail of a vampire he is actually saved by a group of street urchins.  He is moved to take them on as wards, when the oldest boy shows signs that he has the skills to become a trained knight.  Suddenly Merrick moves from being a confirmed bachelor to a man with a house full of children he can scarcely control. 

His aunt recommends that he hire Miss Caroline Bristol to become a governess for the children.  After finding out that Merrick is a confirmed bachelor, Caroline is determined to down the job, having been accosted repeatedly by previous employers.  It is only because the children are so endearing that Caroline decides to accept the job.  What she does not realise is that this acceptance will lead to a discovery about her true origins, place her in mortal danger and introduce her to all of the supernatural elements that polite society simply cannot bear to acknowledge.

Essentially, Steam & Sorcery is a romance based steampunk novel, with elements of fantasy like vampires, werewolves and fae.  I am going to say upfront that I am not a lover of the romance genre; however, the elements of this story made it interesting.  Caroline, the female love interest is very much her own person and an independent thinker.  She refuses to be left behind while Merrick investigates cases.  She actively listens for clues to help him and when the time comes, is not afraid to pick up an umbrella or a gun for that matter to defend herself and those she cares for.  She absolutely refuses to be bullied into playing the frail woman.

I didn’t expect to see a single character of colour or a GLBT character in this novel as they are often erased.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was wrong.  We are told that Nell is a little girl of colour, and Merrick believes that her father was Indian.  Nell herself is unsure where her family actually hails from because when they were together they traveled a lot. She is a sensitive and speaks to ghosts.  Caroline makes it clear that even with the advantages of being Merricks ward that English society is not going to be easy on her because of the colour of her skin. 

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Review: Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward, Book 10 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series.

Tohrment finally learns why the angel Lassiter is following him – his shellan, Wellsie, is lost in limbo and only Tohrment can free her. But he isn’t read to let her go and he still grieves her as if she were only just lost – and into that grief comes No’One.

No’One is still traumatised by her horrific past and has come through to bond with her daughter, Xhex, she lost so many years ago. But No’One still hardly knows who she is and still carries the burden of her own self-loathing.

Xhex and John Matthew are not finding their relationshiop eashy – especially as John Matthew insists on protecting

And byond all of that and the standard lesser attacks, Xcor and his band of Bastards are thoroughly entrenched in Caldwell – and have their sights set on Kling Wrath. Xcor wants the throne – and whether by politics or bullets, he intends to claim it.

This book has 2 main relationships in it that we focus on. The first I consider full of barely redeemed awfulness, the second I consider a lost opportunity. So let us begin with the barely redeemed awfulness.

The female (in Black Dagger Dudebro culture women are referred to as females and men as males. No I don’t know why either, especially since the humans keep forgetting and using the same terminology. At very least they should be fehmahles and mahles.) is No’One. Yes, No’One. Not the name she was born with – but many many decades ago she was kidnapped by a Symphath (evil sociopath vampire – and we know they’re evil because of their spooky androgyny), raped and impregnated. She had the baby and then committed suicide – but the Scribe Virgin (that would be the Vampire’s deity and embodiment of purity – you can tell by the whole “virgin” thing, in case the anti-female sex messages weren’t strong enough) resurrected her and she changed her name to No’One to represent what she now thought she was. She has spent the last few decades as a maid, wearing a hooded robe that hides her from everyone (because she is so good looking people treated her with respect which she couldn’t allow), out of self-imposed penance. Yes, penance. I would very much have liked someone to explain to me why her extreme victimisation was treated as something she had to do penance for and why none of the Chosen or the Scribe Virgin her holy self couldn’t have spent a little time in the centuries sitting down, talking with her and trying to instil her with some sense of worth.

Then there is Tohrment, still in deep deep mourning for Wellsie, his shellan (wife) of many many decades who died back in Lover Awakened. Since then he has been suicidal, the only thing stopping g him actively committing suicide is Lassiter, the angel sent down to save him, and the fact that the Scribe Virgin has Issues with suicides (as we can see from poor No’One). But he has tried many passive suicide attempts – such as being extremely reckless and starving himself.

Now, the basis for the “love”. Wellsie is not in the Fade (heaven) no, she is in the In Between (limbo) and she is stuck, in pain and slowly fading away. Lassiter is on Earth to save her – by making Tohrment move on and let go over her so she can pass into heaven probably with some twee music in the background.

I’m sorry, these 2 were together for, what, 200 freaking years? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow the man more than a couple of years to get over that. It is not an unreasonable amount of time to mourn here and I can’t imagine in a society where a) everyone lives for centuries and b) they biologically BOND with their mates in holy stalkerdom – sorry, love – that prolonged mourning periods and refusing to move on is in any way uncommon. The In Between must be standing room only.

Anyway, Lassiter’s solution to Tohrment needing to move on is, naturally, a grief counsellor and some intense therapy. HAH! Just kidding, nothing so sensible. I mean it’s not like they have an in-house therapist or anything, is it – oh hey there Mary! No, Lassiter wants Tohrment to find another woman – because of course nothing removes your deep and abiding grief for your murdered pregnant soulmate like the magical healing vagina, right?

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Review of Duncan by D.B Reynolds Book 5 of Vampires in America Series

Once again, in the interest of being fair to D.B. Reynolds, I feel that it is necessary to disclose that I am not a fan of paranormal romance, so please keep that in mind when reading this review.

Duncan, Raphael’s longtime second in command is finally ready to become a master vampire.  Though he will always see Raphael as his sire, it’s time for him to have a territory of his own.  With that in mind Duncan travels to Washington with a few people loyal to Raphael and is met by some of his own children.  He kills Victor and becomes not only a vampire lord, but the representative of Vampires in government because his territory is Washington.

Duncan quickly discovers that Victor, the former lord was very corrupt.  Emma Duquet, who has no interest in vampires or their politics arrives in what she calls the embassy to find out what happened to her best friend Lacey.  It appears that Victor invited Lacy to one of his special parties and no one has seen her since.  Duncan promises Emma that he will look into the disappearance of her friend.

When Lacey is discovered dead, Duncan promises Emma vengeance - the only thing that can hope to bring peace to her broken heart.  Though Emma and Lacey are not actually related, Emma considered her, her sister.  They were both children of the foster care system.  Once again, we have a woman whose parents are missing, and who had a troubled background fall in love with a vampire.  Can this trope be anymore cliché at this point?

Speaking of cliché, this book is filled with a lot of flashback scenes to give us a stronger sense of who Duncan was in his human life.  It turns out that Duncan was a soldier for the confederate army, who would have died on the battlefield were it not for Raphael.  I don’t understand the obsession and the constant desire to romanticize the confederacy.  Can we all just remember for a moment that this is the side that fought to ensure that African-Americans enslaved.  D.B. Reynolds never addresses this, or even gives us any idea of where Duncan stands on racial politics today.

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Paranormal Cinderellas

Looking at so many Paranormal Romance series the title of this post isn’t just a cheesey line from an 80s hair band (don’t judge my taste in music), but for the female partner in so many of these stories, an accurate summation of their lives. Time after time, we see these women live unpleasant, hollow, painful or just plain dull and uninspiring, hopeless lives and suddenly, all is saved and rescued by the man - who is sexy and exciting and magical and special and gives them a reason to live again! One could call it, saved by the penis. We see it so often - in JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, Anya Bast’s Elemental Witches, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling Series, DB Reynold’s Vampires in America Series and so many more - this post was actually getting ridiculously long from the examples we were adding

In Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series we have Grace Alexander (the worlds most unqualified sex therapist, all sad and lonely), Amanda (messy break up, arsehole ex, actually dedicated to making her life as dull and boring as possible), Astrid (the justice nymph who has lost her faith in their being any innocent men in the world), Cassandra (literally on the run for her life, hunted by Daimons and doomed to die in a few months anyway), Bride (bad breakup, low self-esteem), Susan (career and love life in tatters): even Marguerite (living her father’s expectations, not her real life) and Tabitha (aimless and drifting) were somewhat lost.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood - I’ve already touched on in detail, but again we have Beth, Mary, Marissa, Bella, Ehlena, Cormia, Payne - the same pattern, women with miserable, unfulfilled and generally unhappy lives before their men swoop in. They’re lonely, they’re sad, they’re desperate - they’re even ill or severely injured (Mary, Payne) or shunned and ostracised (Ehlena, Marissa) and frequently they have been physically rescued from kidnapping (just about every damn one of them).

In Anya Bast’s Elemental Witches, Mira has a dead end job, has come from a messy divorce and doesn’t even know she’s a witch. Isabelle exists for revenge and has no life outside of avenging her friend (which she doesn’t even achieve!). Clare is a demon’s handmaiden and is, yes, rescued into a completely new life and Sarafina? Yes, again rescued from kidnapping.

And do I need to talk about Nalini Singh Psy/Changeling Series? The Psy women are living in societies that are slowly destroying them and repressing them. They’re cut off from their emotions and Faith and Sascha are literally being driven insane by the lives they are forced to live. In fact, except for the 2 shapeshifter women, Indigo and Mercy, all of the women of the series are being rescued or healed from something.

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Romance Writers, Ink: Showing their Homophobic Arses

So, Romance Writers, Ink, an Oklahoma-based chapter of the Romance Writers of America was having a writing competition. It’s called More than Magic and is open to all forms of romance. In fact, so eager where they to include all kinds of romance that they said this:

Our judges are all romance readers. Within that group are RWI chapter members and members of other RWA chapters. We recruit judges nationwide and even worldwide (for e-books) and our only requirement is that they are regular romance readers. They tell us which categories and what “heat” level they prefer to read, so our entrants’ books get into the hands of people who might give them the most favorable rating. Our final round judges are chosen for the diversity of their romance reading interests and enjoyment, sense of fair comparison across all categories, and knowledge of the romance genre.[source]


So, let’s be clear - they will raise mountains to ensure that every and all kinds of romance are accepted and find a receptive audience. No matter how steamy, how explicit, what genre or category they fit in - no matter how out there, they will find a judge to look upon it favorably.

Except any romance with a same-sex couple. No, that’s not allowed and not accepted.

This is something we’ve seen before in speculative fiction. We can expect people to deal with elves and magic and dwarfs, we can expect them to deal with vampires and werewolves and witches, we can expect them to deal with space ships and aliens and phasers with 12078 settings (when all you use is the “kill” option) but gods forbid you include 2 people of the same gender who dare to love each other! That is just going far too far!

In fact, nothing I say could beat the excellent words of Courtney Milan:

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Existence is not Entitlement, Erasure is not Acceptable



As we have often made note of in this space, Urban Fantasy, Dystopian, Horror, and Steampunk is often filled with the erasure of GLBT people (note: a universal erasure applies to trans people) disabled people and people of colour.  The default as with all forms of media is to fall back on the most privileged bodies at all times. And it’s wall to wall - not only will the protagonist always be as privileged as possible, but so will most of the people who surround them as well.

And in the few cases were marginalised characters do exist, all is not rosy. It’s very rare for us to get more than a single token character; in fact, sometimes we’re lucky to get that - often we will see the odd marginalised face in a crowd scene, or someone referred to in passing without any real ‘screen’ time at all. When we do have them, the characters are often hollow. They have no real traits or personalities, no goals, no personhood - they’re just a placeholder for the necessary inclusion cookies. And, were that not problematic enough, usually they exist to serve the privileged protagonists - side-kicks, best friends, entourage, never people in their own right.

Of course, in the few occasions when they do have some traits, they normally fall into ridiculous, stereotyped tropes that are hardly progressive and serve to further “other” them while maintaining the supremacy of privileged people.

As we have mentioned in the past, gatekeepers do effect the ability of writers to include historically marginalized characters; however, they are not solely responsible for the dearth of representation.  Just like everyone else, writers are born into a discourse that privileges certain bodies and unless they have made a conscious effort to decolonize their minds and consider a world which may be outside of their lived experience, the tendency to repeat dominant social narratives becomes normalised. Even with writers who are aware of this phenomenon, they often fall into the trap of hunting for inclusion points by introducing the gay uncle or a wise negro to fulfill what they deem to be a quota rather than investing in these marginalized characters to the same degree that they invest in characters that come from a dominant sub group.

And this erasure costs. Our children grow up forever seeing themselves as not worth talking about, their stories not worth telling. And when they see themselves? They see themselves as less, or they see some caricature that’s supposed to be them but is barely human. This is why even today when Black children are asked to take the “doll test” they routinely invest the White doll with all positive traits and the White doll with negative traits. Children learn at an early age to internalize the negative images and messages created by media, and this inevitably follows them all the days of their lives.


For GLBT youth it is equally as perilous.  This erasure teaches them that who they are is filthy and inhuman.  It also feeds into a culture of homophobia, which encourages bullying — which we have seen has lead to a high rate of GLBT suicide, depression and self harm. It further encourages a closeted existence because erasure teaches that GLBT are not to be visible or part of society in any way, shape or form.

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Review: Dark Side of the Moon by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 7 of the Dark Hunter Series

Susan is a journalist. An investigative reporter. Or she was before she lost everything when one story blew up in her face. The scandal of her mistake brought her down and stripped her of everything, her job, her boyfriend, her reputation, her home and everything she owned. Now in Seattle, she’s reduced to writing shock headlines for a dreadful supermarket tabloid – bat boy and Elvis sightings.

And then her whole world is so turned upside down that it makes her paper’s convoluted headlines seem almost sensible. Her best friends are talking about vampires in the police department, she brings home a cat that turns into a gorgeous naked guy – that she’s allergic too. And police are battering down her door and accusing her of murder.

Ravyn, the former Arcadian Dark Hunter, has his own problems. The Daimons have allied with the mortal authorities in an effort to bring down all of Seattle’s Dark Hunters. Already one of them has fallen, arrested and left in a daylit cell and he himself was captured by animal control in his cat form. Rescued by Susan, he drags her into a world where the Daimons have changed all the rules and the only safety he can find is in his family’s sanctuary – a family that loathes him and blames him for so many of their loved one’s deaths centuries ago.

Now they have to save the city from the Daimons, try to keep the Dark Hunters alive and deal with the added complication of familial angst, were-hunter bonding and Savitar dropping the enraged and troubled Nick Gautier in their laps.

And, of course, Acheron is never around when you need him

Ok I’m going to start with some social justice issues then come back to the plot.

We do have some POC Dark Hunters in what is becoming a habit – whenever you have group scenes of Dark Hunters you will get the odd few who are POC. They show up, we’re given quick introductions showing they’re from Egypt/Japan/Sudan and then, of course, they have to leave because Dark Hunters can’t spend too much time together without draining each other – which is great and has good storylines, but we end up following the Nordic Greeks and other European Dark hunters.

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Cover Snark: Bring on the Mantitteh!

We have done several cover snarks now that show endless depictions of women in body twisted, leg cramping positions to show their spilling cleavage and asses firmly held in extra-tight leather.

After so many sexualised images of women in these ridiculous poses, we feel the need to balance a little: BRING ON THE MANTITTEH!

It may tell you nothing about the book, nothing about the plot and nothing about the characters but ripple, waxed torsos decorate many a cover and sell many a book. And, of course they’re wonderful code for the steamy content within. (Actually, since we’re not the biggest fans of Paranormal Romance compared to Urban Fantasy, we often regard the Mantitteh as a warning sign for a book we won’t enjoy that much - MANTTITEH! Be warned, humping lies within!)

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