Your heroine and the man of her dreams finally just came clean and professed their feelings for one another. Your heart is full, and you’re wondering how there’s going to be enough time for the steamy love scene you’ve been waiting for because there’s only about 3 pages left, but you’re hopeful. Then BAM, the vampire you thought your heroine took care of in the last chapter is alive and he injects her with a tiny dose of the serum she’s been working very hard to shelter from the public, and everything goes black. She wakes up to discover she has no idea who or where she is, or why this unfamiliar hot guy is asleep in the chair by her bed, and then the book is over. (Clearly this is my poorly executed attempt at creating a story from the bowels of my imagination . . . and this is why I leave the storytelling to the professionals.)
Had this story existed, it would have earned its place as an inductee into the newest genre of romance I’ve noticed, something I’m labeling Dark Romance. I’m seeing it bleed the lines between Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, even Sci-Fi Romance, and my twisted black heart couldn’t be happier. Lately, perhaps inexplicably, I’ve been more interested in the stories that make you work for that happy ending than in the tales that offer up the HEA without a lot of fuss.
My obsession with the darker side of romance became abundantly clear to me after reading The Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane. I noticed right away that the writing was phenomenal, so I knew I’d enjoy the story, but I was amazed at how desperately the romantic in me was screaming for a particular outcome. Quick rundown: The heroine of the story is a witch who’s addicted to pills and winds up getting roped into working for her dealer because she’s late on a payment, but if her employer gets wind of any of this, then she’s out on the streets, and she grew up on them, so she knows just how scary that outcome would be. Not romantic-sounding, is it? But let me just say, those were some of the sexiest 3 books I’ve read. And I can’t say romantic; they’re plain sexy. Kane mixes grit with her passion, making the chemistry almost dangerous. You’re aware of it from the very first (steamy?) scene.
A couple made out against the gritty stucco wall on the side of the club. Chess watched them for a second, embarrassed to do so but unable to turn away, something quiet and small twisting in her chest.
The girl was a little thing, platinum blond, in a mini-skirt and a pair of platform heels that looking like they weighed more than her entire body. Her thin legs crossed at the ankle behind the guy’s waist, while her tiny, pale hands dug into his back. Chess couldn’t see her face; it was almost entirely hidden by the guy’s hands, cupping her cheeks like he thought the bones might break. Chess didn’t think she’d ever been touched like that. A pang of pure envy ran through her.
The girl caressed the back of his neck and lifted her hands to twine her fingers in his hair. His hips pressed forward, pinning her against the wall, and he dipped his head to kiss her throat. The light caught the prominent ridge of his brow and the crooked bump of his nose.
So, after my run-in with Ms. Kane’s books I found myself hungry for stories that had a razor-sharp edge. What piqued my interest most was when answers normally given in a romance-driven story were purposefully being held back. “Does she love him?” “Does he love her?” “Are they gonna push through this?” “Is it going to work out?” And my interest spiked further when I saw the book had at least a few reviews saying things like “What kind of ending is that?” “WTH?” or “OMG, I can’t believe it, my heart is in pieces!”
And thank goodness, I found some. I was lucky enough to discover Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series, Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionists series, J.A. Saare’s Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between, and recently discovered Allison Pang’s A Brush of Darkness, to name but a few. Every time I’d dive into one of these books, even though I expect the unexpected, I was still amazed when the wrench is inevitably thrown in the storyline sending the couple back to square 1 . . . well, maybe square 1.1 .
Each of these authors push their heroines—and their readers—beyond the standard levels of frustration with endings like: Being sent 100 years in the future by a demon just when you’ve decided you’re going to give this love thing a chance, or having your memory wiped by your boyfriend just after informing him that you don’t really love him because you still love the other guy and then that other guy is crushed because he thinks you’ve just changed your mind, or waking up from a week-long concussion after a huge battle to discover you can’t remember the last few weeks (including the part where you met and feel in love with this really great guy). You’ll have to read the books to find out which ending goes with which though. *evil grin*
So what is it about the brooding, un-easy side of love that I find so much more interesting these days? The men are as equally delicious, the women are just as tough, but I’ve found that the challenges that your favorite couple have to go through before they can end up where you need/want them to, makes the eventual good bits all the more sweet. And now I understand what Aerosmith means, when they sing “Life’s a journey not a destination” . . . well, actually, okay, so Ralph Waldo Emerson might have said it first, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Am I a sadist for enjoying books that leave me slightly dissatisfied? Does it make the romance less tender if the journey is bathed in amnesia and kidnapping instead of chocolate and roses? All I can say is don’t knock it till you try it. Maybe you could take a walk on the dark side and find out for yourself.
For more on how the Paranormal Romance subgenre is branching out, check out Aliza Mann's post “Beyond Para'normal': Redefining the Edge in Paranormal Romance.”
Rose image courtesy of oseillo via Flickr.
Jessica Turner reviews Urban Fantasy, Paranormal and Sc-Fi Romances on her site The Spinecracker and is a trained chef who lives in San Diego with her very Irish husband.