It’s just possible that you’ve already heard: Qhuay is on the way. J.R. Ward has announced that the next installment of her mega-popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lover At Last, will focus on the long-awaited love story of Black Dagger trainees Qhuinn and Blaylock, who have been pining for one another from afar (well, technically they live in the same house, but they’re separated by a deep emotional gulf) for a while now. The fact that Qhuinn and Blay are both male vampires, and their story will be told in the context of a series that is broadly marketed to heterosexual women, makes this choice…intriguing and a little surprising, but maybe not entirely shocking.
I won’t lie: When I heard that Ward was planning on devoting an entire full-length novel to Qhuay, rather than the novella that was evidently originally planned, my first thought was “Wow! That’s, like, unprecedented.” But when I thought about it, I realized that it’s not “unprecedented” at all.
For one thing, as paranormal romance/urban fantasy, the BDB books fall squarely into a genre tradition in which the exploration of Otherness comes with the territory, and in which same-sex romance can be viewed as no more remarkable than, say, an angel falling in love with a vampire. For example, in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Conflict of Honors, a Liaden Universe novel, heroine Priscilla Mendoza enjoys a liaison of pleasure with her ship’s wise and wonderful librarian, Lina, and although their affair is depicted mostly as a worthwhile but temporary way station on her path to Forever Love with the sardonically sexy Captain Shan yos’Galan, she and Lina remain close friends. And in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, no less a major character than Count Aral Vorkosigan is presented as an acknowledged bisexual—complete with an evil ex-boyfriend running around causing trouble—although once he meets the brave and brilliant Captain Cordelia Naismith, he swiftly settles down into contented monogamy with her.
In fact, when you think about it, same-sex romance isn’t unheard of in mainstream romantic fiction, either, although it usually involves secondary characters. Notably, the Gay Best Friend is such a common trope as to be a cliché. But there are exceptions. For instance, if you reach back to the ’90s, Olivia Goldsmith’s The First Wives Club not only features a loving gay male couple in a secondary role, it also includes a storyline in which one of the Wives, Brenda, falls in love with her divorce attorney, the euphoniously-named Diana La Gravenesse; the two are happily coupled by the end of the book. More recently, one of Suzanne Brockmann’s popular Navy SEAL-centric Troubleshooters books chronicles the wave of disasters leading up to the wedding of FBI agent Jules Cassidy and the man of his dreams, Hollywood hunk Robin Chadwick.
Furthermore, even within the world of the BDB, the consummation of Qhuay’s love should come as anything but a surprise. Qhuinn and Blaylock have played strong supporting roles in the past few books, and Ward has not been shy about depicting hot love scenes between the two and their various lovers. And she has written few more relationships that are more emotional than the one between the newest Brother, Butch, and his trahyner (freely translated: “beloved friend”), Vishous. We’ve seen this coming for a while, in other words.
Even if it’s not a surprise, however, it’s a big deal, culturally and socially. As the idea of same-sex relationships gains wider cultural acceptance, Qhuinn and Blay’s romance being presented as not materially different than that of, say, Butch and Marissa, complete with longing, misunderstanding, and angst—to say nothing of the fact that they’re both male being an important fact but not the important fact—is significant. The fact that her fan base seems to be responding more or less enthusiastically (for the most part) is even bigger. I’m not sure this book could have been written as a mainstream novel—the kind you’d buy at a grocery store—even ten years ago.
So hooray for J.R. Ward for being in the vanguard of popular mainstream acceptance of same-sex romance, and hooray for her readers for being so awesomely accepting.
And hooray for Qhuay, for being so…so…?
To Be Continued in the forthcoming H&H debate “Qhuay: Yay or Nay?”
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.