“Real love endures through all things.” - An Enduring Love by Jillian Hart
If you asked me a couple months ago what an inspirational romance was, I would have just said, “It’s a Christian romance novel—or maybe it’s an Amish romance novel. And there’s no sex scenes.” But it’s much more than that. Harlequin offers a wide variety of inspirationals in the Love Inspired Series: Suspense, Historical, and Special Edition. A sampling of inspirationals (a novella, a historical, a western, and a suspense), reveal a few common themes and elements throughout the sub-genre, besides a strong focus on basic Judeo-Christian values (following the Ten Commandments, no drugs, no dirty thoughts, etc.) Here are the observations from Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan, The Deputy’s Duty by Terri Reed, Winning the Widow’s Heart by Sherri Shackelford, and An Enduring Love, a novella by Jillian Hart:
The Love & HEA
The inspirationals are lighter on the passion, but they can still be passionate. Let me be clear: there is no sex scene (or descriptive lovemaking of any kind) in an inspirational romance. Even though there are still warm affectionate embraces and hand-holding, a lot of times the characters have known each other for a long time. They hold the “I love you” until the very end, so the tension build-up can be best kind!
I’ve also noticed that the insta-marriage trope in historical inspirationals is more out of necessity for survival or care of someone else rather than a by-product of manipulation or saving/ruining reputations like we see in racier historical romances. An excellent example of this is in Mistaken Bride, where the businessman/widower/father hero proposes to the Irish-immigrant heroine after his mail-order bride is a no-show so that she could be the mother to his two children. She refuses to marry without love, but she agrees to be the temporary nanny for the kids. Of course, with a lot of love, loyalty and friendship, they find their HEA.
The hero and heroine are extremely humble. No arrogance or cockiness here and definitely nothing flashy. (No billionaires. No sports cars. No penthouses in the city.) They are not bland though! They’re definitely emotional, and the heroes are still very protective. Think “protectiveness without the hormones,” and a handshake doesn’t make him think of sex. (Or at least the reader isn’t told that the hero is thinking of sex.) Plus, if the heroine makes a TSTL decision, the narration calls her out on it; of course it was an “impulsive and disastrous decision” for the heroine of Winning the Widow’s Heart to walk miles in search of a doctor right before the big snow storm hits. This is easier to read, however, because her choice is plausible given her situation—she doesn’t have a GPS or a smartphone with a weather app, she only has her 1870s Kansas homestead, so she earns my sympathy instead of a disapproving scowl. Even better, the heroine doesn’t sugar-coat or make excuses! She is very “plucky” and she will stand up for herself, and remain courageous, when facing any challenges.
Ah, the villains! Their flaws are more “moral-based” and very clearly-defined. The wicked mother of the hero, in the novella An Enduring Love, has zero subtlety in her bitchery towards the heroine, so there is no doubting that her unkind heart and oppressive actions make her the villain. And the villain in the Love Inspired Suspense, The Deputy’s Duty, is just plain psychotic (which is pretty obvious given the murder-mystery case in the plot).
Plot & Conflict
Our characters are involved in serious and desperate situations (ie: finding an abandoned baby, loved one dies in a car accident after an argument, custody battles, house burns down, etc.) and the majority of the plot and conflict involves truly obsessing over these tough heart-wrenching situations. If the hero tells a “lie by omission” (or rather doesn’t “tell” the lie) he will constantly be questioning his choice and still feel massive self-guilt. Prayer usually helps the characters to alleviate or resolve said guilt, and every inspirational romance includes prayer (whether it’s an actual prayer scene or a brief mention along the lines of “she prayed for courage”) to help the characters with their struggle. To the reader of an inspirational suspense, this can be especially critical during stressful scenes; when the psychotic murderer knows where you are, sometimes all you can do is pray for safety, while grabbing the mystery-orphan baby and running out the back door as fast as your legs can carry you!
Above all of these struggles and bittersweet moments is forgiveness. As a “newbie” reader of inspirational romances, this also stood out the most to me. This seems to be the most crucial theme: The emotion of love in manifested through forgiveness, whether it’s reconciling with one’s own past or truly understanding and letting go of a past/current grievance. Inspirationals show the hero and heroine relinquishing control of a situation over to faith, hope and prayer. And I’m so used to the hero or heroine taking charge, being controlling, and never giving up—almost stubborn to a fault (Sometimes, they don’t want Jesus to take the wheel!)—so it might be just a little bit humbling and heartwarming to see them admit, “I don’t know what to do, and I’m so full of anger and hurt, and I want to get over it, but I don’t know how to forgive this.” With a lot of reflection and faith, our characters see how their faults prevent them from love, and once they move beyond this, love always wins.
Jena Briars is a California girl living in D.C., feeding her brain one romance novel at a time...When she's not busy at work, or being distracted (sometimes ambushed) by her cat, she reviews romances on her website Throughout the Pages.