Mar 1 2011 9:00am

Sexy Beast: Werewolves FTW!

Twilight’s werewolf JacobOh, Cheryl. You, my friend whom I consider the Queen of Historical Romance, you are responsible for my glomming J.D. Robb's In Death series because you were willing to break out of your comfort zone. Yet you don't understand the allure of werewolves. If I can't convince you otherwise, perhaps I can convince others who—at least right now—don't think wolves could possibly be sexy or romantic because they pee to mark their territory.

Personally, I'm more of a werewolf girl and less in the thrall (yes, a pun) of vampires because, well, they're dead—or undead. But authors like Angela Knight, MaryJanice Davidson, and J.R. Ward (among others) have sucked me into their vampire universes. Werewolves, on the other hand, almost always do it for me. I imagine many readers object to werewolves because they envision I Was a Teenage Werewolf hybrids who are half man, half wolf. Most werewolves in romance and/or dark fantasy, though, are not simultaneously man and wolf (although Angela Knight's wolves in Dire Kind mode are, which messes with the illusion). Instead, they exist in either human form or wolf form. If you've ever seen a photograph of wolves, you will recognize their majesty, mystery, and power. In the animal kingdom they are handsome or even—dare I say it?—hot.

Wolf sociology also fascinates me. No matter how many articles one reads on alpha and beta heroes, experiencing the alpha, beta, and omega wolf in a well-written novel delineates their differences in a way books featuring human beings do not. Okay, I realize not every reader wants to read about pack behavior, but if you’ve read a historical romance series featuring comrades in arms, extended family, or even club members, you’ve already experienced, in a limited way, some of the same types of characters who populate packs.

That doesn’t explain the romance, though, so I’ll just get down and dirty: Werewolves are romantic and sexy, at least to me, because of their animalism. Some types of wolves mate for life, which translates in romance/dark fantasy fiction to a werewolf’s ability to scent his mate. Wolves have highly developed senses of taste and smell, which explains why the werewolf’s beast comes out at the scent of the female. It probably also explains why werewolves seem to love oral sex. From this reader’s perspective, what’s the problem with that?

Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice DavidsonIt’s not all about sex, though. Several years ago, MaryJanice Davidson’s Derik’s Bane was published. Stories previous to it were published in Secrets anthologies, with correspondingly high erotic quotients. Derik’s Bane, on the other hand, was mainstream-published, and a comedy to boot. The hero’s “dogginess” was a big part of his appeal; a friend of mine found him adorable because he was like a “big dopey dog.”

That appealing “dogginess” extends beyond the humorous. Reading a well-written scene about a werewolf in wolf form running in the wild allows me to experience a wonderful sense of freedom and connection with nature; if the werewolf is running as part of a pack, I can feel the camaraderie.

The paranormal world in general appeals to me because human limitations on behavior, ethics, and mores do not apply. It’s not socially acceptable in the 21st century for heroes to behave like dogs in the manger where heroines are concerned. But dogs are simply domesticated wolves, and arrogant and possessive behavior is appropriate for them. The werewolf as hero, therefore, is not old-fashioned and lacking in currency. Add in a strong 21st century heroine, and voila, a wonderful pull between hero and heroine is created.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed I need another dimension to my dark fantasy, one that the introduction of Biblical and mythological elements adds. There’s nothing like the threat of a good apocalypse to up the ante . . . but let’s save that for another day.

But getting back to you, Cheryl, I’d like to recommend a book I handsold like mad at the Barnes and Noble I worked in for a couple of years: Gail Carriger’s Soulless. It has the requisite werewolf and vampire, but it also features some of the crispest and wittiest dialogue I’ve read outside of traditional Regencies and some of my favorite Regency-set historicals. It’s the first in a series of books that gets progressively more steampunk as it goes along, but Soulless is a terrific romance, and I converted a number of non-paranormal readers with it.

Wolf image courtesy of Fremlin via Flickr

Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she's been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.

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Lisa Hughey
1. LisaHughey
Right there with you on vampires vs. werewolves :) Will check out Soulless. Thanks for a fun post!
Cheryl Sneed
2. CherylSneed
Oh, Laurie, Laurie, Laurie... I tell you I don't like werewolves or vampires and you recommend a book that has both? I say I'm not a dog person and you extol the virtues of running with a pack? All I can picture is a lot of noisy howling and peeing. ick.

I am not convinced, my friend. Though, because I (mostly) trust your opinion, I will think about Soulless. But, see, just the name of the book brings to mind my anti-demon stance. I don't know...
Laurie Gold
3. LaurieGold
Cheryl. I don't read futuristic romance. I don't read romantic suspense (okay, except for Anne Stuart). But I followed your recommendation on the In Death series and ended up one of its biggest fans. You know I say "never say never."

I hand-sold Soulless to about 50 people. Only one said she didn't like it. The others...even if they didn't "read that kind of thing" all adored it. If you liked Nonnie St. George's trad Regencies, I think you will like Gail Carriger's Soulless.
Janet W
4. Janet W
Well I'm crazy about Nonnie St. George (hey Nonnie, check in eh ... what are you writing these days?) but how do they connect with Gail Carriger? I especially liked St. George for the humour and freshness ... they just felt new, hard to do in the Regency genre ... so I'm curious. Handselling 50 and only one complaint: that's pretty amazing!
Laurie Gold
5. LaurieGold
Janet, both authors write with that incredibly crisp, witty voice. That's why I compare the two. As for the strong hand-sell...I actually got written up by one of the managers, who sent a memo to corporate about those sales, and that as a result, we sold almost the same number of book #2 without my having to pitch it. People were waiting to buy it, and the same for book #3. One of my friends who still works there can't wait for book #4. Of course, she turned ME on to Jonathan Tropper and Cassandra Clare, so it goes both ways.
Janet W
7. Alie
How about books that feature female heroines as werewolves? There's some great YA lit that has them, a bit in the Twilight saga, Blood and Chocolate too.
Janet W
8. Lucky4
I jumped on that bandwagon the day I met Kresley Cole's Bowen! GRRRROWWLLL! ;-)
Cheryl Sneed
9. CherylSneed
Laurie, I've read Soulless and it was both better and worse than than I expected. Better, in that I didn't dislike it as much as I expected to, and worse that I didn't find it as funny as I expected. The humor is very dry, which I like, but it often felt forced to me, as if the author was trying too hard to be funny, putting in throw-away lines just for the sake of being clever and instead it felt intrusive. Don't get me wrong - its a funny book, but it didn't bowl me over. I liked Connall and his werewolf thing didn't bother me as much as I feared it would, though the constant biting got to be too much for me.

I'm afraid that my overall paranormal opinion is still, "meh..." You gave it a good try, though! ;-)
romance reader
10. bookstorecat
I tried to read Soulless when it came out and just couldn't get into it.

I recommend Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series, starting with The Summoning. Maybe magical stories seem less silly to me when they involve teenagers or something. My general opinion of paranormal romances ranges from "meh..." to "how-can-I-read-this-when-I-keep-inadvertantly-rolling-my-eyes-every-other-sentence." But that series I have actually read the whole thing more than once. Almost a unique experience for me. And for the were-lovers, two words: lone wolf:)
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