Nov 2 2011 9:30am

Another Look at the Happily Ever After: Romantic Couples Revisited

Simply Love by Mary BaloghIn her October 25 post, “Outstaying Their Welcome: “When Romantic Couples Linger Too Long,” Elizabeth Vail declared,

“If prequel characters have no specific purpose to be in a particular story, then they ought to butt out, because Perfectly Married Bliss is boring as hell to read.”

With all due respect to Elizabeth and those who hold to her view, I beg to disagree. Not all readers find boring a second (or third or fourth) look at couples whose HEA has already been achieved.

I, for one, will be disappointed if Mary Balogh’s 2012 book about Lady Gwen Muir doesn’t have roles for Lily and Neville and Kit and Lauren; I even hope for a glimpse of the Bedwyns. Although I agree that the primary couple should be the focus of the story, I would find it strange if family and friends were not part of the world the couple inhabits. For example, I loved the wedding scene in Simply Love and the summer gathering in Simply Perfect. They seemed like natural interactions to me.

Jo Beverley’s first Malloren book, My Lady Notorious, was published in 1993. Cyn and his bride Chastity immigrate to Canada, and I don’t expect, given the realities of travel in the Georgian era, to see them at family gatherings. But I look for references to them, and I look forward to seeing other family members in subsequent Malloren World books. Winter Fire is one of my favorite Beverley books in part because of the Christmas house party at Rothgar Abbey.

Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta ChaseI’m a big fan of Eloisa James’s ensemble romances too. I’ve heard the complaints from readers who dislike them because they lack an intense focus on a single hero and heroine. But I find the interwoven threads of characters’ lives compelling and credible. It was the threads that continued from book to book in the Essex series that made James an autobuy author for me and sent me back to glom her earlier series. I love that she gives readers an extra chapter on her web site, so that we can see what happens after the series ends. I’m jubilant over the possibility that James will write second-generation stories for some of the progeny of her Desperate Duchess characters. (Do I really need to add that I love Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton second epilogues too—and that Loretta Chase’s Last Night’s Scandal was one of my top romances of 2010?)

I’m no less enamored of continuing characters in contemporary romance. I look forward to visiting Robyn Carr’s Virgin River three or more times a year, and one of the reasons I keep returning is to catch up with Mel and Jack, Preacher and Paige, Mike and Brie, and all the rest. Since Hidden Summit (December 27), Redwood Bend (February 28), and Sunrise Point (April 24) will be books #17, 18, 19 in the series, clearly I’m not the only reader who feels this way.

Chesapeake Blue by Nora RobertsNora Roberts’s Quinn brothers stories are among my favorite series. Sea Swept, the first book is an all-time favorite. I like the final book in the series a lot, but my favorite scene in Chesapeake Blue is not one with Seth and Dru, but rather a scene that shows the love and passion that still exists between Cam and Anna, although they are long married, with teenage children. Boring? Not from my view.

Now A Bride is an ebook that offers additional episodes and a series epilogue for Mary Balogh’s Mistress series. In her web site announcement of this book, Balogh said:

“When a series ends, readers often feel a little bereft, somewhat left behind. I often get asked what happened to the characters after the end of the series, whether they continued happy, how many children they had. Scenes in which the characters are all shown living happily ever after can be a bit cheesy, but they can also be satisfying for readers who have been involved with them through several books.”

I’m in favor of this reader’s satisfaction.


Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.

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1. TracyS
I agree with you. I love when those couples show up in future books.

I even like when the author shows that the couple still has their HEA but they are dealing with real life. For example, in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series Jack and Mel have their HEA but struggle with real life issues--and continue to love each other through them.
Janet Webb
2. JanetW
For the few times that I'm disappointed with the continuing loving couples, I pretty much like getting to see them again. I am so with you re Kit and Lauren: I better see lots of them. What occasionally disappoints is if the author makes them all vanilla and #lifecouldntbebetter but if that's how she writes, I'm probably not reading that author any more. Great alternative perspective.
3. Janga
Tracy, we agree on many things. :) One reason that Jack and Mel are among my favorite couples is that Carr shows them in books after their own struggling with issues that seem credible given their particular personalities and the realities of married life. I'm a huge Robyn Carr fan and have been since long before her Virgin River series.
4. Janga
Thanks, Janet. Balogh is one of the best at weaving the continuing stories into her books, so I think we will definitely see more of Kit and Lauren. I'm really eager for Gwen's story. She's been waiting a long time for her HEA.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
5. Kiersten
God, I love those Quinn brothers. I always like to hear how h/h of other books in series are doing. I hate that we get to see them get happy for 3 pgs after 400 pgs of angst and that's it. I want to see them again, living their lives, ebbing and evolving.

Now I have to got dig out my Quinn books and reread everything - for the umpteeth time.
6. Janga
Kiersten, I make it a point to reread the Quinn quartet every couple of years. I love those characters and the interactions among them. And they definitely belong in one another's books.
7. irisheyes
You know I totally agree with you, Janga. Seeing old familiar faces is what draws me to the series format. Balogh is a genius with this. I don't know how she manages to juggle all those characters but she satisfies my need to catch up with every additional book she writes.

I, too, am a huge Robyn Carr fan and love when she shows her HEA couples dealing with life and still keeping their HEA. I can sympathize with Elizabeth because I have read authors who aren't very good at the balancing act between primary couples and catch up couples. The authors who feel "the more the better" and litter the pages with so many characters my head spins. I've weeded out the ones who can manage the balancing act to my satisfaction. IMHO, Robyn Carr, Mary Balogh, Nora Roberts, SEP, Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Madeline Hunter and Elizabeth Hoyt are a few of my autobuys who do an outstanding job.

Just an aside... I found the reason the multiple characters in Eloisa's books didn't bother me tended to be because her chapters were so short and concise. She didn't give me time to get bored with whoever she was concentrating on at the time.
8. Janga
Irish, I never though about EJ's chapter length. That's interesting. You've insured that I'll spend part of today looking at her books again. :)

Yes, I think most readers of series have been burned by the too-many-characters-to-keep-track-of error. The problem is less the actual number of characters, I think, than the fact that many of the characters seem interchangeable. That problem is not limited to books in a series; it can surface in stand alones as well.
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