Sat
Dec 20 2014 1:15pm

May We Present to You: 3 Harlequin Presents Authors Who Get it Right

One Night... Nine Month Scandal by Sarah MorganIt has been no secret that I have a darling love for the Harlequin Presents line of category romances, which focus on privileged protagonists. One could take all of the wealthy businessman found within the category’s history and single-handedly take over every major cooperation on the planet ten times over. At its core, the Presents line has always been a glorious sense of escapism, and in the hands of a good author it can be social commentary and subversion of the privileged tropes it plays to. It doesn’t make the category perfect, but it does make the category line something beyond the fantastic tropes it presents.

Sarah Morgan

In my eyes, Sarah Morgan is the queen of the Harlequin Presents novel. Morgan's heroes play into the “alpha” tropes while checking themselves when it comes to the power of the heroine.

Morgan’s One Night…Nine-Month Scandal was my first encounter with her twisting of the trope. In order to make up for the hurting the heroine, the hero buys her a room full of teddy bears. A room full of teddy bears. There is no denying the cuteness of this gesture, and it’s a gesture that works because of its privacy and because of its clear acknowledgement that the hero is wrong. Not only all of that, but I read this book years ago and it still creates a pitter-pat of feeling in me because of how wonderful it came across at the time.

Then there's the demonstration of competency. Morgan's Doukakis’s Apprentice is a good example. Sarah Wendell of Smart Btiches Trashy Books refers to heroines and heroes who are good at their jobs in romance as engaging in “competence porn” in the eyes of the reader. Morgan’s novels are riddled with “competence porn.” Doukakis’s Apprentice features a heroine, Polly, that is not only amazing at her job but is also amazing at fighting back when the hero treats her in a way that she doesn’t approve of. Not only that, but Morgan’s heroines are wickedly humorous, and their humor is often times a show of their intelligence as people rather than being rooted in forms of self-deprecation, which is often the only type of humor we allot female characters in the media.

Avenge Me by Maisey YatesMaisey Yates

Talking about subversion and heroes, Maisey Yates is another great example of a Harlequin Presents author who uses the category platform for interesting things. One of Yates’s recent books, Avenge Me, was unique in that it created an environment that directly addressed the financial privilege of the hero. Not only that, but the heroine called the hero out for the issues. Presents is not the most perfect platform for this, as the issue of financial privilege is complicated, but it’s a book that takes into account some of the issues of the genre. I also appreciated that Yates made a solid attempt at trying to show the sexiness of a billionaire that attempts to use his capital wealth for something good. (Again, it’s not that perfect, but it’s a better narrative than we get in a lot of “billionaire” romances.)

What also works is that Yates is great at writing explosive sex scenes. Sex scenes in romance are lessons in power and how power in relationships can be balanced (or unbalanced) by the sexual aspects. Her heroes and heroines are always very aware of their sexual agencies and if they want to have a sexual relationship with their inevitable love interest. The romance community has always taken an important empowerment in the varying depictions of sex, and I think that Yates’s books embody this empowerment with the sexual agency of the characters.

Lynn Raye Harris

Lynn Raye Harris's career has moved into self-published romantic suspense, but her journey began with Harlequin Presents. Her debut, Spanish Magnate, Red Hot Revenge, stuttered in its attempts at balancing an extremely alpha hero with a less-alpha heroine, but her later books have gotten better and better at taking a look at the relationship dynamics found within romance. Harris’s books often capture the lush nature of the Presents line with added intensity. Between Harris, Morgan, and Yates, Harris’s heroes are by far the most intense.

Prince's Royal Concubine by Lynn Raye HarrisMy personal favorite of her backlist is The Prince's Royal Concubine. It’s a close-quarters romance, the “we’re forced to be together and we end up boning” kind of story. Harris’s love of suspense shows up in the dangerous natural circumstances that put the hero and the heroine together. There’s also a theme of respecting each other that comes up in her stories – that comes up in a lot of Harlequin Presents stories – that I think works well with Harris’s more intensive aesthetic. Mutual respect is a theme of romance that gives the hero a chance to be aggressive and to learn to manage that aggression when it comes to his love for the heroine. With how the romance community is responding to traditional alpha-male tropes today, the theme of mutual respect gives that trope some leeway to exist without being too problematic.

Harris just does these things well. All three of the authors are also working in terms of writing single title romances, each with different story “types”, and that level of artistic flexibility in the romance genre is worth admiring as well. They can fit the sensible conflict of a larger single title romance into a category romance with believability. More than that, their skill at category writing and developing conflict within constricted page and word counts gives them the ability to be single title authors and expand on conflicts, characters, and environments without losing that core purpose of the romance.

Harlequin Presents has been a mainstay in the world of category romance for a reason. It’s more than the luxury, the heat, and the passion. It’s the authors behind the line. Whether it’s the humor of Sarah Morgan, the subversion of Maisey Yates, or the intensity of Lynn Raye Harris, Harlequin Presents is here to stay for a reason, and it’s the reason that I continue to read it. Do you have a favorite category romance line or a favorite category romance author?
 


To learn more about the books mentioned in this post:

One Night… Nine-Month Scandal by Sarah Morgan  
Doukakis’s Apprentice by Sarah Morgan  
Avenge Me by Maisey Yates  
Spanish Magnate, Red Hot Revenge by Lynn Raye Harris  
The Prince's Royal Concubine by Lynn Raye Harris  

 

 

 

 

 


 


John is a student, reviewer, and editor with a taste for social justice.  He's queer/LGBTQ and has always loved a good romance novel.  A current student at Ithaca College, he is majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications and trying to pick up a creative writing minor on the side. If you observe him in the wild, you may see him reading—or find him watching reruns of The Golden Girls while sipping his first/second/third cup of coffee for the day.  You can find his reviews on his blog, Dreaming in Books, and listen to his random musings on Twitter @DreamingReviews.

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8 comments
rubymydear
1. rubymydear
Kelly Hunter has written a few great Harlequin Presents--her dialogue is just so loopy and witty. She's also written for Harlequin Kiss, which I really like (Joss Wood and Avril Tremayne are also standouts) but I heard the line was canceled (maybe?).
Lia1976
2. Lia1976
Yes, the Kiss - line was sadly cancelled.
I really like Heidi Rice as well. And I miss India Grey, last I heard she will publish a historical under a different pen name sometime next year, but I hope she'll be writing again for Presents as well.
Lia1976
3. Tabby Moray
John,

This was a fantastic review of the types of romances I grew up reading. I loved travelling to foreign locales and falling in love with the hero and whatever country/state they were in at the time. I would literally read trashbags full of these Harlequins during my summer breaks. Probably why I had an unrealistic expectation of love and relationships all through my teens!
Lia1976
4. Daybreak
I started with Harlequin Presents when I was eleven. Still remember that first title, Retribution. Be still my little girl heart. By the time I was 13, I could have written one myself I knew the tropes so well.

Penny Jordan. God rest her soul. She was my one of my favorite Presents authors back in the day.
Lia1976
5. Yuri
Thank-you so much for featuring Harlequin Presents - they're so rarely discussed online so thank-you.

I love their melodrama: the situations are deliciously over the top but when done well the emotions are real. The anguish of a father who has missed years of his child's life, the sadness of broken marriages, and very occassionally in amongst all those stereotypes a portrayal of the real downsides of culture shock / clash.

Lucy Monroe's "Forbidden: The Billionaire's Virgin Princess" surprised me by making me think about the duty owed by children to their parents and parents to their children. Or Michelle Reid's "The Sheikh's Chosen Wife" where the personal tragedy of infertility has political consequences.

My favorite HP authors (more for the melodrama than anything else) are Michelle Reid, Julia James, Lynn Graham, Kate Hewitt, early Emma Darcy, and Lucy Monroe.
Lia1976
8. Yuri
Ooops sorry, didn't realise it had posted three times! Is there anyway to delete the last two?
Lia1976
10. maxine matthews
The best Harlequin presents authors are
Lynne graham
Michelle Reid
Penny Jordan
Anne Matter
Charlotte Lamb
Jayne Bauling
Lillian cheatham
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