Jul 7 2016 1:30pm

Marked on My Soul: Mate Markings and Tattoos in Romances from Ione, Cole, Rocha, and More!

Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione

As we know, romance comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Sometimes outside forces conspire to keep our two lovers apart, while other times it’s our characters themselves. One of my favorite things about this genre is that, like sci-fi/fantasy, romance authors get to play with some really fun tropes. Things that wouldn’t work in our world but seem totally natural in the fictional world they’ve created. Like soul-mate marks.

The soul-mate mark is essentially the ultimate wedding band. It can’t be removed and is often not actually chosen by the afflicted character. Sometimes they appear after meeting that special someone, sometimes after forging a deep bond, sometimes after mutual consent. What doesn’t change? The characters always experience some conflict about the meaning of these marks. They fight them as you would fight any other permanent arrangement in which you had no say. They fight with their own desires for independence and autonomy, with their new life-partners… with everything, pretty much.

The whole trope is a shorthand for the bonds of love and the ways in which we navigate our own independence in a committed relationship. It allows authors to play with some intense conflicts and, like other tropes, allows readers an entry point to an otherwise bonkers story.

I’ve seen it in three basic ways, each with their own flavor of conflict: the mate mark that just appears, the socially constructed mark (chosen by at least one of the partners), and the non-tattoo physical change. This trope is probably familiar to those of you who read paranormal romance and there are many examples I could give. For the sake of clarity, I’ve chosen one series to illustrate each of the three variants, but please comment with your other favorites!

The Mate Mark

Basic Premise:

Boy meets girl. Boy has an inexplicable attraction to girl. Boy and girl enter relationship. Somewhere along the line, boy develops a new tattoo, with a special meaning. Girl is his soul-mate.

Larissa Ione’s Demonica series executes this trope with a General Hospital vibe. In the first novel, the hero is a healer and a seminus demon. Un-mated seminus demons go through a horrible change as they get older that compels them to impregnate as many females as possible, with or without their consent. They are always male and have a tattoo on their side/neck that details their paternal lineage. (A different mark for each male in the line.)

The hero, Eidolon, has been fighting the change every way he can, but it’s getting closer every day. When he meets and falls in love with the heroine, his family tattoo completes and she literally saves him from becoming a monster.

In my reading, this trope is usually executed in a similar way. The heroine somehow saves the hero, even though he is (usually) an alpha male. It’s like a physical stamp she has on an otherwise powerful, massive male. It goes without saying that some dudes don’t like it. Lots of conflict potential here, but you know the H/h will end up together because… romance.

The Voluntary(ish) Mark

Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

Basic Premise:

Boy and girl like each other. Boy and girl love each other. Boy and girl decide to stay together forever and prove to the world that they are committed. Boy and/or girl get tattoos.

Some authors let their characters have some free will, though. It’s an entirely different set of conflicts and satisfying in a different way. Kit Rocha’s Beyond series gives us a post-apocalyptic future world in which the O’Kanes control a territory with a combination of violence and loyalty. The books are full of pretty over-the-top sex and violence. Like if action movies were made for the female gaze. They’re fun, but Rocha sneaks in a lot of discussion of consent, trust, and honesty. You’re looking at the orgy and Rocha sucker-punches you with a character deciding that her sexual needs are not shameful.

But we’re talking about the soul-mate marks. So here’s what the O’Kanes do: you get ink marking you as an O’Kane when you’ve been officially accepted into the family. Women who end up permanently committed to one of the other members are given a different tatt on their neck, essentially marking them as belonging to a certain man in the group. This felt weird and sexist and wrong to me at first, I admit. But here’s the thing: every relationship in the series is different. Some women want the protection the marks provide, as it tells the world that the woman is an O’Kane and that she has a mate. Other women are less into the ownership thing and they navigate the meaning of the mark with their partner until both people are in agreement. Rocha’s writing is fast-paced and full of sex, but the discussions of boundaries and permanency are the true core of the series.

The “Other” Soul-Mate Change

Basic Premise:

The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole

Boy meets girl. Boy feels a tingling in his long-dead heart. Boy has an actual physical reaction to girl, something that has never happened before (or in a very long time). Boy pursues girl until she realizes that they are meant to be

No list of soul-mate marks would be complete without mentioning the non-tattoo soul-mate effects. Some mates have the ability to calm their werewolf partner, others bring a centuries-old vampire back from the brink of insanity… you get the picture.

Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series has been running with this trope for 16 books now. I’m still not tired of it. In her series, vamps are “blooded,” demons are “unsealed,” and werewolves can finally procreate. One of the fun things about the series is that, since the species mate effects are different, Cole is able to play with the courtship process in new ways. Vamps know immediately when they’ve found their mate because their heart starts beating, but demons don’t know until they have sex with a potential mate. Weres have a sort of inner voice that tells them, but they won’t have concrete proof until their mate conceives. Cole has used this trope to set up a lot of entertaining love/hate relationships and a whole array of heroes chasing after a female who is trying really hard to not care. The things these ladies put their men through…

The soul-mate trope makes for a fun, somewhat loose structure on which authors build all sorts of compelling stories. Go read some! I’ll join you soon.

Pleasure Unbound (Book 1 of Demonica Series) by Larissa Ione  
Beyond Shame (Book 1 of Beyond Series) by Kit Rocha  
The Warlord Wants Forever (Book 1 of Immortals After Dark Series) by Kresley Cole  





When not reading All of the Things, Suzanne is raising two small valkyries and trying to open a bookstore. Book, comic, and assorted other tweets at @suzannekrohn. 

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