Mar 23 2017 8:30am

How Do You Keep Guardian/Ward Romances From Going “Too Taboo”?

His Custody by Tamsen Ward

Essential Steps to Keep a Guardian-Ward Romance from Getting “Squicky”

Today we're thrilled to welcome Tamsen Parker (His Custody) to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Tamsen often wears her blogger hat at H&H, but today she'll be wearing her author badge! His Custody is a take on the guardian-ward romance often found in historical romance. However, when it comes to taking this trope into a contemporary setting, there are certain things an author—and reader—she beware of! Tamsen is here to talk about a few of those potential pitfalls, and how to avoid them! Thanks, Tamsen!

Guardian/Ward Romance. To some readers, this sounds like it goes together like oranges and ketchup, but for others it’s catnip. Between the power dynamics and the taboo and the age differences, there’s a lot to tempt and a lot of potential for squick. Some of that is mitigated when the book is set in a historical context—it was more common for couples to have a large age difference, not to mention that custody arrangements could be far less formal back in say the Regency period.

Contemporary guardian/ward romances are a bit of a different beast. You can find a number of contemporaries from the 1970s and 1980s, but what about current contemporary guardian/ward romances? Not so many. Although one person in my reader group loves them because she used to read a lot of historicals with this set-up, but as her reading habits have moved more toward the erotic end of the spectrum, she’s kept an eye out for guardian/ward contemporaries which have more of an edge but still have her beloved trope.

It’s possible that other readers who enjoy the trope in historicals might balk at guardian/ward in contemporaries because things that readers are more likely to gloss over in the soft focus haze of ball gowns and seasons and breeches seem to come into sharper focus u nder the bright lights of a contemporary. Perhaps because of societal changes? Maybe because it’s easier for readers to place themselves in the shoes of the main characters?

Regardless of the reason, there are ways for writers to lessen what might be squick factors for readers. In these examples, the hero is the guardian and the heroine is the ward, although they could be reversed (has anyone read one?) or it could be an LGBTQ+ pairing (please tell me this is a thing?). Whatever the pairing, there are ways an author might mitigate some of the more obvious potential squick points:

Concoct a scenario where the hero and heroine have never met

The hero’s BFF or mentor gets killed in battle/at sea/some other hazardous activity heroes are wont to do, and of course the hero feels as though he’s responsible for his friend’s death. When his bestie requests on his death bed that the hero care for his beloved daughter and gives him a picture of a little moppet, how can the hero say no? But naturally, by the time they meet, the heroine is all grown up.

Have the age gap be relatively small

Through some bizarrely written will or other oddity of the legal system or custom, have the hero and heroine very close in age. The power dynamics in that relationship could be particularly acute (and fun to play with…just saying), but the age difference squirminess wouldn’t be an issue.

Have the hero be a guardian “in name only.”

Perhaps he sends the heroine off to boarding school to grow up properly and not cramp his bachelor style, or maybe she’s already in school/away when she becomes an orphan, and remains that way. Yes, he might manage her finances, but doesn’t actually interact with the heroine as her surrogate parent in any way.

A writer could also do zero of these things. Have the hero have known the heroine since the day she was born and see her frequently because their families are incredibly close. Have there be a fourteen-year age difference between the hero and the heroine. Have the heroine live in the hero’s home under his watchful eye after she’s been orphaned.

Instead of shying away from these touchy and yes, taboo elements, an author could play with them, poke at them, explore them and navigate them with care, use them as part of the story. And while the writer is at it, add some kink because maybe the power dynamics weren’t sharp enough already.

Which is, in summary, His Custody.

Jasper and Keyne’s romance is unconventional for all these reasons, but it also has a lot of familiar and beloved elements. A bad boy turned protective and devoted hero; a gutsy, intelligent, and resilient heroine; UST like whoa; and of course two people finding love and happiness with each other.

What’s your take on guardian/ward romances? Do you love them? Avoid them? Do you have a preference between historicals and contemporaries? Share your thoughts about this tricky trope below!


Learn more about or order a copy of His Custody by Tamsen Parker, available now:

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Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, erotic romance writer by naptime. She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee.

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Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
I'm both attracted and repealed by this trope, particularly in a contemporary setting. Like all tropes, in the hands of a talented writer, it can become a thing of beauty.
Fiona Marsden
2. Fiona Marsden
Love guardian ward romances. I grew up with them in the 70s. I actually like them a little squicky.
3. TamsenParker
@bungluna: I totally agree! There are some things I love if handled well, but make me throw my kindle against the wall if not.

@Fiona Marsden: I think the potential for squick is one of the best things about the trope. And yeah, I think it should be a little uncomfortable at times. It's how it gets resolved that matters.
Fiona Marsden
4. Sillycat
Doesn't the recent proliferation of "stepbrother" titles fill much the same niche in contemporaries? Most of the blurbs I've read seem to have a set-up of an older stepbrother recently added to the family who is protective/jealous regarding a younger stepsister. Usually the parents are away/busy/neglectful so he is the guardian in role if not in a legal sense.
5. Kareni
Since I've read a lot of historical romances, this trope no longer surprises me. That said, I do think it's more difficult to carry off in a book with a contemporary setting. I'm not averse to a well told story though, and His Custody sounds like a book I'd enjoy. Best wishes on its publication, Ms. Parker.
6. TamsenParker
@sillycat: I hadn't thought about the stepbrother books that way, but that's a good point. In the cases you're describing, that makes sense. Several of the ones I've seen have more of a Clueless feel (former step-siblings whose parents were together for a hot minute), or who only became step-siblings as adults. But it does still poke at that familial taboo element.

@Kareni: I joke that when I first had the idea for this book, I'd thought to myself "Why are there so many historical guardian/ward romances and only the rare contemporary?" Then I started writing, and very quickly was like "Oh, that's why." lol Thank you for your kind wishes : )
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