Friday, April 21, 2006

What I Meant by Fantasy Romance 

Every week I scan the online bestseller lists (for the weekly Bestsellers page on Locus Online) and more and more I can't help noticing how many books, based on their brief descriptions on such lists, seem to have some fantasy component, even though their nominal genre is 'romance' or 'thriller'. This is especially apparent on the USA Today list, which ranks all books by sales in the preceding week regardless of format or subject matter (thus allowing a lot of mass market paperbacks to rank that go unnoticed on lists from other sources).

Thus, for example, from this past week's USA Today list, some titles and the USAT descriptions--

#12, Dark Demon by Christine Feehan, Jove -- Romance: Female vampire slayer is seduced by her enemy

#26, Bump in the Night, by J. D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Mary Kay McComas, Ruth Ryan Langan, Jove -- Four stories about the paranormal

#35, Master of Wolves, by Angela Knight, Berkley Sensation -- Romance: Werewolf meets the lovely Faith Weston

#85, The Mask of Atreus, by A.J. Hartley, Berkley -- Unholy grail has terrible powers

#87, Tomb of the Golden Bird, by Elizabeth Peters, William Morrow -- Amelia Peabody finds she must protect her family from the sinister forces

#111, Warsworn, by Elizabeth Vaughan, Tor -- Paranormal romance: Powerful healer pays the consquences after swearing an oath of loyalty to a Warlord

#118, The Serpent on the Crown, Elizabeth Peters, Avon -- Amelia Peabody must untangle the mystery of an ancient relic that carries a curse

#130, Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, Putnam -- Thriller: Two women born centuries apart are linked by a common destiny

... not to mention various seemingly historical novels about the Knights Templar, the king of Camelot, novels about secret religious histories, and the like.

There seems to be this entire parallel universe of fantasy publishing by authors and publishers who often have no connection with what we regard as the fantasy and SF genre, a universe where fantasy themes are being taken more and more for granted in genres that traditionally haven't embodied them. On a related note, I recall reading recently that the 'paranormal romance' genre generates several hundred, perhaps on the order of 1000, original titles each year. Locus Magazine, as far as I can tell, lists such books when it sees them, and they are partly why publishing numbers that Locus reports continue to inflate year after year, but I'm wondering if we shouldn't acknowledge that there's a fundamental distinction between us and them, and let them be, and stop trying to 'take credit' for them in our statistics and tallies. For Locus Online, I'm letting go; I did include Dates from Hell on this past week's chart, but a while back I made a decision to stop compiling J.D. Robb novels on my bestseller lists any more. And none of the examples listed above.
More and more "romance" novels have what we might call a fantasy or SF component. For example, there is a burgeoning sub-genre of time travel romances, of which the series by Diana Gabildon is most popular. Other romance works have the oh so masculine hero being "from another galaxy" -- well, most aren't so dim but "futuristic" romances are also popular, as are "high fantasy" romances.
Harlequin Books, the romance publisher (in)famous for the Laser Books line of the seventies, has taken another flyer in the field with their Luna Books romance fantasy series.
In fact, one of my fannish friends has gone so far as to say that some of the best SF out these days is being published as romances.
These types of books are not new. Ann Maxwell wrote SF/romance novels in the 70s/80s that are something of a cult favorite. These days she's a well known romance writer under the name Elizabeth Lowell. Sharon Green has been writing romantic fantasy and science fiction for many years. What is new is that they're showing up outside 'our' universe of books. I personally see Laurell K. Hamilton as being responsible for the tremendous growth of these types of stories. I've been reading her Anita Blake series since the first books and been watching the paranormal romance genre grow in direct relation to the popularity of this series. That's my take on it anyway :)
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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