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Apparently, I’ve Read a Lot Of Romance Lately

October 3, 2011

For someone who’s really picky about romance novels, and for someone who’s sometimes sheepish about romance reading… I’ve read a good amount of romance lately. Or novels where romance shows up, when I wasn’t expecting it! Here are the past few things I’ve read, consecutively.

Uncertain Magic– Laura Kinsale.  Picked this up at the book swap. Roddy (short for Roderica) is a misfit, both because she’s a bit of a hoyden in a society where people value ladylike behavior… and because she can read minds. Which not everybody likes to have happen. When she meets the dark and brooding earl, Faelan Salvigar, she can’t read his mind. And she’s immediately intrigued. The mind reading, or lack thereof, was fun to play with, as Roddy was more mystified than she expected, by her mysterious suitor. Basically, it’s a straightforward romance. Perhaps it wasn’t intended to be funny in the spots where the writing got really Gothic and made me laugh.

I wasn’t particularly expecting a romance when I picked up A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. I had been meaning to read it for ages. Harkness has an interesting setup: witches, demons and vampires are present in the human world, but keeping to their own separate societies. Diana Bishop is a powerful witch who is ignoring her powers, in favor of a solid academic career. Enter Michael Clairmont, a vampire who is fascinated by her studies of alchemy, particularly a book which might have pivotal understanding about the role of the supernatural creatures in their shared world. So, I was reading, fascinated by the interplay of the creatures and humans, the puzzle of their joint mythology. Harkness describes her scenes and characters really well. I was enjoying my travels in her world.

And then Michael and Diana start getting all tangled up in a romance that reeks of power-play. She has information he wants! He’s a vampire so he’s automatically seductive! Everyone cautions her against falling for him, including him, but fall she does, for the dangerous man. What is it about vampires that turns otherwise reasonably feisty women into simpering, useless damsels? Anemia? (Though I’m not sure Bella wasn’t born useless.) The romance made me grouchy, even though I can grudgingly see where it drove the plot.

I read Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken next. I can’t decide whether it fits the theme of romance. It’s excellent YA fantasy. Sydelle is a weaver in her village. Wayland North is a wizard, who needs her to help him make the journey to the capital of their country, to avert a war. It’s YA- and the two of them grow close as they travel and have their adventures. It’s also really solid fantasy writing- a creative magic system, beautifully described. So.. it’s somewhat thematic, I guess, but subtle.

image from Wikipedia

And, shortly thereafter, I read The Hunger Games trilogy. As far as genre goes, I believe its official designation is apocalyptic or dystopian YA. But there’s a romance there, in the Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle. I don’t think she should have kissed, or tried to be in a relationship with either of them. Because there was too much else going on, just sheer survival of the demented games. And in a toxic environment where her relationships could be used against her by any number of corrupting influences. The Hunger Games world is not a happy place.

 

Because I needed the story equivalent of a hug after the Hunger Games, I followed that up with an actual romance: Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right, (gotta love the title!) by Kieran Kramer. It was funny, frothy, a little racy, with great banter. And spies, there were spies! And that’s my ideal, in a romance that does it on purpose. I giggled at some passages, and blushed at others.

Sometimes, I feel like romantic plots get intrusive, pushing themselves into a story where there’s enough adventure going on to keep me turning pages. But by the same token, I really like it when it works in reverse. I’d prefer to read romances with plenty of witty banter, humor, and a spy caper or two. Lauren Willig does that exceptionally well. And Kieran Kramer was a very pleasant surprise. I’m still not familiar enough with romance as a genre to know who else is good.

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