Paranormal romance is alive and well, but does it deserve a place among Science Fiction / Fantasy lovers or not?
Few popular teen fiction series have had more passionate opinions swirling around it – pro and con – than Lauren Kate’s Fallen books. A look at popular review sources like Publisher’s Weekly reflects the same mixed bag of views on Lauren Kate’s Gothic-style romance, set in a world with angels and demons, with an ever-popular love triangle center stage. And, yes, believe it or not said love triangle involves the female protagonist, one angel, and one demon. Now series like Fallen may have given paranormal romance a bad rap, and one can actually see a dominant school of thought developing from some of this controversy.
There are really two predominating schools of thought about paranormal romance. The first is that paranormal romance is really just romance with window dressing. The “just romance” school would argue that a lot of so-called paranormal romance (including Twilight) is nothing more than angst-driven teen or love-infused romance with some extra bells and whistles. Anyone who’s ever read Molly Harper’s werewolf romance books could make a strong case for it, well written and entertaining as they are for their intended audience. Werewolves + animal instincts = a perfect excuse to add some eroticism and heat to the conventional romance story. The “just romance” school says that these books are really not, from the standpoint of someone who loves science fiction or fantasy, bringing anything to the table to satisfy the sense of wonder, curiosity, or the paradigm-bending themes common to science fiction and fantasy.
But that’s where I’d be willing to bet that the “just romance” school gets it dead wrong a good chunk of the time. There are a noticeable number of excellent paranormal romance series out there where the supernatural elements take center stage, where thrills and consistent magical/supernatural laws enrich a fully fleshed out universe, and where romance doesn’t dominate the story but simply enhances it. Enter Patricia Briggs’ excellent Mercy Thompson series. I’m more a subscriber to the idea that good paranormal stories – and yes, even paranormal romance – belong in the same neighborhood with scifi fantasy enthusiasts. Someone who enjoys a good science fiction or fantasy book is often looking for three things – 1) An alternate universe with unique rules but also consistency, 2) creatures or phenomena not normally possible, and 3) A good story with characters who make tough choices, often with a darker, epic, or thrilling backdrop.
All of these things are present in the Patricia Briggs-style of paranormal romance. Although the main relationship becomes the focal point, the Mercy Thompson series focuses on one unusual Native American shapechanger’s interactions with Fae spirits, werewolves, vampires, and other creatures of fable. Thompson lives in a rich universe where the interconnections between all of these paranormal beasties is every bit as complex as science fiction you might read about alien races coexisting with humans and each other. In a sense a good paranormal romance can be space opera on a smaller stage (i.e. Earth), with an equally intricate array of creature types, diplomatic challenges, and inter-clan conflict.
In other words scifi and fantasy fans need to consider paranormal romance as part of their possible repertoire. It may not seem like a natural fit for hardcore fans who’ve grown up worshiping the likes of Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien or Terry Brooks, but there is real potential here. The sooner scifi and fantasy fans see paranormal romance as somewhat of a kindred spirit to their favored genre, the more they will discover unexplored gems which wouldn’t have been possible any other way.