Monday, September 9, 2013

A Romance Virgin’s First Time


[I fully intended to get this post out while it was still August but alas, that did not happen. Forgive me for the slight untimeliness of this!]

I got an email a few weeks ago that August is Read-A-Romance Month, and my interest was piqued; I’ve never read a romance before. I’d argue it’s one of the most popular AND most stereotyped genres of literature, but I’d never experienced it for myself. In my thesis class last semester, one fellow student did her research project on the changing face of the characters in romance novels. She analyzed the characteristics—physical features, background, economic status—of both the men and women to see if there is any change historically (from the 1980s to now) and across romance genre (historical, fantasy, etc).

Her answer, in a nutshell, was no. While details like background and economic class may vary, the vast majority of women are still saved by men; the men are still handsome. Ultimately, romances are formulaic; they always end happily, with the lovers (figuratively, sometimes literally) riding off into the sunset together. And that’s probably why romance readers love them so much (heck, it’s my general preference in stories, as well); no matter what happens throughout, there’s going to be a happy ending.

So, on top of getting this timely email about Read-A-Romance Month, a random copy of a romance mysteriously appeared on my office floor, getting passed around from desk to desk. It was like the stars had aligned, and the universe was offering me the chance to pop my proverbial Romance cherry. So I said yes.

The book in question was called The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran. Its cover featured that stereotypically shirtless male chest of Romance novels, leading me to think, This is already the perfect book for this reading project! Duran, I learned, is new to the Romance-writing world (or at least was in 2008)—this is her Romance debut. I didn’t have much idea of the plot upon turning to page one, nor did I really care. I know Romance as a genre is stereotyped, but darn it, I wanted to read that stereotype. My only real thought was…This better have some good sex! I didn’t want a mild intro to Romance!

The plot of The Duke of Shadows was actually much more complex than I had expected. This would be categorized as historical romance, taking place in India during British occupation. Emmaline is our heroine that has already skirted death once and now finds herself amidst escalating rebellion and violence. A potentially violent encounter introduces her to Julian, a charming (duh!), handsome (of course!), mysterious (obviously!) man who seems to have more to him below the surface (all the charming, mysterious ones do!). The rest of the novel, to sum it up rather quickly because this post is getting rather long, follows their stories, both together and separate, from India back to Britain as they must each make peace with their pasts.

The story itself was intriguing and complex…and detailed! Yes, it had the steamy sex (thank goodness!) but it also had violence! Parts were shocking and dark and, though of course there’s a happy ending, the whole story didn’t fall victim to that sugarcoating. I’ll have to read more to find out of that’s common or if I got the fluke Romance that featured a sudden, random beheading.

I enjoyed this well enough as an entertaining read, and overall, I get it. I get the appeal of Romance, and I am constantly impressed with how devoted a fan base it attracts. Like anything else, different stories appeal to different people because we all have different interests. My outlook on books is that there is no right or wrong, or bad or good. As long as you’re reading.


Salvatore said…

So when are we writing our communal romance novel?!

Kari said…

As soon as we open our brewery/bakery/cafe.