What makes Romance tick?

Ok, here is my extremely long and not necessarily sister or parent-friendly review of two romance novels I read this week.
I just read a romance novel in which there was only one sex scene, toward the end. Now, I don’t read these books for the sex scenes, and in fact, I frequently skim over them because they are all similar to one another. After all, how much creativity can one expect when describing sex with a virgin, in the missionary position?

“Just like Heaven” by Julia Quinn was boring beyond belief. Sure, the maiden, boringly named “Honoria”, saves her heroes’ life from an infected wound (with the help of her mother) and has a fondness for sweets. Sure, the hero has an uninfected wound, but he got it from being cut out of his boots because he had a swollen ankle from tripping over a mole hill. He also has a fondness for sweets. I wonder what they will bond over?

The sad thing is, this wasn’t poorly written. Quinn has a certain measure of wit, and her characters were somewhat believable. It’s not original at all though, and there was nothing really enjoyable about it – it was sort of like watching a “Friends” episode you haven’t seen – there’s new stuff in it, but you know it all so well that nothing surprises you. You might enjoy it, but you don’t really interact with it.

The problem is that Quinn seems to have forgotten what drives a romance novel. There has to be drama. There has to be true risk, in order for the main characters to realizes what they are about to lose, and which forces them to confess their love for each other. There has to be tremendous physical attraction, which both characters will succumb to at some point. I happen to like it when they’re filled with witty banter, but that’s just me.

Romance novels have a formula. It varies in many ways, but they are meant to be page turners. They are meant to make one think about the best kisses you’ve ever had and that shocking, tingly feeling when you accidentally brushed hands (or more) with the boy you liked. The butterflies in your stomach when you look over at a person and realize you love them. The fear that squeezes your lungs so you can’t really breathe when you get over your fears and say “I love you” for the first time. The way your lungs seem to expand impossibly when they say it back.

They make you lose yourself in an improbable world in which people fall in love and decide to get married within a ridiculously short time span. (Of course, this does happen in the real world, but not very often. ) They make you remember all your little fantasies about what love between a man and woman would be like when your inspiration came solely from Disney movies (minus the sex, obviously), before the real world intruded.

Quinn failed me on all counts here. Carlyle, however, rocked my romance-reading pants. Liz Carlyle’s “A Woman of Virtue” was so much fun. It wasn’t her best, but it was pretty damn great. She has some wonderful recurring supporting characters, most notably Kemble, the mysterious gentleman’s gentleman with flawless taste in clothes and an array of illegal skills (as well as perfect comic timing). The plot involved opium smuggling and three dead (murdered, of course) prostitutes (reformed, of course).

Both the hero and the heroine are thrown into danger multiple times, both have strong values and personalities, and they have excellent sex. Throughout the book, not just at the end. It isn’t always missionary, and the woman is very definitely the initiator, even she is a virgin. There was even one moment in which the heroloses control and his lady doesn’t finish, to put a fine point on it. He apologizes at the end and she pats his back and says “It’s okay, I guess I can take it as a compliment”, or something to that effect. I say “even” because normally romance novelists have an irritating habit of making the ladies the most easily lit fireworks, regardless of what their partner is doing with them. I appreciated this small measure of realism.

End review. (Sorry for the crap image quality.)

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2 Responses to What makes Romance tick?

  1. esg says:

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  2. ca says:

    I appreciate your insightful comment, beringela.

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