Posts Tagged ‘Paranormal Romance’

Perhaps I set myself up for disappointment. The novel begins by describing how Guardian society is different from that of eighteenth century England, namely that Guardian women have more equality with men than their “mundane” sisters. “Interesting,” I thought to myself, “perhaps this alternative history, including magic use, is a way to re-tell the story of war and include more female participation in historic events.” Sadly, it was not the case.

I read paranormal fantasy/romance with female protagonists because I enjoy the strength of these women. Generally there is an emphasis on team-building and problem solving, combining smarts, strength, and the heroine’s specific (usually unusual) powers. Many of the television shows and movies I watch undermine female strength, women are side-characters, victims, fit the Hollywood mold of attractive appearance, etc. Female protagonists in paranormal novels often have powers that both make them unique and contribute to their successes. Reading about characters facing down demons, vampires and automatons successfully, and growing in strength as they face their fears, is a powerful metaphor for me as I face much more mundane challenges of insecurity, complex relationships and job hunting. Another positive in several of these novels is that if the heroine is in a relationship it is a) on equal terms or b) does not last long as she does not deny her own power/instincts in order to please the man. A vast difference from most TV/movies I’ve seen!

Thus, A Kiss of Fate disappointed me on several levels (spoilers ahoy). Gwynne was raised a Guardian, but believed she had no powers, fortunately she is a scholar, which is valued in Guardian culture. Fine. I like a smart protagonist in my novels. However, after sexxytimes with her new husband they discover she is an enchantress, whose powers are not awakened until having intercourse. Really? REALLY? I get it, her powers are related to sexuality, and thus it makes sense they are awakened by having sex. But of all the powers to have, that’s what she gets?

From her first kiss with her soon to be husband, Duncan, Gwynne knows his destiny is linked to destruction and the Jacobite rebellion, a few kisses later she knows she will betray him; She marries him in order to mitigate the potential harm he will cause. As a point of conflict this one’s pretty lame. There is absolutely no doubt she will betray him. How does she betray him? By attempting to reach him body, mind and soul while he is following the Jacobites, this does not work, so she remembers that her powers are of the body. When she reaches out to him with her power of the pussy he arrives in her bedroom and they sex it up (she gets knocked up in the process). She then locks him in the castle dungeon to keep him from helping the Jacobites win. Though Putney writes that there is no possible way the hero and heroine will reunite, it is absolutely clear to the reader that they will. How do they do this? She leaves, he follows her, they sex it up “letting down all their barriers” and see each other’s intentions of course they are reconciled.

My three problems with the novel are as follows:

  1. After emphasizing equality and Gwynne’s intelligence, Putney gives Gwynne stereotypical feminine-wiles as a superpower.
  2. Gwynne could have had no powers and reached the same results: her husband loves her intelligence and sexuality and feels a connection to her even before she has sexxaysuperpowers.
  3. Including a magical element, or rewriting history, should bring something new to the story, for example, this is often an opportunity to re-examine class or gender roles, this novel does neither, though the set up lead me to believe it might do both.

If this was a basic romance novel I probably wouldn’t complain, though, I also probably wouldn’t have read it. Unfortunately, the premise of the novel included mages with the ability to change the politics of their day. It was clear from the beginning that Putney wasn’t writing a fully alternative history-the Jacobite rebellion would not succeed-but if that is the case then *something* else in her alternative history should have been fundamentally altered by the addition of magic.


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My thoughts on where to start are a bit scattered as the idea of posting on this subject has been percolating for months 🙂 First some background, then some PR-analysis 🙂

Part 1: Last summer I read an article, maybe on salon.com? about PR and why it was appealing (long story short: Heroines don’t lose power, they gain it, in relationships, her partner isn’t threatened by her growing strength, team building is important). I thought to myself, “yup! sounds right to me!” And then promptly started looking for PR to read to try out my theory (previous experience was limited to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Sookie Stackhouse novels).

Regular romance novels generally don’t work for me, I just get irritated with the characters and plots, mystery-romances also don’t really work, PR does! I like the stories, I like the characters, I like the relationships.

Part 2: I’ve been talking about life, books, etc with my longest-term internet friend over the past few months and she added some excellent choices to my list of books to read. A while ago she pointed me to a blog entry by Nicole Peeler about writing healthy sex for her character, Jane True, and also recommended I follow her twitter feed. A week or so later I was wandering through Barnes and Noble and saw Tempest sitting on a random shelf (someone had been looking at it and just set it down instead of putting it where it belonged-where I wouldn’t have seen it). I picked it up just to see if I liked it enough to buy, and 14 chapters later I realized I really should go home before the cat assumed I was dead in a ditch somewhere 🙂 Needless to say, it’s worth buying.

Part 3: When my mom gave me the sex talk she seemed really open about the whole thing, drew diagrams, answered questions, told me the mechanics, “when the man gets excited… ” etc. A while after the talk it occurred to me that she hadn’t really said anything about the woman’s experience, when I asked her if women felt any pleasure during sex she didn’t answer me. Now, she could have had many reasons for not answering, but at the time that stuck with me (hell, that I can remember it now means that it stuck with me a long time). Didn’t help that my first boyfriend experience was disaster or that I’ve been living in a rather conservative christian culture that insists girls are the “brakes” and must stop the boys from “going too far.”

Part 4: In movies/tv often the sexual relationships of characters are portrayed as being about dominance and power or a calculated move. Often, the woman’s pleasure seems to be just more proof that the hero is awesome, not about the woman having agency.

Part 5: (In which I finally get to my point 🙂 ) PR is appealing to me because it tends to give a healthier perspective on sex than many of the RL/TV examples I’ve encountered: generally it is told from the heroine’s perspective, she is competent, intelligent, powerful, and often sassy. Because the story is told from her perspective the authors generally make it clear that she IS enjoying sex, not only that, usually she makes a conscious decision to have sex, and then isn’t punished for enjoying it (well, with the exception of Buffy and Angel 😦 ). I liked that in “the Sookie books” Sookie has relationships with different men, her character arc isn’t just about modifying herself to become the perfect woman for Bill (at first it was, and that annoyed me, fortunately she grew out of it). I love that Jane True (in Tempest Rising) has sex, and enjoys it, but that the entire book isn’t about her trying to catch the mysterious hero, or him pursuing her. In fact the tension has very little to do with their relationship (but their relationship makes total sense in the story, it’s not just thrown in there to add sauciness to the story).

These plots relate well to Jessica Valenti’s thesis in The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. She argues that the American culture rarely treats young women as having agency in their sexual decisions, instead they are portrayed as victims, a man “took advantage” etc. Instead young women could/should be supported in making conscious sexual decisions and having healthy, enjoyable sexual experiences.

So there’s post #1 in a series of posts about likes/dislikes within the PR genre.

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