Sunday, October 5, 2008

Paranormal influx: good or bad?

Vampires. Oh, how I love them. I think my fascination began back in high school when I first read The Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith. The angst. The love. The hot vamp guys. There is just something so compelling and sexy about a vampire hero. Yes, I know that there are books out there where the vampire character is not gorgeous and heroic. Frankly, I like to ignore those books (unless it is a para rom or UF with other fabulous men in it.) Give me a book with a tortured "other" in the spotlight and I am your devoted reader.

Since pickings used to be so slim in terms of para rom (see my previous post), I used to devour any dark romance that came my way. With the exponential explosion in para rom and UF offerings I have found myself in a bit of a pickle. I actually have to make choices about the books I read. Crazy, I know. I no longer have to settle for what the publishing houses release. There is a multitude of offerings every week. This is a seemingly wonderful problem to have. Too many choices can't be a bad thing, can it? Actually, it can.
Because reader demand for para rom is at it's highest in years, the publishing houses are releasing floods of books for our consumption. When they only offered a handful of selections, the publishers would be more selective about the stories they released. Today, I fear that there is more of a focus on quantity than quality. It used to be a much rarer occurrence for me to buy a vamp or werewolf novel and end up disappointed. Nearly all of the books were well written with interesting, well thought out plots. I am sad to say that is not the truth today. Don't get me wrong, I know not all of the para rom novels released ten years ago were of the highest quality, but the percentage of high quality para rom books has seemed to decrease as this recent trend has built.

Or it can be explained in a different way. Perhaps the benchmark has been set higher. In days past I was ecstatic to snag new titles by the likes of Lynsay Sands and Susan Sizemore. These authors are still writing, still giving us the same style and plot that they have for years. This is neither good or bad, just a statement of fact. I just finished reading The Rogue Hunter by Lynsay Sands. It was pretty much what I expected from her: light, easy read, a sprinkle of vamp angst (although really more like worry than angst), some misunderstandings, and lurv. As is typical of her vampire series the H&h meet in an unexpected way. He can not read her thoughts and... life mate! How to tell her? I am beginning to view her books more like a contemporary romance where the hero or heroine just happens to be a vampire. The focus is more about the interactions between the main characters and how they will overcome the fact that he/she is different. Heck, take away vampire and insert a different religion or ethnicity and you have a contemp. Again, this is neither good nor bad. It really depends on what you are looking for in your paranormal romances. Lately, I have been wanting more.

Maybe I can lay blame at the feet of such authors as J.R. Ward, Larissa Ione, Lara Adrian, and Meljean Brooks, but I expect more out of a para rom novel these days. I demand angst. I expect suspense. I want a Big Bad that makes you cringe. There must be some damn good chemistry and that HEA better make my heart speed up. (The Rogue Hunter seemed to have more of a HFN, which I don't accept in a romance novel, thank you very much.) I finished reading Pleasure Unbound (Larissa Ione) earlier this week. I put it down and immediately went to my computer to find out when the next book was going to be released. THAT is what I am talking about. Eidolon was all I could ask for in a hero: smart, sexy, wrestling with his own inner demon (pun slightly intended.) He had his own set of morals, yet was tempted to break them, or realign them, in order to be with Tayla. He was drawn to her, despite being enemies. He wanted to help and protect her despite knowing that she fought against and killed his people. Tayla was a great heroine. She was tough (could match Eidolon in a fight), smart, troubled, and dealing with her own torments. Not only did she have to work through a crisis of conscience, but had to face the realities of her past and her future. These were not small issues. I love that Ms. Ione had two opposing sides (demons and Guardians), both of whom could be considered the good guys in some way. Each was misinformed about the other, causing confusion and enmity that was not necessary. I think this made the novel even better. It would have been easy to make one side right and one side wrong. These shades of gray are what kept the reader intrigued. The Big Bad was committing crimes that justified the reactions of all the characters. No one seemed to be overreacting or blowing the events out of proportion. The terror and worry were well matched with the actions of the Evil. You could understand why everyone was so angry and frightened (sorry Ms. Ward, but your baby powder smelling guys just don't invoke that fear in me. Love your men, though!)

I think the publishing houses need to take note. We readers love the wider availability of paranormal romances, but our benchmark for quality has not lowered. Neither should their standards. I would rather a smaller selection of high quality reads, then a plethora of lackluster demons and fae. Give me one or two decadent Vosges chocolate truffles. You can keep the 5lbs. box of school fundraiser chocolate crisp bars.


Nicola O. said...

Honestly, I think the biggest difference between today's paranormals and... well, everything that preceded them... is teh hott.

Ward, LKH, & Feehan (among others) pushed the level of eroticism in the mainstream romance genre way, way up.

Shannon said...

Nicola- You are absolutely correct. There is definitwly an increased level of heat in today's book. And let me say, I am not complaining AT ALL. :) There is definitely an increased sexual tension, but there often seems to be an increased plot tension, as well. The stakes (groan, bad word choice) seem to be higher. There is often an external conflict that drives the whole story. This has become more prominent to the story lines recently. I quite like that. This may have to do with the fact that so many of these books are part of a series and need something to connect them all.

Marisa O'Neill said...

Shannon - Great review and observation. The paranormals that have been hitting the shelves these last two years are progressing in a way I never thought to see. They are not only well written but thinking outside the box and incorporating a whole host of conflicts that are not only intriguing but demand that the reader pay attention. I'm a huge Ward,Ione,Andersen and Kate Smith Fan. I recently read the latest Feehan Dark book and she too is moving beyond the conflict between the H&H and incorporating the larger world in a way her previous books did not.

I really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks

Shannon said...

Marissa- That is precisely it. I think authors are paying more attention to world building in their paranormal romances. The world and politics they are creating are much more complex. It is rare to see a new author or series in which the vamp, were- or fae character is living is a very "normal" version of New York. Instead we are given this parallel universe in which there is a fully developed other/underworld society with it's own conflicts, governing bodies, etc. This provides us with a more complex and satisfying story. This is not as true for books with magic. I kind of like this, though. For some reason I can believe that individuals with magical or paranormal gifts could live amongst "normal" individuals without a huge parallel society. Maybe that is a double standard. I don't know.

Carolyn Jean said...

Great post, and I totally agree. I love that this genre has evolved. For a while, I felt like vamps and weres might go out of style, but instead, they are getting stronger. It's so much fun. Gosh, maybe I need to read that pleasure unbound!

naida said...

great topic. I myself havent read much paranormals, I just finished 'Any Given Doomsday'.
But I have noticed a huge selection of paranormals available.
I like how you say:
'...two decadent Vosges chocolate truffles. You can keep the 5lbs. box of school fundraiser chocolate crisp bars'

I'm more of a historcial romance gal.
enjoy your weekend :)

Christine said...

I'm SO SO glad you liked Ione's Pleasure Unbound as much as I did. She's got the perfect voice for telling a true paranormal romance story. Dark, edgy, and all kinds of shades of gray. I. LOVE. IT.