Please welcome author Jay Merin. This post was originally posted at JayMerin.com
An Amazon review of Unrequited, by a user named Louise Shinko, reads as follows –
- Due to the glowing reviews, I downloaded this book for free on my kindle. I was expecting action, romance, and a plot. It was a gentle letdown. The novel had little to no romance, constant thrashing action, a swirling, inconsistent plotline, and many grammatical errors. Unless you are very into fantasy and lengthy paragraphs that describe little to nothing, I recommend that you look elsewhere.
And that review has one comment –
- “The novel had little to no romance”I see a lot of these freebies classified as ‘romance’ when really they are not even close, so I appreciate you pointing this one out!
This has stuck in my craw ever since I first read it.
For one, “Louise Shinko” has zero other reviews done. What are the odds of someone only ever reviewing MY book and nothing else ever on Amazon? It is possible, law of large numbers and all that, but it happened around the time that I was actively promoting on Amazon in their forums, and was witness to the hatred that is the anti-indie movement. That’s a whole other thing, but it has always laid this review extremely suspect in my mind.
Not that it was negative – not everyone is going to like everything, and the potential that my novel is not as good as it could be is absolutely there. Find a successful book that doesn’t have negative reviews, and lots of them. Try. It’s pretty hard, I can’t do it.
But, for the sake of argument, let us just accept, at face value, what the “one item ever critiqued” reviewer says as an honest opinion of someone who read it.
(And ignore all the other reviews that point out the romance in the novel.)
Is it wrong for me to have listed Unrequited under the “paranormal romance” category on Amazon? What is a romance novel, after all?
Wikipedia has this to say –
- Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Hmmm. Well, there are two couples being focused on (Mason and Cordelia, Shayla and Richard) as well as the feelings that Mason and Shayla have for each other, plus, well, the title of the story hints at MANY one-sided love relationships that I won’t spoil here. The driving force of the story are those relationships. It might be iffy to some expecting a harlequin romance, but I honestly believe that romance is a major element of the story.
I have joked in the past that Unrequited is the “anti-romance novel”, and I still stand by that. If you want to know what I mean, read the book then talk to me. You may understand the sentiment if you’ve read the novel and if you don’t, I’ll explain it to you. But it’s a tad spoilery, so no explanations here. Suffice to say, however, I don’t think that categorization denies the book the “paranormal romance” labeling anymore than Watchmen deconstructing superhero comics means it cannot be called a superhero comic.
The other part of above is the “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” Well, not all the main characters are happy at the end. But the epilogue of the story is… whoops, that would have been spoilery too. I think, however, that the ending is happy and optimistic and that I’ve even gotten complaints (from non-romance readers) that they don’t like how happy the ending is.
More importantly, however, is that “paranormal romance” is above and beyond what the traditional romance novel is. The Sookie Stackhouse novels, or the Anita Blake novels, or dozens like them – they can be put in fantasy or romance, and the balance is delicate. I blame Anne Rice and especially Joss Whedon for this genre existing (especially with monsters as love interests.) Let’s go to wikipedia again (emphasis mine) –
- Paranormal romance is a sub-genre of the romance novel. A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror. Paranormal romance may range from traditional category romances, such as those published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, with a paranormal setting to stories where the main emphasis is on a science fiction or fantasy based plot with a romantic subplot included.
- As in the fantasy subgenre known as urban fantasy, many paranormal romances rely on the blend of contemporary life with the existence of supernatural or magically-empowered beings, human or otherwise; sometimes the larger culture is aware of the magical in its midst, sometimes it is not. Some paranormal romances focus less on the specifics of their alternative worlds than do traditional science fiction or fantasy novels, keeping the attention strongly on the underlying romance. Others develop the alternate reality meticulously, combining well-planned magical systems and inhuman cultures with contemporary reality.
I would definitely define Unrequited as “urban fantasy” so, yeah, if you look at all the above and have read my novel–well, I honestly believe that you can come to the conclusion that my story is fit to be called a paranormal romance. But it certainly skates the edge, not solely because of the “anti-romance” concept but also because my writing is much more Neil Gaiman meets Joss Whedon than it is Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. And it is easy for me to admit that I lean more towards the action and fantastic world than I do towards the describing of romantic encounters.
And, I’m sure to some romance readers’ dismay, (minor spoiler) there are no described sexual encounters. None.
(One scene has been misinterpreted by some readers as having sexual undertones, but that wasn’t the intent. It isn’t absent of sexuality, but that is tertiary to what the scene in question is about.)
In the end, my decision to categorize Unrequited as “paranormal romance” as well as “urban fantasy” boiled down to several factors –
- the major motivating forces for all the major characters is love, and for most romantic love
- one of, if not the, greatest source of tension in the story is the relationship between Shayla and Mason
- the cause of the bigger world conflict in the background plot of the story is directly the result of romantic love, or the title of the book if you will
- the first and last chapters (prologue and epilogue, if you will) are about relationships and romance
- I didn’t want someone looking for a dark, gritty urban fantasy novel to be surprised and turned off by how much love and romance is integral to the story
Are those enough reasons for some readers of romance novels? Maybe not. But they were enough reasons for me.
What do you think? Was I right? Am I being too broad in my definition? I am absolutely dying of curiosity to know!