If like me you’ve balked at how un-feminist our classic fairy tales can be, then you understand how reluctant I was, last Christmas, when my niece asked me to read her Cinderella.
For a start, three of the women in the story come in for very harsh descriptions, they’re either, ugly, stupid, or evil. As for Cinders, all the girl has to do is dress up nice to deserve the prince. Give us all a magic wand and we’ll all get a prince of our own. Oh, and just a minute, why is the prince such a prize anyway?
So, I did my best and tried to ‘edit’ the story, to focus more on how kind Cinders was, how despite her circumstance, she finds the time to help others. And then it hit me, the hidden story.
So let me tell you my take on Cinderella, the one that might feature on Oprah. It’s a story of success in the face of difficulties, a story of challenge, and opportunity.
A woman is widowed and left penniless with two daughters to raise. In a society where marriage is the principal career open to women, she needs a new husband, hopefully one with money. Unfortunately, no sooner does she find a new husband than he goes and dies too. He leaves her having to manage his disordered finances and debts.
The next snag comes in the shape of her step-daughter who is far too pretty. How is she supposed to find suiters for her own daughters when Cinders steals all the attention. So the twice widowed woman has to think like a business strategist; it’s a kill or be killed world out there. She looks at her daughters with honest eyes and sees that they are … average … they’re going to need all the help she can give them. Any spare money will have to go on beauty treatments, expensive clothes, and health farms. She needs to save money and get the competition out of the way. Laying off some staff and moving her step-daughter into the kitchen achieves both objectives. And when the invitation to the royal ball comes … well, what would anyone in her place do?
Don’t all shout at me at once. This is what the real world is like. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, evil is more often committed by ordinary people trying to survive, to compete. We’ve all had jobs where we’ve been treated unfairly, prizes we should have won that went to somebody with inside connections.
Now we come to Cinderella herself. As every life coach will tell you, don’t sit around moping and crying over the unfairness of life. So, she works hard, makes good friends and doesn’t give up hope. When a stranger claiming magic powers turns up with an offer of new clothes that only last till midnight, and she converts a bunch of rats and a pumpkin into a crystal carriage, what does Cinderella do? Does she give in to doubts and fear? She does what every business guru tells us to do, she grabs the opportunity with both hands. She finds her courage and takes the risk.
I wish I could say that I’ve always been this brave, that I haven’t sometimes chosen the safe and familiar option. I think on reflection, Cinderella would make a fantastic educational story for children of both sexes.
In, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche says that lies hold up a truthful mirror to the world. He cites both Gulliver’s Travels and ancient mythology. In Gulliver’s Travels, the small people fight wars over which side of the egg should be sliced first. The giants on the other hand, decline Gulliver’s offer of new weapons, they don’t believe in war.
The thing about fantasy and fable is that it allows us to comment on reality much more easily than other kinds of fiction. By elevating the question into architypes and imaginary characters, we can bring up questions of good vs evil and lay out our conclusions in a way that would seem crass in ordinary fiction.
Could you write in your next novel People don’t stay in the pigeon-holes we make for them, or that Children grow up and stop listening to their parents? Both are true but would sound cliché and flat. Pinocchiodoes it so much better. The wooden toy, once complete, becomes a boy. He has feelings, makes mistakes and wants to go out and explore the world. He tells lies and learns about consequences. Author Stella Night explains Pinocchio in terms of romantic relationships.
The other part of my story was actually about how a woman can’t change a man, only he can change himself. It was an idea that I had because I had watched my friend desperately try to save her marriage by constantly trying to change her husband, making him go to courses, yoga, and various things to make their relationship better. He didn’t respond well to any of them. In the end, she gave up. She actually just focused on her own ‘stuff’ in life. Then her husband sorted himself out on his own and returned to her becoming an amazing husband.
A similar allegory can be made with Goldilocks.
Who would you want to marry out of George Clooney, astronomer Brian Cox. Bill Gates, the football star in our local high school, or the handsome mechanic at the Mercedes dealership (let’s assume they are all single)?
My answer is, none! They’re too famous, too brainy, too rich, too young, too old, too sporty. Would I be happy in a mansion in Malibu, or a tax haven island for the super-rich? Can I live on a farm in the Prairies? No. I’d want someone just right for me. What’s my size, my personality, my lifestyle?
Once I started to think about it, I realized how our classic fairy tales can in fact say a lot about real life. When I worked as a relationship counselor, I lost track of how many people, especially women came to me with what I learned to call the Little Mermaid syndrome.
For those not familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen tragic version of The Little Mermaid: A girl falls in love with someone she doesn’t really know, she hangs her own dreams on him and believes him to be perfect for her. Then she gives up everything for him, her world, her family, her way of life, even her voice which was the one thing he liked about her. And for what? On land, he doesn’t even notice her.
The problem when women – and most of us were raised thinking that success in love would be our greatest aim – when women fall in love, they can sometimes build up the man into what they hope he could be. And in our effort to be with him we give up our independence, the very thing that made us attractive to him in the first place. We become needy and vulnerable. I’ve met a psychiatrist who quit her job and moved to Germany – which she didn’t speak – and sat at home bored waiting for her man to come home from work. A lawyer who sold her home to finance some guy’s dubious business venture and was left destitute.
I’m not saying fables and fairy tales were written as symbols of such life examples, rather that they are a blue-print of how humans behave or respond. It’s the reader, or in some cases the writer, who can find a new way of looking at these stories.
The award-winning writer Salman Rushdie in his novel, Shame, describes Beauty and the Beastas the story of an Indian arranged marriage. The girl, full of youthful romantic dreams, is horrified that her father has arranged a marriage with a local merchant. In her eyes he is a beast. But gradually, with patience and kindness, she begins to see how hard he works to provide a good life for them, she grows out of her youthful fantasies and learns to appreciate having a good home and the respect of the community. Her husband becomes a prince in her eyes.
In a recent conversation, romance author Lena Maye told me about her own latest work.
I focused on choices. We set out in a certain direction and sometimes we need to stop and think about what we really want — not what anyone else wants for us — and then change direction to follow ourselves. A theme repeated through the story was for Laurel to trust only herself in the labyrinth, and that she’s the only one who can find her way through. She has to block out everyone else — everything that she’s grown to rely on, all the noise around her, even Radek — and ask herself: what’s my path?
I think we all need to stop every so often and ask, what is my path, where am going and is it still where I need to be.
About the Author
When Rose Amberly was little, she pestered her mother for stories every night (and morning and afternoon.) In the end, her parents taught her to read so they could have some peace, but very soon she pestered them for books and more books. By the age of six, she started to make up stories and tell them to her parents pretending she’d read them in a book. Happily, now she’s all grown up and no longer has to pretend. She travelled widely and tried different careers is education, therapy, art management and even briefly, bookkeeping but none of them were as much fun as making up stories. Rose Amberly lives in London which she thinks is the most fabulous city in the world. She loves to set her stories in England to share with readers some of her favourite places.
Rose has a new release in the fairy tale collection After Dark:
Favourite fairy tales get a smart grown up and passionate remake. Some stories follow the classic tale very closely, others move further and wider to offer a different ending. With a range of heat from sweet to very steamy they also range in romance sub-genres from contemporary to historical, magical fantasy, and paranormal.
The Goblin King: Based on Labyrinth
Always a Swan : Based on The Ugly Duckling
Forever: Based on Snow White
The Girl with no Name: Based on The Little Mermaid
A Touch Too Hot: Based on Goldielocks
The Wood that Would: Based on Pinocchio
Robin Hood Prince of Hackers: Based on Robin Hood
Sun Gold: Based on Rumpelstiltskin
Cock-a-Doodle-Do: Based on Mother Hulda
9 Favourite fairy tales get a grown-up make-over. Charming heroes, dangerous royals, Hollywood stars, farmers and mysterious neighbours take you on a sensuous magical journey from London to Washington DC, Tuscan hills to a rugged Canadian nature reserve. Nine stories full of passion, glitter and unexpected twists. These charming old favourites are retold as passionate love stories (contemporary, historical, paranormal, and fantasy romances). Experience tears, heartbreak, and happy smiles as our heroines make life changing choices, overcome troubles, and find true love. Equinox romance carefully selected nine exciting romance authors to create this collection with high quality writing and delicious escapism.
I’m a huge fan of beta heroes both as a reader and a writer,
so I wanted to explore how beta heroes play out in fantasy romance and romantic
fantasy, and make a few reading recommendations along the way.
Beta heroes are generally defined as softer, emotionally intelligent people who are willing to take directions and listen to advice, both from their romantic partner and from other characters in the book. They are in direct contrast to the ever popular, take-charge, domineering alpha heroes. Because alphas are often larger than life, it is easy for beta heroes to get dismissed as weak or–worse yet–boring, when in fact being willing to do the emotional labor in a relationship and truly listen to their partners can be incredibly sexy.
Radiance by Grace Draven is a good example of an incredibly hot, slow-burn relationship that builds over time. Brishen and Ildiko are wed in a largely symbolic marriage to unite their two very different people—in a plot that seamlessly crosses Beauty and the Beast with a marriage of convenience. This set-up lends itself to a beta hero, as Brishen is willing to do his duty—however distasteful–and make the best of it rather than resenting the circumstances. They quickly learn to be honest with each other and frank about their cultural (and indeed species) differences. Brishen wins his bride over with his humor, kindness, and respect—all hallmarks of a great beta hero. As this excerpt shows, the agency of the heroine is often underscored in stories with beta heroes, which is one of the things I like about them most.
The laughter faded but their smiles remained. Brishen’s thinned a little. “What do you want to do, Ildiko?”
He had asked a question Ildiko thought she’d never hear in her lifetime. No one ever asked her what she wanted; they only told her what she was to do and say. For a moment she was struck dumb. He waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts.
Radiance by Grace Draven
Because beta heroes generally value compassion over status
or control, there are some traits or stereotypes that are often paired with
beta heroes. They are often written as scholars or geniuses rather than
soldiers or commanders. This association with being quiet or nerdy is a natural
fit, which is part of what makes Jadrek from Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey a quintessential beta hero.
As a scholar who relies on his knowledge and book learning to help Tarma and Kethry, Jadrek often underestimates himself and lacks confidence with women, showing the very sweetest side of a beta hero. Oathbreakers is a romantic fantasy with an epic fantasy storyline, so the love story between Kethry and Jadrek is an important subplot, not the main focus of the novel. Because of this, the relationship development happens more as part of the other action, yet the romance still gets me in the feels every time—especially when Kethry finally admits her growing attraction…
“It’s you I admire, Jadrek; the mind, the person. You’re something special—something those pretty bodies downstairs aren’t, and probably never will be.”
Very hesitantly, he leaned forward and kissed her. She returned the kiss as passionately as she dared, and suddenly he responded by embracing her and prolonging the kiss until she was breathless.
When they broke apart, his gray eyes were dark with confusion. “Kethry—”
“There are more comfortable places to be doing this,” she said, very softly. “Over there, for one.” She nodded at the curtained bed, half-hidden in the shadows.
He blushed. He blushed even harder when she led him there by the hand, and all but pushed him down onto it. “I—” he stammered, looking past her. “Kethry, I’m not—very experienced at this sort of—”
“You were doing just fine a moment ago,” she interrupted…
Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey
While sexual inexperience is often found in beta heroes, it is not a necessary trait. Harlan, from Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy, is more sexually experienced than Ursula, the heroine of this fantasy romance. Harlan also breaks the beta mold in other ways, as a skilled swordsman and the leader of his own band of mercenaries. He is confident and assured of himself, yet he has no trouble deferring to Ursula, letting her take the lead in many milestones in their relationship, and stepping back when she takes charge–an important mindset for a man who wants to partner with a powerful ruler. Because Ursula is so emotionally cut off and determined to stand alone, Harlan’s compassion and tenderness are exactly what she needs—even if she can’t admit it to herself at first. He is the perfect foil for her harrowing emotional journey. Harlan himself puts it best—
“There is no shame in feeling emotion. It doesn’t make you weak. Strength is in bearing our wounds, living through them, and carrying forward regardless—not in pretending they never existed.”
The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy
Beta heroes can add emotional depth and texture to books already filled with wonder and magic. Do you have any favorites for me to add to my TBR pile? Let me know in the comments!
About the Author
Jaycee Jarvis has been an avid romance reader since devouring all the Sweet
Dreams books her middle school library had to offer. Also a fantasy fan from an
early age, she often wished those wondrous stories had just a bit more kissing.
Now she writes stories with a romantic heart set against a magical backdrop,
creating the kind of book she most likes to read.
When not lost in worlds of her own creation, she resides in the Pacific
Northwest with her husband, three children and a menagerie of pets.
She enjoys writing beta heroes as much as she loves reading about them. Her latest book, Deadly Courtship, features an empath who isn’t afraid to bare his heart.
In a world rife with elemental magic, can a bard with a knack for predicting the future help a warrior face her painful past?
Han-Triguard Magdalena turned her back on her heritage and her family in order to pursue life as a Hand, honor bound to serve as a Protector in the tropical market town of Trimble. She never regrets putting duty first until a string of brutal murders changes everything.
Her former lover, the attractive musician Jasper, stands accused. Madi knows
the gentle empath could never kill anyone, but her word alone is not enough to
protect him. Even worse, one of the other victims is a member of her old clan,
for whom justice is entirely out of reach.
As Madi begins to question the demands of her work, Jasper asks her to give safe haven to his brother’s orphans. With the children, Jasper has the family he’s always wanted, a dream Madi has never shared. Living in close quarters, their attraction combusts while Madi is beset by unwanted tenderness for the children. When a new threat looms, Madi vows to protect their future, make peace with her past, and maybe find a love worth fighting for.
This story is the first book in The Otherland Series, and it is also a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. And aptly so as that was our theme for the month.
Type of Story
Heart of the Fae is a high fantasy romance that takes its time getting to the romance. Emma tackles a lot of unpleasant and difficult subjects and themes within this book, making it live up to its description as a Beauty and the Beast with more adult themes.
It too is a retelling that maintains key elements of the original fairy tale while offering its own twists and spins. Here the beast is a cursed fae prince who has been disfigured and cursed in such a way that whenever he is wounded, geodes and crystals appear where the wound was. The beauty is Sorcha, a midwife trying to save her father who runs the family brothel. She goes on a great and confusing quest in an effort to save him.
Though comparatively, the story starts out slow, picking up substantially after the first third when our primary protagonist Sorcha reaches the island. Emma favors a more descriptive telling approach to the story throughout.
It is important to note that this is not a standalone story nor does the first book in the series end in a satisfying place. The cliffhanger makes sense for the point where it ends, and for readers invested in Sorcha’s journey, picking up the sequel will be an easy decision.
Best Parts of the Story
Without a doubt, the best scenes within the story are between Sorcha and some of the fae inhabitants such as the boggart/brownie and the pixie, Oona. It is particularly within the hag’s hovel that the story shines. It seems as if Emma has a particular affection here because there’s a special tenderness within these scenes that makes them charming and memorable.
Additionally her descriptions can be grippingly memorable and vivid. Descriptions of the castle and the grounds, for instance, were quite charming. The incorporation of the other senses makes the scenes even more compelling.
And, while I never thought I’d be saying this, I have to point to the prologue as well. It marries an old folkloric and mythic voice to a semi-modern rhythm with beautiful descriptions. The rhythm and poetry of the final lines sold me on the story. I may just have to pop back over and read it again.
The best part within this story is the infusion of mythology and folklore within the world. While it is not entirely clear whether this is an actual Ireland or a uchronic Ireland, it is a fun world to imagine. I lean toward it being another place entirely, particularly given the blood beetles, which sound truly terrifying. I especially liked the appearance of Macha throughout the story and her representation. Even if one is not particularly familiar with Irish mythology or folklore, it is easy to follow along.
Additionally, Emma’s decision to give the beast such a creative disease with intense repercussions was an excellent choice. It adds to the dark mysteriousness of the story.
I applaud Emma’s desire and efforts at addressing darker subject matter. But I would have liked more nuance to lead to balanced and less confusing situations, and greater consistency within the worldbuilding and character development. Some of these issues may in fact be resolved later as the characters develop or as the world is further explained in the second book. But these elements might take away from the story’s positive elements for the reader.
The Romance and the Characters
In a sense, The Heart of the Fae is at a disadvantage for discussing the romance because the characters do not meet until a third of the way into the book. And then they make up for lost time, reaching their first romantic connection before the first half ends. The initial meeting is terse, brusque, and aggressive, but they soon find their way to attraction and connection. The characters can sometimes feel erratic in their activities and driving forces as well as memories, but both Sorcha and Eamonn remain drawn to one another in the romantic climax that the reader is waiting for.
Other secondary characters also steal the show. Bran, in particular, takes the focus whenever he is on the page. I won’t share more about him since he goes through some rather interesting developments as a character, but he is one you’ll want to look out for. He feels like a good choice for further stories and focus. Oona and the boggart/brownie also steal the stage, and the Unseelie Queen presents an intriguing character.
Effectiveness as a Retelling
Aside from the cliffhanger ending, The Heart of the Fae does do well at hitting all the beats of a traditional Beauty and the Beast retelling while making them creatively its own. The sacrificial element here plays a needed prominent role, and there are many nods to the Disney Beauty and the Beast as well.
For those who enjoy Beauty and the Beast retellings with a darker and grimmer edge or Irish mythical retellings, this book is likely a good match.
Have you read this one? What did you think? Share in the comments!
About the Author
J.M. Butler is an adventurer, author, and attorney who never outgrew her love for telling stories or playing in imaginary worlds. She is the author of The Tue-Rah Chronicles, which includes Identity Revealed and Enemy Known. Independent novellas set in the same world include Locked, Alone, and Cursed. She has also written a number of other stories including Mermaid Bride, Through the Paintings Dimly, and more. She writes primarily speculative fiction with a focus on multicultural high fantasy and suspenseful adventures with intriguing romances. And on top of that, she lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they enjoy creating fun memories, challenging each other, and playing with their three cats.
Naatos, a shapeshifter, suspects a devious mindreader named Salanca of abducting children. Salanca has hidden her vicious schemes because, though the other Neyeb can read minds, she knows how to shroud her thoughts deeply.
Naatos must act swiftly and covertly to avert the murder of the stolen children even as he has been rejected yet again for receiving a Neyeb bride.
Not all is as it seems, and a wounded but cursed infant changes Naatos’s plans and life forever… ___
This is a prequel novella to The Tue-Rah Chronicles. It is not necessary to have read The Tue-Rah Chronicles, and it does not contain spoilers.
Have you been paying attention to the evolution of the Cinderella story? If you’ve watched the Disney blockbuster Frozen, then you have. Young girls and women are no longer waiting around for a man to come by on his horse, sweep them off their feet, and give them shoes.
Okay… I doubt any of us would turn down the shoes!
My point is that women are now taking the reins of their own stories and rejecting the Cinderella trope of changing themselves into someone new. In many, dare I say most, of these stories, the prince doesn’t pay attention to the Cinderella character in her ordinary world of working 9-5 p.m. with grime under her nails and threadbare clothes. He doesn’t look her way until she gets magicked into expertly applied makeup, a binding, shape-shifting corset, and brand-new shoes.
My first notice of this was in the film Working Girl. This ’80s retelling of the Cinderella story featured a bright secretary who had dreams of entering the board room with a briefcase instead of coffee. When her wicked boss steals her idea, the secretary seizes an opportunity to steal into a high-profile business meeting by pretending that she’s her boss, while also wearing her boss’s dress and shoes. Melanie Griffith, as the secretary, uses Harrison Ford’s charming character to get her into the board room’s door. When the business deal goes south, Griffith doesn’t wait for the knight in a business suit to rescue her. Instead, she shows off her “head for business and bod for sin” in order to win a business deal, thwart her boss, and get her man.
A decade later, Drew Barrymore retold the Cinderella story in Ever After. In a pivotal scene when Barrymore’s character, Danielle, has been taken prisoner by the evil Pierre Le Pieu, the audience holds their breath as the prince leaps onto his horse and heads off to rescue her. But Danielle picks up not one, but two swords, and swashbuckles her way to an escape. As she’s walking out of the castle a free woman, the prince arrives moments too late with her shoe in hand.
Nearly another decade later came another retelling with Penelope. Penelope is an heiress born under a curse that can only be broken in the face of true love. The problem? Penelope’s face doesn’t inspire sonnets and poems as much as it does a hankering for breakfast meats. Penelope’s snout nose has caused her to be rejected her whole life, including rejection from her own mother. When she finally finds a man willing to tolerate her looks and break the curse, she comes to the realization that she likes herself just the way she is. And just like that, the curse is broken and Penelope’s outside matches her glowing inside.
In today’s stories, women don’t wait around for men on horses. They take the reins, defend themselves, and declare love to their own reflections. They’re now even qualified to deliver true love’s kiss to their own sisters as we saw in the blockbuster Frozen.
What are your favorite books with heroines who save themselves? Share in the comments!
About the Author
Lover of fairytales, folklore, and mythology, Ines Johnson spends her days reimagining the stories of old in a modern world. She writes books where damsels cause the distress, princesses wield swords, and moms save the world.
Want a modern-day fairytale retelling? Check out her Cindermama series. Rather see 21st century women kicking ass with a touch of sword and sorcery? Check out her Misadventures of Dame Galahad series. Or want a bit of magic in your love story? Check out her Knights of Caerleon series.
Ines’ recent release is One Knight, the second book in her Knights of Caerleon series:
Sir Lancelot will make you swoon in this steamy, modern-day adventure of valiant knights, sassy witches and the death of chivalry!
Lance has loved Lady Gwin for a hundred years. Though he’s the best knight in Camelot, his low birth ensured that she was beyond his suit, and so she was promised to another. But when Lance and Gwin’s lips accidentally meet, Lance flees Camelot, rushing into battle recklessly to avoid conquering the one quest he’s never completed: having the noble Lady Gwin in his arms.
Lady Gwin has been living a lie for a hundred years. Her arranged marriage linked two powerful families, ensuring her place among her people—but her vows were never consummated, and the union to a treasonous wizard is a sham. Now, she’s ready to tell the world the truth, starting with the man who captured her heart just before her wedding day. But when a stolen kiss sends Lance running unprepared into a dangerous mission, Gwin is determined to save him.
Though forbidden love has drawn them together, the pressures of society and the pursuit of a deadly enemy threaten to tear Lance and Gwin apart. In a place as steeped in ancient tradition and duty as Camelot, following their hearts could spell disaster.
One Knight is the second book in a series of modern-day retellings of the myths and lore of Camelot. If you like fierce knights who would lay down their lives for their brothers and lose their hearts for their women, then you’ll love the Knights of Caerleon.
I can’t say that I write romantic fantasy without addressing the romantic part of the genre. And there’s a lot to be said about romance and fantasy, because I feel there’s a lot of room here… other races, multiple loves, exploring sexuality in the safety of foreign worlds and cultures. I don’t hope to ever come across an orc warrior that I have to blast with a fireball, so if I can safely read about myself as the character incinerating other people to death, then I definitely can dip my toes in relationships and scary romances I wouldn’t naturally explore in the real world. This, in and of itself, is probably the best argument for romance in fantasy.
For the most part, romance in stories gets boiled down to Person
A falling in love with Person B and vice versa. Maybe they hate each other at
first, maybe they barely know each other, and maybe it’s the slowest of slow
burns humanly possible. We tend to all agree, even though we may have
preferences, HOW the characters fall in love doesn’t seem to be so taboo…
But what we can’t seem to agree on is whether sex on the page is
necessary or not.
I don’t mean in that terrible story where the author thought
adding a few racy pages would up people’s interest. Forced chemistry isn’t good
for anyone involved. And I’m definitely not talking about those pieces that
earned the Bad
Sex Award. I’m talking about… totally probable, sex-having characters…
where audiences can’t agree whether or not the deed needs to be shared.
…[I]f I can safely read about myself as the character incinerating other people to death, then I definitely can dip my toes in relationships and scary romances I wouldn’t naturally explore in the real world.
Maybe the reader isn’t comfortable reading consensual sex on the
page. Maybe the reader doesn’t find sex necessary to tell the story, like it’s
a peek into the two people’s private lives or even that of the author’s. And
maybe it’s cultural. Point is, it’s almost a fear or viewed as a plague rather
than a simple preference. People are offended it’s even included, rather than
offended when it’s not.
And for those of us who want a decent sex scene in our stories,
there tends to be a few other problems.
Maybe you don’t know this, but behind the scenes, there are battles being fought daily between “clean” authors and “not-so-clean”(?) authors. Fights for promos, swaps, ad spots, etc. And it typically tends to land… “clean over here” vs. “everyone else over there.” If your books don’t meet a specific requirement about sexual relationships between characters, you might find yourself swimming in circles with no advertising. And good luck if you write romantic YA where teens have sex. (Guess what? Teens have sex y’all.)
Side-story: Veronica Roth (YA author) was approached by several
parents who questioned if her books included sex. When she said no, but they
include murder and fighting and killing, the parents shrugged it off and said
that was fine. Still think we don’t have issues with sex?
Also, authors who put sex on the pages of their stories in
genres OTHER than romance tend to run into another interesting obstacle. If a
book is deemed “clean,” you don’t typically see a lower rating or criticism for
that specific trait in the book even if readers wouldn’t have minded it.
However, if a book is deemed “not clean,” and the reader somehow missed the
disclaimer or missed that it’s in the adult category, you’ll see books rated
down PURELY because it includes sex.
So, what can we do?
First, can we do away with clean vs dirty or even
clean vs not clean?
Can we just say… “no sexual interactions” or yes, “sexual relationships included”? Can that be a thing?
“Clean” reads can never be perfectly defined, just like sexual metaphors with baseball bases can’t be clearly defined across all audiences. “Clean” to me means no penetration. “Clean” to someone else might mean no heavy petting or foreplay. We’re setting up authors to fail and audiences to be disappointed.
And denoting “clean” vs “not clean” is pretty negative in and of itself. The opposite of “clean” is… “dirty,” duh, and it clearly has negative connotations. “Clean” is a very puritanical way of looking at it—pure, orderly, logical… as if to say stories that include sex, and dare I say actual relationships, are not those things and that there’s something wrong with them.
Except there’s not?
It’s okay to have a preference, but reviews that seem distracted
by the sex, at least look to me like the same people griping that vampires
don’t sparkle. What? (oh yeah, I went
“Clean” is a very puritanical way of looking at it—pure, orderly, logical… as if to say stories that include sex, and dare I say actual relationships, are not those things and that there’s something wrong with them.
Second, can we lift stories that have sex in them?
If you read books with sex in them, and LIKE IT, then spread that good stuff around like your tub o’ buttah. I’m definitely not a fan of people feeling like they can’t voice when they like human experiences, so we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed about sharing these stories.
I’m guilty of this, too. I feel inclined to warn people who haven’t read something I like that it includes sex. Not like *nudge nudge wink wink* it has sex. More like an aside so they don’t judge *me*… And that’s weird, right? I need to work on that, and I’m willing to bet some of you do, too.
Truth is we need to share if we like sex in our stories, because it’s okay and totally human to want sex in stories. It’s not putting down stories without sexual interactions, it’s just giving the other team a voice to say… “Hey! Sometimes I need to read about the main character sleeping with every male character to pick the one she truly loves, okay? You do you… I’ll do… me?” 😉
Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! <3
So, out with it! What stories do you remember for their good sex scenes?
About the Author
Ryan grew up
a military brat, managed to teach middle school in Texas for a spell, and
finally settled in the southeastern US with her husband, their daughter, and
two black cats. She loves writing determined heroines who answer the call for
wild adventures across rich lands with grit and smarts. When she’s not
inventing worlds for her characters, she games, draws, paints, and uses too
many exclamation points.
Who doesn’t want to fall in love? That hopeful expectation, the sweet torture of uncertainty, the rush of that first kiss…
I’ve always enjoyed the escape of a good romance. There’s something about the angst, the passion, the happily ever after. It reminds me of when I first met my husband—everything was new and exciting. It feels like every glance, and the briefest touch sends a shiver down your spine.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I’m a hopeless romantic. Though my husband still gives me butterflies and surprises me even after over a decade together, there’s a certain rush to a new romance that’s different. It’s the not knowing what will happen next.
Before I ever met my husband, I was a pretty awkward teen. I loved the idea of falling in love, but I’d only ever experienced one-sided crushes. And as any sensible bookworm would do, I lost myself in stories of love to educate myself.
I’d always been a fantasy fan. I devoured The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe and the Harry Potter books as soon as they came out. Then sometime in my teens, I stumbled upon Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. I’d never found a book that so perfectly encompassed all my interests, magic and kissing. It was my gateway drug, and I was hooked. From there through my early adult years, I found myself exclusively drawn to stories of fantasy and romance.
What Is Fantasy Romance?
Most people are aware of romance as a genre. You might even think of Harlequin novels, a man with his chest bared, his lady with her hair windswept and her face one of pure euphoria. But romance as a genre goes beyond the man chest. It’s a feeling.
Fantasy romance follows the classic romance tropes. It’s about two people falling in love. Most importantly, the couple always has their happy ending (HEA)—no matter what trials they go through, the pair must end up together in the end.
But unlike traditional romance, fantasy romance is set in a world of magic. And sometimes the heroes or heroines are not entirely human, such as in Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson or Bride of the Seaby Emma Hamm.
And as for world building, fantasy romance doesn’t skimp on the complex living worlds. Books like No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur are set in a beautifully depicted world where you feel like you’re living inside the page.
Some People Like It Hot
People give fantasy romance a bad rap (or romance in general). The uninformed assume it’s all about the sex, and it lacks the refinement or complex world building of traditional fantasy. To that I say, what are you, some sort of puritanical tightwad?!
All kidding aside, romance isn’t all about sex. There are varying levels. Some fantasy romances have no sex at all, while others really crank up the heat. It’s about the emotions that go into it. We as fantasy romance readers are looking to escape, not only into an alternate world but into falling in love right with the characters.
What Fantasy Romance Means to Me
Fantasy romance to me is about the feelings and emotions that go into it. Falling in love is one of the best feelings in the world, and fantasy romance as a genre captures that lightning in a bottle and lets you experience it over and over again.
It’s an escape that helps us rekindle that flame in our gut. We get to feel those butterflies in our stomach again and pretend we’re the ones living like a princess inside the dragon king’s castle, and know there’s a happy ending by the final page. That promise and the fantastical, passionate escape define fantasy romance to me.
What was the last fantasy romance you read? And did it give you butterflies? Share in the comments!
About the Author
Nicolette is a native San Diegan with a passion for the world of make-believe. From a young age, Nicolette was telling stories, whether it be writing plays for her friends to act out or a series of children’s books (which her mother still likes drag out to embarrass her with in front of company).
She still lives in her imagination, but in reality she resides in San Diego with her husband, children, a couple cats, and an old dog. She loves reading, attempting arts and crafts, and cooking.
Nicolette’s upcoming release is the third book in her fantasy romance Tales of Akatsuki series, Okami:
This wolf hunts for his freedom…
Okami Shin once gave up everything for love–and received nothing in return but enslavement for all time. Apathetic about life, he patrols his master’s land because he must, or else face swift and brutal punishment. And yet, when he catches a spy, he inexplicably lets her escape. Maybe it’s defiance, or maybe it’s something about her… He’s ready to face punishment, but his master promises something unexpected: capture her, or be locked away for eternity in darkness.
… but he finds a spy instead, as alluring as she is strong.
Akane is a spy, headstrong and determined to gather intelligence about a brutal lord, all to keep the temple and its priestesses safe. When one of his men captures her, the last thing she expects is that he frees her. Unable to get him out of her head, even the new arrival at the temple reminds her of him… Because it is him, in disguise, but why?
Drawn together by fate, they embark on a quest… and perhaps the love of a lifetime…
Sent to save a kidnapped girl, Akane begins to fall for the enemy… and Shin begins to fall for the spy he must return to his master. He brings out the wolf in her, and she brings out the man in him. Shin finds a new reason to live, but fail to bring her back to his master and he’ll never see the light of day again. Can they succeed in their quest and carve out a path to be together, or will a brutal lord sever their tie for all time?
Fans of fairy tale retellings, anime, and manga will love Okami: A Little Red Riding Hood Retelling, an old tale retold from a fresh perspective.
Dive into a rich world of intrigue and adventure, spirits and humans—get your copy of this heartfelt fantasy romance today!
You can get Okami: A Little Red Riding Hood Retellinghere.