Tag Archives: sherry thomas

the unaffected heroine

I’ve just started reading Unveiled by Courtney Milan, which is exciting because there’s a lot of buzz about her writing and so far I’m right there in the story. This is a huge thing for me, in these days of reading ennui.

One tendency that’s making me slightly uneasy: her heroine refuses to be affected by the hero’s almost supernatural charm.

This is pretty standard romance fare, really. A tough heroine who refuses to be diverted from her mission by a hero she has every reason to hate. But for me, it lacks complexity. One of the things that make writers like Meredith Duran and Sherry Thomas stand out, is the many-faceted – and unexpected – and human reactions of their characters.

I appreciate a heroine who is strong enough to know “I do not have time for this attraction”, but I think humans are easier than they like when it comes to charm and flattery. I think charm is very, very difficult to resist. And I like a heroine who is affected by the people around her, and who craves warmth, and who allows herself to feel complicated things, even when it makes everything else more difficult.

third-wave romance

according to the people who like to talk, coffee culture is up to its third wave. So in a completely unrelated aside, I decided that I have a theory about romance writing, and where it’s up to.

(I’m obliged to say that “third-wave” is considered a highly pretentious, silly term by actual coffee people. But it works for my theory, so it stays.)

There is old-school, bodice-rippers-of-the-70s romance. This is what lingers, and gives people the impression they have of the genre. This is what we snuck into the library and read as teenagers, with its “quivering mound of venus”s and “purple-headed warrior”s.

As skilful and beloved as Stephanie Laurens is, I think she’s an example of first-wave romance. Her heroes are alphas, her heroines are plucky, and whilst the heroine never finds herself suddenly turned on in the middle of being raped, she does quite often “leave the mortal plane” for hours on end after sex, before coming back to herself.

To me, that says old-school.

The second wave are the intelligent, funny, sexy and wise writers like Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Lisa Kleypas – even Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Their books are complex and peopled with flawed, human characters. Sex isn’t always perfect. The writing is that epitome of genre writing: entirely transparent, like a window that draws you into a scene, without making you aware at any time that there’s glass between you and what you’re watching.

Then there’s third-wave.

I admit to only having read a tiny corner of what’s out there, but for what I’ve read, there are three writers bringing in the new generation of romance: Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Julie Anne Long.

Third-wave romance has characters that don’t only have three dimensions and believable motivations, and aren’t just sympathetic and flawed. They feel human. To the point where sometimes you feel like you’re intruding on a private moment between them and their beloved.

These writers are also pushing the kind of language that romance novels are written in. They’re using unique, fresh images and startling turns of phrase. Their characters are so well-drawn that we are only ever seeing the tip of the iceberg, in the best writerly fashion. Language is becoming a facet of the novel, in and of itself.

I wouldn’t say third-wave is best. In a way, second-wave makes for a more enjoyable read, because of its transparency – it doesn’t unsettle you, or leave you wondering.

I aspire to be the best writer I can be, but I maybe secretly aspire to the third wave as well.