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Imaginary Chats: A Little Romance Never Hurt, Did It?

Friday, February 1, 2013
Earlier this week, I was talking with some classmates about romance in literature. Our Speculative Fiction professor had asked us to start thinking about a speculative genre that we wanted to defend in class. One of my classmates said that he was going to defend urban fantasy, which started a discussion about the differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. My classmate said that he'd done some research on the two and that the best definition he could find was that if a book can survive without the romance, then it's urban fantasy. If romance is essential to the plot, then it's a paranormal romance. Truth be told, I still have trouble differentiating the two even with this simple definition. Which makes me feel bad because I happen to like both genres but don't often know which is which unless I'm told.

What really struck me during the conversation, however, was when my classmate brought up the point that romance is essential to plots in classics like Little Women as well. Thinking back on it, Little Women is about the coming of age of the March sisters and how they find their places in the world of adult women. Without their woes about the men they love and the men who love them, the book wouldn't be half as interesting. Where would the plot even go?

There are many books out there with perfectly good plots that I feel have overdone the romance. Mostly, these are books where there is an external enemy, and the romance causes the characters to get sidetracked--or the book puts too much focus on romance when other things need to get done. For example, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is a book about an assassin suddenly being pushed into a competition determining the king's champion. I expected a book filled with intrigue and great stakes but found instead a book where I didn't know how the assassin became as notorious as she is and where I knew more about what she thought about the guys than the suspicious going ons inside the castle. There is also Silence in the Shadows by Courtney Allison Moulton. I really wanted to love this book, but the final book should give a momentous ending to the struggle that has been developed over the course of the series. Instead, I found myself thinking more about what was going to happen to Ellie and Will's relationship than about what they needed to be doing to resolve the conflict.

Then there are books where romance is essential to the plot, takes up a good portion of the book, and yet it seems like the most natural thing in the world. Sarah Dessen's books are a great example of contemporary romance books. Like Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Sarah Dessen's books are coming of age books for young women, and the boys they meet are significant to their coming to terms with themselves and discovering who they want to be.

Like any other ingredient, romance can be important to a plot, and it certainly means that books out there aren't lacking in hot guys. Nevertheless, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, as the saying goes. Like every other plot device/element, romance is good in moderation. When romance overtakes a plot point, it can be deterring to a reader, but it doesn't mean that I'll stop reading books for fear of seeing a good thing go wrong.

What are some good books with romance that you've read recently or in the past and love?

Also, the blog where I'll be defending the fantasy genre for my Speculative Fiction class can be found here. I'd appreciate follows and feedback on my posts. If you have any suggestions for books and authors I should talk about on the blog, feel free to let me know in the comments section below!
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