In the last 20 years, there have been significant changes in romance novels. With the increase in sub-genres and the advent of ebooks, there is now an array of choices that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Despite this, I’m finding that with growing female empowerment and a seismic shift in gender roles, I am becoming more discriminating in my book purchases. I now search for stories with a more enlightened hero than those portrayed in the early days of the romance boom.
Twenty years ago, novels used to feature the stereotypical heroine: weak, inept and in need of rescuing. The alpha hero was often arrogant and abusive, but could be changed by the right woman. There used to be a sameness of plot that didn’t allow for a more layered hero and heroine.
With women gaining parity in the workplace and at home, romances now portray strong, intelligent and independent heroines that are capable of managing their own lives. The hero may still be flawed, but he is no longer abusive and demeaning. I applaud this change. I think writers are more judicious in portraying the sexual sparks as mutual, which is so unlike the scenes of forced seduction in earlier books.
I also like how authors are now delivering romance novels with more depth and originality. Sherry Thomas is one such author. What makes her historical romances so exceptional is her unique voice — that intangible element that makes a story distinctive and touches the reader’s heart. She highlights the internal conflict of her characters that earlier romances tended to ignore.
In her recent novel, His At Night, Ms. Thomas writes about a jaded spy who is emotionally spent. Her words are mesmerizing as she manages to evoke the full panoply of emotions. I can feel the hero’s utter despair and his tenuous hold on hope as his phantom lover brings him a measure of relief:
Fantasies were like prisoners, less likely to stage a revolt if allowed judicious amounts of supervised exercise. So he thought of her often: when he could not sleep, when he was too tired to think of anything else, when he dreaded going home after weeks upon weeks wishing for quiet and solitude. All she had to do was lay a hand on his arm, her touch warm with understanding and care, and he would be all right, his cynicism soothed, his loneliness subdued, his nightmares forgotten.
Finally, I also like how some of today’s romance authors explore the male-female dynamic through the prism of humor. Julia Quinn, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Julie James each use wit in different ways and to great effect.
I find that Julie James’s heroines in particular are what I expect in a contemporary romance: strong and intelligent women with challenging careers. While the heroine often employs sarcasm or humor to mask her vulnerability, it also highlights the continual struggle between a relationship and career. Humor and repartee serve to put a modern twist on the dating ritual.
What about you? Are there any changes that you like in today’s romances compared to 20 years ago? Are there any books or authors that showcase the differences?
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