I suppose this could also be titled “Why I Find Romance Novels Unnecessary in My Life.” But that didn’t sound quite as nice, or as accurate since, once in awhile, I will crack open a romance book. And then read it literally as quickly as I can to make sure I make it to the end of the book. I abhor formulaic stories, and romance novels tend to be the epitome of formulaic stories. There are, of course, some that are told so well I don’t see the formula, but most have the generic 2 people meet, they fall in love, optional: they do stuff between the sheets, one of them upsets the other, they break up, they somehow get back together (but, if it were me, I’d just move on). I suppose I’m so used to overly long and complex fantasies that the predictability of most romance novels just bores me.
When it comes to romance in fantasy novels, I can certainly see some predictability and hints of the formula since so many couples end up being separated for long periods of time. But it’s easier for me to stomach because there’s just so many other fun things happening. Their separations are also more heart-wrenching for me because they just never know what’s going to happen to them, whether they’ll survive. Besides, the first romances I read were in the pages of fantasy books. Traditional romance novels never had a chance with me from the start.
Would you like to take a walk down memory lane with me? This year, my bookish wish is to find a book that cements a new beloved bookish memory in my mind, so I thought it would also be fun to explore some older bookish memories. With February being home to Valentine’s Day, my favorite day of the year, I think this is the perfect time to explore those early romances that made reading traditional romance novels a huge bore to me.
Stop 1: The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce
I hate that the first romance I read was also a love triangle, but I can’t ignore the fact that Alanna, Jonathan, and George were the first romantic relationships I ever read. I was somewhere between 10 and 12 and didn’t think much of it at the time. Even when I was a little older I wasn’t particularly thrilled with it, but I appreciated it more when I discovered the original version was for adults and Alanna and Jonathan ended up being paired together, which really made me miserable to think about.
Stop 2: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
When I was in middle school, my parents let me subscribe to a magazine. Unlike plenty of the girls I went to school with, I had no interest in the teen magazines about beauty, fashion, and relationship advice. No, I subscribed to a literary magazine called Cricket. I read it for years and still have many of the issues. Within the pages of one of them, I was introduced to Patricia C. Wrede’s books via a reader’s letter. Back then, I couldn’t just hop on the Internet and browse sites like Amazon because most people I knew didn’t even know Amazon existed! I jumped on the books the next time I was the bookstore and fell in love with Cimorene. I wasn’t too fond of her romantic relationship later in the series because I read it for the princess who ran away to a dragon, but I did find it to be very sweet.
Stop 3: The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce
Yes, I’m back to Tamora Pierce’s books. Again, this was during my middle school years, and would prove to be the last YA series I ever read. I loved Daine and Numair’s relationship when I was 13. There’s a scene in the last book that felt particularly powerful to me, but, when I was a few years older, I finally realized Numair was many, many years older than Daine and, even though there are a lot of age differences in my family, I just had a hard time stomaching this one.
Stop 4: Arrows Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey
If I remember correctly (I might not because it was a really long time ago), this was the first adult series I ever read (though I now see it referred to as YA here and there). I was in 8th grade and picked up the first book on a whim because, after reading through what my local bookstore had of Pierce and Wrede, I had pretty much exhausted the Teen section (yes, it was kind of sad back then in the late 90s). So I decided to try Arrows of the Queen and loved the trilogy so much I read it several times during my 8th grade year. I even did a Language Arts project using the trilogy (complete with having to make up a soundtrack). I loved Talia and Dirk’s relationship. It was so achingly beautiful to me, and there’s a scene in the last book that just absolutely stole my heart. Okay, two scenes. But the first was so powerful to me and even now feels like the most swoon-worthy romantic scene. Well, I was 13 when I read it. It’s been over 20 years since. I still think it’s perfect and very little will ever beat it, though I also haven’t read it since my teen years.
Stop 5: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
I was a freshman in high school when this series just started calling for me. I only picked up the first book because, well, I had an odd way of finding new books to read when I was in high school and this one just happened to make me exasperated enough to read it. It’s all about Lan and Nynaeve to me. From the very first read through, the mashiara scene stole my heart. After that, I was forever ruined. Gorgeous romance could not happen this beautifully outside of a fantasy novel (unless it involves a certain letter by a certain Jane Austen).
Of course I did try my mind at actual romance novels. My mom was an avid reader of them, so I read one or two, and really couldn’t understand why they were so interesting. Mostly, I wanted to know what it was that kept making my mom giggle, but, when I was deemed old enough to read them, I couldn’t figure it out. It was boring and lacked complexity. It was just two people who liked each other who inevitably did stuff in bed, or out of it.
Here’s a fun story: When I was 14 my mom let me get a romance novel from a grocery store. Why, I’m not quite sure. It was a thick book, so I thought it might be interesting. I was so bored I had to force myself to finish it because I hated the idea of wasting money by not finishing it. There was one scene with a darkened corner of a couch on a porch that baffled the living daylights out of me. Until I was about 16 and the lightbulb finally went off and my only reaction was “ew.”
And there you have it. Romances buried in fantasy novels ruined me. I just can’t stand books that focus on the romance, on the relationship. I need a lot more meat on my stories. That doesn’t mean I won’t pick up a romance novel, but I’m extremely picky, and food helps a lot. Sometimes I also just need a really quick, uncomplicated read that a romance novel can usually fulfill. Except some romance novels of today have become overly dramatic and long winded so the reading experience kind of drags for me.
Thanks, but I’ll stick to romance in fantasy novels. And happy Valentine’s Day to all my favorite couples in books.