Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Romance, Fantasy, and Related Topics

I managed to accomplish a couple of things yesterday, but not as much as I wanted to. Then again, reading for market research does count as work, and I was meanwhile playing iTunes roulette to see if any songs sparked ideas for the next book. There were also occasional knitting breaks, though I think the blanket keeps shrinking as I get closer to what should be the end. I've passed the point where the pattern said to end it, but the pattern is for a throw and I want to use it for a blanket that covers my whole body, so since I have the yarn, I'm continuing until it's the right length. So, every time I reach the point in the pattern where I have to decide whether to go on or finish, I take it to the bedroom, lie down and throw it over myself to see how it fits. Every time, I calculate that one more repetition of the pattern should do it, and then the next time I check, it still needs one more. Today, though, I must get down to business. Really. I even feel mildly energized.

But in the past week or so there has been reading. First was something that I got from the library before I went on my current mainstream vs. fantasy market research binge, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. This one caught my eye on a library display because there was a castle on the cover (I love castles), and then there was a blurb on the cover saying something about how fans of I Capture the Castle would love it. So, I grabbed it. But in my skimming of the cover, I somehow got the impression that it had fantasy elements and was practically drooling in anticipation of something like I Capture the Castle with magic, but when I got around to reading it, I wasn't sure where I got that impression (possibly from a review blurb that used a word like "enchanting") (and you probably know what comes next -- ooh, I'll have to write it, then). Then I found the opening very disconcerting because I was picturing a 1930s setting but everyone was talking like they were in a Jane Austen novel. Finally, someone mentioned a current event and I realized this was set in the Regency period, not in the 1930s, so I had to reboot the brain. I noticed that the paperback cover on Amazon shows a girl in a Regency dress instead of a castle, but even there I'm not sure it would have put me in the right mindset because the skirt is all spread-out, making it look full, and the hairstyle is more 1930s than Regency. I would also say that I Capture the Castle isn't the best comparison. While I enjoyed both books, the only thing they really have in common is living in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle. This book doesn't strike the same fancy for me as I Capture the Castle, where the appeal was the coming-of-age story with the pain of unrequited love and the realization that there was a whole circle of unrequited love, with nobody loving the person who was convenient for them.

However, this turned out to be a very fun Regency romance that was essentially a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, with a dash of Cinderella. Our Heroine lives in a crumbling castle with her twice-widowed mother, her baby brother (who is technically the owner of the castle) and her two nasty stepsisters from her mother's second marriage. The only way to save the family home for her brother and future generations is for her to marry someone with enough money to do repairs and upkeep. Fortunately, the old baron has just died and his heir is a handsome young man who brings all his handsome, rich friends to town for lots of parties, balls and hunting trips. Unfortunately, the nasty (and wealthy but not sharing) stepsisters are after the same men and the baron's cousin and closest friend has no manners, is rather geeky, with a compelling urge to see how things work and an alarming tendency to break them when he does so, and he doesn't seem all that keen on his cousin having much to do with Our Heroine. Pride and Prejudice ensues, but she tries to resolve the situation by playing Emma. This was published and shelved as YA, but it's essentially a traditional Regency romance, so it's something to look for if you're a fan of the Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer kind of book and miss the Regency romances like that before it turned into the fat, sexy historical romances in Regency clothes.

Meanwhile, I'm still working my way through A Discovery of Witches, and at the 2/3-3/4 point I have to say that if I were a publisher, I would classify it as upmarket paranormal romance, and to reach the broadest potential audience, I'd shelve it as general fiction. I think it's more romance than fantasy because, so far, the main plot seems to be the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, with the fantasy elements mostly serving as a catalyst for them to meet and get to know each other, and then as a complication and conflict to keep them from living Happily Ever After right now. The fantasy part of the story is mostly treated as a subplot and as something they'll have to resolve in order to get their Happily Ever After. But I think it tends to be more of a romance for people who don't really like romance novels, with the emphasis more on the intellectual and emotional aspects of the relationship than on the sexual side of things (at this point in the book, there's been one "heavy petting" scene, and a lot of the core paranormal romance audience would be disappointed in that). Plus, all the talk about history, science and wine gives it a sophisticated sheen that makes the fantasy and romance more acceptable to the "I don't read that sort of thing" snobs. The fantasy and romance fans who might like this sort of thing are more likely to find it regardless of where it's shelved.

But I may not really be able to take the book seriously enough to get too deeply into it because at about the midway point, I had an epiphany: This is a highbrow Twilight for grown-up history nerds. We've got our heroine who doesn't think she's anything special but who turns out to be the specialist special ever. We've got our sexy and wealthy vampire hero who recognizes her specialness, falls in love with her at first sight, is intoxicated by her unique scent, and is so overcome with desire for her that he has to go hunting and stalk an animal in order to bear to be around her. He stalks her (for her own safety) and loves watching her eat and sleep. He's part of a family clan that he introduces her to, and they become protective of her. There's a lot of "I'm too dangerous for you" "I'm not afraid" "I am a predator, and to me you are prey" "but I trust you" type conversations, and he delays sex even though she's eager for it. When she falls for him, her life revolves around him, to the point that when he leaves town for a few days, she melts into puddles of grief (like, literally). Once I started seeing it, I couldn't not see the parallels, and now I find myself reading more for spotting the Twilight comparisons than I am for the actual story.

On the upside, so far there's no lame triangle (though with at least two more books in the series, I guess she has time to meet someone else), the vampire doesn't sparkle, he's done more with his unnaturally long life than stay in high school for a century, and the heroine has powers of her own. I even kind of like the vampire character. Aside from him being a vampire and a bit of an "alpha male" type jerk, he at least is a craftsman/knight/soldier/physician/scholar/scientist, which is an intriguing combination. Now I'm curious if this is perhaps a more sophisticated "Ha, I can write better than that" Twilight rewrite/fanfic with the serial numbers filed off or if it's just that if you're writing a romance involving a vampire, you're going to hit certain universal beats.

At any rate, wherever this was shelved, it makes me feel better about my book because it has more fantasy and less romance, so it could fit well in fantasy if this is considered fantasy, but there's still enough fantasy in this that if it's shelved as mainstream, my book wouldn't be out of place there. And now I need to finish my final read and get it to my agent so she can submit it.

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