My Paranormal Malaise
I can count on one hand the number of paranormals that I’ve finished since last December. It’s a tiny number. At first, I thought it was because all that was available were vampires, werewolves and witches. I thought that I was tiring of paranormals. The more that I thought about it, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not tired of paranormals. Instead, in the rush to read something new, I was satisfied to be introduced into a new world, with new themes, myths, tropes, etc. In the height of the paranormal, the newness of the concept could hide a myriad of flaws but now that the myths, worlds, magic has achieved a certain sameness, I’m beginning to feel some malaise with the sub genre.
Now that the myths, worlds, magic seem so similar from book to book, the worldbuilding can no longer merely carry a story for me. I’ve come to two conclusions looking back over the past paranormals that I’ve read: I’m either reading authors who can deliver an emotional punch or authors who are bringing new myths into my reading world. Anyone not fulfilling those criteria and I’m not making it past the first two or three chapters.
So what do I mean by emotional punch? Alot of readers tell me that they aren’t reading JR Ward for her world building because it is inconsistent and doesn’t make sense anymore. Instead, they are reading it for the relationships and the ongoing character arcs. This is why I enjoy the Lara Adrian, The Midnight Breed series, and to some extent the emerging Carolyn Jewel’s Fiend series despite their similarities to the Ward series. The emotional connections of the characters are riveting. I find this particularly true in the case of Carolyn Jewel’s paranormals since half the time, I have no idea what is going on in her world and with the magic that defines the boundaries of the characters’ paranormality.
As for new concepts, I’m looking for paranormals or speculative fiction that feature new concepts. One of the new to me concepts is the science fiction opera although I haven’t quite found an author who writes like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series in romance. Another new to me concept is the high fantasy that is found in C.L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul series. But even beyond that, there are existing paranormal tropes that seem to go unexplored. For example, where are the Egyptian based mythologies in romance? Why can’t we explore more East Asian myths? Why, even in the paranormal realm, are we relentlessly stuck in European mythology? Ilona Andrews’ upcoming book, Magic Strikes, features some Russian mythology. Kresley Cole’s books are loosely based on Norse mythology.
But the majority of paranormal romances seem stuck with the same retelling of vampires, werewolves, and witches with demons and angels making a strong appearance. It seems odd to me that some of the most innovative writing in the paranormal/speculative fiction is coming from Young Adult writers. Post apocalyptic tales from Suzanne Collins in Hunger Games and the impending The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan are riveting and imaginative. (Both titles are so visually arresting as well).
Early on, a creative myth could carry a weak character arc or a weak romance (which is sometimes what you get with romantic suspense). It takes a rare special writer to get me interested in vampires these days. The concepts seemed dated; not retro or vintage, just tired and old and worn. My interest can be peaked by high concepts, new to me concepts in the paranormal romance sub genre, but it seems that there isn’t as much innovative offering as there was in the past. I need to see the romance sub genre stretch here. I hope that in the future I see less werewolves, vampires, witches, demons and angels; and more post apocalyptic literate, more unique mythologies; more diversity in the characters.
I’m always looking for emotional vibrancy, but part of the vibrancy can be enhanced or diluted by the world inside the book. To some extent, I could read the same myth over and over if the emotional resonance is there, much like I do with historicals. But even with historicals, readers get tired of one historical time period. The Regency era has been done to death and now it’s time to hammer the Victorian era into the dust.
It’s time, I think, to be more innovative in the paranormal / spec fic romance sub genre. I need more variety and from what I hear from other readers, they do as well. I would love to hear from readers about unusual myths in romance books or authors in the romance field who I am overlooking. Are you feeling the paranormal malaise or are you still loving every vampire book that hits the shelves? If the existing slate of paranormal/spec fics don’t interest you, what would?