Paranormal romance may not be the most popular sub-genre right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s out of readers minds. New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Nalini Singh dissects what makes paranormal romance so great, and why readers miss these stories.
Editor’s note: The following feature was written by Nalini Singh
Were you raised by wolves?
Well… yes, might reply a paranormal romance hero. For this is part of the attraction of paranormal romance (or pnr)—the ability to break boundaries and alter rules of behavior. What might be totally unacceptable in our world may very well be not only acceptable but expected in a world where an alpha wolf rules the pack, or where a vampire queen decides who lives and who dies.
And when it comes to alpha heroes, pnr abounds with them. So if that’s your jam, I have a wolf who’d like to meet you. Or if you prefer, I can hook you up with an archangel. But a word of warning—these heroes live in worlds where a battle to the death means exactly that. They’re not warm and fluffy and neither are their heroines.
Alpha heroes need strong heroines. Strength doesn’t always mean being a kick-ass fighter, but for me, one thing is non-negotiable: the heroines must be able to go toe-to-toe with their heroes no matter how primal or powerful that hero might be.
Then there’s the heat. Paranormal romances often involve high stakes and the love that burns bright between the characters tends to be as passionate, as ferocious, and as all-encompassing. It makes the heart thunder and the lips sigh, for we know these lovers will be together forever. (Truly forever in the case of immortals!)
This isn’t to say that anything goes. The best worlds are constructed with care, the logic of behavior flawless. A brutal alpha might inspire fear among his packmates, but he will never inspire love. In contrast, a violently powerful alpha who knows how to nurture every member of his pack, and who bleeds for his own will be beloved, with his packmates willing to lay down their lives for him (or her).
And having once constructed such a world, the author must paint it with care so that it becomes real to the reader.
But, what is the initial attraction of such romances? Why do we gravitate toward stories about vampires, angels, shapeshifters, Greek gods, sorcerers, and—in my case—telepathic assassins? Why do we miss such stories when they fall out of the limelight? Part of it, I’ve mentioned above. It’s about not knowing exactly how a character might behave in any given situation; the unexpectedness of it gives even the most well-known romantic trope a wild freshness.
A heroine of mine once slit a vampire’s throat in the middle of Manhattan. In her defense, said vampire was attempting to seduce her using vampire powers. The twist? The vampire liked it. Go figure.
But not every paranormal world is dark and bloody. Some have a warm heart and focus on family—and us romance readers love family, whether found, created, or born. My Psy-Changeling series features families of every kind and families in all their variations are a core part of the subgenre.
Because the worlds built are often so large, it’s rare to find a standalone paranormal romance—we want to truly explore the world, which also means spending lots of time with characters we come to know and love. Secondary characters appear and weave through the series, until by the time we get to their story, they’ve become cherished friends. Villains are three-dimensional individuals introduced over the course of an entire series. Children grow. Youths come to adulthood. The world becomes a living, breathing organism that has a place in our heart.
Last but not least, we sometimes simply need to step into a world that isn’t our own. Often, it’s for pure fun—exploring a “what if” question. What if angels existed in our world? What if you had the capability to cause an earthquake? What if you could shed your skin and reappear as a wild animal? What if you had telepathic abilities and they drove you mad?
Sometimes, however, the escape into a world that isn’t our own isn’t about fun but about need. The real world can be a harsh place, full of demands and horrors and stresses. To step into a different world for even a few hours can be a cherished break.
Reading tastes change over the years and subgenres rise and fall in popularity, but paranormal romance has always existed in some form, and I believe it will always continue to exist. We have a need to explore the unknowable, the mysterious, and the wild. What better way to do that than through the pages of a book that promises to take you on a dangerous and passionate adventure while leaving you with a happy ending on the other side?