Every night this week, I’m writing about some of the reasons I love reading and writing vampire novels. If you haven’t already read my intro, check it out here, so we’re clear what sort of vampire books I’m talking about – Introduction
Tonight it’s reason three, romance with meaningful tension, which gets a post all of its own.
Part Three: Romance with meaningful tension
Although I believe that there can be good books in any genre if the writer’s talented enough, as a general rule, straightforward romance novels are one of my least favourite reads. It’s not that I’m cynical about love – having recently got engaged I’d say quite the opposite – but there really are only so many ways two characters in the modern, western world can fall in love. There’s very little reason for dramatic tension. Once upon a time, families had a huge say in who their children married. Sex or often any kind of serious relationship outside of marriage was frowned upon. Relationships between people of different classes, races or religions were more or less forbidden. And that’s before you go anywhere near the subject of gay or lesbian relationships.
Most great historical romances have some of these tensions at play, whether feuding families in Romeo and Juliet; class in practically anything from the eighteenth or nineteenth century (Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights all fall into this category, albeit in very different ways), or the perils of becoming a fallen woman in Victorian and early twentieth century literature. Incidentally, the latter has led me to the conclusion that if you’re a serving girl or local peasant and you have sex with the local aristocrat’s son even once, you’re 100% guaranteed to become pregnant.
Nowadays, there’s very little to stop most people in the UK from having anything from a one night stand to a marriage (or civil partnership) with anyone for whom they have requited feelings of some kind.
Historical novels (both in the sense of “written before 1960” and “written recently but set before 1960”) have this sort of tension going on in spades, as do some contemporary novels set in countries that aren’t so liberal (A Thousand Splendid Suns, for example, which is set in Afghanistan under the Taliban, has a beautiful, if utterly heartbreaking, forbidden romance at its core).
Generally though, contemporary romance set in the west has to completely manufacture this sort of tension with silly misunderstandings, an old lover who’s standing in the way, or some sort of minor rivalry, and on the whole, I’m not buying any of that.
Add vampires in though (and let me reiterate once more, I’m talking proper vampires, who need human blood, can’t come out during the day etc etc) and suddenly there’s tons of tension. Can a centuries old creature who’s become accustomed to seeing humans as food really love you? Will your charming vampire lover lose control and kill you in a fit of passion, of rage or simply not knowing their own strength? If not, might one of their friends or enemies? Are they willing to turn you and would you want that?
Just like with a lover of a different class or race in the past, you might have to keep it secret. Your friends and family probably won’t approve and most likely neither will their’s. There’ll be all kinds of cultural difficulties and differences in lifestyle and moral standards to be overcome. There can be dangers from the relationship (for pregnancy and disease, replace being turned and being drained) and from outside it.
I think this is also behind the sudden surge in popularity of 50 Shades of Gray, Crossfire and all those other “oh no, the hot billionaire I met is into kinky sex” books. In theory, the BDSM creates the tension and the forbidden element, because supposedly a nice girl wouldn’t be into that, and her family and friends will have to either be shocked and disapproving and lied to, and there are potential dangers. Except in this case I just don’t buy into it. It seems so artificial, and so easy to get round via a combination of experimentation and compromise.
There’s a reason that seemingly every other blurb on a vampire book uses the words “forbidden love.” It’s because it’s at the heart of every vampire romance story and no longer at the heart of much other romance.