It is Valentine’s Day, and while I don’t subscribe to the flowers, candy, jewelry, or even coupled-part of this so-called “holiday”, I am certainly all about the swoon! So for today’s topic, let’s discuss what makes a great swoonworthy romance in fiction, and list some of our favourite examples.
Obviously individual’s mileages will vary when it comes to what he or she finds romantic, but for me, I tend to like subtlety in romances. By “subtle”, what I mean is when a romance in a book sneaks up on you, shanghais you onto its ship, and sails away, all before you’ve realized what’s happened.
Often this is achieved by making romance the B story in a novel, but there are definitely some novels where the romance is the A story that I still find “subtle”. One of my favourite swoony books is Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in twelfth century Ireland. Yes, the romance certainly drives the story, but it is a slow build. A slow, agonizing, but ultimately rewarding build. Both the heroine and the hero are broken, but in each other’s presence, they begin to discover the wholeness of themselves. As they help each other become whole, they fall in love, but it is such an understated, intense simmer of a romance that by the time they do declare their feelings for each other, it feels like someone left a coal burning in my stomach.
I like books that sometimes trick or deceive me into rooting for a couple. On a personal level, I’m not much for lingering descriptions of a character’s physical attractiveness because often times “Character is Hot” can be shorthand for developing an actual relationship that feels authentic. And many of us discover attractiveness in our partners after we’ve fallen in love with them. The hero of Heart’s Blood suffered a stroke as a teenager, disfiguring his face and one side of his body. Yet he is beautiful to the heroine, not just emotionally, but physically as well.
I also like it when there aren’t many lingering descriptions of actual romantic feelings. Yes, yes, I realize that sounds a little counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Another thing Juliet Mariller does so well is showing how characters feel for each other, and why. In another book by Juliet Marillier, Daughter of the Forest, the heroine is under an enchantment that does not allow her to speak. Yet the hero understands her and cares for her, and the connection between them is not in words or feelings, but the things they do. (Let it be said that I think Juliet Marillier knows how to write the swoon.)
There are, of course, tropes that I am a sucker for, and tropes that I could do without. I am personally not into what some call The Mysterious Loner Dude, but if there’s a trickster or a rogue? SIGN ME UP. I’m also fond of the Emotionally Clueless/Emotionally With It pairing, especially when a lady is the Emotionally Clueless one. (Um, there may be some autobiographical elements at play here.)
So what are your favourite swoonworthy reads? What do you think makes a great romance? Leave us a comment below!