Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Development of the Paranormal Romance Genre (With an Emphasis on the Vampire Romance)

I have already covered the fascination of vampire love in a previous 'literary musing' ("The Dark Hero: The Fascination of the Metaphor"); here I will deal specifically with the evolution of the paranormal romance genre, which deals with such supernatural characters as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other denizens of the paranormal world.  As readers of this blog know, I detest zombies.  Therefore, I won't discuss them at all, although they are (unfortunately) a part of this whole scene.

I will emphasize the vampire romance novel, though, because I happen to prefer this type of paranormal romance.

Vampire legends are a worldwide phenomenon, having developed in nearly every existing culture.  The literary vampire, however, first appeared in 18th-century poetry, and was the subject of a short story based on the life and legend of Lord Byron, titled "The Vampyre", by John William Polidori, published in 1819.  Several well-known vampire-related works appeared, not only in the 18th century, but in later centuries, as well.  A prime example is Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), which is the novel most people think of when vampires are mentioned.  It's been only in recent years that vampires have become a staple of the paranormal romance genre.  Many female readers -- including this one -- love to read stories and novels about the love between a vampire and a human.  The vampire is usually male, which is, of course, the point of the whole thing.  Many of us women seem to be attracted to mysterious, brooding, troubled men.   I believe this comes from a deep archetypal wish to find some good in such men, despite outward appearances.  This is the "Beauty and the Beast" syndrome. 

Romance novels in which vampires -- whether male or female -- are leading characters, do have an element of horror.  However, the romance always predominates, so I wouldn't classify such novels as being primarily in the horror genre.  To me, that genre's main theme is the production of fear, and how it affects the characters, thereby also affecting the readers.  In contrast, the vampire romance portrays vampires as tragic heroes, either struggling against their own dark nature, or against so-called "rogue" vampires who have totally given themselves to that nature, preying on humans for blood.

Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles is the first series that might come to mind, in the development of the vampire romance.  These books, however, involve a very explicit exploration of the sexual undertones of the vampire ethos.  Paranormal romance is inspired by Rice, but with more conventional sexual roles.  In fact, one author in the genre, Amanda Ashley, does not write highly explicit sex scenes, choosing to portray the amorous activities of her vampire/human couples in a more subtle manner.  Two of my favorite Ashley novels are Midnight Embrace (2002) and A Darker Dream (1997).

Paranormal romance is a type of speculative fiction, even incorporating elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  Indeed, it has its roots in Gothic fiction, which includes such features as terror, mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses, death, secrets, Gothic architecture, and hereditary curses.  Characters in the genre include vampires, werewolves, revenants, monsters, ghosts, angels, fallen angels, demons, and other fantastical creatures.   Influences from the 19th-century Romantic movement were also a part of Gothic fiction, with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Christabel", as well as Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" ("The Beautiful Lady Without Pity"). 

As paranormal romance developed, it also incorporated shapeshifters, witches, time travel, and the use of psychic abilities, as well as extraterrestrial romantic relationships.  Alternate worlds also feature prominently.  In some novels of this genre, the contemporary world is juxtaposed with the supernatural one, with the human characters at times being aware of this, and at times not.  When humans are unaware of the existence of the supernatural world, the plot often involves a human female stumbling upon it through her relationship with a member of this world, such as a vampire or werewolf.  In other novels, the supernatural world is an integral part of the 'normal', human world, existing side by side with it.  There is an overlap, in many of these novels, with the urban fantasy genre, which creates a nice combination of fantasy and romance elements.  Examples of this mixture are novels like The Twilight Saga series, by acclaimed author Stephenie Meyer, the House of Night series, by P.C. Cast and her daughter, Kristin Cast, the Fallen series, by Lauren Kate, Claudia Gray's Evernight series, L.J. Smith's Nightworld series, and Carrie Jones's Need, which are all in the young adult fiction category, as well.  I am currently enjoying Wolfsbane, which is the second novel in Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, an exciting set of books about young werewolves, known as "Guardians", who must battle witches who deal in dark magic, known as "Keepers". 

Other well-known paranormal romance novels in the young adult genre that also belong to the urban fantasy genre are The Vampire Academy series, by Richelle Mead, and The Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith.  Gena Showalter, although primarily a writer of adult fiction, has also written the young adult series, Intertwined

The genre also encompasses adult fiction, although it might seem that YA books predominate at the present time.  The first futuristic romance was Sweet Starfire, by Jayne Ann Krentz, published in 1986.  Heart of the Wolf, by Terry Spear, was published in 2008. 

Christine Feehan, widely considered as the queen of the paranormal romance genre, published Dark Prince, the first in her Carpathian series, in 1999.  This series features good versus bad bloodsuckers.  The good ones are simply called "Carpathians", while the bad ones are termed "vampires", the difference being that the first only take as little blood as necessary from humans, in order to survive, while the second actually enjoy draining humans, thus killing them.  

Maggie Shayne is another well-known paranormal romance writer.  She published Twilight Phantasies, which was part of the Silhouette Shadows series of paranormal books, in 1993.  She has continued writing vampire romances since then. 

Other pioneering PNR writers include Rebecca Paisley, with Moonlight and Magic (1990), and Teresa Medeiros, with Breath of Magic (1996).

I will soon be starting the Night Huntress series, by Jeaniene Frost, which features a female half-vampire, Cat, who teams up with Bones, a full-fledged vampire, against the bad vamps in their world. 

This genre has its own annual award, known as the P.E.A.R.L. (Paranormal Excellence Award for Romantic Literature).  It's a readers' choice award, and is given to the "best of year" writers, in ten different categories.  Authors who have won this award include Christine Feehan, Nora Roberts, Linnea Sinclair, Kresley Cole, and Jayne Ann Krentz.  You can check out the winners, from 1999 to 2009, at  

Sources for this article:


  1. Is your literary musings a regular feature? Ir really like the amount of research you put into posts like these, and how well you present it!

    I myself am not a paranormal romance fan. Once upon a time the tv series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had me quite hooked. But once the romance began with too many complications I lost interest. Besides that Meyer's Twilight Series is the only one of this genre I've ever read and I must say I think vampires are evil creatures and ought to be treated as such. These paranormal romances really do creep me out. But then again, your comment on women like dark, brooding men can be the only reason this genre is so very attractive!:D

    Having said all that, yeah...this article of yours was quite informative. For instance, I had no idea that Vampyre was based on Lord Byron. I really must read that short story some time... plus, I never did think of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner as being gothic. Keats' La Belle Dame etc I understand. It's gothic from start to finish in every single way!

    Also, I had no idea that Anne Rice was a pioneer in this particular genre. I haven't read any of her books, but I've watched An Interview with a Vampire and that movie actually ranks as a favourite of's an exception. :D

    Again, great post! :)

  2. Hi, Risa!!

    WOW. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for such WONDERFUL comments!! I greatly appreciate the fact that you took the time to write a very thoughtful and supportive responsse to my article, too!! You know, when I write and publish this type of post, I sometimes ask myself why I do it, since not that many people seem to be interested in reading rather lengthy articles containing many links to other articles with further information. But now I know that, if one, just ONE, person appreciates these posts, I will continue to publish them. It will be worth all the time and effort I put into them! This is the type of post that is truly a labor of love for me (which a review post is, as well)!!

    I have inserted a link to a previous post on the subject of the vampire as metaphor, which will shed more light on why, as I see it, these vampire romances are so popular, and seem to hit a chord in so many female readers, including myself, as I have already stated. Thus, I will have to disagree with you; not all vampires are created equal, believe me! And the whole thing with mysterious, brooding men goes all the way back to the fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast", although the beast was literally ugly physically. Still, the theme prevails, and is, of course, present in my favorite classic, "Jane Eyre", for instance.

    I discovered the connection between Lord Byron and vampires in a Wikipedia article -- the one titled "Vampire Literature". Another Wikipedia article, titled "Gothid Fiction", provided the information on Coleridge and Keats's poems.

    And yes, it was Ann Rice who got this whole vampire thing going, although, according to Wikipedia, her novels are very big on the sensualilty of vampires. I have yet to read any of them, however. I do have "Interview With The Vampire" somewhere in this library...err, apartment...I live in, so I have to find it and read it! Lol. I haven't seen the movie, either, but have heard that it's excellent!

    As for this being a 'literary musing'...well, it's really a combination of literary musing, and literary history. I think I will indeed make them a regular feature. After all, I always enjoy getting your wonderful comments whenever I post one of these!

    Thank you once again for your compliments on this article!!! It's readers like you who make blogging a highly rewarding experience!!! : )


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