Hello fellow readers, today’s topic will involve predatory romance tropes so please note this content warning: tropes involving predatory and potentially abusive behavior and relationships, manipulation, allusions to abuse and assault.
There is a place in romance history for predatory tropes. For many women, experiencing sexual attraction to others was and still is considered inappropriate and disallowed. Having love interests that were attractive and appealing, but also predatory and pushy, was a way to allow women to experience sexual attraction without guilt. These tropes often allowed women to place the power in the hands of that love interest, removing the guilt and shame felt by themselves. For many people today these tropes are still important for that purpose, if not due to current restrictive societies then at least due to the knowledge of what it was like to live that way.
But despite their place in literary history and modern literature, I am no longer finding predatory tropes permissible in most modern romance books I’m reading. Recently I encountered a romance novel that otherwise should have been perfectly suited to my tastes. It was the presence of two primary love interests that engaged in a number of predatory behaviors that ruined the experience for me. As a book written in the mid 2010’s for a largely Western audience, the tropes didn’t sit well and felt tired. I won’t go into further details as the book itself and the author are not at fault for adding to a body of work still very active.
On my own side of things, I’m tired of reading books that focus on and flutter over relationships that are utterly intolerable. I’m mostly tired of predatory tropes appearing in contemporary works, especially when the justification for the tropes is incredibly weak. This comes up a lot in fantasy romance, particularly urban fantasy where the love interest is usually a mythical creature of some sort and follows the tropes and “rules” of those creatures. While the idea of examining a separate society and its set of social guidelines is interesting, I think we’ve progressed past the point of assuming every werewolf must possess his mate entirely, and similar tropes.
I find that these tropes become less appealing the older I get. There are some sensual/sexually charged scenes in books with these tropes that are slightly appealing, but for the most part they fall flat. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is a lot of these predatory tropes come at the cost of real world building. Why explain an entire “secret” society that exists underneath our own by actually discussing its history and formation when you can just make a possessive creature say “oh we don’t operate the way humans do” and then intimidate and seduce the main character out of caring to learn more? Sure, using tropes to help readers familiar with the genre settle in is absolutely a useful writing technique to avoid clunky exposition while still engaging the reader in your fictional world. But these predatory tropes tend to bully the protagonist, and subsequently the reader, out of learning more.
I hate to say it, but as a writer myself, I find these tropes overused and a little lazy. A lot can be telegraphed into the story by including uses of these tropes and I don’t think I’ve read a contemporary fantasy story in the past decade that utilized these tropes and gave some solid world building as well. I’ve read some excellent fantasy that avoids these tropes though! Ilona Andrews’ Inkeeper Chronicles could very well fall into those tropes, and in fact features a vampiric character who does seem to want to engage in slightly predatory behavior, but adjusts himself when confronted by female characters that don’t appreciate that treatment. So I suppose I’ll make an exception for these tropes if they’re immediately turned on their head.
I can’t even say that I’m primarily worried about my fellow readers falling prey to predatory relationships due to these tropes. Though a lot can be said about romance fiction normalizing red flags, abusive tactics, and bad relationships, I encounter these predatory tropes most often in stories about relationships that just wouldn’t have happened without some other element. If you take away that element–such as “this character is a vampire” or “apocalyptic time frame”–I don’t think any reader would take the relationships at face value. So I wonder, why are these predatory tropes still allowed to flourish in genres that can already suspend so much reality?
Another factor I’ve come across is that sometimes these tropes aren’t even written well. Sure, there are times where a relationship is convincing enough and the world building fleshed out where I don’t even notice the tropes creeping in. But when the tropes are just thrown out there, with the characters reacting unrealistically to them, it just draws more attention to the predatory nature of the relationship and I can’t enjoy anything going on around that relationship.
To my fellow romance readers, or just any readers who have encountered these tropes: What are you thoughts? Do you DNF a book for having these tropes?