What I Meant by Fantasy Romance

Every week I scan the online bestseller lists (for the weekly Bestsellers page on Locus Online) and more and more I can’t help noticing how many books, based on their brief descriptions on such lists, seem to have some fantasy component, even though their nominal genre is ‘romance’ or ‘thriller’. This is especially apparent on the USA Today list, which ranks all books by sales in the preceding week regardless of format or subject matter (thus allowing a lot of mass market paperbacks to rank that go unnoticed on lists from other sources).

Thus, for example, from this past week’s USA Today list, some titles and the USAT descriptions–

#12, Dark Demon by Christine Feehan, Jove — Romance: Female vampire slayer is seduced by her enemy

#26, Bump in the Night, by J. D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Mary Kay McComas, Ruth Ryan Langan, Jove — Four stories about the paranormal

#35, Master of Wolves, by Angela Knight, Berkley Sensation — Romance: Werewolf meets the lovely Faith Weston

#85, The Mask of Atreus, by A.J. Hartley, Berkley — Unholy grail has terrible powers

#87, Tomb of the Golden Bird, by Elizabeth Peters, William Morrow — Amelia Peabody finds she must protect her family from the sinister forces

#111, Warsworn, by Elizabeth Vaughan, Tor — Paranormal romance: Powerful healer pays the consquences after swearing an oath of loyalty to a Warlord

#118, The Serpent on the Crown, Elizabeth Peters, Avon — Amelia Peabody must untangle the mystery of an ancient relic that carries a curse

#130, Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, Putnam — Thriller: Two women born centuries apart are linked by a common destiny

… not to mention various seemingly historical novels about the Knights Templar, the king of Camelot, novels about secret religious histories, and the like.

There seems to be this entire parallel universe of fantasy publishing by authors and publishers who often have no connection with what we regard as the fantasy and SF genre, a universe where fantasy themes are being taken more and more for granted in genres that traditionally haven’t embodied them. On a related note, I recall reading recently that the ‘paranormal romance’ genre generates several hundred, perhaps on the order of 1000, original titles each year. Locus Magazine, as far as I can tell, lists such books when it sees them, and they are partly why publishing numbers that Locus reports continue to inflate year after year, but I’m wondering if we shouldn’t acknowledge that there’s a fundamental distinction between us and them, and let them be, and stop trying to ‘take credit’ for them in our statistics and tallies. For Locus Online, I’m letting go; I did include Dates from Hell on this past week’s chart, but a while back I made a decision to stop compiling J.D. Robb novels on my bestseller lists any more. And none of the examples listed above.

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