Romance novels set everywhere from Viking times to NASCAR tracks.
When I think of a romance novel, I, like most people, picture Fabio wearing a billowing, mostly unbuttoned white linen shirt, with a smitten maiden who’s mid-faint caught in his arms. And it’s got a title like The Untamed Scoundrel.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. According to this article, with the title Today’s Romance Novel: It’s Not Your Mother’s Bodice Ripper Anymore, the romance novel has evolved to a more sophisticated place, and the stereotypes I described in the first paragraph, “ha[ve] been replaced by 21st century stories with smart, savvy heroines, sensitive heroes, and complex plots.”
That evolution has also had a tremendous side effect: More and more (hilarious) romance subgenres springing up and gaining viability.
Today, I’m going to look at the 11 most obscure, strange, humorous and/or oddest romance novel (sub)genres.
1 | Medical
Apparently, medical romances are one of the fastest-growing romance subgenres. Call it the Grey’s Anatomizing of the romance novel world.
Last year, an Irish psychiatrist studied the genre, and posted his findings in The Lancet. What he found: Almost every medical romance is the same… and virtually scandal-free.
Translation: There’s no woman getting aroused during her breast exam. There aren’t even female patients falling in love with their male doctors. Basically, these novels are too short and too to-the-point to get bogged down in the legal and ethical nuances of a doctor-patient sexual relationship. (That would be like a porno where a woman seduces the UPS delivery guy, they have crazy sex… and then they throw in a subplot about how he got chlamydia from that and needs to get it treated. Just like STDs are ignored in porn for men, ethical sexual dilemmas are ignored in “porn” for women.)
As for the point that every medical romance is the same, the study found that every single male main character was a doctor. Half the females were also doctors, half were nurses. The romances were all hetero.
And the male doctors were still traditional romance heroes: They almost always forgo their personal lives for the sake of their terminally-ill patients… and they’re always able to miraculously save said patients.
2 | NASCAR
Seeing an opportunity to get their hands on this seemingly infinite supply of NASCAR money, Harlequin, the top romance publisher in the world, entered into a deal to create about three dozen NASCAR-themed romance novels.
It appears that the NASCAR-themed romance novels basically follow the same, generic romance plots… just in different setting, and with some fast cars thrown in.
Take this scene from Speed Dating. Kendall Clarke, the lead woman, learned that her fiance cheated on her and impregnated her co-worker. Somehow, she found herself with (fictional) NASCAR superstar-slash-People sexiest man of the year Dylan Hargreave.
On the very night she’s supposed to be picking up an award for being the Actuary of the Year, this reserved number cruncher finds herself, in lingerie, sitting in Hargreave’s car, driving at high (but not dangerously high) speeds. “She’d never done anything this wild in her life,” she thought, “Oh, it feels good.”
3 | Lesbian
This isn’t a strange subgenre at all, it’s a fairly logical one… it’s just not part of the traditional hunky man-rescued woman romance novel archetype.
Lesbian romance novels tend to fall into two different styles. One: A traditional love story, just one between two women. Or two: A woman who’s always known that being with men didn’t feel quite right meeting a woman who changes her outlook on love and, ultimately, the world.
I’m happy to say that neither of these is sensationalized lesbianism, Katy Perry-style. I couldn’t be more over that.
4 | Mormon
It seems like a strange pairing, but there’s a small and growing romance novel movement in the Mormon world.
In these books, though, there’s really no bodice ripping… they almost always include meetings at the Church… the main characters don’t kiss until they’re engaged… and sex is never, ever mentioned.
According to a VP from Covenant Communications, a major Mormon publishing company, “Sex is not the appeal in our romance novels at all. Commitment is what’s strong in our market. There is no swearing, no graphic anything and we steer as far from innuendo as we can.”
So I guess there’s no scene where the Mormon missionaries are going door-to-door in a godless city like Los Angeles or Intercourse, Pennsylvania, and end up getting a woman to both (1) have sex with them and (2) convert.
5 | Time travel
Look, we’ve all wanted to go back in time because we thought we’d have better romantic luck in a different time period. (For me, it’s definitely the 1920s. I know I could’ve just pimped flappers for days.)
So it’s particularly logical for the time-travel romance novel subgenre to be blowing up. Because it fuses a woman’s modern-day loneliness with the strong, exotic allure of the past.
Rather than having to read a romance novel entirely set in whaling times, with time travel books, she can read one set today… that then transports her back to whaling times. It’s slightly less suspension of disbelief!
6 | For Men
Romance novels are usually thought to be exclusively a woman’s domain, just like math is thought to be exclusively a man’s domain. (Kidding! I’m kidding! I don’t even remember what an arctan is anymore.)
But, today, there are a few male romance authors… and there is a growing number of male romance readers. In fact, according to one study, more than one in five romance novel readers is male.
So some books are coming out specifically targeted at men. Generally, these will be a little more sexual… but still follow the very specific path of heroic man meets woman, courts woman, marries woman, lives happily ever after with woman.
7 | Paranormal
These must be good for ladies who just aren’t finding romance in the real world. Paranormal romance novels include everything from vampires to ghosts to psychics to shapeshifters.
They usually tend to follow the Buffy/Angel model — that is, a fantastical character thrust into our world and having a forbidden yet oh-so-right romance with a human.
Between 2002 and ’04, the number of paranormal romance novels in the U.S. doubled.
8 | Viking
Since the beginning of the romance genre, authors have been setting their stories in the past. Because, (even if this is a lazy, punny use of English) there’s something extremely romanticized about the past.
To me, not all eras are as romantic as others… yet, in the unofficial quest of romance novels to cover the entire spectrum of history, every era seems to get represented.
Viking-era romance novels may be the perfect example. It’s not Jane Austen’s England, the Gone with the Wind South or the Braveheart Scotland. But some women clearly want to be swept up by muscle-bound, brutish Norsemen, and taken on a sailing voyage around the north Atlantic.
I don’t know any of these women.
(Apparently, they are something of a dying breed… while most subgenres are growing, Viking romance novel numbers are shrinking.)
9 | Amnesia
I guess it’s logical that the single-biggest soap opera plot device has found its way into becoming a popular romance novel plot device. There’s probably a strong bit of crossover between those audiences.
10 | Mail order bride
This subgenre’s popularity confused me. For all of the others, I could quickly draw a logical conclusion as to the reasons for their popularity. This one, I didn’t understand. Do women secretly wish they were poor Eastern Europeans, sent over here to have (more than likely) loveless relationships with wealthy but socially-inept American men?
The answer… is no. According to this article, the mail-order bride romance subgenre tends to fall into the Sleepless in Seattle model… as opposed to the “Hello, I am Ivana, agency sent me here, you hairy, you no touch me” model.
In the mail order bride genre, a brave woman risks it all to travel to a man she’s never met in person. She knows… just knows… he’s the one… and she’ll have the “magical ability” to make him fall in love with her too.
Whatever. I still don’t quite get it. I guess I’m just a boring, unromantic MAN.
11 | Vacation love
Because sometimes you gots to read about getting your groove back.