I’ll be honest, it has to be a brilliant, addictive, or particularly unique paranormal romance to tempt me to read beyond the first book. Even then, I’m hesitant. And it’s not because I don’t enjoy the genre. I love a well-crafted supernatural romance. I’m not even turned off by the copious vampires and werewolves. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of them, but if they’re done well, they’re still enthralling.
The reason for my hesitance is that I’m thoroughly sick of love triangles.
If I get even a whiff of a love triangle on the horizon, I groan and roll my eyes. And in paranormal romances, love triangles seem to proliferate like biblical locusts.
The Paranormal Romance Formula
A: Girl meets dreamy/mysterious supernatural boy
B: Girl and supernatural boy fall in love
C: Obstacles abound; will they ever be together?
D: Love triumphs (and some bad guys may also meet appropriate ends)
E: Fireworks. Roses. Resolutions. Happy endings.
The trouble with the above is that once you reach E, you haven’t really got anywhere to go. E is great for resolution, but if the author wants to tell this story in 3 or 4 books, where do they go from there?
Much of the thrill in reading romance comes from the sexual tension, the desire for the characters to get together, the fear that they might not. The sad fact of the matter is, once they’re together… they’re just not so interesting anymore.
The Reason for the Love Triangle
And so the love triangle is born. Because what better way to spice up E, than by adding F: new attractive supernatural boy on the scene, vying for the heroine’s attentions?
Now we’re no longer asking “will they get together?”, we’re asking “who will she pick?”
And then there are the fan discussions and merchandise possibilities as everyone backs their favourite… “are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?”
Good Boys and Bad Boys
To make the love triangle extra scandalous, there’s the usual good boy/bad boy division:
The ‘good boy’: the honourable, chivalrous, dreamy guy that plays by the rules and generally does the right thing. He’s got a strong moral code and he only wants what’s best for the heroine. And as a bonus, he usually doesn’t like killing people.
The ‘bad boy’: the rule-breaking trouble maker that is unanimously agreed to be ‘bad’ for the heroine. He’s often of dubious moral fibre, and sometimes his only redeemable quality (aside from his obligatory sexiness) is his love for the heroine.
Of course for anyone who knows The Vampire Diaries (where Elena is constantly flipping back and forth between good, guilt-ridden vampire Stefan, and bad, mischievous and sometimes murderous vampire Damon), or Twilight (where vampire Edward and werewolf Jacob vie for Bella’s affections), this scenario will be familiar.
Even The Hunger Games, though admittedly not a paranormal romance, had some love triangle action.
So why do I dislike love triangles? It’s a combination of things.
Firstly, they feel tired and predictable, particularly now so many books and movies have used them.
Secondly, I almost never want the heroine to end up with the second guy she falls in love with… so it’s kind of irritating and hard to empathise with her when she does.
Thirdly, love triangles don’t give me a very high opinion of the heroine. The whole “I just can’t choose!” can make her seem rather selfish and indulgent, particularly when drawn out over several books.
Most of all, though, I think it’s that they can sometimes feel lazy, particularly if they’re done in a very typical, formulaic way.
Yes, there’s still this dilemma: once you reach E, how do you keep things interesting? ‘Love triangle’ is a solution—the easy ‘go-to’ solution that so many people use—but there are others.
Penryn & The End of Days (first book: Angelfall) is a great example of a paranormal series that doesn’t use love triangles (so far, anyway). Here the tension between the two characters is drawn out over the two, soon to be more, books. The obstacles they have to overcome are so big, and the stakes so high, that it’s not so easy for them to just seal the deal in the first book.
Some series don’t even stick with the same characters, exploring new characters and romances in each book while remaining within the same fantasy universe. For example Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm books (though I’d say hers are more high fantasy romance than paranormal romance).
There are also books where a second guy falls in love with the heroine but she doesn’t love him back (I don’t count that as a love triangle), or even where the heroine is worried her man might be falling for another woman. Both of these options are more interesting to me than a good-boy/bad-boy combo.
So I guess my point is, if it has to be a series, the love triangle isn’t the only option. There’s more than one way to drive a wedge into a relationship, more obstacles that can be thrown at characters, more ways to spice things up.
Perhaps this is just a pet hate of mine. Perhaps other readers delight when the new ‘bad boy’ love interest arrives on the scene. Perhaps people are happy to read about love triangles till the end of time.
Personally, I will always appreciate a series that tries something different.