We are all familiar with the major genres or categories of Fiction, or as the kids are calling it these days: #genrefic. You’ve got the biggies: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Western, Romance, General Fiction. They all have a few subgenres that have become BIG in the last few years. I’m talking Gothic Horror, Magical Realism, Literary Fiction, High Fantasy. I’m happy subgenres and specificity are popping up all over fiction, but while there have been some making waves in our general knowledge, there has been a literal EXPLOSION of subgenres in Romance. Some of them have been lying low for a few years, some are seeing a resurgence while others are just bonkers. But they are all so wonderful, I have to make sure you know about them. From Steamy Romance to Feminist Historical Romance to MonsterLover Romance to Queer Romance, it’s all happening in Romance and it’s all so GOOD and so much gosh dang FUN, that it’s honestly my civic duty to fill you in and (hopefully) acquaint you with your new favorite subgenre.
Before I go any further, I want to have a hard talk with anyone who’s reading this and rolling their eyes about a blog dedicated to Romance. They may have already clicked away but my soapbox rant can be condensed into a fact, a quote and a tweet. Fact: Romance is a BILLION dollar industry. Quote: “However, no other genre [Romance] is continuously mocked by those that do not read it. This is not just a fiction market issue; it reflects the larger issues of misogyny in UK and US society” (Cameron, 2020) and this Tweet:
Romance as a genre is valid. Okay stepping off soapbox and sharing the subgenre love.
Historically relegated to only smaller presses with little reach, queer romance used to be difficult to find and rarely stocked in bookstores or libraries. Casey McQuiston changed it all with Red, White and Royal Blue, creating a best seller that finally showed publishing houses that queer romance could not only be loved by all sorts of readers, but also make a TON of money. With that the floodgates opened and instead of being relegated to the side, queer stories are FINALLY being picked up and printed by major publishing houses. And frankly, I couldn't be happier! Queer romance is just as swoon-worthy, binge-able and loveable as traditional hetero romance, and I'm so happy to see those stories being proudly displayed promoted.
To be fair, love and romance have existed in YA for a VERY long time. But for the most part romance wasn't the whole focus of the story, in addition to falling in love YA characters were being hunted by vampires (Twilight), dying from cancer (The Fault in Our Stars) or dealing with loads of trauma (any Sarah Dessen book). People were falling in love, but an HEA (Happily Ever After) wasn't the main focus of the story. Today's YA Romance is just that: romance. Stories about falling in love and guaranteed HEA's. The sheer diversity of these stories from magic to meet cutes is 100% worth diving into even as an adult reader. What better way to relive your high school years than to have author's of today create beautiful stories where EVERYONE has a chance at an HEA.
Often rated with 🔥or 🌶️, Romance books of today are stepping up their explicitness. Traditional Romance novels contain sex, to be sure, but in recent years Romance has quickly picked up heat going from a more traditional R to the all out debauchery of an X or XXX rating. While this is kind of a squishy subgenre, you can find steamy scenes in every type of romance (including the subgenres below). The fact that mainstream publishers are publishing, what would have previously been considered borderline erotica, is noteworthy! Well established Romance authors are cranking up the heat... Most of the recs in this blog are on the steamier side, but the three recommendations below are so deliciously spicy, they’ll leave you a melted puddle on the floor.
Feminist Historical Romance
I love a good Regency Romance (subgenre of historical romance set during the British Regency– think Jane Austen era). Regency Romance and it's larger genre category, Historical Romance, are set in time periods where women didn’t have rights, agency and were treated like commodities. The fantasy of marrying the duke, finding your prince or reveling in the witty banter at balls can make the reader forget the inherent awfulness of women’s situations, but feminist historical romance faces this paradox head-on. Some authors have been doing this for a while: Sarah MacLean, Alyssa Cole, Courtney Milan, Beverly Jenkins, but instead of it being niche or the specialty of a few authors, the feminist forward romance is proliferating and becoming the norm instead of the outlier. I’m 1000% for it. Pretending women weren’t worried about their bodies, future, and autonomy in historical novels by not including it in the narrative makes it just as much fiction as dukes, dances and diamonds of the ton. If you’re looking for heroines who aren’t blithely entering the marriage mart without a care in the world, check out these awesome reads:
Casually called MonsterF**ker Romance, this one is probably the wildest, but also my favorite of the new proliferation of subgenres. There are huge hallmark series in this genre that have been making their way through #BookTok and #Bookstagram: Ice Planet Barbarians and The Orc Sworn series went from niche to household names overnight. Self-publishing, Kindle Unlimited and the ravenous appetite of readers has blown this genre from out there to the bookshelves of everyone you know. What makes it a monsterlover or monster romance? I can’t put it delicately, so maybe emojis will help? Fancy 🍆.
-Lauren Taylor is a Children's Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.