Witches and ghosts and demons, oh my! Romance books featuring spooky characters are on the rise, and paranormal love stories are filling the shelves of bookstores year round — not just during Halloween season.
These romance novels are carving out a space in the industry, and authors say a desire for escapism is fueling the resurgence.
Katee Robert, who’s written a multitude of bestselling paranormal romance novels, says the genre has made a comeback after a surge in the early 2000s, with books like “Twilight” and others staking their claim in the industry.
“It’s very appealing because I really write for escapism and real life has been really terrible lately or, well, for a long time. Especially in the last eight years, with politics and everything,” Robert said. “The big rise that happened when I was reading them, initially, was post-9/11. ... A lot of people really wanted a full-on escape from the reality.”
These books feel similar to other popular contemporary romance novels — they take place in present day and feature the everyday lives of characters — but twinkle with an extra bit of magic.
Robert’s book, “Hunt on Dark Waters,” out in November, features a bisexual witch who falls for a dangerous pirate captain. She says that writing characters like Greek gods and vampires into her books helps take readers away from the troubles of real life.
“Sometimes I just need to get away,” Robert said. “So, the more distance between reality, the better. And that’s where the magic and the monsters and that sort of thing comes in.”
Emily Zarka, an expert in literature and monsters, says our interest in monster and supernatural characters goes much further back than the last few decades.
“Throughout centuries, we’ve had mythology and folklore and fiction that tells of this forbidden love between some kind of encounter with a monster and a human,” she said. “I think that part of it is rooted, particularly now maybe in the Gothic literature that boomed in the 19th century and the idea of the dangerous lover or Byronic hero, anti-hero.”
Robert said the genre is a great stepping stone for readers interested in fantasy literature, but who aren’t quite ready for complicated world-building and want a more comforting read.
“They really are relationship forward,” Robert said. “It’s familiar enough to ground you so you don’t feel like you’re spinning out and lost immediately — and they’re just fun. They can handle really heavy topics, but it’s in a way that still feels escapist. Joy and fun are revolutionary, especially when they’re told by marginalized voices.”
Celestine Martin’s books “Witchful Thinking” and “Kiss and Spell” follow a family of witches falling in love amid magic and whimsy. She said incorporating magic into a romance brings a different kind of conflict than the typical, heartbreaking angst. Instead, the problems are otherworldly.
“You have a dash of magic, you have a little bit of havoc going on, you have a little bit of fun, and it makes you just a little bit whimsical, makes it a little bit silly,” Martin said. “Magical creatures, they have the same problems as us? It just helps reaffirm our humanity. Reading these beautiful creatures struggling with the same emotions and the same feelings that we have, I find comfort in that.”
“I get bored reading just a straight contemporary romance. I want someone to throw a curveball at me.”Ashley Poston, romance author
Zarka said there’s a taboo element to supernatural monster romances that attracts readers, not just as escapism but to understand our own desires, too.
“I think that there’s a certain additional layer of fantasy that comes with the monster lover,” Zarka said. “It allows us to maybe explore our own emotions a little more freely because we know that these relationships don’t happen in real life, but we can maybe explore our feelings that we have in our day-to-day lives more readily.”
Ashley Poston has also brought her romantic novels to supernatural levels. She explores time travel in “The Seven Year Slip,” and “The Dead Romantics” features a ghost writer falling for the actual ghost of a book editor while trying to manage the legacy of her family’s funeral business. While it sounds very macabre, amid the cobwebs and spirits lies a sweet, supportive romance.
“Personally, I get bored reading just a straight contemporary romance,” she said. “I want someone to throw a curveball at me. And those curveballs that I want thrown are magical ... something weird or magical or fantastical or kind of off the wall to add another dimension to these characters' journey throughout their story.”
Sarah Hawley’s books take place in the fictional Glimmer Falls, a town touched by witches, werewolves, fairies and more. “A Witch's Guide to Fake Dating a Demon” features a slightly incompetent witch who tries to summon flour for muffins she’s baking and ends up summoning a demon instead. He can’t leave until he bargains for her soul, and they fall in love among the mess of it all.
Hawley says paranormal romance can deal with drama outside the human realm, such as a vampire resisting the urge to feed on a human or a couple dealing with differences in their lifespans when one of them is immortal. But these books also can deal with real issues as well.
“I do think paranormal romance and fantasy romance does get to tackle a lot of serious, real-world issues,” she said. “Sometimes just in metaphor and allegory. I definitely address things like environmentalism and immigration, and consent. And so there are ways that you can touch those topics and explore them and still have this sort of giddy sense of escapism.”