Okay, so about five months ago I did a myTake on some misconceptions about romance novels: http://www.girlsaskguys.com/entertainment-arts/a27198-arguments-against-romance-novels-why-they-are-stupid
Now I want to share with you some information on my favorite romance sub-genre, Paranormal Romance (PR) and a bit on its kissing cousin Urban Fantasy (UF) in honor of Halloween.
I'm going to start with Paranormal Romance; it can be generally defined as quoted from Romance Writers of America, "Romance novels in which the future, a fantasy world, or paranormal happenings are an integral part of the plot.”
It is truly the Frankenstein of the romance genre, a mixing together elements of fantasy, science fiction, the super natural, mystery, romance, and even horror. It can range from a lighthearted romance wherein one just so happens to go furry every now and then to an intense struggle of life and death with the very fate of mankind at stake it is by far one of the largest most diverse romance sub-genres.
While it may be considered a fairly new subgenre it didn't have a name until the 90s largely popularized by the author Christine Feehan's Dark Prince PR has roots in Gothic literature and the Fairy Tales of yore. The book considered to be the PR novel is a futuristic romance called, "Sweet Starfire" by Jayne Ann Krentz. It was published in 1986 and is described as a "classic road trip romance" which just happened to be set in a separate galaxy. Creating a unique spin on the mundane is a staple of both Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. A paranormal romance writer created this timeline but she fails to mention Krentz and Laurell K. Hamilton a UF writer I'll talk about her later.
I'm going to include some common categories of Paranormal Romances but keep in mind PR novels mix are often a mix of several:
Science Fiction or Futuristic Romance: Takes place in the future or in futuristic aliens worlds and can include hunky aliens, talking spaceships, genetic engineering, advance technology, psychic abilities etc. Mostly soft sci-fi. Jayne Ann Krentz has written many a Sci-fi romance under her pseudonym Jayne Castle. Some other examples would be Warrior's Woman by Johanna Lindsey in which a heroine ventures into space in order to find a way to save her planet which has been conquered by a barbarian alien race ends up capture by. My favorite sci-fi romance is the Psy-Changling series by Nalini Singh which is so good it warrants its own Take.
Fantasy Romance: Pretty self explanatory a romance with magical and fantasy elements essential to the plot both high fantasy and low fantasy romances exist along with the in between world hopping between the "real" world and the fictitious one.
Vampires/Shapeshifter Romance: One cannot mention PR without bring up vampires and werewolves but werewolves are hardly the only shifters in the game. There are also lions, tigers, bears, leopards, and even dragons! Name an animal chances are there's somebody who can shift into it. A good paranormal romance writer can put a unique spin on these creatures in order to make them interesting. Some paranormal romance novels contain vampires and/or shapeshifters exclusively.
Steampunk Romance: This is a new branch it refers to more of a setting than anything else it is a characterized by steam-driven technology and is typically set around though not exclusively the Victorian era or simply has a Victorian type of feel to it. Just throw some fantasy and sci-fi elements into the mixed and you get steam punk.
I'm actually reading a steam punk romance right now it's called Kiss of Steam by Bec Mcmaster.
Gay/Lesbian Romance: Another self explanatory category gay romances tend to be more common than their lesbian counterpart can be found in just about every romance subgenre. One of my English professor Lourdes R. Florido actually wrote one called A Whisper of Angels its a nice Fantasy romance that includes you guessed it, angels.
Time-Travel Romance: A fish out of water kind of romance in which one character is transported to another time period the most famous example of this is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon which won a RITA for Best Romance in 1991 just don't tell Gabaldon she insists it isn't a romance.
Erotic Paranormal Romance: PR novel with explicit sex and/or polyamorous romance like all Erotic romances it has no category or genre limitations. Angel Knight, Lora Leigh, Bianca D'Arc, and Jory Strong are rather popular.
Paranormal Romance is really too big of a sub-genre to cover in only one myTake without being long and overwhelming. So to prevent information overload and because I think the comparison really helps with understanding I'm going to make the transition to Urban Fantasy.
Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of Fantasy which mostly takes place in the real world but with the existence of fantastical creatures. They can have elements of horror and almost always has a crime/mystery plotline. Urban Fantasy became popular at the exact same time as Paranormal Romance did the 90s though like PR the earliest forms can be traced back to the 80s.
The most influential UF writer is Laurell K. Hamilton and her Anita Blake series many of the themes in her series can be found in both UF and PR.
Hamilton had the very first kick-ass vampire hunting heroine in Anita Blake her first book was published three years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The important things to note about her series: It is written in first person, the plot is crime driven, first vampire love interest, an eventual werewolf vampire love triangle, and contains very graphic descriptions of gore to the extant it was place in the horror section of most books stores.
While there are quite a few other UF writers worth mentioning such as Charlaine Harris the author of The Southern Vampire Mysteries which inspired the HBO series True Blood I haven't really read UF as extensively as PR. I can mention some other big names of the sub-genre: Ilona Andrews (funfact: This is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team), Kim Harrison, Karen Marie Moning, Richelle Mead, Cassandra Clare, and Jim Butcher.
The two genres often over lap key characteristic of Urban Fantasy can often be found in Paranormal Romance so what sets the two apart?
Urban Fantasy novels are typically written in first person, the series will revolve around one character, and the romance is not a requirement. So generally the romance is usually considered the most determining factor.
This helpful chart can be found here as well as a helpful list of PR and UF novels rated by fantasy and romance appeal: http://www.genrify.com/2014/10/urban-fantasy-versus-paranormal-romance/
However, romance or lack there of doesn't always have an influence on fantasy appeal many Paranormal Romances have detailed worlds Slave to Sensations for example as both a very high romance and fantasy appeal its the PR novel at the top right and one series Sherrilyn Kenyon's widely Dark-Hunter series is often labeled as Urban Fantasy despite meeting all parameters of a PR series. Written in 3rd person, different couple every book, and each book has a happy ending. The way I see it a PR novel can be a UF novel but a UF novel is not always a PR novel though die hard Urban Fantasy fans may disagree with me.
"Keep your romance out my Urban Fantasy!" this is silly because genre boundaries while helpful are often blurred and writers should have the creative freedom to write whatever their hearts desire. If you didn't want so much of a whiff of romance in your books than you should have researched the author a little better. But I am a huge fan of Paranormal Romance so make of that what you will. Here's a quick video: