Romantic Conundrum

I had the weirdest experience last week. I shared it in brief on Facebook, but I’m still thinking about it.

You see, I read someone else’s book. I won’t say whose and I won’t give the title, because what I’m about to write is a spoiler. It’s about the end. It really surprised me and I’m trying to tease out the reason it did. I realize it’s good to have a surprise at the end of a book and yet I wasn’t at all prepared for the way it turned.

I remember thinking about half-way through the book, that the online description had tricked me into reading a genre I rarely read purposely—a romance. I don’t have anything against romance, just prefer other reading material. But when you read something in a specific genre, you have specific expectations. Right? When you read a romance, you expect a happily-ever-after with the handsome prince. But that’s not how the book ended so, for a moment, I felt disappointment. Then I had to wander off into some prairie grassland and think some more.

Woman hiking fall grasslands.
I had to take a little hike into the grasslands.

First, I compared the book I’d just read to the one I’d just published. My book is historical fiction. I consciously and emphatically labeled it historical fiction, not historical romance. There’s a romance in it, but it doesn’t follow the formula for a romance. The book I read was what I would call a contemporary woman’s journey and at the end she’s finished that part of her journey–with miles yet to go.

Given that I have a romance in my book, but don’t call it a romance, I wondered why on earth I decided the books I read was a romance. Well of course there was that drop-dead gorgeous pransome hince who’s obviously in love with our heroine. They cavort in a romantic Irish setting—far from our heroine’s normal surroundings. The prince is hard to get—damaged by his past—yet it’s love at first sight for him and he spends the entire narrative trying to win our protagonist. He may in the end. I believe this is the first in a series, but the book ends with the heroine going off to resolve her own issues.

So my unresolved questions are these: If a book has a woman and a drop-dead gorgeous man in it, must it end happily-ever-after? If a woman and a man become romantically involved in said book, must they end up together? If a woman writes a book about a woman, sets her up with a man who adores her, then sends her on another path, how do we prepare our readers for the surprise at the end? In our book description do we have to say this is not a romance?

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