Saturday, April 5, 2014

Anatomy of Highland Romance

As my friend Amy Jarecki holds her official Blastoff Party on facebook for the latest in her Highland Force series, I found myself contemplating what it is that makes this genre so incredibly fertile and eternally popular. 

I admit to this genre being a guilty pleasure of mine.  And certainly, if you are looking for cold-weather, kilt-infested bodice-rippers there are plenty to choose from.  I think I read nearly every title Arnette Lamb ever published.  So what makes a Highland romance successful, and why are they popular? 

Well, there is a pretty well-tried form to them, the variation and theme similar to most successful romances:
  1. Boy meets Girl
  2. Boy gets unsettled/annoyed followed by much furrowing of brows
  3. Girl is overwhelmed by his personality/power/good-looks, but in pretty short order wants to slap him, and often does
  4. Despite his stoicism, and her temper, they find themselves drawn to each other, but have too much honor to just go for it.
  5. Conflict ensues ….
  6. Boy and Girl become unintentionally indispensible to each other (i.e. her industry, his bravery, OR her bravery, his industry or some combination, etc) and more importantly to THE CLAN. (always important to the plot: turbo charged family responsibilities!)
  7. Boy and Girl continue their litany of denial, despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary: he’s stoic and the clan comes first, she doesn’t understand his rigid devotion to his people despite the fact that she’s coming to like them.
  8. Something threatens THE CLAN and therefore the relationship – will they survive it, or will they be separated forever?

The really good authors in this genre find ways to work humor in: comic characters, foibles of the hero and heroine, the ever popular embarrassing situations that they have to work together to get out of (nothing is sexier than laughing together!).  They also find a way to twist the ending that adds something unexpected.  Let’s be clear: no one writes romance novels where item #8 goes badly.  It’s just not done.  You want that, a little Anna Karenina will suit you fine, but not a romance of any kind, certainly not a Highland romance.  So “the twist” has to be something else.

So what in this list makes Highland romances unique?  I think it is the characters.  There are no “wilting flowers” or “tragic anti-heroes” in Highland romance.  The heroines are always intelligent, impassioned women who just want to get control of the circumstances of their lives.  The heroes are always honorable, self-sacrificing, and struggling to maintain control of themselves for the good of others (i.e. THE CLAN). It’s a recipe for romance, intrigue, high adventure, and success - probably with some feasting and dancing thrown in, and more than one claymore for good measure.  Cold Scottish castles mean plenty of roaring fires and fur rugs/blankets/cloaks.  The people are always good hearted, generous and loyal.  EVERYONE wears a skirt! What’s not to like?

Not meaning to go too in depth, or take on pretensions of scholarship that I don’t deserve, I share this whimsy with you.

I found Amy’s Highland Force books to be a delight: fully accomplishing every item on the list; imbued with humor and humanity in a genre whose very formula oft takes itself too seriously; and with a killer “final Act” that is brimming with surprises, yet completely satisfies.  I thoroughly enjoyed Captured by the Pirate Laird and I am honored to be reading from book two The Highland Henchman today.  Brava Amy!