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On Pagan Romance

Romance as a literary genre is only slightly easier to define than science fiction or fantasy. To paraphrase Wikipedia, the genre focuses on the relationship and romantic love between characters, with an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Though most popular in English-speaking countries, romance is gaining in popularity around the world as more and more titles are translated into other languages. The genre has also splintered into a dozen or more subgenres (depending on where you draw the lines). Someone looking for happily-ever-after can find it in an urban fantasy setting, or the far future, or the recent past, or via time travel, or with witches and angels thrown into the mix. Romance has also evolved from its original heterosexual, monogamous (usually Caucasian) character set to feature same-sex protagonists, menage a trois, aliens with unusual body parts, shapeshifters, cyborgs -- well, you name it.

Unfortunately, a solid Pagan subgenre has yet to develop. Sure, there are lots and lots and lots of romance novels and novellas and short stories out there which feature magical protagonists. Just type "paranormal romance" into Amazon or B&N and you'll see what I mean. Just because a book features a witch or a lightning bolt-wielding God, however, does not make it Pagan- or polytheist-friendly. I have read far, far too many romance novels in which the Wiccan main character could not recite the Wheel of the Year, the magic was ridiculously flashy and over the top, the Gods were gigantic jokes, and the theoilogy nonexistent. Too often, references to "The Goddess" or "The Gods" are just throw away lines with no real spirituality or faith behind them.

Fortunately, while an official Pagan subgenre may not have developed yet, there are a few romance novels out there which will please a polytheist audience.* Or, at least, they pleased this polytheist audience. So, in alphabetical order:

Zoe Archer's The Blades of the Rose series is a 19th century magical Tomb Raider-esque adventure filled with intelligent, strong-willed heroines and dashing, daring heroes. There are lost treasures, magical artifacts, sword fights, nereids, shapeshifters, a witch devotee of Athena, exotic locales .... In other words, these books are the perfect way to spend a miserable, rainy afternoon. (I accidently started with the second book, Scoundrel; while that did not really effect my enjoyment of the series, I do recommend that you read them in order, starting with Warrior.)**

Thea Harrison's Elder Races series -- to date, five novels and four e-novellas -- grabbed me from the first page and never let go. On the surface, this is just an urban fantasy-romance series, but there is a heck of a lot more going on. Dig deep enough, and you find a richly-realized, polytheistic cosmology. In Harrison's books, mortal humans, long-lived Wyr (shapeshifters), and nearly-immortal Fae, as well as vampires and witches, all live side-by-side. And the Wyr are polytheists, honoring the seven Elder Gods, each of whom has multiple aspects. Heck, the Oracle of Delphi even stars in one of the books. Highly recommended. (And will someone pretty, pretty please talk Harrison into putting together a real-world Elder Tarot, already?)

Liz Craven's Interplanetary League duology -- Prophesied and Immersed -- is set untold centuries in the future after humanity has left Earth to colonize other worlds. Along the way, polytheism reasserted itself, and that faith is an integral element of the plot. In Prophesied, for instance, Lia is the savior promised by an oracle, the woman who will end a five thousand year-old war; her coronation takes hours because so many priests of so many different Gods are called on to extend their blessings. Quick reads, and highly entertaining; I keep hoping Craven will write more.

Kylie Griffin's Light Blade series is set in a fantasy realm where humans and "demonic"  Na'Reish have been at war for centuries. The heroic Light Blades of the title are a knightly order, sworn to serve the Goddess and Her chosen Priestess. Things get a little *cough* complicated when a refugee band of Na'Chi (half-human, half-Na'Reish) seek sanctuary in human lands and the true origins of the war, and the relationship between humans and Na'Reish, comes out. Griffin does an excellent job of making faith, and the Goddess Herself, a central element of the story.

Don't let the cover of Isabel Cooper's No Proper Lady fool you. This is not your typical historical romance. This is Terminator meets My Fair Lady, with magic and spirits thrown into the mix. Hailing from a future in which the world is overrun by demons and humanity is on the verge of extinction, Joan is sent back in time via magic to the late 19th century. Only by killing the magician initially responsible for unleashing the demons can she prevent that horrible future from coming about -- with a little help from wizard Simon Grenville .... Kudos to Cooper for doing her mythology homework: she gets the Gods right.  

Katee Robert's Sanctify series only contains two titles to date: The High Priestess and Queen of Swords. And, yep, you guessed it, Tarot plays a huge role in the story. In the far future, the puritanical Sanctify are determined to wipe all alien life -- including the humanoid, psychic Diviners who see the will of the Goddess in their cards. Though the second book ends a bit abruptly, and there are enough loose threads for several more volumes, I still found the series entertaining. (Apologizes, though, to Tess Dawson and all the other Natib Qadish out there: the evil Sanctify are priests of Ba'al.)

Joey Hill's Something About Witches and In the Company of Witches features an unusual assortment of characters -- witches, sorcerers, dark angels, succubi, demons, dryads, and tricksters -- and even more unusual cosmology. In Hill's books, Goddess, God, and Lucifer all exist; the boundaries are a bit loose, but generally Goddess has material creation (we are all Her children), God has heaven, and Lucifer has hell. And Lucifer is not the villain of the piece; he's the cosmic cop, responsible for meting out righteous retribution and punishment. Needless to say, it makes for some interesting times when people who think they are enemies find out they are allies, or allies discover they want to achieve the same goals by very very different means. Plus, the sex is hot (as in, BDSM hot, so take care). I assume there is going to be a third book in the series, but have yet to hear anything official.

Laura Kinsale's Uncertain Magic was originally published in 1987, long before magical romances became the thing. I devoured it back then, and it remains a favorite to this day. Empathic heroine? Check? Brooding hero, the one person in the world she can't read? Check. Civil unrest and war? Check. Faeries? Yep, them, too. Oh, and a cute pig.

So, there you have them. A few of the Pagan- and polytheist-friendly romances currently available. I am sure that I missed a few. At least, I hope I did, because I need something new to read. Ping me, would you?

 

*Linda Winstead Jones' trilogy The Fyne Witches looks promising based on the description, but I have not had the chance to read the series yet.

** Archer is also the author of the science fiction-romance Collision Course. Vague references to Oshun, "the gods" and "The Goddess" (whose primary festival is the Spring Equinox) put it on my Not Quite Pagan Enough But Still Fun list. If the spiritual lives of the characters had been fleshed out a bit more, it would have made the cut.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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