There are a lot of paranormal romances out there right now, both for teens and adults (not that age restrictions seem to make a lot of difference). This has become particularly prevalent in the teen fantasy genre, which has become inundated in tween romances with a supernatural bent.
These tend to come in two different types:
- Ordinary girl falls in love with sexy supernatural creature(s).
- Ordinary girl discovers that SHE is a supernatural creature, and falls in love with sexy supernatural creature(s).
And don't get me wrong, many of them are actually quite good. Holly Black created a lot of the genre stereotypes, and Melissa Marr helped popularize them; other good authors who write paranormal romance well are Maggie Stiefvater, Lauren Oliver, Julie Kagawa, and so on. There are even authors who even break the mold and have a male lead, a non-supernatural love interest, or an emphasis on plot rather than the romance, like Kendare Blake or Rosemary Clement-Moore. Seriously, read all these ladies' books.
And these stories usually use just about every single supernatural creature you can imagine. Vampires and werewolves are the current favorite creatures, but you'll also find a lot of faerie books. You can also find stuff about selkies, merfolk, other werecreatures, gods, elves and other magical creatures. I even stumbled across a paranormal romance about TROLLS. And the Japanese have turned out some paranormal romance manga with kitsunes, tengu... and yet more vampires.
And you know, I'm okay with this. Just about any kind of supernatural creature can work in a well-written book.
But there's one that drives me crazy.
There's one that instantly makes me clench my butt, grit my teeth and punch holes in the walls.
Now, I'd like to preface my rant by mentioning that I am not opposed to angels in urban fantasies. One of my favorite series ever, the Dresden Files, has a friggin' archangel who pops up occasionally to help Harry out, and we see various other angels and demons throughout the series, such as the Denarians or the smaller-scale angels who run the otherworldly law enforcement agency. And then there's Simon R. Green's Nightside series, which has an illogical but otherwise awesome battle between angels and demons in the Nightside, over the Unholy Grail.
I am also basing this on the books that I personally have read. I admittedly don't read as much of this shit as I do faerie/werewolf/vampire books or other kinds of urban fantasy. But I do read some - usually when it's so craptastic that I can read it for LOLZ - and it was enough to piss me off.
And I'm not condemning people who read and enjoy these books. Your tastes are your tastes, and that's perfectly okay. This is just me puking my feelings about these books and why they rub me the wrong way.
This is also applied to fanfiction, I'd like to add. I don't know why, but a lot of fanfic writers like to take their favorite characters and make them angels/demons, or some sort of Sue hybrid. If you're going to change everything about the characters, their natures and the setting, why not just write your own story without it being fan fiction?
1. It's Disrespectful
There are a lot of people who believe in angels. I don't know how it is in other countries, but I do know that a majority of people in the United States and Canada believe in angels (and usually demons). And it isn't surprising, because three of the biggest religions in the world - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - believe in angels. There are even smaller ones like Mormonism and Zoroastrianism who also believe in them.
And that's one of the biggest differences between angels and those other paranormal romance hotties: they are part of actual religious belief that REAL PEOPLE have RIGHT NOW. They're not just superstitions (like vampires) that somehow mutated into emo hotties who can be redeemed by a bitchy teen girl. Nobody's really married to the idea of merfolk the way they are to their religious beliefs, of which angels and demons are a big part.
AND THAT'S WHY IT BUGS ME.
It just feels so disrespectful to people's beliefs to pick out angels and pop them into paranormal romances so they can pledge undying love to their Sue. I mean, I love Dracula and it pisses me off when people Smeyerize vampires into mewling emo prettyboys.... but it's not like I actually BELIEVE in vampires. And they sure as hell aren't part of my religion. Angels, on the other hand, are. It just shows a total lack of respect to write this kind of books.
And like I said, I have no problem with angels being included in fiction, if it's done with a measure of respect and thought. But paranormal romances about angels are basically making them into Edward Cullen knockoffs - whiny emo boys who Just Want Wuv, and exist because the author wants to bone a pretty boy with wings. Which seems fucking weird to me.
The same applies to demons, who are sometimes featured in these stories as well. Now, in Judaic/Christian/Muslim religions, demons are the cause for pretty much all the evil and sorrow in the world, by tempting human beings and leading them astray.
In some of these books? They're sexy bad boys who just need to be redeemed by the power of LOVE (and by that, I mean sex with a teen girl). According to Baudelaire (and Keyser Soze), "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist," but I could make a case that depicting demons as Edward Cullens is actually a lot better. And by that, I mean worse.
And before any atheists/agnostics reading this roll your eyes because ugh, I'm daring to expect respect for beings you do not believe exist, keep in mind that I feel this way about any major belief system. I'd be all skeeved out if someone wrote a fantasy book where they wanted to bone the sexy powerful reincarnation of a lama, or a Hindu deity.
2. They include religious figures, but not religious contexts
Now, most of these books base their angelic stuff on a sort of... generic Christian belief system. You know, God exists and he sends out angels to do.... things, but they're confronted by demons who are... there to do bad things.
Now, I openly admit that I am not a fan Christian fantasy. I'm in the process of beating one to a bloody pulp, off and on.
And honestly, I think religious content in fantasy stories should be as subtle and unnoticeable as possible. Fantasy should not be hamstrung by personal beliefs; like any good fiction, it should be accessible to everybody regardless of who they do or don't worship. A good example would be J.R.R. Tolkien's works, which have a strong Roman Catholic core but are enjoyable for people of all religions.
But if you write a book with inherently religious stuff in it, HAVE THE COJONES TO OWN UP TO IT.
It bugs me that people will write about Judeo-Christian angels and demons, but try to sort of shove God to the wayside. If that's what you want, take a page from Laini Taylor and write about "angels" and "demons" who merely resemble the ones we have in our religions. Or Sharon Shinn, whose "angels" are actually constructs of a massively powerful godlike computer on an alien world. That way you're free to do whatever you friggin' want without being restricted.
3. The romance
This is the same problem with a lot of vampire romances, except with absolutely no loopholes. Why would an ancient, wise, timeless being who has witnessed the lifespan of the UNIVERSE be even remotely interested in a teenage girl?
Now with vampires, you can sorta get around this. After all, vampires have to be made by someone, so you can have them be as old or young as you choose, at whatever physical age you choose. With angels, there's no wiggle room - they're supposed to have existed longer than our world has, so it makes no sense for them to be interested in that sort of person. You'd think that to attract an angel's special personal attention, you'd need to be an incredibly spiritual, wise or unique person - not Teenage Sue #2,483.
I also sort of wonder why people see angels and immediately think of romance. I mean, they're supposed to be purely spiritual beings, meaning that... they don't have gender. They don't have sex. They have no reason to, because they don't have genitals and can't have baby angels. So while LOVING a human being makes sense, loving them in a romantic, sexual way doesn't.
And finally, it bugs me that a bunch of paranormal romances seem to copy Wings of Desire, with angels apparently just wanting to be like humans (yeah, because humans are SUCH wonderful creatures and our lives are SO wonderful) and even give up their angelhood if necessary.
Now, this movie doesn't bug me because, well, it's a more philosophical, atmospheric movie. It's not theologically sound, but it's a brilliant story about participating in life and how important it is to live life to the fullest. It is not about Wim Wenders wanting to fuck an angel.
Now the craptamagorical remake with Nicolas Cage, THAT gets my goat. But that's a foam-spitting rant for another day.
4. The angels aren't very angelic
I admit to never having conversed with an angel. But given that they're supposed to be ancient wise beings attuned to THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, you would expect them to be a lot less petty, wangsty and whiny than your average human. And really, why would they masquerade as hot teenage boys or girls?
Honestly, the biggest problem with the depiction of angels in paranormal romance is that "smexy pretty boy" is the depth of their characterization. They're basically immortal humans with a few extra superpowers, and they don't have the wisdom, brains, knowledge and perspective that you'd expect from ancient spirits who have been around since the beginning of time. They're every bit as narrow mentally and spiritually as humans.
Honestly, that's a failing of the authors rather the concept itself. But it remains that that is another thing that pisses me off about these books. They take all this storytelling potential and SQUANDER IT, because they're all about the masturbatory fantasies. A character with that kind of weight and wisdom would make an awesome lead character. Instead we get Edward Cullen with wings.
And that makes NO SENSE.
We are talking about timeless creatures who live outside of time, have no bodies, are telepathically attuned to the GOD WHO MADE EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE, and have the wisdom accumulated by watching the universe unfold since time began. They should be wise and majestic and powerful, and they should have the greatness that we humans aren't able to manage because of our limitations and our idiocy.
You know the Elves in Lord of the Rings?
They are supposed to be closer to angels than we are. They are majestic, beautiful, ethereal, wise, have magical powers and have a greater connection to the world we live in, including angelic beings like Gandalf. And they are just idealized versions of human beings! Imagine something a thousand times more powerful, wise, beautiful and powerful than that, minus the bodies.
Honestly, one of the best depictions of angels I have seen is in the book Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle. In case you haven't read the book, it's a sequel to L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time, where Meg Murray's younger twin brothers accidentally transport themselves back in time through science-magic, and end up landing in the desert right near where Noah and his family live. They spend several months getting to know Noah, his sons, their wives, his daughter Yalith, the demonic Nephilim and the angelic Seraphim.
The Seraphim are genuinely alien creatures. They're compassionate, loving, kind and beautiful, but they also don't see time or the world in the way we do, and they have a wisdom and serenity that humans don't have.
It's not exactly an angel romance; there are angels and romance, but not really with each other. The Nephilim are able to interbreed with the humans (presumably because of that part of the Bible), but the angels don't. There is a chaste, sweet love between one of the angels and a human girl, but it's depicted as being a spiritual rather than physical love. And rather than some knockoff from Wings of Desire where he becomes human so he can boff her in the remaining week before everybody dies, they do just the opposite: since she is not destined to go on the Ark, Yalith dies painlessly and is taken away to heaven by her seraphim friend. It's very uplifting but also very sad.
Now, I'm sure there some kind of halfway point between winged Edward Cullens/Bella Swans and the otherworldly creatures of Many Waters, but I have yet to see any writer of angel-fanfic manage even that much. To recap: There's no wisdom, sense of age or depth, and they frequently appear as mopey, sexy teenagers who have nothing better to do than hang around high school.
And they definitely aren't as SMART as you'd expect angels to be.
5. The love interests suck
There seems to be an unspoken rule that the love interest for the angel in these stories has to be a Sue. No, the angels don't fall for humans who slave their lives away in the service of others, or who are genuinely pure and saintly, or even people who don't live in American suburbs. That would make too much sense.
No, they fall for whiny white middle-class teenage girls who are exactly like all the other whiny white middle-class teenage girls. Or they fall for tough sexy girls with no real interesting traits. Either way, the love interests for the angels are never the ones that have ANY actual traits that would make the romance believable.
Again, this is something that MIGHT work with vampires, since vampires aren't supposed to have any kind of spiritual superiority to human beings and would presumably be just as likely to date a whiny shallow bitch as a human would. It's still stupid because you'd expect them to be beyond that because of their age, but it's much more likely than an angel inexplicably falling in love with a whiny shallow bitch.
6. Being an angel sucks and being human is awesome
I already ranted about this in my snark for Love is Hell, so I'll try not to repeat myself.
Basically, there's this weird attitude among a lot of authors that for some reason being an angel would suck compared to a mortal, puking, pooping, fragile, potentially-hellbound human being. On very rare occasions you get some insights via a truly talented author/director, as in the movie Wings of Desire.
Which is way better than most, if not all, of the books.
I don't get it. Apparently the idea is that angels don't know what love really is and can't be happy with their superpowered immortal existences of basking in God's presence… because they don't get to fuck. If you don't fuck, your life is cold and empty and you don't really know what love is.
Yeah, I don't get it either. Lovemaking is only significant to humans because we ATTACH significance to it, not because it somehow is awesome in itself. Without the social and psychological signifiance, it's really nothing but a big rush of endorphins. And without all of that, it's just two (or more) naked people doing undignified things with their body parts. That's how it is for most animals - no real emotion to sex, and no significance to the act itself.
Why do humans see significance and "love" in the act of fucking? Because frankly, we assign significance to almost everything we do. And given the societal taboos about casual sex, for some reason we've convinced ourselves that sex has something to do with love. And since we've already created connections between them in our minds… and some people start thinking that LOVE MUST INVOLVE SEX. Especially overromanticizing nincompoops who think that lust actually equals eternal love, and that you should MARRY someone merely because you want to bang them.
Where was I going with that?
Oh yeah, angels. Yeah, I don't understand why angels would supposedly become happier or more fulfilled if they had sex, or why humans would somehow be considered better than them because we sometimes do undignified things with our body parts.
Again, these creatures supposedly exist in the constant presence of the one who MADE THE UNIVERSE and is more than capable of providing them with eternal bliss. Why would fucking somehow TOP THAT? Why would a rush of endorphins and the social connections of "sex=love" have any effect on them, since they don't have that?
And without gender, wouldn't they just go, "Eh, it doesn't sound that interesting"?
As for the idiotic idea that our lives are somehow better and more fulfilling because we fuck… really? Do these people think that sex enriches your soul and spirit SO MUCH that it somehow makes humans better than angels? Or is it just the arrogant idea that humans are the bestest ever, because our fragile little egos can't cope with the idea of creatures who are better, or even just DIFFERENT?!
Okay, I'm gonna abandon this rant because I'm just yelling accusatory questions at this point. Suffice to say, according to every angel legend I've come across, there is no logical reason to think that human existence is somehow superior because of sex. If that were true, rabbits would be on a higher plane of existence.
7. The stories are full of suck
Now I might be able to tolerate all these problems… well, probably not, but I MIGHT be able to if the story was decent. Even good. The fact that the subject annoys the hell out of me doesn't make the STORY bad.
But you know what kind of stories they tend to have?
… and about sixty million paranormal romances with topless winged men with lots of shiny muscles.
Now, I know these are not ALL the angel paranormal romance out there. There are some that are tongue-in-cheek, and some that are said to be pretty good, and even a few that don't involve the angel boinking someone. But you know what? If you walk innocently into a bookstore, THESE are the books most likely to mug you, beat you up, and leave you lobotomized and clutching a bagful of Twilight ripoffs.
Yes, the most prominent examples of the genre are basically substituting a hot brooding angel for a hot brooding vampire.
It doesn't help that the whole plot of each story hasn't got a lot of flexibility. On one side, heaven. On the other one, hell. Maybe you can add a third side, like with the Grigori or something, but there's not a lot of options open. The chances to surprise the reader are kind of limited, and mixing it up… usually ends up making the mess worse.
Again, this is something you could TOTALLY make work if you had the skills. But usually people just fall into the same crappy trap of writing about high school kids doing high school things.
For example… the Halo trilogy. It has ANGELS going to high school. Doing high school things. It's boring. Really boring.
And even when the author attempts to make the story more epic by having the heroine go to hell ON THE BACK OF A FUCKING MOTORCYCLE, the plot basically boils down to "Bethany is so wonderful even demons want her, and her boyfriend and the other angels are scheming up a way to get her back!" That is not a plot. It is a Mary Sue masturbation fantasy.
And yes, the story sucks ass the rest of the time, since Hell feels distinctly unthreatening, and the demons are about as frightening as your average bratty socialite. And the whole thing is just a set-up…. FOR A LOVE TRIANGLE.
So yeah, for the time being those are my rants about angel-centric paranormal fiction. I might add onto this in the future, but for the moment these are my thoughts.
And again, these are just my feelings on the matter. I'm not saying anything about the people who read or even write angel paranormal romance… well, except for shit like Halo and Fallen, where I'll bash the author personally if I feel like it. Your tastes are your tastes, and I'm not condemning it.
I just feel this way about this particular brand of fantasy. And I doubt it's gonna change until somebody writes an angel paranormal romance that is more than an opportunity for their Sue to bang a hot winged dude.