Romance Novels without the Romance
Asexual romance novels break the mold of happily ever after, here are the must reads in the genre.
In March, LGBTQ romance publisher Less Than Three Press will release sixteen titles of asexual and aromantic romance in their Solitary Traveler’s collection. While LT3 has released many asexual stories in the past, this collection is one of the first of its kind. These stories feature aromantic and asexual (aro and ace for short) protagonists, but their shared theme of “solitary travel” should be of interest to anyone drawn to quests.
Most of these quest narratives take place in fantasy settings, like Nicky Kyle’s The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green, where Kyle gives us an aromantic protagonist who must solve a dragon problem. The swords and sorcery take on quests isn’t all there is, though. Sasha Miller’s How Not to Summon Your True Love is an urban fantasy romp where her asexual panromantic protagonist Cy toys with our romantic expectations while he tries to find an enchanted spell book. In Ils Greyhart’s Texture Like The Sun, our very notions of what it means to be an incubus and feed off sex is challenged when an incubus runs into an asexual man named Liang and can’t complete his quest. Finally, The Life and Death of Eli and Jay by Francis Gideon is a contemporary twist on the quest narrative featuring two indigenous boys growing up on a Blackfoot reserve in Canada and never quite adjusting to the expectations around them – whether to fit everyone’s idea of what a native boy is like or what being in love with each other has to mean. Each one of these stories, and the other twelve in the collection, challenge our ideals about love, sex, and the romantic genre itself.When asked why it was important to tackle a collection like this, head editor Samantha Derr stated, “LT3 is firmly committed to the belief relationships and romance can take on many forms. The Solitary Travelers collection is important because of its specific focus on asexual and aromantic relationships – romances that don’t include sex or relationships that aren’t founded on romantic love. Asexuals and aromantics feel for and interact with their partners in ways we don’t typically think of when we think of relationships. Those stories are valid and they’re worth telling.”
While her statement may seem obvious to us – of course love is possible without sex – she also points out how ace and aro people form and establish relationships in ways that run contrary to what we may expect in romance. To write a romance novel about an aromantic protagonist, someone who by definition does not feel inclined to romance, may even seem counter-intuitive. But this collection, along with many of the titles in LT3’s backlist, prove that not only is it possible to have a romance story without typical romance, there is a dire need for it, too. As asexual romance author Matthew Metzger remarks, “we [asexuals] still meet people we’d like to date, we meet people and go ‘holy hell, you’re awesome, I’m gonna keep you, let’s be friends,’ and we are perfectly capable of forming very deep, very intense, and very permanent attachments to others. We’re just not into the whole sex thing.” And yet, as Metzger later points out, “asexuality [is] still so enormously underrepresented in queer fiction (and queer romance especially).” LT3 and other presses, like Good Mourning Publications, JMS Books, and Harmony Ink, have sought to reconcile this lack of representation in recent publication years by putting out their own asexual stories.
So what is romance as a genre? In its most basic sense, a romance is a story that ends happily.
The “happily ever after” (HEA) of a marriage proposal was the standard ending in most period romances. While that ending may be the same for some contemporary romance novels, it is not always the case. What we define as happy, as a marriage, even what a family is has always changed based on the culture. And as the culture shifts, so must our definition of the romance genre.