The End of the World as We Know It

nightfall When I was a kid, I had a rather unusual great-aunt who was fascinated by Revelation and the End Times. Beyond listening to her talk about the Second Coming over lunch on occasion, I can’t say that I thought much about the post-apocalyptic world. In inspirational fiction, I was aware of the Left Behind books’ huge popularity even as I have to confess that I often got the title of the series mixed up with the Simpsons parody, Left Below. However, recently, I’ve noticed an awful lot of “end of the world” books out there. Given the long-running wars and the worldwide economic upheaval, I can’t help but think that this trend in romance and urban fantasy must be an outgrowth of the uncertainty of our times.

The idea of a romantic hero and heroine banding together to take on the world is certainly not a new one; One sees it in just about every subgenre of romance. However, in books like Nightfall by Ellen Connor (aka Ann Aguirre and Carrie Lofty), the hero and heroine must take on the worldwide collapse of the power grid, giant mutant dogs that eat people, and the beginning of a new Dark Age while showing that love conquers all. It’s a far cry from outwitting an unwanted arranged marriage and obtaining vouchers to Almack’s. Still, in a way, it can be an appealing idea.

When faced with all kinds of world events that we can’t control, there is something comforting in the notion that even if the world is completely falling apart, we can still fall in love. Heroes and heroines can still build something positive amongst the chaos and there’s the promise that they can even bring new life into a dying world. In Tsunami Blue, author Gayle Ann Williams brings together two survivors of a worldwide catastrophe and as they try to survive, they also find a way to build a life together. It’s a gritty book, but ultimately a very life-affirming message. It’s a message popular enough that Joss Ware has been able to build an entire series set in the post-apocalyptic world. In the Envy Chronicles, her couples all contend with life after the Change, an event which caused destruction all over the world. These couples build their relationships while trying to navigate the destruction of their society and battle those who would see humanity destroyed. Again, while all kinds of gruesome things can happen, we as romance readers know that somehow love and the promise of a future will win. In a chaotic world, that promise of tomorrow has real power.

Doomsday scenarios have made their way in the science fiction for years, but the boom in romance is recent. In a way, it makes perfect sense. As mentioned above, the idea of a couple building a relationship that has a real future to it against a world that has fallen apart is the ultimate in optimistic messages. In addition, even before the recent recession, paranormal romance and urban fantasy had both achieved strong popularity. Readers already had a willingness to lose themselves in tales of vampires, shapeshifters and all kinds of fantastical events, and they also had a willingness to follow a good author as she built a complicated world. In a way, it makes sense that these same readers would follow an author into a post-apocalyptic world as it contains many of the same elements of other paranormal romance or urban fantasy novels. After all, you have the complex worldbuilding and the battle for survival that is often present in many other paranormals. The vampires and werewolves may not be there, but the hero and heroine still have plenty of threats to combat and bond over. And forging a new life together has its own “happily ever after” ring to it.

I’ve been enjoying these post-apocalyptic books, but it’s definitely a fairly small publishing niche in romance. In addition to the books mentioned above, I’ve also read through books such as Driven from Dorchester’s now-defunct Shomi line. Please tell me I’m not the only one hooked on these plots! And if you’ve read a good post-apocalyptic romance I haven’t mentioned here, tell us about it in the comments. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has no problem building up the TBR!

– Lynn Spencer

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13 Responses to The End of the World as We Know It

  1. Judy says:

    Honestly, I don’t care for post apocalyptic stories either in film or on pages. It depicts the worst side of humanity which I don’t care to read.
    I certainly would love to teleport back to the 50′s and 60′s, ahhh such sweet memories :))
    Lynn, interesting post, but I’ll pass on the post apocalyptic reads

  2. LynnD says:

    I love these post-apocolyptic plots, but I’ve been a longtime reader of Fantasy and Sci-Fi where the heroes and heroines are frequently dealing with end of world scenarios. I am very happy that authors are now bringing these plots to romance fiction. I agree with you that these stories are ultimately hopeful, whether in speculative fiction or romance. It is nice to believe that there will be heroes and heroines to beat back the darkness and that people will still find love in dark times.

  3. maggie b. says:

    I’ve read all but two of the books you menioned. I am not hooked on these plots per se but I like them OK.

    My favorites right now would be Ilona Andrews Magic Series, where the world has been changed by magic waves and Suzanne Collins Hunger Games. Both have a romance in them.

    I miss books that look at the future with hope the way Star Trek does, though. Wish we had more of these.

    maggie b.

  4. Michele says:

    I love post apocolyptic movies and stories and I was thrilled when I discovered Joss Ware’s Envy Chronicles. I think it’s so interesting to think about how built up our life is now, and what would happen if we lost all of it? What would we do? How would we survive? I think the books are always optimistic, showing how the best side of people win out. One of my favorite books to this day is The Stand. While that was a great story, being a romace junkie, I’d always wished the romance plot line could have been much stronger.
    The only post-apocolyptic romancse I knew of were the Envy books, thanks for the tips on the others. I’ll look them up!

  5. Susan says:

    Post Apocalypse science fiction was hugely popular in the 70s, and I read them avidly way back then. I’d love to see them with a romantic plot as well.

  6. Lynn AAR says:

    @LynnD – I’ve also been a longtime reader of fantasy and sci-fi. Actually, I’ve been reading pretty much all kinds of genre fiction for years (also love mysteries). I still love my historicals and category reads, but I’m also loving sci fi and fantasy romance these days!

  7. Karen W. says:

    I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic fiction, and I’m enjoying having more books to read in that genre.

    I disagree that it depicts the worst of humanity. Yes, there will always be “bad guys,” but I think it actually shows humanity at its best & most heroic, working together to survive.

    I think there’s something ultimately hopeful in most of the books/movies/TV shows.

  8. Stephanie says:

    I really love this topic but agree that this post-apocalyptic subject is very hard to find. I love books that give hope. Yes, life as we currently know it is over but love still can happen. It may not be the HEA for everyone but humans are strong and can overcome great adversity. True romance does not use this plot device regularly as it does not fit into the stories easily and the world building takes a lot of time. Eve Kenin’s “Driven” is one of the best books but mostly stands alone in a romance book using this devise.

    Short stories are the easiest places to find brief vignettes with this theme. “Songs of Love and Death” edited by George R R Martin is a fantastic anthology. My favorite story in the book is “After the Blood” by Marjorie M. Liu which takes place after a great plague wipes out the cities and society has greatly changed.

    E. E. Knight’s Vampire Earth Series is fantastic and one of my favorites but only touches on romance as a sub plot.
    – The Way of the Wolf
    – The Choice of the Cat
    – The Tale of the Thunderbolt
    – Valentine’s Rising
    – Valentine’s Exile
    – Valentine’s Resolve
    – Fall With Honor
    – Winter Duty
    – March in Country

    S.M. Stirling’s The Change Series (“The Sunrise Lands”/”Emberverse II”), published by ROC also is mainly sci-fi/fantasy and does show some relationship building but again romance is not the main focus.
    – The Sunrise Lands
    – The Scourge of God
    – The Sword of the Lady
    – The High King of Montival

    When the topic was mentioned and comments requested, I went back to my bookshelves and looked at this subject which has its own shelf. I own most of the books I’ve mentioned but I also have added steampunk to my collection with Meljean Brook’s “The Iron Duke”. It is steampunk but has humanity overrun with the horde and humans changed so fits into my collection.

  9. Ell says:

    Timely article since I too am in search of more post apocalyptic romance.  I recently finished Ware’s Envy chronicles, which were very good. “Driven” is in my TBR. Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels series are next. Not really into the shifters or vampires, but I’ll take what I can get right now. Waiting for Gayle Ann Williams Tsunami Blue to surface in ebook format. I’ve put “Nightfall” is on my wish list

    Here are a couple of P-A books I have read that were pretty good (not YA). Michelle Maddox “Countdown”, and Maia Underwood’s “Surviving Passion”. 

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  13. Amen, Pastor Steve! Thank you for giving the truth that is found in the Word of God. We don’t need to get confused or deceived, if we would just know the word of God. God’s word is truth and Jesus said the truth will set us free!

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