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