Cliffhangers and ‘Happy for now’

‘I am confident that, in the end, common sense and justice will prevail. I’m an optimist, brought up on the belief that if you wait to the end of the story, you get to see the good people live happily ever after.’ ~ Cat Stevens

I read romance novels almost exclusively. Within the primary romance genre, I read virtually every subgenre there is, with some being more favoured than others, of course. I read romance because I demand my ‘happily ever after’, and the romance genre is the only genre that promises this. Or does it? I have been noticing a trend lately in the romance genre for books to have either cliffhangers or end with the couple ‘happy for now’. Most often, these books are followed by a sequel where the couple continue their relationship, and may or may not arrive at their ‘happily ever after’. Is it a ploy to get readers to buy more books? A natural consequence of readers delving more deeply into characters’ lives so the stories take more than a single book to tell? Or do romance readers no longer care about ever after? We live in a world where instant gratification is demanded by so many, and where the future is a distant, intangible thing that will sort itself out. Are these books a result of the world in which we now live?

‘The magic is as wide as a smile and as narrow as a wink, loud as laughter and quiet as a tear, tall as a tale and deep as emotion. So strong, it can lift the spirit. So gentle, it can touch the heart. It is the magic that begins the happily ever after.’ ~ Walt Disney

This is something that I have been pondering for some time, and another theory has occurred to me. With the proliferation of ebooks and self-published books, there are huge quantities of novels coming onto the market all the time. Far more than have ever been available previously. Perhaps many of these books have romance as a subgenre, rather than a primary genre.

Let’s look at Nalini Singh’s hugely successful Guild Hunter series, which is marketed as ‘paranormal romance’. The first book features Raphael and Elena as the primary characters. The second book also features Raphael and Elena as the primary characters. In fact, so do the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh books in the series. So they didn’t get their ‘happily ever after’ in the first book. So are these books paranormal fiction first, and romance second? Or are they paranormal romance novels that simply don’t have a ‘happily ever after’? Interestingly, the first book in the series, Angels’ Blood, is ranked in Amazon’s fantasy and horror genres, although it is highest ranked in the romance genre, in the paranormal subgenre.

The Guild Hunter series is far from the only example, just a high profile one. Share some of your examples with me, and your thoughts about them.  How do you feel about ‘romance novels’ that end on a cliffhanger or just a ‘happy for now’? Are you satisfied? Do you buy the next book in the series? Do you feel they even qualify as romance novels? Is the ‘guaranteed happily ever after’ gone from the genre?

‘Have you thought of an ending?’ ‘Yes , several, and all are dark and unpleasant,’ said Frodo. ‘Oh , that won’t do!’ said Bilbo. ‘Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?’ ‘It will do well, if it ever comes to that,’ said Frodo.’ ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Author: Elle

Hi, I'm Elle. I'm based in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm a moderator at Writing.com, the mother of two gifted children, the wife of a Twitch gaming streamer and the Queen of Unfinished Projects. I've been reading since I was 4 years old, writing poems (badly) since 1994, blogging since 2001 and I started studying photography in 2010. This blog will contain poems, short stories, photos, book reviews and my thoughts on a variety of topics. Hope you enjoy it.

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