Hi, Jo here, talking about marriage stories. Most romances are courtship stories, sometimes with marriage at the very end, but I love a marriage story, especially a marriage of convenience or a forced marriage. I'm not so keen on marriage in trouble stories, though I did one in The Shattered Rose.
I need a short hand here, and MOC — marriage of convenience — doesn't work, because some are very inconvenient for one or both parties! So I'll use VBL — vows before love. That's the crux of it, isn't it? These two people will be in love (after all, it's a romance) but when they say their vows they aren't, and possibly are enemies.
The Shattered Rose is medieval, and medieval is a great time period for the arranged or forced marriage because it was more common back then. All four of my medieval romances are VBL, because even in The Shattered Rose Galeran and Jehanne made an arranged marriage when young. They'd come to love one another, but then trouble shatters that.
That's the original cover, which was absolutely gorgeous — and which didn't sell well at all.
I think nearly every romance reader loves a VBL story. Am I wrong? If you don't like them, why not?
If you do, join me in listing the delights.
1. Rational conflict.
The perfect situation for a romance novel is one that forces the hero and heroine together even as something else drives them apart. In the real world, if we fear/distrust/dislike a person we avoid them as much as we can. This, however, does not a good romance make. With VBL they are locked together. In a historical VBL they have little chance of breaking the marriage, and the woman least chance of either.
Question? If we like VBL, do we like heroines in vulnerable situations? Is this healthy?
I like VBL a lot, and yes I do like heroines in vulnerable situations sometimes. The first book I wrote, An Arranged Marriage ('nuff said!) puts Eleanor in a very vulnerable situation, but also shows her strengths. To me, it's no different to a thriller that begins with a man trapped and vulnerable — held hostage, wounded and captured, wrongly jailed et al. It's a launch pad for his heroism. What's more, assuming our hero isn't the sort to beat her or lock her in an asylum, he's stuck in a box with her, too, with few defences, and without some of the barriers he has against the wider world. She will learn his secrets.
2. Rational sex.
We all know the tricky part of the modern historical romance is that sexy books are popular, but sexy acts without marriage weren't rational for ladies in the past. Even in the more recent past. It happened, of course it did, but before the pill it was risky behaviour, and the consequences shaped many women's lives, sometimes badly.
With VBL, there can be sex before love, too, but that doesn't mean it has to be bad sex. However it goes, it's allowed, and the woman won't be ruined by it — though it might, of course, ruin some plan of hers. An interesting story possibility!
In Christmas Angel, we have a rationally arranged marriage between two sensible people, but they still manage to get all tangled about the sex!
3. Sex between strangers.
VBL doesn't mandate that they be strangers. The couple might have known each other all their lives. The story might have a betrothal period during which they get to know one another, even if that doesn't remove the conflict. That was the situation in An Unwilling Bride, my second Company of Rogues book. Beth and Lucien are both forced into the marriage, very much against their wills. They have their betrothal period, but manage to make things even worse!
But sometimes they are strangers at the altar. Alas, perhaps, I find it hard to push them into sex if the vulnerable heroine is reluctant. It can be erotic, but it can be unpleasant, and more importantly it can put the hero in a very bad light. Yet it's reasonable that a marriage must be consummated eventually, which can lead to an interesting dance!
So, what do you think of my 3 delights of the VBL? Do you agree?
Do you have others to suggest?
What are some of your favorite VBL stories?