Here’s an interesting post from the SFWA site: Romance tropes for SFF writers by Jeffe Kennedy.
…a recently released debut science fiction novel was marketed to romance readers as science fiction romance (SFR), but violated a major romance expectation … readers were especially incensed because the book violated the One Rule at the very end of the book. It did not have an HEA [Happily Ever After]. There are also indications that there will be a new love interest in the sequel, which is a precarious use of romance tropes.
Romance readers were enraged? Well, no kidding! The shocking thing to me about this is that this incident evidently sparked an “intense online debate.” What grounds for debate can possibly exist here? This is marketed as a romance but doesn’t have a happily-ever-after ending? I, too, would be ranting and flinging the book across the room.
Jeffe Kennedy makes the point that the readers who don’t understand this are the non-romance-readers:
An argument that gets introduced in a lot of these conversations – always from non-romance readers – is that the HEA/HFN is not mandatory. That it’s okay for a story to end tragically. “Romeo and Juliet” gets trotted out. And sure, that’s true! But “Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies! Sure, there’s a romance in it. You can even say the romance is the core of the story, but that doesn’t make it a romance. Why not?
Because it ends tragically, not happily.
I, as a reader who reads mainly SFF and also some romances . . . a reader who has always liked the occasional well done SFR but has only recently started reading contemporary romances . . . find this too obvious for words. So do experienced SFR writers, such as Sharon Shinn, who I’m sure would never dream of ending one of her SFR novels tragically. Her books totally have happy endings. As they should, because they are romances. Can you imagine Archangel if Gabriel had walked away from Rachel at the end and she had had shrugged and gone off with some other guy? Or in The Sharing Knife, if Dag had gone off to hunt malices and Dawn had cried a little and then married a farmer boy? Apparently that’s pretty close to what happened in the book in question.
As an ending, fine. As an ending for an SFF novel, fine. As an ending for any kind of romance where “romance” actually is meant to describe the genre, completely unfine.
This reminds me of my recent post about tension and suspense versus action, and how I commented how it’s interesting that the hugely popular romance genre is a fundamentally low-suspense genre. This is entirely because of the mandated HEA ending. I thought everyone understood this. Apparently some publisher’s marketing department doesn’t. It’s particularly annoying because every single romance reader who got suckered by this book is probably going to write off the author, when the marketing decision probably wasn’t hers at all.
Now, excuse me while I go read a romance so I can count on enjoying a happy ending.