Michelle Levigne

A recovering Trekker and Cleveland Indians fan, Michelle Levigne works full-time as a freelance editor. Current projects include the upcoming print version of her SF series, “The Chorillan Cycle,” from OakTara, Arthurian fantasy, “The Zygradon Chronicles,” at Uncial Press, and the YA fantasy series “The Hunt,” at Writers Exchange, Australia. Heavy influences in her life include Bill Cosby, Isaac Airfreight, and Marvel Comics. Website: www.Mlevigne.com.

The Magic Knot by Helen Scott Taylor

Knot What I Was Looking For

The title is appropriate: three interlinked stone rings that hold the key to the wearer’s life, death, and soul. In this paranormal romance, exchanging magic knots with someone binds the two hearts and souls permanently. Pretty convenient when you’re in a fight for your life and the rebirth and freedom of a tribe of piskies. (Not pixies. Big difference. Not just in height.)

Three magic rings. Three gripes about romances in general.

Gratuitous vampires.

Gratuitous homosexuality.

Gratuitous sex.

What’s the allure of vampires? I saw Nosferatu in film history class, and, honey, I just don’t see the attraction. You want to spend eternity with that? I wouldn’t let that ugly thing get within a hundred yards of me without reaching for bug repellant and every gardening tool I could find. Women want that leaning over them, trying to tap a vein? Do you have any idea what old blood on the breath smells like? Well, I don’t and I don’t want to. Ever. Joss Whedon got it partly right with the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer—when they show their true faces, they’re dang ugly and nasty. They need killing.

Why, I ask you, are vampires so big in romance novels? Honey, they don’t all look like Frank Langella in his glory days (he’s not bad-looking now, either). In The Magic Knot, the vampire is a Nightstalker. He started out a pisky (not a pixie, remember), but at some point he changed and was cast out by his tribe, which actually started the problem.

Don’t these magic folk ever learn? When you cast someone out or you try to stop a prophecy from coming true, you’re just asking for trouble!

Of course, he bonds with whomever he drinks blood from. You gotta feel sorry for Nightshade, stuck with a desiccated, insane old Druid. And, double of course, he’s gorgeous. The poor guy just wants to find someone new to feed on and break free of the Druid—and the top contenders are Niall, the hero, or his libidinous brother, Michael, until Rose comes along.

Which leads to the token/gratuitous homosexuality. Am I going to ruin it for anyone if I reveal that Nightshade ends up biting Michael? But before that happens, he suggests that Niall should hand himself over to buy freedom for Rose, the heroine, the daughter of the last pisky princess. Nightshade dwells on the beauty and aroma of Niall. Ick. Gross. Do not go there.

Homosexuality is the cause of the hour, right up there with global warming. Prove you’re enlightened by putting a token homosexual in your story as either the best pal to the heroine or the hero’s misunderstood, lovable brother. It doesn’t matter if the story actually needs that element or not. Off the top of my head, I can think of several elements that could replace the whole vampire/gay elements without changing the story.

It’s not like Nightshade actually is gay, because he’d much rather bond with Rose. And he’s not above taking advantage of her total ignorance of her heritage or danger. He would talk her into handing over her magic knot without revealing just what that implies. Fortunately, she managed to stumble on to Niall’s magic knot (the dummy doesn’t wear it or keep it locked up where naïve little bank investigators can’t find it when they’re looking for hidden records), and she picks it up and bonds with him unknowing. But Nightshade still tries to mate with Rose. To save her from the wrath of the Fairy Queen, of course, because Rose needs to “run the light,” a pretty euphemism for sex to “awaken” her magical heritage.

Yeah, right.

Which leads to the third gripe: gratuitous sex. Why, when an alien/magical race shows up, is so much time is devoted to exploring their sexual practices? [Can we say Pon Farr?] Why, from the start of a romance novel, do the hero and heroine constantly think about getting each other into bed? Michael basically uses his magical talent to lure girls into bed. Niall can’t get his mind off Rose’s body. Nightshade wants Rose’s blood. Rose is attracted to Michael, Niall, and Nightshade—but she has the intelligence to realize it’s just physical, and she uses her strength of will to resist their magical powers. Good girl!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long. Because this is a paranormal romance, the hero and heroine are going to tangle up those sheets.

That’s my biggest gripe with the entire romance genre—this belief that the hero and heroine have to have sex, on stage, with light shows and sound effects. Answer this: If all they have is sexual attraction, if they don’t spend time getting to know each other’s souls before they get to know each other’s bodies, what will they have when the hormones stop pumping, the temperature goes down, the lights come up, and they have to wash those sweaty sheets? (Okay, I admit the whole magical-knot/soul-bonding thing solves that problem, but what about the rest of us?)

This novel won the American Title IV contest, and I can see why. The characters are three-dimensional, the conflict/goal of the story threatens to drive the hero and heroine apart from the very beginning, it turns into a do-or-die situation, and the author knows her mechanics. I enjoyed the story, outside of a few “Huh?” speed bumps. I can see why it won an award . . . but what does that say about the romance genre in general, the storylines that attract reader interest and enthusiasm?

When I dropped my membership in the Romance Writers of America, the two most active and growing sub-genres were Erotica and Inspirational. Kind of ironic, huh?

Honestly, isn’t there more out there than gratuitous “whatever” for a romance reader?