By Brittany Holness, Bianca Scasserra, Holly Butterfield and Gemma Mathers
When scrolling through the digital space for your next captivating read, you’ll swiftly begin to notice that the dark romance genre prevails. It sits as a subgenre of romance novels, exploring themes of a wicked nature. Its content is positioned for more mature audiences and is usually introduced by content warnings. This is largely due to its narratives, which are saturated with violence and erotic fantasies. Within this article, we take a step into the unruly world of dark romance and examine its influence on wider society.
Romance has long been a popular genre for book lovers everywhere, so it is not surprising that the subgenre of dark romance, which introduces darker elements to create a whole new experience for readers, has become similarly sought after. It has caused several tropes to undergo a shift from the conventional love story to an oftentimes edgier tale. There are several themes that have made their rounds through book blogs and social media communities for their heavy contributions to dark romance. One such trope is dark fantasy. Traditional fantasy plots feature a goal of vanquishing some evil in a magical world where anything is possible, as well as an encounter with a love interest along the way, or sometimes even paranormal beings intersecting with a love interest. Dark fantasy includes these features with an added dangerous edge and more sensual aspects. There are often battles of life and death, and instances of straying from the light in these fantastical worlds in order to explore the underworld and other dark themes.
Mafia romances are one of the more common tropes where these types of themes are introduced. In these stories, a main character is a member of some criminal enterprise, like the mob or Bratva, and their love interest is either already involved in this world, or pulled into the turmoil of a world that they were wholly unprepared for; one full of luxury, dominating males and violence. Other tropes that have often had such characteristics include forbidden romance, arranged marriage and forced proximity. These are often revealed as sub-tropes in some books, as they can be an additional facet of the aforementioned tropes. For instance, oftentimes popular mafia reads posit that the male love interest must be from a rival family of the female love interest, and as such, an element of enemies to lovers also comes into play.
Unlike traditional romance, these types of stories are able to push boundaries, suspending reality and allowing for more intense and sensual scenarios that leave the reader wanting more. With swoon-worthy love interests who would do anything for the main character – and we do mean anything – these romances give authors the opportunity and space to build their own worlds and realities to spice up their books. They’re not confined to the strict rules and standards of the real world, which gives the main characters a number of opportunities to develop their passion for each other. These tropes lend themselves perfectly to darker fantasy or mafia settings, producing powerful characters who are willing to set the world on fire for their significant other. It’s this different style of writing and plot that has enabled the subgenre to really evolve and diversify the romance genre, with stories for every type of reader.
Of course, dark romance takes on a series of complex topics and delves into the darkest aspects of humanity. There is no denying the intoxicating allure of these novels, but when is dark simply too dark? One aspect of this genre in particular is the inclusion of morally grey characters. A love interest who is willing to burn the world down to save their loved one. A character who’s willing to go that one step further, to break through the barrier of laws and morality to do what they need to do. But when is it too much? When is a character more than morally grey – when are they just plain evil? These characters are written to be questioned, to toe the line of right and wrong, but when their choices are irreconcilable with the main character’s morals and the reader's standards, the story may well pass the level of what is acceptable. Trigger warnings can be a very powerful tool in educating the reader and allowing them to make choices in order to protect their mental health if the novel contains sensitive subjects. However, if a novel comes with pages upon pages of trigger warnings, when do we, as readers, decide where to draw the line? These subjects, if not handled with care, can be seen to romanticise topics of abuse and create a harmful narrative. It is important that readers take the time away from these novels to continue the conversation and question any narratives that are taken too far.
Overall, books within the dark romance genre should be treated with caution. The marketing of these tropes and abusive relationships should not be encouraged towards a younger demographic. Having said that, its growing demand is hard to ignore. With more and more authors utilising its lure, it is vital to continue the conversation around these sensitive topics and ensure that the reader is educated fully before taking on a story with such dark undercurrents.