A key feature of romance is the obstacle–what keeps the main characters apart. I’m finding it interesting looking at how this convention gets translated into different plots and time periods. Often it’s class difference or political rivalries, or sometimes it is a misunderstanding or a bad first impression.
Eloisa James in A Kiss at Midnight uses the Cinderella story as her foundation, but she modernizes the narrative so that the reasons keeping her Cinderella (here, Kate Daltry) and Prince (Gabriel, Prince of Warl-Marburg-Baalsfeld) apart are more complex than just class difference. Gabriel is noble but must marry into money to support the staff and courtiers kicked out of court by the religious mania of his older brother. Kate is reasonably well-born, but she’s impoverished by the selfishness of her father. (Refreshingly, Cinderella’s father is criticized rather than idolized in James’ version.)
Jasmine Guillory’s deservedly well-received The Wedding Guest takes similar modern themes but also explores them in a modern setting. A chance encounter in an elevatory leads pediatric surgeon Drew to ask chief-of-staff for the Berkeley mayor Alexa to be his date at a wedding that weekend. It’s to Guillory’s credit that the “fake relationship” setup feels fresh, as Drew and Alexa find themselves falling for each other but also never quite sure where they stand, especially as they live on opposite ends of California. The novel also deftly alludes to the occasional challenges of dating as an interracial couple (Alexa is Black, Drew is white). For example, right before they go to the wedding–when they are still essentially strangers–Alexa asks Drew, “Am I going to be the only Black person at this party?” It’s a small moment but one that suggests the extra considerations Alexa must make before walking into an unfamiliar setting–considerations to which Drew is initially oblivious.
And finally, romance in the future. J.D. Robb’s Naked in Death takes place in the near future, as Eve Dallas investigates the murders of a series of sex workers. I was intrigued by the combination of murder mystery, police procedural, and romance, all of which are done well. One of Eve’s initial suspects is the mysterious and fabulously wealthy Roarke. What keeps this couple apart is Eve’s single-minded focus on her job–Roarke pursues her, but she (correctly) fears that sleeping with him will derail her investigation and destroy her professional credibility. I appreciate futuristic works of fiction that place you in that world without going into a lot of explanation, and Robb does that here–readers get a sense of what a ‘link does, for example, without a tedious rundown. (Also, it’s no author’s fault that smartphones go so far beyond what anyone expected 25 years ago, when Naked in Death was published.)
I’d recommend all three of these books, although Naked In Death might take a slight lead as I do love a good detective story.