It happened! A paranormal romance I liked! Prepare yourselves for news of flying pigs.
Plot: For a hundred years, after a war with the humans bisected the continent into supernatural creatures and human, a peace treaty has stood, however uneasily, between the Animari, the Golgoth and the Eldritch. This unity has been, as many consider, the most significant protection from human aggression to the south. At the end of a century, it is however time to renegotiate terms, and the conflict and ambitions that have been brewing come to the fore. Even worse, the leader of the Animari and descendant of the Animari leader which first facilitated this treaty, is MIA. His beloved wife having been murdered three years prior, he retreated to the woods to grieve at the bottom of a bottle. The man now in charge has a short temper and an ego sure to inflame an already tentative alliance, so Dominic must be made to return, and who better than his wife’s best friend to coax him back to life?
Perhaps it is the fatalist in me, or maybe the bureaucrat, that sees the robust administrative structures built around these non-human governments, and feels gratified. So much of paranormal world-building is about setting aside hard fought for concepts like democracy and free will and the necessary checks and balances required to make those things work, in favour of hereditary leadership roles and ephemeral concepts of destined mates. You don’t need to worry about authorization structures if the person in charge was born to be in charge and is somehow predisposed to be good at the job. You don’t need free will (or informed consent) if your best path to happiness is to simply stop resisting nature and let your instincts control you. These concepts are anathema to me at an existential level, and they make up the bulk of this genre.
There are certainly clear influences from the expected tropes of the world of paranormal here. Leadership is still hereditary, but at least in Ash Valley, there are checks and balances in place to ensure that the government can run mostly smoothly, even without the so-called leader for years. Where other groups have more rigid hereditary structures, the sometimes horrific flaws with such a system are made clear, and act as the real threat our protagonists must fight against.
At a personal level, it is made explicit that soulmates are not a thing. Indeed, Dominic is still deeply hurt by his wife’s passing at the start of the book, and there is nothing in the story to suggest that their love was anything but genuine and deep. A lot of readers seemed to take issue with this – the idea that a person can deeply love someone, and when they pass, still be capable of love. They can go ahead and tell President Biden that either his marriage of 45 years is not real love, or else that he didn’t truly love his first wife, and see how far you get with these selfish, childish notions of a single love in a lifetime spanning decades.
Pru, meanwhile, has been in love with Dominic’s second for as long as she can remember, but since she can’t shapeshift, his family doesn’t support the match, and he seems perfectly fine to keep things casual. Not only are we not burdened with insta-love soulmate nonsense, Dominic and Pru start with a basis of friendship, mutual respect, and a shared vision for the future. The fact that they’re sexually compatible is a really great bonus, but that doesn’t form the basis of their connection, and neither do goddamn pheromones. Dominic never compares Pru to Dalena, and he works hard to understand and be respectful of the trauma Pru is carrying over being a second class citizen her whole life, even with people she cared deeply for. Though they struggle for a while to find a balance between respecting their history and allowing themselves to move on, they work through these issues like adults trying really hard to make the best of an awkward, difficult situation.
If you like fantasy but find most paranormal to lack stakes and rely too heavily on ideas of destiny or fate to move the plot along, this might be something up your alley.