I like to read romance books that have a lot of hazy, gray parts. Many parts of the genre are hard to define because it is so big and has sub-genres that overlap with each other. There are a lot of things we don’t know how to describe in the genre, and dark romance is one of them. People who talk about dark romance books don’t always agree on what they are and where they belong. Finally, the category ends up in a weird place between romance, erotica, and horror. And even though I’d love to read a horror romance book one day, that’s not what a dark romance is. So, what is a dark love story?
What is dark romance?
A dark romance book isn’t really a “romance” in a strict sense of that word. A dark romance book can be anything from a normal romance book with dark themes or colors (like Eve Silver’s Dark Gothic series), to a cousin of New Adult, to a sub-genre of Erotic Romance that enjoys all things scary and taboo. It’s up to you to figure out what a dark romance book is.
There are a lot of dark romance books that are more like erotica than romance. “Romance is sex plus love,” and “Erotica is sex plus fear,” says a quote from Tiffany Reisz’s book, The Siren. Anyone who has spent time reading dark romance can tell you that fear is what drives the genre. At its core, dark romance is a list of all of our most feared things. You’ll find:
It could be a questionable (very) consent, or it could be a complete lack of consent.
Rape fantasies are things that people think about.
Trafficking in sex and/or slavery in sex
BDSM-based plot lines with very small borders.
Sexual or non-sexual violence can be used in this book, and the author can make it even more extreme.
The heroes and heroines who are assassins, members of the mob, serial killers, and so on are called heroes and heroines.
Complex revenge stories
Any relationship that could be seen as a taboo one
Faustian makes deals with people who have questionable morals, or no morals.
Now, if you look at the list above, you might think: Jessica…
What’s wrong with you? A book that has any of these things in it would not be worth reading. Let alone more than one. Because no one would.
What I have to say is that catharsis is the only answer I can think of. Catharsis is beautiful, beautiful catharsis that reaches down into the reader’s heart and scrapes up all the things the reader is afraid of, lays them out on a page, and lets the reader face them in complete safety. As often as they want. As often as they like. Dark romance, in the way that fiction lets us experience things we can’t know, is for many people an emotional release valve.
It could be that for some people, the taboo makes them excited. If you’re a fan of dark romance, there are bound to be some people who don’t like it. They say that it glorifies violence against women, among other things. I don’t think that’s true, but everyone has their own opinion and everyone has their own point of view. It doesn’t matter why people keep reading in this category. It has been going strong for years now, and there’s no sign of it stopping.
The last thing I want to say is that this list is shorter than I had planned. There are a lot of dark romance books out there, but there aren’t many authors of color writing in this genre. This is a big problem. When these books are written and read, someone has to talk about who has the power to read and write them. But this isn’t the right place to have that conversation, and I’m not the right person to lead it.
Less Intense Dark Romances
There are people who have never read dark romance before and aren’t sure how much of a game of chicken they want to play with their sense of right and wrong. Let’s start in the shallow end of the pool for them.
The Siren by Tiffany Reisz
A lot of people say this is a “less intense” dark romance, which isn’t true. This show can be very dark at times, but it also makes you cry all the time. Reisz goes dark in this series, but she also adds a lot of humor and light to the mix. The show has a lot of couples, but it focuses on three main characters: Nora, a dominatrix and erotica writer; Kingsley, an obnoxious rich club owner; and Sren, a Jesuit priest and the real ruler of the underground kingdom Kingsley built for him.
Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon
There are lots of books written by Weatherspoon that play with the idea of dominance and submission. She has at least one other series besides Beards & Bondage that deals with the same thing. Haven is the first book in that series. Haven is about a young woman who is on the run after a camping trip goes awry. She ends up in the arms of a lone nature photographer who doesn’t like having company. Their shared night of horror brings them together, but their dark memories keep them from getting to know each other.
Asking for It by Lilah Pace
The desire to be taken by force scares and shames Vivienne Charles, who has been sexually assaulted. It turns out that Jonah Marks has a lot of ideas about how to use force. When he meets Vivienne and proposes a mutually beneficial relationship that will satisfy both of their fantasies, the relationship turns out to be more than a little weird. But when their feelings and old secrets catch up to them, everything starts to fall apart and they can’t keep up. Pace’s discussion of rape fantasies, through the voice of Vivienne’s therapist, was unapologetically honest. I loved the book because it was so honest.
Comfort Object by Annabel Joseph
In need of work, Nell is a professional sub who is out of work. Jeremy Gray is a worn-out movie star who needs a “personal assistant” to help him out again. Nell accepts Jeremy’s offer in exchange for the promise of a better future: do what he says, and he’ll pay for her to finish college and start a new life. She has no job and no place to live. Despite their differences in power, this situation works out well for these two people. Things are complicated but not broken or dark. At least until a stalker starts to try to stop them from having a secret life together.
Degradation by Stylo Fantôme
In the first book in Fantôme’s Kane trilogy, it’s not easy to get through at all. It’s not as dark as some of the other books on this list, but it’s still a sadomasochistic mess. When Tatum O’Shea was 18, she officially made a mess of her life for the first time. One meeting with her sister’s scary boyfriend was all it took for her to change her life. For the first time in seven years, she meets up with Jameson Kane. In the same way, he’s just as selfish and soulless. The connection between them is just as real. As soon as Jameson says he can pay for Tate’s pleasure, she doesn’t turn him down. She wants to show that she’s grown up enough to play games with the devil. It doesn’t matter if it kills her.
Truly Twisted Dark Romances
It’s time for Alice to really fall down the rabbit hole, so hold on to something now. This is how some of these books have stuck to me: with scotch tape.
Tears of Tess by Pepper Winters
Tess Snow has a great life. She has one more semester of school left, a great boyfriend, and a bright future full of happiness. In Mexico with this boyfriend, things are going well until Tess is stolen and things go wrong. In the blink of an eye, Tess’s life is wiped clean. She is drugged, transported, and then sold. He is only known as Q. His dark secrets and even darker heart make him a mysterious monster with dark secrets and a dark heart. As the series goes on, more and more scary things happen. The first book is called Tears.
Captive in the Dark by C.J. Roberts
This series is so bad. I will. This is the first of three books in the Dark Duet series. It’s a lot. Caleb is a man who wants revenge. When he hurts someone for revenge, he doesn’t think twice about doing the same thing to himself. Olivia Ruiz is just pretty and easy to get. It’s not about you. Even though he has a plan for revenge, Caleb can’t help but fall in love with the woman he’s holding.