When I read my first Mills & Boon romance, I was young and thought it was the height of raciness. A friend loaned me a couple of books that were listed as ‘bestsellers’, and while the thrill was there, I caught on to the obvious formula pretty quickly. The tall dark hero was always contemptuous of the spirited heroine, and due to a slight misunderstanding (which could have been cleared up with a couple of sentences that are never uttered until the final chapter), there was friction between the protagonists. This friction led to heightened tension, which translated into sexual tension. They’re horrible to each other through most of the book (or at least, the hero is), but everything washes away when they say ‘I love you’. Magic words.
This was all well and good for the first two or three books that I read, but the formula palled quickly (Penny Jordan’s writing make me want to shoot myself. How can she be a bestselling author???). I was bored out of my mind with what M&B considered bestselling authors. I would have stopped reading them altogether, except that I discovered Susan Napier.
I think the first book of hers that I read was a story of a film director and the disapproving aunt of his big star. The hero wasn’t tall. He wasn’t forbidding and enigmatic. He was flighty and articulate. He was a flirt and funny, not someone to be taken seriously.
Unlike the usual M&B fare, this story was richly textured with layered characters, dialogue that required a second look, and a story that sizzled with chemistry from the first page. It seemed irrelevant that the hero and heroine weren’t perfect (I recall a scene where they exchange gloves, because his hands are as small as hers are large!), because they were so real.
After that, I hunted for her books. One of her heroines was mute, another was a psychic. Her heroes were always articulate, but not all of them were rich, or harsh, or tortured (well, maybe one). Her characters were clumsy, quiet, exuberant, and yet each was totally believable.
If I must have a favorite romance novelist, it would have to be Susan Napier, but I wonder if I’m alone in this—I don’t want the normal romantic story, and the quality of writing makes a big difference to me. What about you? Who’s your favorite romance writer?