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'Girl saves the world'

29 November 2004

There are signs that the old-fashioned romance genre is having to refashion itself to appeal to younger readers and to take account of changes in women's lives. Strong and sexy heroines who can deal with any situation, save the day and find their man are more appealing to a new generation of women than the passive heroines of the traditional romance. In the UK Mills and Boon is having to take account of the new demands of a younger market. Chick-lit, which has been massively successful in appealing to younger women, is in itself a reaction to the passive and rather earnest stereotypes of the traditional romantic novel.

In the States romance novels remain the top-selling genre, but sales are down from 54.1% in 1999 to 48.8% in 2003, causing romance publishers to rethink their approach. The result is the launch of new series where the heroines are tough enough to look after themselves and deal with the challenges of the modern world, often in something which is more of an action thriller type of plot, rather than the traditional romance which centres on the love element as the central part of the story.

The biggest romance publisher, Harlequin, has launched Silhouette Bombshell. The twelfth book in the series features a Special Forces Captain who has to find out who is cloning government agents. Dorchester, another romance publisher, has brought out an action-adventure romance series entitled 2176, which is going well, and plans to launch another series, Crimson City, delivering paranormal action stories, in 2005.

Linda Marrow, vice president and editorial director for Ballantine Books, says that the heroines in these books: 'are really multi-dimensional and more layered than some in the past. They may be single mothers or divorced and tremendously accomplished. Their goal is not to be in a couple, but to catch the serial killer. They also happen to find love and happiness along the way. It's a terribly powerful and appealing fantasy, to be very feminine and accomplished, and also very strong.'

The romance novel seems at last to be taking account of how women's lives have changed, although of course what they offer is a different fantasy. You only have to look at films and TV to see that the modern heroine is no shrinking violet and it's surprising really that publishers, even in this very traditional genre, have taken so long to wake up to what readers really want. But the result is a new twist to the 'boy meets girl' plot. 'Girl saves the world and also meets boy' is what the modern action romances are delivering.