Which Romance Novels Are the Scariest?
The emotion we most strongly associate with romance novels is love, of course, but a great love story can evoke other emotions--even fear and suspense. When a writer adds supernatural elements, readers get a scare or two on their way to the happy ending. These paranormal romance authors told us which love stories give them the biggest scares.
"The first element of a romance that 'scared' me--though I loved it the whole time--occurred repeatedly in Christine Feehan's Dark Carpathian series. Anytime the hero--a vampire connected to the earth--would take his woman to sleep buried in the ground, I'd get the shakes! I have no idea how these poor humans could be swallowed up by the earth and not panic! They survived each time, of course, but whenever these scenes would come up, my hand would be at my throat and I'd read a little faster to get through it!"
"I was in 5th grade when kids started passing around V.C Andrews books. A friend gave me 'Flowers in the Attic,' saying it was scary and romantic. I read it, and I completely understood the scary part--the idea of being locked for years in the attic by your own mother was horrifying. The brother/sister incest angle was equally scary.
The part I didn't see? The romance. So, I went back to my friend and asked where it was, only to discover that it was that brother/sister relationship. I was traumatized... and very confused. Still, the book is considered a gothic romance. I did go on to read--and enjoy--other V.C. Andrews books, but only after checking with friends to be sure the romantic couple was not, you know, closely related."
"My first foray into paranormal romance happened about seven years ago. I had just finished 'Twilight' to see if my 11-year-old could handle it, and said to myself, 'If this is out for young adults, what is out there for me?' I went to the library immediately. I came home with two books, both the firsts in a series. I read J.R. Ward's 'Dark Lover' and Kresley Cole's 'A Hunger Like No Other' back-to-back.
I couldn't put either of them down. I'm happy to say that these two books 'scared' me in the most delicious way possible. I was hooked on paranormal from that day forward. There's nothing better than a good scare along with some sexy romance. It makes whatever you're reading exciting, unexpected, fresh and sometimes downright dangerous. Just the way I like it."
"I admit it, I scare easily. Maybe because I saw 'Bambi' as a kid--hey, they killed his mother! But a book that hit me was 'A Hunger Like No Other' by Kresley Cole, the first in her popular Immortals After Dark series. It hooked me right from the beginning while also scaring me with the powerful hatred and emotion that both the hero and the heroine experience."
"The first 'scary' romance had to be Nora Roberts' 'Carolina Moon.' Before then, I'd read mainly historical and paranormal romances, but I had picked up 'Carolina Moon' and found a love of suspense and thriller that I never thought possible. Normally, I shy away from anything that scares me, but I was hooked. I loved the heroine's psychic abilities, as it adds another layer to an already tremendous storyline."
"My first scary romance was probably the oldest and most original horror/romance crossover at the time--I'm talking 'Dracula.' (Hopefully you said that as 'Draaaculaaaa' in your head.) I read it at a ridiculously young and impressionable age, and it stayed with me for the rest of my life. I reread it this past year, and--while it's more than a little misogynistic--the way the men are all in love with Mina and desperately trying to save her from Dracula's grasp is charming. Her and Jonathan's utter devotion for each other--even when it means they accidentally hide vital information--is sweet.
This was my first reread of it as a nurse, which gave me a whole new context for Stoker's use of blood transfusions. While there's almost no possible way all of Lucy's beaus would have been a blood-type match for her or Mina--especially before blood typing was well known--transfusions themselves were cutting-edge for the time, and the men were so willing to offer them. What's scary-sweeter than sharing blood? Not much. Which is probably why I write vampire books now."
"My mind immediately--and completely inappropriately--goes to Dean Koontz's 'Watchers.' I read this book when I was way, way too young--maybe 10? It's a thriller with a strong romance arc between the main characters Nora and Travis.
But, what makes it super freaky is the fact that all three villains--Nora's human stalker, a human assassin and a genetically mutated… thing--insert (no pun intended) a sexual element to their villainy, with Koontz writing their acts of violence in highly eroticized language. So, basically the entire romance arc is strained through this crazily disturbing sieve of fetishized violence, with all of the villains wanting to rape and/or sexily beat up both the main characters.
I'm pretty sure it would still freak me out if I read it today, but reading it as a child totally blew my mind, in a 'good for one rousing session of therapy' sort of way."
Ron Hogan is the co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon, the first monthly reading series for romance fiction, and the creator of Beatrice, one of the Internet's first book-themed websites. He currently hosts The Handsell, a video series where authors and booksellers share their reading recommendations.