Since the 2005 release of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, the genre of young adult paranormal romance has, to put it mildly, flourished. Meyer’s work is credited by some as creating (or at least cementing the creation of) a new genre – the YA dark romance. As many reviewers and critics have commented (grumbled?), vampires have become ubiquitous.
YA paranormal romance is genre fiction, and, as such, has certain conventions governing its plot and use of characterization. The most common narrative arc concerns a human high school girl, often socially awkward, who has been recently bereaved or forced to move home. The heroine joins a new school, and is confronted by a good-looking, though brooding and stand-offish, young man. The pair will feel instant attraction, but the male ‘teen’ will be resistant to both physical and emotional contact. Eventually, the heroine will discover that the ‘boy’ is a supernatural creature, and that their attraction to one another is either destined or forbidden (or both), and the two will overcome both supernatural enemies and societal constraints. The male love interest (or ‘supernatural hottie’) is usually highly attractive, somewhat dangerous and subject to ancient restrictions, curses or obligations – all of which hinder his relationship with the heroine. Though there are, of course, exceptions to this conventional plotline (the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – in which the narrator is male, and the supernatural love interest female – springs to mind), this is by far the most common premise found in teen paranormal romance.
Without doubt, the poster-boy for the genre is the vampire, though not all supernatural hotties are vamps. The predominance of the vampire has led, almost inevitably, to a sort of critical satiation. While readers continue to enjoy vampire series, and publishers speak of a move away from paranormal romance in general, critics, reviewers and bloggers regularly refer to the need to find ‘the new vampire’.
Werewolves, fairies – and even zombies – have been touted as ‘the new vampire’, and each has its own comparative relationship to the ‘old ones’. YA fiction centred on each of these creatures can be found. What I am interested in here, however, is the increase in fiction featuring fallen angels. In many respects, it is these supernatural creatures (and not werewolves, witches or zombies) that are the closest to the poster-boy vamp. It is also in fiction featuring fallen angels that we see, I would argue, an equivalent employment of tropes and motifs of the Gothic to that found in vampire fiction.
Brooding Bad Boys
Lauren Kate’s series – Fallen (2009), Torment (2010) and Passion (2011) – features the fallen angels Daniel and Cam. Daniel – who will go on to be the love interest of the heroine Luce – is initially described thus:
She took in his deep golden hair and matching tan. His high cheekbones, the dark sunglasses that covered his eyes, the soft shape of his lips. In all the movies Luce had seen, and in all the books she’d read, the love interest was mind-blowingly good-looking – except for that one little flaw. The chipped tooth, the charming cowlick, the beauty mark on his left cheek. She knew why – if the hero was too unblemished, he’d risk being unapproachable. But approachable or not, Luce had always had a weakness for the sublimely gorgeous. Like this guy. (p. 38)
Luce is instantly and deeply attracted to the ostensibly young man, and reveals her anxiety about the attraction. She has been hurt in the past, and is wary of becoming involved with another man. Nevertheless, she is immediately drawn to Daniel. As she gazes at Daniel, he smiles back at her:
She realized they were still locking eyes when Daniel flashed her a smile. A jet of warmth shot through her and she had to grip the bench for support. She felt her lips pull up in a smile back at him, but then he raised his hand in the air.And flipped her off. (p. 40)
Here we see a very clear example of generic conventions: the heroine’s instantaneous attraction to the hero, his ‘sublimely gorgeous’ appearance, his ambiguous, and somewhat hostile, response to her gaze. In many respects, Daniel’s response to Luce bears a striking similarity to Twilight‘s Bella Swan’s initial interaction with Edward Cullen. As in Meyer’s work, the supernatural hottie attempts to repel the heroine, not because he finds her unattractive, but because he is aware that any interaction between them might put her in danger. We see this same reaction from the male love interest in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush(2009): Patch smiles at Nora, but “[h]is smile wasn’t friendly. It was a smile that spelled trouble.” (p. 11).
This same trope can be found throughout the genre; it is by no means restricted to vampire and fallen angel fiction. It is not the strangely aggressive behaviour of the hero that forms the specific link between vamps and angels, but rather in the permanent and unbreakable tie that is belied by the ‘flipping off’ and dangerous smiles. Furthermore, the tie is not simply the result of deeply-felt attraction, but of destiny, fate or a curse.
In a sense, vampires and fallen angels lend themselves more fully to this notion of the destined-but-doomed lover. While fairies and werewolves just are supernatural (on the whole) – in fact, it might be argued that, in most texts, they are simply natural – vampires and fallen angels used to be something else. Once they were humans or angels; now they are monsters. As I noted above, the generic supernatural hottie must be brooding. The fall from grace of the vampire or angel provides perfect material for the ‘young’ man’s anger and self-hatred.
If anything, the angel’s fall is even more substantial than the vampire’s. While the male protagonist of teen vampire fiction has often been the victim of an attack or betrayal by an older vampire, the angel has been betrayed by a far more powerful opponent. But more on this opponent shortly. What is significant, however, is the fact that an angel is cast out as a direct result of his own actions. Both Fitzpatrick’s Patch and Kate’s Daniel have been cast out of Heaven as a result of their consorting with mortal women. In the latter’s case, the affair resulted in a war in Heaven, which has continued for centuries.
In addition to this, while the ‘teen’ male vampire might yearn for the days when he was mortal, the ‘teen’ angel has a much deeper regret. He has not lost his mortality, but rather the promise of divine immortality. The sense of loss engendered by the fallen angel is far more acute than that evoked by the vampire. If the vampire worries that he has lost his soul, the angel has far more cause to despair. And, it needs hardly be added, the more angst and hurt in the male lead, the more attractive he is to the heroine – pointing to the genre’s formative link to a nineteenth-century novel with strong connections to the Gothic, Wuthering Heights. These vampires and fallen angels are, arguably, all vanilla Heathcliffs.
Capital P for Patriarchy
It is, perhaps, in his relationship to the heroine that the angel most clearly resembles the romance vampire. As a formerly-divine warrior of God, the angel is older, stronger and more powerful than the mortal teen heroine. Thus, like the vampire, he is in position to ‘protect’ his lover, both physically and psychologically. In many of these texts, this protection crosses over into control and constraint. For instance, at the beginning of Kate’s Torment, Daniel discovers Luce is in danger, and so removes her (without consultation) from her school and enrols her in another. This motif links angel fiction to vampire fiction, but also to the high Gothic romance of the late eighteenth century. We see an adolescent girl in peril, the forces of patriarchy acting as both constraint and potential saviour.
And in fallen angel fiction, we are confronted by patriarchy with a capital P. The control, danger and salvation that the heroine faces is, ultimately, at the hands of God the Father. And if the fallen angels are the sympathetic heroes, living out a somewhat unjust punishment and betrayal by the patriarch they had loyally served, then it’s clear we are dealing with a rather Miltonic God – cold, implacable and ruthless.
What is striking, however, is the utter paucity of reference to God in these texts. While the entire premise of fallen angel fiction is based in a very particular Christian theology, very few of the books address the issue of God’s casting out of the angels. Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush refers directly to the Book of Enoch (an apocryphal Christian text describing the war in Heaven), and at one point states that “God stripped the angels’ wings and banished them to Earth forever” (p. 251), but the book’s hero Patch makes little comment on the patriarch who thus condemned him. Similarly, there is little reference to Satan. While Milton’sParadise Lost gave the fallen angels a king of their own, YA fallen angel fiction makes little reference to him.
This obscuring of the roles of God and Satan ostensibly serves to make these romances more accessible by moving them away from Christian doctrine and theology. There is an implicit assumption being made by writers and publishers that, while teenage girls might like the idea of a cursed hero who has fallen as far as possible from grace, they do not want a fantasy romance based on biblical teachings. However, it is impossible to detach these books completely from their Christian context.
And it is in this final point that the fallen angels differ from vampires – and, I would suggest, why they are notthe ‘new vampires’. The scope and versatility of the fallen angel as a supernatural protagonist of fiction is limited in a way that the vampire is not. While vampirism can, and has been, presented as divine curse, genetic mutation, infectious disease, species distinction or occult practice, to be a fallen angel alwaysmeans to be a divine being who has angered the Christian God. Angels are simply not as malleable as vampires.
Nevertheless, though angels are not the new vampires, their popularity seems to be on the increase. Books like J.R. Ward’s fallen angel series, and the 2009 film Legion, have gone some way to expanding the role of the angel from tragic romantic lead to sympathetic all-action hero. The latter film is an apocalyptic horror, suggesting that, if publishers and critics are correct in predicting a shift from romance to dystopia, fallen angel fiction may be able to adapt and thrive. In a sense, fallen angels, though less flexible than vampires, offer the possibility of something simultaneously more human and more Gothic than their undead counterparts: an apocalyptic fight with Daddy and an unending quest to get back home.
Article by Hannah Priest - University Sterlling